The Last of Us (PS3) Review
- A Benchmark for mature storytelling in games
- One of the best looking games ever made
- Super scripting complimented by top level voice work
- The Joel-Ellie relationship is so organic
- Lengthy campaign that just leaves you wrung out by the end
Not so much?
- Combat can occasionally frustrate
- AI Ellie can sometimes be a little jarring
The Last of Us might, on first blush, look like a reskinned Uncharted title. Maybe Naughty Dog just reworked the game a little and dropped the mood lighting a few bars. Or maybe, just maybe, Naughty Dog have broken free of the Uncharted shadow and produced one of this generation most cinematic and mature games. [...]
The Last of Us might, on first blush, look like a reskinned Uncharted title. Maybe Naughty Dog just reworked the game a little and dropped the mood lighting a few bars. Or maybe, just maybe, Naughty Dog have broken free of the Uncharted shadow and produced one of this generation most cinematic and mature games.
In The Last of Us you play likeable but stoic Texan Joel. Unlike the more dynamic, almost superhero-esque, character of of Nathan Drake, Joel is more your everyman type of guy. He’s resourceful, sure. He’s a pretty beefy guy and has his wits about him too but those things aside he’s just an average fella trying to make his way in the world when the pandemic hits.
20 years after that fateful night Joel is trying his best to make ends meet in Boston. Running weapons and supplies with his partner Tess he’s just about managing to keep his head above water. That is until he’s tasked with delivering a young 14 year old girl called Ellie to someone on the other side of town.
From here on out you experience the world through Ellie. Sure, you PLAY as Joel, but your exploration and introduction to the shattered world around you is done purely through the eyes of young Ellie. You see Ellie was born into this world. Into a world after the deadly fungus had spread. Her entire world before this day had consisted of the city areas she could manage to get around without getting torn apart by infected, savaged by marauders or shot by the army. As you proceed on an unprecedented road trip across the US your wonder and questions about the rich detailed and chilling world are also Ellie’s.
The Last of Us looks gorgeous. Seriously you’ve not seen a game look this good before. Sitting and watching the trailers for upcoming next generation titles at this years E3 there’s very little in it. The fidelity and depth to the world that Naughty Dog have crafted for The Last of Us is simply stunning. From the trademark cinematics to the eye wateringly smooth animation the game looks incredible both stationary and moving. Wonderful lighting, creepy as hell enemies and diverse areas to explore. The real star of the show goes to the world in general though. It’s hard to explain but the world doesn’t feel like a game world. It has a real lived in quality. The evidence of a horrific history is strewn around the landscape.
Musical score is on par with previous Naughty Dog titles which offers a sweeping soundscape that brings the game together. The voice acting exceeds the incredibly high standards set out by the Uncharted series with superb performances from Troy Baker as Joel and Ashley Johnsson as Ellie cementing the already superbly written dialogue.
The relationship that grows between Joel and Ellie could have been handled with ham-fisted hollywood ploys. Easy story beats and plot direction could have been gained by heading straight towards a paternal relationship for the two characters. What develops though is organic, believable and just incredibly well written.
Playing the game is almost as wonderful an experience as enjoying the story unfold. The game does borrow from the Uncharted series – heck it’s the same engine after all. The third person movement and gunplay all play out in a similar way to the previous PS3 games from Naughty Dog. The similarities pretty much finish there – apart from the partner actions like opening doors together or boosting someone up to a higher ledge.
Ammo in The Last of Us is hard to find. You’ll manage a reasonable amount on the default difficulty but you’ll need to make every shot count. Weapons are varied enough with different pistols, rifles and shotguns accompanying a 2013 standard issue bow. You can also collect melee weapons from the world around you. Items like wooden planks, pipes, bats etc can also be modded in the games crafting system. Combat always feels taught and frantic – Joel isn’t some one man killing machine. This is clear when he gets into fist fights and the combat is brutal, bloody and brawling.
Many areas are crawling with infected or marauders. Sometimes so much so that you’d be stupid to just run in guns blazing. Many fighting areas require a mixture of stealth, strategy and combat to progress through. This lends a much more methodical pace to the game – making areas where you can run about and roam freely feel liberating. Using the R2 button Joel goes in to an advanced listening mode. What this equated to is akin to Batman’s Detective Mode in the Arkham series by Rocksteady. It allows you to see the outline of enemies, watch their movement and listen in to their conversations. Upgrades can be purchased through the game that increase the range of the mechanic.
The real time implementation of healing and crafting adds to the tension as well. Huddling down to bandage a wound or craft a new medpack or shiv is a calculated thing. Do it in the wrong location and you’ll be swarmed but “runners” in no time at all.
The Last of Us is arguably Naughty Dogs longest title to date. A rushed play through would likely see you reach the end of Joel and Ellie’s road trip in a round 12 hours. Those that take the time to explore the world – and you really should – will be looking at around 16hrs+. All this content and a well crafted mature story as well. So many times you see a developer aim for a more mature take on a story only to placate the masses with something that appeals to a lower common denominator. Naughty Dog pull back from this trend though, opting instead to portray a story, world and experience that is undeniably mature.
A few niggles do creep into the mix. Combat can sometimes devolve into frustration as you are repeatedly overwhelmed by enemies. A few odd AI issues with Ellie can break her believability – not normally a biggie in these co-op/escort style games but The Last of Us does such a compelling job of portraying Ellie as a real character it’s jarring when you see her act like a game AI.
Multiplayer is reasonable and offers up some lease of life to the game past the initial aspects of the main story. That said, like Uncharted’s perfectly reasonable multiplayer, I felt little compulsion to actually invest any meaningful time in the mode. That’s no gauge of quality I assure you for what is on offer is fun and well rounded and fans of the Uncharted style of multiplayer will be well catered for here.
The Last of Us is the crowning jewel of the PS3 era. Sure the console has years to go yet but, like God of War 2 for the PS2, The Last of Us shows the pinnacle of what the platform can deliver.
Not only that Naughty Dog has, with The Last of Us, managed to deliver us a game that not many other developers could have. The game is mature, gritty, desolate and depressingly oppressive at times. It’s a human interest road trip movie that you get to play.
There are a few flies in the ointment, no game is perfect in all respects. These small flaws are only evident because the rest of the game is just so above anything else on the market to date. I couldn’t justify taking marks away for what amounts to a couple of diamonds on a crown being less shiny than the rest.
The Last of Us represent a genre that is over run with titles. Zombie games are ten-a-penny these days. Naughty Dog could have gone easy on themselves and just put out a 3rd person zombie shooter and left it at that so they could concentrate on their PS4 titles. Instead they have taken the high value cinematic production skills they employed to make Uncharted and used them to blend some of this generation’s best games (Batman Arkham franchise, Fallout 3, Uncharted) and wrap those finely tuned mechanics around a mature script that takes its lead from the likes of The Road and The Walking Dead.
This title is a landmark in video games. The Last of Us will serve as the tentpole title for the PS3. The Last of Us is an essential purchase for any gamer or movie fan and worth getting a PS3 for if you’ve yet to take the plunge!