The Uncharted franchise has rated high on my list of all time favourites, so I have been waiting with much excitement to play Naughty Dogs’ latest title. The Last Of Us is a relentless, emotional rollercoaster ride which will etch a mark in history as one of the most sophisticated, satisfying computer games ever made.
If you haven’t managed to get your hands on this game yet, then don’t worry, I will keep any spoilers today hidden from this page. This will mean I can’t elaborate on many of the points I make but one thing is sure, this game really is a masterpiece of storytelling and character development. I just didn’t want it to end.
The Last Of Us hooks you right from the start with one of the most gut wrenching open sequences I have seen. It is a great way to introduce you to one of the two main characters – Joel. Without going into specifics, it is a great insight into why the man acts in such a brash, conflicted manner throughout the game. This is one of the most powerful opening game sequences I have witnessed.
When the game gets going Joel is given the task of transporting Ellie, a tougher than nails 14 year old girl girl. The world around the characters has been stripped of humanity, a virus has infected much of the population, turning them into flesh eating zombies. Military controlled Quarantine Zones are in place to protect what is left of humanity and as we would expect, the military are overly aggressive and willing to shoot on sight. In all fairness they aren’t really very nice people.
Ellie is the star of the game. Her character is so endearing that it is hard not to feel for her as the characters progress along the adventure. The journey is a nightmare of events and Joel is tasked with ensuring Ellie doesn’t end up as a zombie meal.
There is no doubt that Naughty Dog know how to craft a game of epic proportions and The Last Of Us is as epic as it will get. The creatures the characters have to battle against range from fast moving, but dumb zombie humans to ‘avoid at all costs’ beasts that can kill with one melee attack. The game is driven by a gorgeous, yet horrific narrative. Ellie and Joel interact on a continual basis with many hours of dialogue seamlessly interwoven into the action.
Many of the best games are driven by a first class story, but The Last Of Us is also character driven. Ellie and Joel are so fantastically rounded that they fool you into believing they are real people. It was only when I was interrupted by a family member that I realised I wasn’t actually in their world, but sitting on a sofa in front of a television. I can count on one hand how many times this has happened when playing a game.
Every decision and movement you make draws you further into their virtual world. The characters develop throughout the game is a very realistic way and you can understand their actions and subsequently sympathise with the ramifications.
The relationship between Ellie and Joel is remarkable, they constantly fight at every corner, yet you can feel the bond between them growing emotionally. Ellie has to deal with her constant feeling of being alone, and her growing feelings for Joel – a tough middle aged man who has extreme difficultly expressing anything beyond a nod or a curt, sarcastic comment. Both of them find it difficult to trust another person, yet their journey cements what ends up an unbreakable bond.
There are many cutscenes in the game which supplement the gameplay. They flow into each other in a very natural way and snippets of dialogue from non player characters highlight how dire the situation really is within this virtual world.
The voice acting is faultless. Ashley Johnson injects a full bodied personality into Ellie, able to convey anger, warmth and fury with every snippet of dialogue. Troy Baker handles the gruff, emotionally stunted Joel with incredible passion and the interplay between both actors really is sublime. This is a game that would translate well into movie blockbuster.
The Last Of Us is based around a capable game engine which is able to draw you into the surroundings. I still find it remarkable how far the developers can push the ageing Playstation 3 hardware. Texture detail is good, the character animations are smooth and realistic, and there is minimal popup, although it can be noticeable in some of the outdoor environments.
The combat parts of the game are really well handled but thankfully this is not Unchartered ‘with zombies’. There is a decent cover system in place and there is a variety of weapons on offer which work just as we would expect. Although you control Joel for most of the game, both characters can use their hearing to pinpoint locations of their foes, even behind walls, but within a specific radius. This is crucial to ensuring you don’t meet an untimely death.
Joel is an interesting character to control. He won’t jump 100 foot chasms and he can’t somersault into the air …. he isn’t a trained killer. The developers have given Joel the ability to fight well, but he is limited in what he can do. He also needs help from Ellie getting up to high ledges and tricky locations. They work as a team, with Joel ‘boosting’ Ellie to a ledge, so she can find a ladder or some means for him to get up. Joel is far from invincible, he will get hurt in hand to hand combat and the strongest enemies will kill him easily, if you decide to use your fists that is.
With all the weapons on offer, why would you want to fist fight? Well, there are many times you will just have no ammunition and it is important to judge the enemy you are fighting and whether it is best wasting the ammo, or saving it for another unseen foe just around the corner. Joel can ‘craft’ nail bombs, smoke bombs, fire bombs and even first aid kits. The enemies don’t just leave first aid kits lying around, so it is logical that you need to be able to collect components to make your own.
Joel will also get access to some nasty, formidable melee weapons, such as baseball bats, wrenches and nail encased clubs. Knowing when to use these to save ammo is the recipe for success, especially later in the game. It doesn’t always make sense to run into a room either brandishing a rifle. Joel’s foot steps will attract attention and you can end up swamped by zombies or foot soldiers. Stealth needs to be adopted, especially as you can kill from behind without making a noise. I really do love how the game can be tackled in whatever way you want.
The Last Of Us also has a multiplayer element and it is quite good. Factions offers two modes of 4v4, formed around clan based progression. Supply Raid Mode puts two teams against each other in a team deathmatch environment with an additional objective to seek out supplies. Survival mode requires a lot of skill with no respawning and faster rounds. The multiplayer is linked to the single player game, meaning that there is a story driven foundation for it. It expands on the single player conflict between the FireFlies and the Hunters.
The Last Of Us is truly a masterpiece and rates as one of the best games I have played regardless of platform. It is a painful story and can often leave you in tears, but the emotional connection to the characters is something you really will not want to miss. It highlights just how powerful the gaming medium can be, if placed in the right hands. Naughty Dog have showcased themselves as the finest game developer on the planet and if they can keep matching this quality with future titles then the sky is the limit. A truly marvellous title that will remain in memory for decades to come.