Naughty Dog’s latest game, The Last of Us, is the story of a grizzled survivor (Joel) who thinks he has lost everything, and a young girl (Ellie) who has been hardened by a world gone horribly wrong. 20 years earlier, a fungal infection wiped out most of Earth’s population, and transformed the victims into mindless killing machines. You know – zombies.
The military has disolved the American government and taken over what is left of humanity. Something resembling civilization still remains in tiny pockets of a few american cities. A group known as the Fireflies is working against the military and trying to reinstate all branches of the government. Outside of the quarantine zones, the world has been retaken by nature. Everything is overgrown and humanity has been reduced to roving bands of murderers and bandits. The infected are everywhere.
Joel has lost so much that he no longer has any regard for morality or even human life. Traits that work well in his profession as a smuggler in Boston’s quarantine zone. He is part of a deal that goes south and ends up being hired to smuggle a 14 year old girl (Ellie) out of the city. That is where our story begins.
The absolute center of The Last of Us is the relationship between Joel and Ellie which grows in a completely believable way throughout the game. The bond is cemented with unparalleled voice acting, masterful story telling and completely believable emotion expressed through the character’s facial animations. I found myself completely lost in their world and totally invested in their story. Forget a character dying – my stomach was in knots because of the possibility of Joel and Ellie being separated.
Combat is brutal and unflinching in its realism. Joel has long ago lost any remorse he might have had for killing scores of human enemies. Anything to survive. Combat scenarios can be approached in many different ways. Joel has a “listening” ability which allows him to get a sense for where enemies are and where they are moving to. He also has an arsenal of handguns, rifles and homemade melee weapons at his disposal. Joel can’t take a ton of damage, so typically it is best to stealth-kill as many enemies as possible, but that tends to only last so long. Once you are spotted, combat devolves into a frantic barrage of spiked-bats, molotov cocktails and homemade explosives. The brutality of the combat almost always leaves you feeling like you just narrowly escaped death, and you start on the hunt for supplies to craft more medkits.
Human foes react very differently than the infected which tend to charge right at you once you are detected. Humans will flank and try to flush you out of cover. I found myself mostly using my ranged weapons on humans and shotguns and melee weapons against infected.
The Last of Us has an engaging crafting system. For once it makes sense that your character is picking through every bit of garbage he can get his hands on to find something useful. Any tape or alcohol or sharpened bit of whatever could be all that stands in-between you death at the hands of some monster (be it human or infected).
The world of The Last of Us is beautiful and haunting and savage. The game can be grueling and make you feel uncomfortable or downright sick, but it is an amazing story and something that everyone should play. Some of the very best parts are things that I can absolutely not talk about in a review, but I will tell you that they are sticking with me a day after finishing it, and most likely will stay with me for quite a while.
This review is based on a retail copy of The Last of Us provided by Sony Computer Entertainment America. It is a PS3 exclusive.