Better late than never! In celebration of Sony’s virtual masterpiece, ‘The Last of Us’ TRG has decided to become the last reviewer, a nod to the game’s survivalist premise in more ways than one.
One of the first things you’ll notice after patching the game is the title screen. Novel, right? But this title screen is just a glimpse into your future; spoiler free and gorgeous. Never before has a window sill looked so beautiful! And the shadows and pretty text…okay so it takes actually loading the game before the real treat begins.
An age has arrived where transitions between a cut-scene and gameplay are as fluid as…Okay, it’s just pretty damn fluid, alright? Many games have had you play the story sequences but few have done so in such a way that forces you to constantly check your left thumb stick in order to be absolutely sure you are playing and not just watching.
The visuals are quite simply stunning. From the details on the tree trunks to backdrops that look like they are from some great modern artist with realism as an added bonus all the way down to the ruinous insides of buildings. No detail is spared and the result is an atmosphere that is both distracting in its nature and engaging in the mood it presents. Naughty Dog have nailed that feeling that you are in another world that is not so far removed from your own.
Sound – 9/10
Much ado has been made about the sound design and for good reason. I am one to take note of background music, especially giving props to the more melodic sound tracks that accompany a great gameplay experience. But The Last of Us still managed to grab my attention despite having a run of the mill musical score that could exist in any movie. Therein lies the amazement, though. Not only does the background music and occasional real life oldie song feel perfectly complimentary to the experience but it at times seems to drive it in ways that few soundtracks ever have. The mood of the music itself is both unique and contrasting to what is going on in such a way that it quite simply couldn’t have been done better. Again, I am one of those that absolutely abhors the direction that most modern game music has taken, forsaking rhythm and melody for a Hollywood epic’s mood and supporting sound. While TLOU has little melody to speak of, it should be known as an example of a rare game that nails its sound design despite lacking a memorable chorus of any kind. Except that country song. That was pretty timely. And catchy. What was that song again…?
And of course the shining aura around this masterpiece, the gameplay itself. Meshing a few classic survival horror mechanics and evolving them in such a way that you barely notice they’ve been done before – in many cases because they haven’t – The Last of Us winds up being a one of a kind game within a familiar genre. Inventory limits are in place along with a crafting system reminiscent of, say, Resident Evil, but the upgrades are so profound that they feel fresh.
Opening your backpack to create a molotov or health kit doesn’t break the immersion. Instead it adds to it, forcing you to hastily craft a bomb or shiv while in hiding as a means to, dare I say, SURVIVE the encounter.
Wrapping it all together, especially in a first playthrough, is the sense of conservation you’ll need to retain throughout the game. From the first corridors where your gun is an optional tool, you feel as though you can’t use that gun or risk something more fearsome taking you down later. Careful conservation of both bullets and supplies are not only necessary but rewarding as hell. Using just a few bullets and some deft melee attacks both stealth and head on to overcome a room full of screamers and runners is one of the more satisfying experiences ever seen in gaming.
Remember that hallway full of killer birds in Resident Evil? Or the first time you encounter a licker? Yeah those same types of moments await in TLOU. And overcoming the obstacles presented feels like a true revolution in the genre.
Story – 10/10
Where should I start? The dialog? The plot? The way it all unfolds? I don’t normally look up a game’s head writer but The Last of Us prompted me to do just that. Neil Druckmann is henceforth a hero of the anti-hero. I don’t know who helped him pull the strings on Joel and Ellie’s narrative but I do know that much credit must be attributed him for even conceiving such a tale. Many times prior to release I both heard and thought, “Oh no, ANOTHER zombie survival story?” and yet by the time I was but a few hours in I began trying to will The Walking Dead’s next season to be just half this good.
This tale is told over the course of about a year and yet nothing feels contrived or missing. It’s almost as if the episodic nature of the plot plays right into itself as a nod to its own pace. Humorous dialog peppers but never intrudes on your immersion to this world. Character development? Yup, it’s there too. And you will grow to care about just about all of them, Ellie and Joel aside.
Multiplayer – 9.5/10
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the multiplayer. The “Factions” mode can be easily overlooked but should not be missed. With a rather high learning curve – a concept that this reviewer considers a huge plus – Naughty Dog has crafted an online experience like few others. Adapting a replica of the gameplay from its campaign, this multiplayer feels like a true extension of that experience.
Just days before The Last of Us would release on June 19th, Naughty Dog [insert guy and title here] tweeted a tease for its previously confirmed multiplayer modes, stating simply that it would be the most amazing multiplayer experience ever conceived. Suffice it to say, they delivered…sort of. A certain amount of over hype went into that tweet but the final product truly is one of the best online additions to a game in recent memory. 1 part Counterstrike, 1 part Resident Evil, 1 part Call of Duty, yet entirely its own concoction, this mode will keep most players busy for dozens if not hundreds of hours.
And why wouldn’t it? Again, this is an extension of the masterful single player campaign with no narrative except the two factions that are in it and the story of how each encounter unfolds. A true example of how teamwork can make and break a team yet with its own Mario Kart-esque balancing in the sense that you’ll tend to get more supplies when you are behind. While some would argue that this approach removes some of the skill inherent in a competitive match, I rarely noticed it impact the outcome and tended to only give a sense of empowerment to the weaker team…which would lose anyway.
Another unique but largely throwaway touch to the multiplayer is the 12-week system. The idea is that you are a member of either the Fireflies or the Hunters for 12 weeks, building an unseen following of survivors during that time. Occasionally a malaria outbreak or opposing faction attack will threaten your population which is grown by gathering an excess of supplies each match. Complete these sets of 3 matches – known as missions – with a certain score and you’ll either lose less or gain more followers to your cause. Again, the narrative here is very thin but the result is a unique leader board system that is more tuned toward skillful play than any other multiplayer mode I’ve ever encountered. Unfortunately the balance is a bit off and some exploits have yet to be corrected so, as with any leaderboard, the top portion is full of unfair scores.
All in all, Factions is a breath of fresh air, exuding more tension in its moment to moment play than an awkward discovery that your girlfriend is a transgender. Okay that might be the wrong kind of tension…but you get my meaning. Perks and loadouts create a plethora of playstyle options and lend themselves to a simultaneously stealth and action experience that even Solid Snake can envy.
Short and sweet: there isn’t much here to complain about. I suppose it’s annoying that you can walk over bodies with some collision detection issues, but what game doesn’t have that problem? It’s been said that the AI for your companions is a bit on the shoddy side but that seems to add more to the gameplay while it slightly breaks immersion; an ultimately neutralizing tradeoff. It truly is difficult to find things to gripe about here!
I didn’t want it to end…and then it did. That’s a problem, right? There’s no way that campaign DLC is going to satiate my desire to survive that storyline. I suppose that brings up my biggest gripe though. The characters you come across along the way have their own story to tell and while we may get to understand their trials and outcomes through DLC, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to know them enough throughout the main campaign. Again, a small issue especially considering the lack of plot holes and otherwise excellent development of most of the characters.
Overall – 9.5/10
As you’ve surely read many times before, The Last of Us is a game that reaches the apex of what is possible on a PS3 console. The depth of what you experience through the game’s ups and downs grasps you on an emotional level in ways that few games before it have or after it likely will. It plays perfectly and sets a bar that the next generation should strive to achieve in any of its triple-A offerings. I only wish I could have said all of this before everyone else did lest I sound like a copycat of the popular opinion. But then again, these are songs of praise that are worth repeating.