The Last of Us review

The Last of Us review

T3 5
  • The Last Of Us packages a post-apocalyptic survival-horror game with a heart-rending yarn that packs considerable emotional punch

    The Last of Us review

    Love

    • Great story and characters
    • Beautiful
    • well-realised world
    • Genuinely terrifying at times

    Hate

    • Friendly AI
    • Broken atmosphere
    • Telegraphed action

    The Last Of Us is a game developed by people who understand the perennial appeal of setting a story in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. Whether social order was wiped out by a series of earthquakes, a nuclear war or a zombie plague is immaterial.

    The fact is, it’s gone and the law of the jungle has returned; the focus here, then, should be not on the crumbling landscape or the monsters lurking out in the darkness. It should, instead, centre in on those having to survive in the rubble of civilisation.

    The Last Of Us: Plot

    Naughty Dog, the developer behind The Last Of Us, understands this so well, it's wisely constructed its game’s plot as a character-driven piece.

    Where the protagonists are bound, the mission they’re tasked with accomplishing and how they go about it are catalysts to engage the audience’s attention, but they become less important over time than whom the characters are and the relationship that spawns between them.

    A post- apocalyptic world, by its very nature, provides gamers with challenges to face and enemies to kill, but rarely does it lend their experience the dramatic heft present in The Last Of US.

    The game’s story centres around Joel, a tired, grizzled survivor who has lost nearly everything after a plague that turns humans into feral, mindless beasts destroyed civilisation as we know it.

    The opening ten minutes of the game give us a glimpse into the misery spread into Joel’s life in the early stages of the plague and then the action switches to 20 years later, where society exists in small, police-run pockets on a map where social order has largely broken down. It’s here, Joel meets Ellie, a 14-year-old girl who may provide the key to restoring civilisation.

    Naturally the pair don’t hit it off immediately. Joel is a haggard veteran who believes that allowing himself to care about anyone too much is too risky by half, given the world’s current state.

    Ellie, who is a lot older than her 14 years suggest is more complex; her natural curiosity and precociousness prompt her to peel away at the layers of Joel’s stoicism, and she comes to see him as something of a surrogate father, with all the internal love, anger and rebellion, which comes with that.

    As the pair trek across a ruined USA over the course of a year, the bond between them grows and becomes the lynchpin for the player’s emotional investment.

    The Last Of Us: Gameplay

    Along the way, Ellie and Joel run into other survivors – some friendly, some hostile – and a large number of the mindless, feral ‘Infected’ and ‘The Hunters’, a faction of humans who prey on others for supplies and sport.

    It’s here that The Last Of Us throws Naughty Dog fans their first curveball. Like the developer’s Uncharted series, this game places players in the shoes of a scrappy, likable character, but Joel, unlike Nathan Drake, is no action hero. His hand-to-hand combat skills are negligible, he aims with less-than-steady hands and he drops if a couple of bullets enter his body.

    Most of the time, his best option is staying out of sight, striking from the shadows and pausing to listen out for where enemies are positioned.

    If Joel can take down enemies quietly one at a time, he stands much more chance of surviving than if he opens fire with a gun – not only will the loud muzzle flash bring every enemy in earshot running in his direction, but bullets are in short supply in this world, and he needs to make every one of them count.

    Joel is also able to craft items from various parts he scrounges from his environment. He can, for example, tape scissor blades onto the end of a baseball bat, turning it into an instant-kill weapon for one strike. He can craft smoke bombs, Molotov cocktails and nail-bombs.

    He can fashion a shiv that works as a stabbing weapon and a lock-breaking device. He can even use parts and tool guides he’s collected to improve the collection of firearms he picks up on his travels. None of these items ever turn Joel into a walking slaughterhouse, by the way, but they give him more options when violence is imminent.

    So The Last Of Us, then, plays like a vintage survival-horror game, with some crafting and some third-person (albeit slightly ropy) cover-based mechanics thrown in. This may come as such a surprise to players, that many may be put off by the game’s opening hour – as I was – where the temptation to juggle melee attacks with gunplay needs to be actively resisted.

    Leap into a fray all guns blazing, and you’re likely to get turned into paint in some of the most eye-poppingly gruesome death scenes we’ve seen since Tomb Raider and Dead Space. The Last Of Us isn’t easy and sometimes it isn’t fair, but hey, that’s life when the zombies (or in this case, The infected) run rampant.

    The Last Of Us: Multiplayer

    This is also true of the game’s competitive online mode – or Factions, as it’s called. Rather than offering a straight run-and-gun affair, Factions, toss players some limited supplies and ammo and then let’s them get on with the business of stealthily killing one another. They can also scrounge items in the map to craft items that give them the edge in combat.

    Players can listen out for the movement of members on the opposing team – like Joel’s ‘listening’ ability, doing this bleeds colour out of the screen and allows the player to like through walls, much in the same fashion as the Instinct mechanic from Hitman: Absolution. They can also ‘tag’ opponents, allowing their team members to see them.

    The atmosphere in these matches exists on a knife-edge. Players are advised to constantly check their surroundings, heal and craft when they’re as certain of a reprieve as they can be (which isn’t often) and keep their guns loaded. Death can come from any corner at any time.

    The Last Of Us: Visuals & Atmosphere

     

    This atmosphere pervades throughout the campaign too; even when Joel and Ellie enter a building they later find is safe, the initial stages are choked with a sense of foreboding. In the world of The Last Of Us, players often die when they drop their guard, so it pays to check all corners as often as possible.

    And the game gives players plenty of reasons to explore it. Not only are all the environments potentially filled with useful items worth scrounging for but, for a depressing vision of a shattered world, The Last Of Us looks absolutely gorgeous.

    The game presents a vision of the USA where greenery wraps tendrils around skyscrapers, where freeways provide makeshift caverns filled with fungi and where every country landscape looks wild and untamed.  While their track record for lush beauty is firmly established in the Uncharted series, Naughty Dog have outdone themselves here

    Is The Last Of Us perfect? No, of course it isn’t. Eventually players may wryly smile at the paucity of materials available and doors and drawers that can be opened in this world.

    They also may note certain parts of the scenery seem more interactive than others and that the game starts telegraphing its set pieces well into the second act; pro-tip: if you enter an area filled with bottles and bricks, enemies will be appearing shortly.

    The Last Of Us: Verdict

    But the The Last Of Us earns every ounce of its praise through its ability to emotionally engage the player, almost from the outset. It begins working its magic with a whiff of intrigue and before they know it, the player will find the game’s hands tugging at their heartstrings.

    The game’s ending provides closure, but it doesn’t offer up its melancholy delights neatly wrapped in bow. This is one of the only games in recent memory players with finish with a lump in their throat. That alone is enough to confer The Last Of Us with the status of greatness.  

    The Last Of Us release date: 14 June 2013

    The Last of Us price:  £39.99

  • The Last of Us sees developer Naughty Dog venturing into new, uncharted territory with a post-apocalyptic tale of survival where every bullet counts

    The Last of Us review

    Love

    • Great story and characters
    • Beautiful
    • well-realised world
    • Genuinely terrifying at times

    Hate

    • Friendly AI
    • Broken atmosphere
    • Telegraphed action

    Sony’s E3 2012 press conference was like a sandwich of software announcements where the bread was certainly tastier than a filling that included PlayStation All Stars and a huge big dollop of Wonderbook.

    At one end was David Cage’s follow up to Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and on the other there was The Last Of Us gameplay footage that left a big smile on the face of SCEA President and CEO Jack Tretton

    We felt the excitement in the room as our bearded protagonist Joel tried to steady his aim from behind an overturned table and blew the head off of enemies with a shotgun. Now we can stop drooling over trailers and get a piece of the action.

    With an agonizing lengthy install of almost seven hours we got to play through two short scenarios that aimed to show off the Uncharted-inspired action and the new survival horror direction.

    The Last of Us: Plot

    First up is Pittsburgh where we find Joel and his young teenage companion Ellie attempt to track down a man named Bill who has left a series of booby traps to make the task of finding him more difficult, no doubt to protect his own safety.

    It’s here where we get a glimpse of the desolate landscape which looks impressively detailed as the trailers have shown us previously.

    The glaring sunlight squeezes through the gaps in the trees and abandoned cars litter the vacant streets, and while we imagine everything will get an extra polish before its June release, the Last of Us looks great so far.

    The Last of Us: Gameplay

     

    We are also get our first feel of the controls which are very similar to the ones used in Uncharted with some subtle differences like the stealth mode (hit R2) where the screen goes black and white and the game slows making it easier to creep up on unsuspecting enemies. You can also shake the controller to recharge the torch which, it appears, will play an important role in the game.

    Shooting mechanics are made to fit within the pressurised and frenetic surroundings where Joel shoots with fear and that affects not only aiming accuracy but also the flustered way in which he attempts to reload quickly as an enemy approaches. Some might not be fans of this but within the realms of the narrative it adds another dimension of reality.

    Once we’ve propped ladders on rooftops, picked up rations of food and tools which you can craft into more lethal weapons, we finally get our first taste of action and not to spoil what happens the sequence immediately makes us think of a similar scenario in Tomb Raider, the game which has raised the bar for this genre.

    We get to see the infected and more mutated clickers in action, the latter that react to sound. If you don’t address them, they will pounce on you quickly and kill you as was the case more than several times in the demo.

    Into the Pittsburgh level and we begin with the truck ambush footage that has been shown off before and we begin to get a sense of what it’s like to fend off a horde of enemies. Every bullet really counts and it’s no use hiding behind boxes for long because they will soon surround you and prompt you into attack.

    It’s here that we get to see the computer AI controller Ellie come into play and she's more of a help than a hindrance when she's not dropping the F-bomb.

    At one point when we are frantically reloading Ellie realises the situation and throws a brick to stun and buy you some time. This kind of co-op has rarely been mastered but there are signs that Naughty Dog is set to make sure this co-op partnership is beneficial and not a frustrating game-ruining one.

    The Last of Us: Verdict

    So what can we take from our small game time with the Last of Us? This is no Uncharted that’s for sure. Some of the control mechanics might be similar but this feels like a different beast, where you can’t simply pick up more ammo from every enemy that you dispose of and drift seamlessly through the game.

    It’s truly a game about survival and the fear of the unknown is at every door that you open. The characters Joel and Ellie feel like protagonists you can grow to love and while we don’t dig too deep into the storyline and narrative here, Naughty Dog is renowned for doing this so we expect more of the same for this title.

    For many who attended that the Sony E3 2012 press conference. The Last of Us stirred most the excitement and this teaser of a preview has definitely left us wanting a bigger bite of the action.

    The Last of Us release date: 14 June 2013

    The Last of Us price: TBC

    Preview by Michael Sawh

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