To describe this game I should start with “Wow”. This has to be one of the best games I’ve ever played. There are a string of well considered, technical aspects that contribute to this game’s offering but what really sets it out from the rest is the emotional gravity of these complex characters and their desperate situation.
The great – often missed – bi-product of Zombie or post-apocalyptic storylines is how your idea of right and wrong is thrown out of the window when fighting for survival. The wild blood-thirsty zombies themselves are always a nice touch but what really makes the difference is what that does to humans’ minds and the better stories are of how humanity changes when civilization has gone and fear is omnipresent.
The Last of Us handles this extremely well, gruesomely and maturely with an in-depth focus on two main characters, an unlikely duo thrown together by circumstance. The main protagonist, Joel, has had bad things happen to him (you’ll find out in the game’s eventful first 10 minutes) and is definitely no saint because of it. His standoffishness shows that he’s very affected. This is mirrored in the actions of so many other humans you encounter. A particular conversation Joel has with his survival partner, Ellie, sums this up well. Following an ambush that starts with a man pretending to be injured, Ellie asks how Joel knew it was a trap, to which Joel replies “I’ve been on the other side of those ambushes”. I was surprised to have to fend off as many live foes in this game as I did the undead, and most of them niether good nor bad guys.
Ellie, your sidekick throughout, was born after the outbreak so only knows this life and every one of her decisions seems to stem from that troubled orphan-like distrust of people. While distrusting you, though, the polygons and pixels that make Ellie manage to let you know you’re supposed to look after her.
Aside from this unusual partnership, you’re never able to forget that it’s every man for himself and you have to do whatever it takes to survive – toward the end you may choose to be quite cut-throat about it all, almost literally. You won’t want the story ruined, but you should know that it’s subtly and beautifully told from beginning right through to the unorthodox, short but moving ending.
The gameplay itself is very engaging. All the buttons are in the right place and it’s set at just the right pace for the story so there’s no running and gunning, you’ll be torn to pieces by a horde in no time. You’ll need to choose when to fight head on, use a stealth attack or try to creep past unnoticed. When you get it wrong and die (which you will over and again) you won’t be sent miles back forcing you to redo the last half an hour, you’ll be set up perfectly to die again at the same spot fairly promptly – keeping the atmosphere going just perfectly.
Across the journey you’ll pick up mellee weapons, handguns, and long range guns as well as less usual weapons such as a bow and arrow, makeshift bombs and molotov cocktails (my bread and butter). The characters move in third person very naturally and the climbing and hiding behind the aspects of the environment works well.
Progress through the game’s universe is all predetermined but here’s another accomplishment of producers’, Naughty Dog, the game’s environment design gives you enough of a feeling of space and veering off course – the small amount you can – will reward you with that last ingredient to concuct a much needed bomb or one of the secret dog tags you’re collecting. You never feel like the game is on rails and you never get bored through being lost off-track.
A pleasant surprise in this game is the beautifully crafted music. Weeks after completing it, the game’s score plays in my mind on the drive to work or without cause in the shower. I was that spellbound by it that I did a few searches, to find the chap responsible has gone and won himself a few awards plucking many a heart string in his career as a musician and Movie Music Director. You can find one of his other scores here.
The game plays really well and through that alone it’d be a good game but what tipped it into greatness for me was the poetic story that was told in the process. I got to the end credits, glazed over in retrospect and knew that it was all very real, aside from the crazy zombie-like population, of course.
There’s the usual question of whether they’ll make a sequel or not but in a way I hope they don’t. After seeing what happened to my beloved Resident Evil franchise, The Last of Us is best left uninfected.
Take a look at the game’s trailer here…
The Last of Us PS3 trailer
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