After the first time I seen the reveal trailer for The Last of Us, I knew it would be a game that I would keep a close eye on. From that moment last year, anticipation for the game grew as more details were unveiled and more coverage of the game was broadcast to the masses. As excitement grew, Sony revealed that a playable demo would be available to play via a code which could be obtained via the purchase of God of War: Ascension. Prior to the release of the demo, I was able to play the pre-alpha demo for The Last of Us via an event held by my local GAME store and a few fellow gamers. While I was impressed with what I played, it made me even more eager to get my hands on the final product. The time has arrived to see if Naughty Dog’s latest game should be one to survive this gaming apocalypse or be considered dead in the water.
The game begins with a typical family scene with main character Joel and his daughter Sarah relaxing on the couch. The first time you are in control of a character is when you control Sarah who has been woken up by a phone call during the early hours. This causes Sarah to look for her dad when it soon becomes apparent that everything isn’t right. From that moment on, nothing is ever the same.
Fast forward 20 years and the America that was once the leading light of the world has become nothing more than a dying ember as society has been ripped apart by a fungal disease (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis). This disease has turned most of the American population into senseless monsters who look to kill at any opportunity. Joel is tasked with the humane mission of taking care of teenager Ellie in an otherwise inhumane environment. Before you get far into the story, you know you are in for a rollercoaster ride of emotion, action and tension throughout The Last of Us.
It is simply a beautiful game to look at. Whether its cut-scenes or gameplay, they both look equally beautiful. The game does take you from the brightest of natural environments to the deepest and darkest flooded subways and it is visually stunning. Amidst all the problems which the futuristic America seems to be experiencing, sometimes you can’t help but stand and look at your surroundings at how beautiful it looks or how dark and intimidating some places are. There is one moment in particular where I stood (as Joel) and looked at this herd of giraffes and thought how some beauty can still be found in the ugliest of situations. It took me a minute or so to realise I had to interact with something in order to progress as I was so lost in this beautiful scene. In addition to the surroundings, your enemies are fascinating to look at, even if any shred of human life form has been ripped from them.
Enemies come in various forms with the main threats being clickers. These enemies have been fully infected with the fungal disease and can kill you with one bite. The only way to kill them is to shoot them in the head and the ‘Double Tap’ rule definitely applies here. Even with a powerful revolver, the clickers can take at least two shots to the head to kill. If ammo allows it, the shotgun is always the preferred weapon when faced with clickers. These frantic battles often decimate your ammo supply but as long as you survived, that is what counts. It would always be advised to try and distract the clickers and sneak around them.
Sometimes this isn’t possible as the lesser infected enemies (runners) can see and hear well. You can beat off these enemies by furiously hammering square adding to the sense of desperation in your struggles to cope with the world outside of your comfort zone. These enemies try to beat you to death and if you are surrounded by several of them, you can sprint through them briefly to try and get the better of them. You will also encounter enemies in the shape of fellow humans who are either in a similar situation to you by trying to survive or law enforcers who wish to erase anyone who has tried to steal their supplies, enter their territory or disobey their orders.
Each of these enemies can be distracted by using glass bottles and bricks to give you a window of opportunity. The tension when sneaking past enemies is, more often than not, extremely tense. You just don’t know if the enemy will turn round and see you or if you get to close you will be spotted by a runner or a clicker. There are a few moments early on which test your patience as you have to pick your moments and get past 4 runners and a clicker but you can’t get out of the room without making a huge amount of noise. You need to pick your moments and hope for the best. Another moment is when you are separated from your allies and you have to get past two clickers without much room to manoeuvre. The game is challenging (even on normal difficulty) but as you progress through each part, you get a small sense of achievement as you have managed to somehow survive.
If there is one aspect of the game which other titles should look to bring to their games, it is the checkpoint system. The checkpoints are so frequent that if you do die, or someone who is with you dies, you will restart not too far away from where you were. It is a very good system that works perfectly. There is no need for feeling angry about losing progress for the past 30 minutes; The Last of Us has you covered.
If someone had to ask me to describe The Last of Us in one word, it would be ‘tense’. You often find yourself constantly holding in R2 to see where enemies are and if you can sneak past the. I found, more often than not, that my heart would beat faster and would grip the controller tighter as I hoped that Joel would survive and be able to protect Ellie so that they could try to progress through this ravaged country.
There are times where you are overwhelmed by 4 or 5 enemies and have to run to find a little space before you can decide your next move. The atmosphere is as good as a survival horror game has ever been. I must admit however, I didn’t find myself pausing the game in terror after an infected had scared me or because there were erratic movements. It may be because I am used to playing games like Dead Space, F.E.A.R and Alan Wake but I wasn’t scared, only emotionally attached to the characters throughout.
The array of characters which The Last of Us possesses is nothing short of incredible. Each character has their own story to tell and shows in the way they act when they meet Joel and Ellie. Ellie is one of the best gaming partners because you don’t have to worry about her safety, apart from a select few occasions. She hides herself away from any danger but becomes a great ally and someone you can rely on as the game progresses. Ellie’s strong point is her personality. She is 14 and has grown up in a world that hasn’t had any luxuries like aeroplanes, parties, the internet and many more objects which we would take for granted in real life. Her attitude towards others who think that she’s’ just a kid’, is excellent and sometimes had me chuckling with her witty comebacks.
Other memorable characters are Joel’s criminal partner, Tess, someone who Joel did several favours for, Bill, and a fellow survivor Joel and Ellie meet on their travels, Henry. These are only some of the characters but each individual has had different experiences surviving the monstrosity and some can be trusted, more than others. The team behind The Last of Us have done a great job in adding little twists to each of the situations.
There were a few moments of error which I spotted during my first save file. The main one which kept happening was that even though Ellie and other survivors are good at hiding, the enemies only react when they see Joel or Ellie later in the game. You try so hard to stay out of sight and the first time it happened I noticed both Ellie and Tess were in clear view of the enemy but they went unnoticed. A tad unrealistic but it doesn’t affect the game too much as it allows you to concentrate on keeping Joel breathing rather than an extra 2 people as well. Later in the game, I had noticed a bug when I was fleeing a battle and climbed into a restaurant through a window. There was a fence between me and the other side so I entered the restaurant and seen there was an open window just up from the window where I had entered. When I climbed out of it, the Ellie was floating in mid-air and, subsequently died a few seconds later. It turns out I had been going the wrong way!
To many, multiplayer in The Last of Us is something which may have been overlooked prior to the game’s release. Multiplayer games in games which seem to focus more on the single player aspect tend to be popular for a few weeks and then everyone returns to Call of Duty, Battlefield or FIFA. The multiplayer in The Last of Us differs slightly from the typical Team Deathmatch style of gameplay. The online mode is called ‘Factions’ and before you start, you have to choose a side in which to play as. You can either play as one of two ‘factions’: Hunters or Fireflies. If you have played through the single player campaign, you will be more than aware of each side’s ambitions. The selection at the start is permanent but can be altered if you complete the story online, which doesn’t feature a lot of dialogue.
Both factions aims are to grow their number of members and in order to do this, you will have to win multiplayer matches. In addition to winning the match, you will also need to collect supplies and completing certain objectives during the match. After each match, the online story moves one day forward. If you lose a match, the number of people in your clan will be decreased and the only way to grow numbers is to win matches. There are two playing modes in Factions, Supply Raid and Survivors. Both are variations on Team Deathmatch with Supply Raid offering a limited number of respawns while Survivors doesn’t allow respawns once your character is deceased. Both game modes are 4v4 and the maps are large for the number of players involved. Either of the multiplayer games don’t tend to allow you to ‘run and gun’ your way through a level as it will result in a perilous death. The best way to approach it is the same way to approach the single player.
As you gain kills, you can use parts you collect from enemies to buy better weapons, ammunition and other accessories to help your cause to help you survive longer. Some of the objectives the player is faced with include killing a number of enemies in a specific time. None of the game modes involve any of the infected creatures, only the human survivors. The depth that the game offers in terms of multiplayer is an excellent example of how little tweaks to an already established game mode can make a huge difference and make the mode seem new and fresh.
Earlier this year, I said that this year would be the best year for games this generation. If this generation was a cake, The Last of Us would be the cherry on top. The game features fantastic characters that you feel responsible for and, to a certain degree, emotionally attached to. The gameplay is similar to Naughty Dog’s other landmark series Uncharted but the environments, scenery, enemies and the story is something to behold. It seems as though the term ‘Survival Horror’ means something once again and if you own a Playstation 3, then you definitely need to own The Last of Us. Even if you don’t own a PS3, it is a game you must experience somehow. The multiplayer is different other single player driven games and is refreshing to play. The Last of Us is tough, it is emotional but it certainly is rewarding.