The Last of Us Review: Watch as the relationship between Joel and Ellie develops in a world where every moment is a struggle for survival.
The Last of Us is a story about surviving against overwhelming odds. Throughout your journey you will come across a cast of characters that will help out and some of them will make it while others will die along the way. The Last of Us is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the human race is being wiped out by a rapidly moving virus. If you get bit or otherwise infected then you will become, for all intents and purposes, a zombie within the next day or two. If you remain an infected for a really long time your body will morph into a Clicker which is blind but can track you down by listening to the sounds you make. The Clicker’s are easily the worst enemies that you will face in this game as it is almost an insta-kill whenever they get their hands on you. That is why you need to do whatever is possible to protect not only yourself but the rest of the people with you. The Last of Us isn’t only about one person though. At its heart it is about the relationship developing between Joel and Ellie. Over the course of the game they develop a relationship akin to a father-daughter type role. Make no mistake about it though, neither one would be able to survive without the other during this journey. Joel is an older gentleman who has seen and done a lot of bad things in his life since the virus first hit. Ellie is a fourteen year old girl that is experiencing much of the world for the first time. Despite that fact, Ellie has been through her own trauma being born into this post-apocalyptic world and having to adapt at a really young age. She is a really strong character that saves Joel’s life on more than occasion.
The world of The Last of Us is brutal and unforgiving. As you progress through it you can feel the desperation that exists from both Joel and Ellie as well as from the world itself. Nothing is plentiful here, almost everything has to be scavenged. Exploration is key in The Last of Us as that is how you will find more bullets for your shotgun or arrows for your bow. That is how you will find the necessary ingredients to craft a health kit that might save your life or build a bomb that might allow you to barely escape a fight intact. Going through the game on Survivor (the hardest difficulty) makes things even more scarce. You might have found shotgun shells in one desk going through the game on normal difficulty but on Survivor those bullets are nowhere to be found. It is a true game about survival where stealth is often the most preferred method. There are times, especially on Survivor difficulty, where avoiding a fight is preferable over standing your ground and trying to clear a room. Going through the game on the easier difficulties affords Joel the ability to be able to listen carefully to the environment around him. This ability can tell you whether there are infected close by so that you can plan accordingly. On Survivor mode you don’t have that luxury so you have to tread carefully, pay attention to enemy patrol routes and try to make sure you don’t walk into a big firefight.
Your journey in The Last of Us takes you across the United States. You start out in Boston and head west. Hope and a promise made to someone are all that keep you going as you face not only your enemies but the environment as well. The game is broken up into chapters and seasons. The Winter season, for example, can be especially brutal and offers up a change in the gameplay dynamic you had experienced up till that point. It is a refreshing change and offers a bit of a different perspective on things but that is all I will say so as to avoid spoilers. Along the way you will come across different survivors like yourself with some of them being friendly and some of them, not so much. You’ll come across people such as Joel’s girlfriend Tess who is there with you at the beginning of the game but it isn’t long before you part ways. Then there is one of Joel’s old friends Bill and two people you run into later in the game as you are trying to elude the military. In this instance you run into a guy and his younger brother that are trying to survive just as you are. The younger brother is right around Ellie’s age and this is where you will see just how great the writing is in The Last of Us. Naughty Dog has filled this game with a lot of memorable moments but it is the time spent with Sam (the younger brother) where you can see some more depth from Ellie’s character. Up until that point she has to basically act like an adult and have a hard edge to her to be able to survive. With Sam though she is afforded the opportunity, however brief, to simply act like a kid. They talk about some topics that kids generally talk about it and they even find a dartboard in one of the abandoned houses and have fun trash talking each other as they play a quick game. There is another instance where Ellie sees real fireflies and kind of loses herself in the moment of watching them. It is brief interludes like this that add real depth to Ellie’s character and is one of the reasons why this game is so great. In the beginning Joel is really rough around the edges but as the story progresses his relationship with Ellie develops and he becomes fond of her and regales her with tales of how things used to be such as trying to explain the rules of football or the concept of an ice cream truck. This is all foreign to Ellie as she can’t imagine a time where an ice cream truck would drive down the street or when someone’s biggest worry was writing an entry in their diary.
Along the way you will come across collectibles that will put individual dilemmas into context. You might find a note that is addressed to a brother or a daughter detailing what was going on at that moment and what they must do to try and survive. You’ll find Firefly pendants across the U.S. from fallen members of that activist group. Everything you find will have some use whether it is simply a snapshot of that time period or an actual item that you can use to craft something useful.
In addition to the absolutely stellar campaign, The Last of Us also features a multiplayer mode. The multiplayer is another facet of this game that Naughty Dog really nailed. In multiplayer factions war over territory, supplies and the very lives of people as they try to grow the size of these factions to try and exert their dominance and influence. When you first start up the multiplayer you have to decide which side you are on. You have the “Hunters” and the “Fireflies” to choose from and each side has its advantages. Once all of your selections are made and the action begins you will quickly realize the amazing job Naughty Dog has done here. The multiplayer is intense as there are supply drops all around the map that have items you will need to craft important items such as a healing pack. There will be other items that you will need as well to upgrade your weapons to, hopefully, give you a better chance at surviving a firefight. If one of your team members goes down you can run over and revive them but you might have to deal with other team shooting at you. The executions and the general fighting are just as brutal as they are in single player and teamwork is going to be key here if you want to survive. One of my favorite aspects of this multiplayer is how there is a small story that revolves around it. As a Hunter I needed to hold out until a large shipment of arms came my way through enemy territory. I needed to stake out a camp and hold out for the shipment which would take twelve weeks to get there. Each game you play represents one day in a week so, as you can imagine, it takes quite a while to go all twelve weeks and this helps to push you along the multiplayer mode instead of the normal deathmatch type of mode. The action itself is of the deathmatch variety but the little bit of story there is gives you a sense of purpose and an actual goal to achieve. As you progress your clan will either grow or shrink depending on your successes and failures. As your clan grows you will see different updates such as someone is planting crops and other things along that line. There will be some tough decisions that need to be made though throughout the twelve weeks which adds some weight to the standard multiplayer formula.
The Last of Us is Naughty Dog’s masterpiece. A masterful work in every way this is one of the best games of the generation, without question. The writing is impeccable, the environments do a great job of setting the mood and Naughty Dog did a tremendous job of making you feel the desperation that exists within that world. Graphically speaking The Last of Us is stunning with great facial animations by the characters that draw you into the experience as well as the superb voice acting. It is a rewarding experience to witness the relationship develop between Joel and Ellie from it being adversarial in the beginning to an almost father-daughter type of relationship as the game reaches its conclusion. This is a game that you must play if you own a PlayStation 3. If you don’t own a PS3 then find some way to borrow one from a friend or simply go out and get one as this is an experience not to be missed. Definitely the best PS3 exclusive to come out this generation and, perhaps, one of the best exclusives for any console, The Last of Us does a great job with the oft-used post apocalyptic story by making it feel fresh and exciting again and doing it with a believable cast of memorable characters. Go buy this game.