One of the many truly spectacular things about The Last of Us is the way that it chronicles the evolution of modern gaming. For me, it was experiences like God of War, Bioshock and Uncharted that paved the way for a perfect blend of cinematic storytelling meets compelling-gameplay — one of the most forefront genres of the high-def era — and each succeeded in its own unique way.
The Last of Us, however, succeeds on a whole other level. Developer Naughty Dog knocked this one out of the park, through the stratosphere and somewhere out into orbit. At times, it even transcends being a game — the characters, the storytelling, it’s the stuff of Hollywood legend, trumping 99 percent of the drivel released on the silver screen these days. Thankfully, there’s just enough button mashing, shooting, and wall-climbing to keep The Last of Us from forgetting it’s extremely humble video game roots.
And those roots are extremely humble indeed. It’s quite hard to register the fact that this is from the makers of 3D platformers Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter, but after taking a step back, all three aren’t a million miles apart. At its core — and like the latter two games — The Last of Us is an action platformer; you’ll run, jump, climb and shoot your way through a harrowing 15-hour campaign, with only the subject matter and a few additional gameplay mechanics separating it from its older, furrier cousins.
The crafting system is one such separation. Scattered across the world, you’ll find various objects that when combined, yield extremely powerful results. Pick up a pair of scissors and a bag of explosive, perform some Hogwarts-level wizardry and you’ll produce a brutally lethal nail-bomb which can be planted as a mine or thrown, and will shred anything unlucky enough to be caught in its radius.
Crafting also has major ramifications outside of combat. Sure, it’s great to use all your alcohol and rags to make Molotov cocktails, allowing you to run around the map like a fire-spewing demon — but if your flame-based rampage goes awry and you end up being caught in your own crosshairs, you’ll be left without the two very things you need to craft a health kit — alcohol, and rags.
This system gives combat a wonderfully strategic edge. Do you pour your resources into offensive means, battling the smartly programmed AI in a Rambo-esque flurry of bullets and fire? Or do you take the most conservative route, and finely balance your defensive products with just the right amount of powerful supplements?
The Last of Us remastered does a wonderful job investing you in its combat, and this increases your affinity toward Joel, the main character because you’ll truly feel like you’ve let him down if you fail.
Joel isn’t the only one worth caring for either, as The Last of Us is packed with a tonne of well-rounded, interesting characters that truly connect you to this world, and all the things going wrong within it. Starting with a gut-wrenching prologue, you’ll be taken on an epic journey across America — escorting a child named Ellie — that spans seasons, cities and friendships.
Every town you come across has a different story to tell, and every building is an individual page of that story. You’ll find papers, recordings, and corpses that make this world feel real and lived in. Across multiple towns, I found notes from the same people that would piece together a harrowing tale of survival, or a story of hope and joy.
Being able to read about other humans — their trials, their ups, their downs — compelled me to survive. It meant that there was always a ray of hope beyond that bleak horizon, and despite all the death, blood and zombies there was always a chance that I could reach it.
I use the term “zombies” rather loosely — though many of the creatures you fight may resemble the walking dead, in reality, they’re not. The Last of Us provides an extremely organic explanation as to why the world is the way it is, and that extends to your enemies. Unfortunately, there’s one major thing these foes do have in common with zombies — they’re absolutely terrifying!
Some are completely blind and will rely on the noise you make to track your position, meandering slowly over to your location at the mere snap of a twig. Others have their visual sense intact and will chase after you like a rabid Sonic the Hedgehog character, which frequently had me sprinting away, tail between my legs.
You can combat these hellish beasts with a whole host of firearms, like shotguns, rifles, pistols and flamethrowers — but given that this is the apocalypse, and your friendly neighbourhood bullet manufacturer is likely to be out of business, each weapon has a limited amount of ammo.
Just like the crafting system, this armoury of yours will have to be used with all the cunning you can muster — is there a way you can plough through these enemies without conceding a bullet? Can you punch your way through, or dodge the encounter altogether? Thankfully, most scenarios afford you multiple ways of tackling them, meaning that if you want to stealth, shoot or sprint right through, you can do so.
Enemy encounters are perfectly peppered throughout the campaign, interspersed with some repetitive platforming and puzzle solving, where you’ll be tasked with fixing generators, repairing machinery and navigating treacherous patches of water. It’s not bad mechanically, or even story-wise — not once did a puzzle fail to work, not once did I get frustrated, and not once was I surprised that this was a challenge I’d undertake in the apocalypse — the platforming made sense for the setting.
It’s bad because it’s so damn repetitive. Frankly, I was quite annoyed that by the end of the game, I’d pushed Ellie — who was perched on a raft — across a body of water four or five times. This could even be argued as a story inconsistency — why isn’t Joel teaching Ellie to swim? However, in a bleak, undesirable future, I daresay that swimming lessons are about as high on your list of priorities as paying council tax.
God of War, Bioshock and Uncharted may have started a trend, but The Last of Us defines it.
It’s brutal, beautiful and uncompromising, and at times had me questioning my humanity. It’s a game that asks you how far you’d go for those you love, and what crimes you’d commit to save them. It’s heavy stuff, but like all great games, it doesn’t forget what it is. The Last of Us plays just as well as it tells a story, and it’s this that makes it so utterly compelling to experience.
• Crafting system
• Combat choices
• Emotional, intense story
• World, characters, and lore
• Repetitive puzzles
• Occasional character glitches