I waited a week before writing this post because I wanted to be sure I processed my experience with this game fully. Make no mistake, Naughty Dog has crafted yet another epic gaming experience just as it did with the Uncharted trilogy, but be prepared to get nasty and gritty. The Last of Us is a trip down the long road of depravity that humanity is ever tempted to walk. And its an incredibly fun trip.
I happen to enjoy post-apocalyptic and dark, meaty stories. Zombies and demons are also high on my list of interests in storytelling. The Last of Us takes elements of the classic zombie apocalypse and meshes it well with a standard adult-child bonding storyline as Joel is more or less forced into escorting Ellie across the country against his better judgment. Along the way, the two are forced to get over their clear distrust of each other and learn to rely on each other to survive the long journey and its many perils: weather, terrain, human scavengers (Hunters), and the Infected – humans that have fallen victim to a mutated strain of the cordyceps family of fungi.
Watching the bond between Joel and Ellie is the real meat of the adventure, but the game consists of surviving a series of encounters spread across the four seasons on the duo’s trek from Boston to Salt Lake City. Stealth and ingenuity are key to survival, and you – as Joel – must be ready to do whatever is necessary to come out of any situation in one piece. The game’s crafting system is just deep enough to make strategic planning a must – especially on harder difficulties with fewer available supplies and ammo – while not requiring too much of your time to actually learn or do your crafting. This is key as you will often need to craft on the fly to combat threats as they arise, and the game does not stop or pause while you do so. Joel’s “listen mode” allows you to pinpoint the location of enemies that are making noise and can make planning and making your moves – whether in stealth or in open conflict – easier to make. And despite the fact that the whole game is essentially a giant escort mission, Ellie is not ever a burden. Big props to Naughty Dog for crafting a NPC character that we grow to really care about and actually has our backs when things get dicey.
There isn’t much to complain about, honestly. This game is as close to perfect as a game can really get. There were times when “listen mode” revealed the underlying trigger points for enemy patrols, and there are a few points in the game where the environment invited one mode of play but required another (as in I felt like I should be able to just stealth through a room, but was forced to clear it anyway). Overall, however, I loved the brutal, savage, survivalist gameplay, and I believe the growing consensus online is that the definitive way to play is to do so on Survivalist difficulty – with no “listen mode” and far fewer supplies then any other difficulty. Regardless, the fear Clickers instill on you never goes away, and just hearing the noise they make, even when they aren’t a threat to you… I’m getting nervous just thinking about it. And after listening to so much wonderfully recorded, brilliantly delivered dialog, watching Joel and Ellie reach the end of their journey is at once rewarding and gut-wrenching. There are very few games that capture human emotion so masterfully.
Play this game. It is a masterpiece and a fitting swan-song for the PlayStation 3.