Naughty Dog’s foray into the survival horror gaming genre is unparalleled. No one starts off with such a bang. Their last offering for the PS3 is worth the every buck spent. No doubt, it is a very intense game. But the blending of a story driven adventure with tactical and survival gameplay, the Last of Us may be, arguably, Naughty Dog’s finest work yet.
The Last of Us provides us a gory and brutal view at the post-pandemic world of humanity. The first new IP in almost six years, the overall theme and setting of the game bears huge contrast with any previous offerings by Naughty Dog. The maturity level is very high in the game than the previous games from the same developer; even the Uncharted series pales in comparison.
The setting of the game is around 20 years after the mysterious cordyceps virus hit the US and began mutating people. The plot centers on a 40 year old pandemic survivor Joel, who has seen a 20 year old struggle for survival and a 14 year old girl Ellie who has been born after the outbreak and so has never known the real world that was. Joel is tasked with protecting Ellie (serious spoiler alert), who has never set foot outside the quarantine zone run by the army. Due to the non-existent government in all areas, “factions” have been formed in some uncontrolled areas that eke out their own living and control certain areas. (spoiler end)
The game’s story and acting is at par or arguably better than the Uncharted series. However, don’t expect any funny quips or situational humor from the game. It is as intense at it comes. The overall tone of the game is replete with twists and turns with some intense nail-biting scenes thrown in.
Joel is a resourceful and tough person but does not possess the trademark athleticism of Nathan Drake. But that does not matter because he is the person with the right experience to survive in the infected world outside the quarantine zone. Supplies are scarce, discarded firearms have a low supply of ammo, and so the items from the environment have to be used to craft weapons or resources. The crafting system is rather easy to understand and contributes to the strategy used in gameplay. They way they affect strategy can be understood from instances from the game as for example you will once have to choose between making a molotov cocktail or a health kit from the same materials. Crafting is better done not out in the open because it happens in real time. Work benches are strewn around the city where Joel can break or upgrade his weapons.
The pace of the game is slow. Gameplay stresses more on the use of stealth. Through a good part of the game, you will find yourself crouch-walking. Though Joel can sprint, it tends to be noisy and attracts unwarranted attention. To foster the use of stealth, a “listen mode” is introduced early in the game which allows Joel to locate his friends or enemies within earshot, the ability essentially allowing him to see through walls to some extent. As resources are low, stealth takedown of enemies is the best option. Joel can carry a variety of weapons in his backpack like a handgun, molotov cocktail, a melee weapon like a pipe or plank or a distraction item like a bottle. But the use of firearms is usually a last resort.
Close quarter combat in The Last of Us is a treat. The melee system is also well implemented, systematic and satisfying. Joel can usually make his way out of most situations but it is dangerous to take on more than one enemy at the same time. Need-to-know survival strategies include learning to use sprint to break away from the onslaught of multiple enemies or backing up to defend yourself. Ellie is a no-nonsense character during combat sequences and not only manages to handle herself but also help Joel on some occasions.
The motion-captured character animation and the impressive and realistic environments renders The Last of Us visually impressive. From the rain drops to the dust settling on objects, the visual effects of the game is the best till date that has been seen on the PS3. The game is one of the best looking games of the current generation, on the threshold of pushing into the next generation.
There are many emotionally shocking instances in the game which will tear-up many a gamers. The voice work and soundtrack is well done and properly complements the gameplay. The 7.1 surround sound, the rich sound effects and the screams and clicking noises made by the infected create an atmosphere that will haunt your dreams for real.
The single player campaign of the game tends to test you. It is not particularly easy or short. The onus is on stealth and creating unwanted disturbance is never a good option. Taking time to plot a way around an obstacle unnoticed is usually the best bet. The AI is very intelligent and tries to flush you out at the first sign of anything unusual or suspicious. Replaying any particularly hard sequence did not pose a problem because checkpoints are generously strewn around.
The only flaw that I found with the gameplay environment were some rectangular areas which had the too obvious lay-out of crates, boxes and the like to promote stealth gameplay. Though this is a common practice in most games, it was the only thing unrealistic about The Last of Us.
The multiplayer of the game is a different experience entirely. The storyline of the online Factions mode picks up from where the single player campaign ended. It is a team based survival gameplay and players can join the the Firefly or the Hunter factions. The gameplay is rewarding when stealth comes to play but also provides much more freedom to the trigger-happy among you than the single-player campaign. The idea is to mix a healthy dose of combat and survival strategies. The multiplayer complements an already great game.
Naughty Dog has made a statement and shown the guts to introduce a risky and mature franchise like The Last of Us at the ending portion of the arc that was the PS3’s life span. The game proves a hit from all aspects and has reaffirmed our belief that great things are in store for us in the near future. The PS3 produces such a marvel; we cannot begin to comprehend how far the PS4 can take us.