There won’t be enough words to describe this game – simply put, it’s a masterpiece. Naughty Dog has outdone their previous work again as this cycle of third person action/shooter hybrids roll out of their studio. Move over Nathan Drake, you’ve got more competition to deal with.
While you won’t be treasure hunting in ancient mythical ruins, you will be visiting many ruins of current civilizations, as the world has been impacted gravely by a cataclysmic event that brings humanity to its knees. The Last of Us sets up its backdrop in a video package, giving just enough of the meat of the past events to keep you in the know. The protagonist, Joel, is the rest of the key to understanding just how bad things have become. His gruff outer demeanor is matched with a sharp temper and vicious melee combat that simply states, “I’ve seen and done some terrible things.”
The story consists of Joel and his company traversing the United States following the aforementioned disaster. Ellie is your primary escort through the game, and she is one hell of a fourteen year old. She has a sailor’s foul mouth yet her complete awe or incredulous attitude towards some of the things that existed before the disaster is presented well – Joel does his best to explain what he can about “the world before”. You’ll meet up with all kinds of other survivors through your travels, some with their own hang ups to deal with. It’s not an easy world any more and people put their business out there for you to see.
The gameplay is mostly cover based shooting and area traversal, much like Uncharted. That being said, you don’t always have to fight your way through wave after wave of enemy. There are plenty of opportunities to avoid combat, though you will likely need to choke a few people out in a manner that would get a thumbs up from Solid Snake or Sam Fisher. The facial expressions on both Joel and the enemies during a choke-out are fantastic and look authentic. There are lots of swimming sequences, which are surprisingly bearable. I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed the water areas – but it might be because of the visual and audio changes that take place underwater. Immersive. (Pun intended)
The shooting feels smart, with the same circular crosshair from other Naughty Dog titles. The combat areas are tricky though, as you have very limited ammo and supplies to make use of. I took a liking to the “throw glass bottle as distraction, now throw a Molotov Cocktail at grouped enemies” tactic, but sometimes you need to bury hot lead or a lead pipe in the brain of an enemy. There are plenty of options, and the bow and arrow motif of many other games in the last year or so continues here. You’ll hopefully be surprised by some of the weapons found late in the game, I know I was.
The visuals in The Last of Us are on par with what you would expect from Naughty Dog. There are some odd visual filters from time to time (I noticed a lot of edge blurring in the city areas that was almost distracting), but overall the framerate keeps up from start to finish. The audio work is superb, considering most of the voice tracks are brought in through live actors doing motion-capture. Troy Baker turns out another great performance as Joel, and it wouldn’t be a Naughty Dog title without a little Nolan North in there too. To note, the fact that the actors are actually doing their own mo-cap really helps with script delivery, but the cast is a bunch of pros anyway. Unlike Uncharted, I didn’t have any moments where I heard a line delivered and said “That was done in a booth after the fact.” Kudos to the sound team and cast.
All that said, there is way more to the game than the story mode. Lots of unlockable content, and online multiplayer that has all the rights in the world to be as good as it is (full disclosure: I loved Uncharted’s multiplayer and many were shocked at TLoU’s offering), the New Game Plus option exists as well after you’ve completed the campaign.
If you’re a PS3 owner and you don’t own this title, you’re doing yourself a disservice. As this generation of consoles is coming to a close, I can’t think of a better way to end the chapter.