The Last of Us

I got swept up in the hype and ended up buying The Last of Us on day one. It’s not my fault, I’m very impressionable. It had only really been on my periphery until about two weeks before release. The more I read about the game the more interested I was, right up until release day when I went to Tesco at 9am to pick up a copy and then I spent most of the day playing it. Ah the joys of being off work to recover from a minor operation. I finally got around to finishing the game, a few days ago. This may not seem a big deal but for me it is. I am terrible when it comes to finishing games, for example I only finished Arkham City two months ago after I got it for Christmas in 2011. Basically what I’m saying is that for me to finish a game within the same year of me buying it is definitely a glowing review.

With this in mind, I wanted to put down a few of my thoughts on The Last of Us. I think it’s a little late to be calling this a review, everybody on the planet knows that this is a fantastic game. I’m sure it would generate a fair few hits if I’d hated the game and gave it a right old pasting, but there’s absolutely no way that’s going to happen.

I only got a PS3 in 2011 so I was pretty late to the Uncharted party (the Uncharty?) but I got all three of them and ploughed through them in pretty quick succession. For the most part I love the Uncharted series. The combat might be a little clunky in places, and I found there were some ridiculous difficulty spikes towards the end of each game. Basically I was a big fan of Naughty Dog’s work, again the same as everyone else on the planet. A new game from those guys, with an added zombie (sorry infected) apocalypse, sounded perfect.

The basic gist of things in The Last of Us (let’s call it TLoU for short) is that the world is screwed. There’s something, we never actually find out the cause, that’s infecting people and turning them into some kind of fungus based zombie. Well when I say zombie they’re not zombies in the traditional slow and shambling sense of things. They’re closer to the infected in 28 Days Later, they like to sprint about the place tearing people to shreds. They really don’t like a good smack in the brain but they do like biting people and spreading the infection. Things are pretty bleak really. The story in TLoU centres on Joel, a grumpy old beard face who lost his daughter early in the infection, and Ellie a teenage girl who’s seemingly humanities last hope against the infection. I’m sure it’s no surprise to learn that these two have to pair up and travel across America, while at the same time growing as people.

It’s a pretty standard story, so what makes this game so great? Lots of things, that’s what.

The game opens at a blistering pace as you’re thrust right into the middle of the outbreak, first of all as Joel’s daughter (Sarah) then a little later on as Joel. It’s brilliantly done. The tension ramps up slowly, you’re thrown in at the deep end and know as much as the characters in the game and you have to piece together what’s going on as events unfold. It’s incredibly atmospheric for what is essentially an on rails opening where you forced down various streets, for something that is very linear it felt so open and immersive.

Following the breathless opening things move on to the present day and a reintroduction to Joel, a man surviving anyway that he can but it seems like he really doesn’t have a lot to actually live for. Everything slows down as you begin to explore the world and master your new skills and abilities. This is a common theme throughout the game, there are moments of intense action and tension followed by…well nothing really. It works well, and even in the quiet parts of the game I was incredibly tense as I was waiting for the next stressful encounter, my hears primed for any sign of the infected.

It’s a refreshing change in a game to play a normal guy, and that’s exactly what Joel is. He’s not a superhero or a superstar commando, he doesn’t have all of the answers and definitely isn’t on the inside. This is just a normal guy doing what he can to make it through the next day. I thought this came across really well in the gameplay and the combat especially. The fights are often frenetic and clumsy, it’s not showy just brutal and at times desperate. It suits the character really well. Similarly the way Joel moves is slow and laboured, there’s no leaping about like Nathan Drake. As a result of this more static outlook on life Joel’s favourite things in the world are a good ladder or plank. You’d be surprised at just how many ladders and planks are left lying around in post-apocalyptic America but they are absolutely essential for climbing on or across things. Oh and pallets. Joel and Ellie bloody love a good pallet.

The game looks fantastic. What a way for the PS3 to go out, because it looks like Naughty Dog have squeezed every last drop out of the hardware to render some fantastic landscapes. The visuals in the game are brilliant and despite the whole outbreak that destroyed most the world thing America looks amazing. It’s like Naughty Dog have written a love letter to the good old US of A as you trek through the rundown quarantine zone in Boston to the snow covered mountains in the Winter.

The thing that really makes this stand out is the story. Sure it’s a very basic story that we’ve seen before. Outbreak, everyone is doomed and the saviour of humanity has a big journey to make. You could probably guess where it will all end and what’s going to happen before you’ve even played it. What really brought the story to life for me was the characters, I really began to root for Joel and Ellie. Some of their development was a little cliched, you could guess that over time Joel would start to soften and they’d develop a strong bond, but it was very much about the journey rather than the destination. I think what I am saying is that it’s a great experience and that the ending of the game is deserved, it’s really laid the foundations early on and the pay off is worth it. It really works because you’re made to care about the characters and that is, sadly, not all that common in a game.

It’s a pretty sad that I loved this game so much because it had an interesting plot and good characters that I actually cared about. I suppose the thing is although there are games with great plotting and characters they’re usually the exception rather than the rule. Having said that it’s not as if films are much better, I’ve seen a lot of films in the last year with ridiculously flimsy characters.

The Last of Us was a brilliant experience and I’m still yet to even try out the online modes. It’s the first game in a long time where I am itching the the DLC to come out. Before I played this I was certain that Dishonoured was going to be my game of the year, but it looks like it might end up taking second place. While the gameplay mechanics were more interesting and inventive in Dishonoured, it really can’t hold a candle to the whole Last of Us experience.

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