The Last of Us paints a grim, depressing picture of a future where a fungal infection as run riot on the populace of the world. Highlighting humanities need to survive at any cost in a way so very few games have attempted to, let alone achieved. Let's get one thing straight, this isn't simply Uncharted with zombies, it's a new IP from a developer looking to challenge their own rules and methods of game making.
Set twenty years after a dramatic outbreak of a virus which causes mass chaos, The Last of Us tells the story of Joel, a survivor who's already lost a great deal in the years since. Living in a quarantine zone in the city of Boston, he and his companion Tess simply survive the best they can, by trading, bargaining and surviving each day as they come. They're soon tasked with the guardianship of a teenage girl called Ellie, who must be helped out of the city parameter and to the safety of others within a group known as the fireflies. This is Naughty Dog's take on the zombie apocalypse and it's one where story is at the heart of what makes The Last of Us so memorable.
The Last of Us is a very different beast to Naughty Dog's previous works. Tense and exciting for entirely different reasons, it's an adventure in survival and willingness to do anything to simply keep on living in a world surrounded by death and destruction. Cities are empty shells and kindness for your fellow man is a rare sight indeed. But despite this grim even depressing setting, there are moments of beauty scattered here and there. Nature as spread throughout these cities in striking ways whilst forests and life itself as continues on in the world outside the broken and desolate cities. We know what ND can accomplish on the Playstation 3 with the Uncharted games, and while The Last of Us almost brings the PS3 to its knees now and again, this is one truly beautiful game.
Going guns blazing will most likely get you killed in The Last of Us. Ammo, weapons and supplies are scattered throughout the world, though not in large quantities so strategy, stealth and skill are at the forefront of combat. Joel can listen in on his surroundings, giving him the ability to see where danger might be lurking. Whilst at first this can seem like an unfair advantage, you quickly realise how essential this ability is, as Joel can't take more than a few hits before dying. Finding supplies allows you to craft a number of useful items, such as medical kits, shivs (which are helpful in combat and accessing locked rooms) and even more powerful items for combat, such as molotov cocktails and nail bombs. Many of these craftable items rely on the same components, often requiring you to choose what you want to craft at the expense of another. Using the tools at your disposal is what makes the combat in The Last of Us work so well.
Uncharted, Naughty Dog's other current gen IP became known for it's stylish cinematic storytelling and it's carried over brilliant in The Last of Us. Throughout the world is communicated to you in subtle ways, be it in the chatter between Ellie and Joel to the stunning soundtrack composed by Gustavo Santaolalla. It all combines to create a world that feels eerily real, one that always brings across the dire situation humanity finds itself. Troy Baker yet again proves he's deserving of praise with his performance as Joel and Ashley Johnson's performance as Ellie is the standout performance of the entire game. It's rich throughout with top quality performances, which only goes to sell the world even more. The Last of Us isn't scared to pull any punches with it's storytelling, reminding me a great of Telltale Game's The Walking Dead adventure games of the past year. Both games go out of their way to tell the stories of specific people in a world that's clearly gone to hell, instead of focusing on the bigger picture, resulting in two of the most memorable stories in video games of recent years.
Factions is the name for the multiplayer mode of The Last of Us and provides an interesting take on the slower paced gameplay found in the game. Instead of your typical deathmatch multiplayer mode, Naughty Dog have put some thought into how best to implement multiplayer in a game where patience and careful use of ammo/items is so important. So as a team of either hunters or fireflies you must take the opposing team down, simple as that right? Not quite, as combat is far from simple. Whilst it's interesting to see the combat mechanics brought over, it won't be for everyone in a multiplayer environment. In many of the matches I played, I found I wasn't having a whole lot of fun, especially in the mode which doesn't provide respawns. That said, it's better than you might expect and I can really see this taking off for many people looking for something different. Plus Naughty Dog deserve credit for not simply going the easy route. I might add it was disappointing to see no co-op mode, with the co-op mode in Uncharted 2 and 3 provided some of the best multiplayer fun I've had in years.
It's rare for a developer to make one genre defining franchise in a console cycle, but to make two genre-defining IP's in one console generation is special indeed, and only goes to reinforce how talented the folks at Naughty Dog are. In the Last of Us they've created a world that uniquely it's own, at a time when so many zombie apocalypse inspired games feel the same. If this is indeed the last hurrah for the Playstation 3, than it's ending on a real high note. It's how refreshingly different to The Last of Us compared to many of Naughty Dog's other work that makes it so memorable, it's a different tone to the likes of Uncharted and a fascinating take on the zombie genre, one I hope is an influence in games to come.