"Catching Up" is a new series I'll be writing, reviewing some of the best, biggest, most influential games of the past decade.
I played the Remastered edition for the PS4
Naughty Dog has been known to constantly reinvent themselves from generation to generation. From the Crash series on the PlayStation, to Not Ratchet and a Weasel on the PS2, and Illinois Jones on the PS3. The Last of Us shares the most similarities to the Uncharted franchise, inheriting third person shooter mechanics, cinematic style, and hellish motion blur from the series. The Last of Us is an epic emotional tale about the relationship and journey of Joel and Ellie, set in an all-too familiar setting with consistently solid stealth-action gameplay that can end up feeling repetitive by the end.
The game opens with a prologue taking place on the day of the fungal outbreak. This introduces us to Joel, the player character, who lives with his daughter Sarah. Sarah is shot by a member of the military, striking Joel with grief that will stay with him for the rest of the game. Fast forward twenty years later, and the world is in ruins and Joel is a completely different man. Now a cynical, harsh, smuggler, he works with his partner Tess to get by. They end up getting a job to smuggle a 14 year old girl Ellie to the anti-military militia group known as the Fireflies. The world is your typical zombie fare, with ruins of buildings and graffiti on walls a plenty. This game was released at the height of the zombie craze, so it is expected that they would try and cash in on that but it it is what this game does with the zombie apocalyptic setting that is special.
I'm sure that it has been said many times before, but this game is not what most would consider a "fun" game. Ever situation is tense, always wary of the fact that there could be Infected(zombies) or even human enemies around the corner or in the next area. Especially in the beginning of the game when Joel has a limited supply of guns, every bullet means something. Though I was swimming in resources by the end of the game(I played on normal difficulty), resources are often scarce. Health is extremely valuable, as there is no automatic regeneration and you have to either find your own health kits or craft them. Exploring is usually rewarded with a trove of supplies, though you do have to go far out of your way and increase your risk of being caught. These supplies are used for crafting different resources like bombs or shivs, though each item needs different resources and often if you want one, you can't have the other, meaning you often need to choose very wisely as to what you think you will need. Also, around 40% of the game is setting up ladders and climbing them.
Most of the combat sequences revolve around stealth, waiting for an enemy to walk near you, giving you the opportunity to strangle them or shiv them in the ear, nose, and throat area. Joel, experienced in 20 years of survival has extraordinary awareness, expressed in gameplay through Listen Mode, in which holding down a button allows you to see outline of enemies that you have heard. Bricks and bottles are everywhere in the game, used to distract enemies or to stun them. This improvisational-style combat is a perfect choice in conjunction with the rough, tough world. By the later stages of the game however, I felt as if I had been in these sequences before and I was doing some of the same things over and over again.
Over the course of the entire game, you get a little over 10 different guns in Joel's arsenal. Some, like the revolver, come very early on in the game while the assault rifle comes in the last 15 minutes of the game. I enjoyed how each of the weapons were used for different situations and it is often necessary to change your load-out to adapt to the environment. But if you ever get pinned against a wall, there's always someone to stab your assailant in the back; Ellie.
Ellie and other NPCs that accompany you over the course of the game act as friendly AI during fights. Usually the AI works as intended, but multiple times I had my partners just start walking around during a fight as if nothing was happening. Also, during encounters with the "Clickers", Infected who see you through noise, Ellie would run around and start talking. Thankfully, the zombies don't react to Ellie, only to Joel. During the winter season, you control Ellie in a sequence of events showing her vulnerability but also her badassery that I'm sure we'll see much more of in the upcoming sequel.
Over the course of the two main characters' journey from Boston to the Rockies, their relationship changes dramatically. When Joel first receives his assignment, he is reluctant and wants to do anything but babysit a bratty little girl. But through their life-threatening experiences, Joel is less bitter towards her, unable to see anything but his daughter. He goes from barely acknowledging her to calling her "baby girl", and this relationship in my opinion is the crux of the story, one that just happens to be set in a world post-zombie apocalypse. The experience is packed with emotional moments. Some of the ones that hit me the most were Henry and Sam's deaths and the end of the fight with David. The morally ambiguous ending is one that is tonally perfect, neither good or bad, making me question Joel's ethics. Blinded by grief and a desire for revenge, he slaughters everyone in the hospital and takes Ellie, saving her from a surgery that could have killed her but could have created a vaccine saving many other lives. Afterwards Joel lies to Ellie saying that there were many more like her that they could make a cure from. The ending could perfectly stand alone without a sequel, but I am still glad that we get to see more of Ellie and the story that Naughty Dog will tell in the next game.
The Last of Us was definitely the best story that I have ever seen in a video game and I am eager to see more of it. I still have not played the Left Behind DLC, but I will for sure get to that before Part 2 releases. Giant Bomb gave this one game of the year in 2013, a year packed with heavy hitters like GTA V, Bioshock Infinite, and Tomb Raider but I think it is deserving. The storytelling is top notch and something that I think will only be topped by The Last of Us Part 2.