Now Playing: The Last of Us

Posted: June 16, 2013 in Now Playing (Video Game Reviews)
Tags: , , , , ,

“The world’s been hard on us. Hard on him.
Joel’s done some terrible things.
He tells me that on this journey you either hang on to your morals and die,
or do whatever it takes to survive.
Guess I’ll find out.”
 – Ellie

There are very few games that are so epic in scale that truly bring me into their world. Halo, Gears of War, Bioshock, Metal Gear Solid, and Red Dead Redemption are some good examples, but rarely does a game come around that really hits such an emotional tie with me. The Last of Us, from Naughty Dog, is one of those games. Since the first trailer hit the internet I had a keen interest in this title. I even went out and bought a PlayStation 3 just to play this game. As a result my expectations were high, especially with the near perfect scores the game received from reviewers. Part of me believed that a developer known for titles like Uncharted, Jak and Daxter, and Crash Bandicoot could eventually pull off something truly unique and special. Well they did, and the result is one of the greatest games I played of all time.

The Last of Us takes place twenty years after a global pandemic has changed the world as we know it. Survivors still exist here and there in both quarantine zones as well as nomads sporadically located outside of the walls. As for the rest of the population…well they’re either dead, or a result of the pandemic. A mutated monstrosity. The main focus of the story centers on Joel, a grizzled yet conflicted survivor, who seems to just go through the motions of his new life. While on a mission to reclaim some stolen weapons he meets Marlene, a leader of the Fireflies who are a rogue group of insurgents against “the establishment” who are heavily controlling the quarantine zones. In exchange for the weapons, Marlene asks Joel to smuggle a young girl named Ellie to a group a Fireflies located deep within the city. What happens next? Sorry, no spoilers here, but let’s just say that this is a story that must be experienced rather than having me spill the beans.

If there is one area where The Last of Us really excels it would be within the context of the story. Like most action games story plays second fiddle to combat. Not in The Last of Us. From the opening moments I got that feeling of The Walking Dead as the world as I know it was sort of coming to an end. Mass chaos erupting around all corners, the viral pandemic spreading, and the military trying to keep the population under control. I got the feeling of both suspense and helplessness as the horrors took place all around me. Fast forward to twenty years later to see how mankind has drastically changed. The civilized world is gone and it’s been replaced with a new version of Darwinism where it’s every man and woman for themselves. Only the strong both in body and mind will survive. Joel experiences both fronts of the past and present. Throughout the story I began to experience both the bond Joel forms with Ellie along with the fight for survival against both human and mutated kind. Throughout my experience I can tell that Naughty Dog spent a lot of time developing such a detailed plot that had me engaged in the story just as much as the action sequences that ensued which is a big plus in my book.

More than just a story, The Last of Us features plenty of action in between all the cutscenes. With that said let me state for the record that The Last of Us is not a run and gun type of adventure. Yes, there are guns in the game, but reaching my objectives required me to become more resourceful and strategic instead of being a one man assault squad. Since ammo is scarce, I resorted to using a variety of stealth and melee attacks. By holding the R2 button, Joel can use his listening skills to spot enemy locations making tough situations a little easier, but not too easy. Finding items like bricks and bottles helped distract guards and infected alike. Even using melee weapons or just my bare fists for close quarters combat made more sense than using a gun and alerting more enemies. It just goes to show that using your brain and making the best of every situation pays off more than being Rambo.

The Last of Us is also more than just a great game. It’s a visual masterpiece. In the years following the outbreak I see a world that resembles Life After People from the History Channel. Mother Nature has once again reclaimed her former glory as weeds and vines are wrapped around destroyed buildings and city streets no longer exist. Naughty Dog has succeeded in creating a world that actually looks believable if the one day comes when human beings no longer exist on the planet. It’s absolutely breathtaking! I found quite a few moments where I would just stop and take in the atmosphere making me feel like I was actually there. Even the characters themselves look very lifelike to actual real world human beings through both their actions, how they bleed, and conveying complex emotions. It’s still amazing for me to see how far technology has advanced considering the fact that I’ve been playing since the days of the Atari 2600.

With all the great features in The Last of Us there was one issue that bugged me. It had to do with the AI both ally and enemy. I’m not going to say that the AI is terrible because it’s not. The problem I have is that in rare moments they actually kill the illusion that the game is setting. I feel that my allies when downed seem to find a way to rise up again with no help whatsoever. That is weird considering the fact that this game is partially based on survival. There was also a rare moment where I took down an enemy with a melee weapon only to find another enemy within five to ten feet from me completely oblivious to the fact that I took out his partner with a 2×4. Are you telling me that he couldn’t hear the groan of his partner dying or even feel the whiff of the eventual impact? C’mon man!

The Last of Us also features a competitive multiplayer mode with it’s own unique survival element where I can connect with Facebook and my friends, whether they are gamers or not, become a part of the game through various messages. The multiplayer gameplay as a whole is more of a team deathmatch style featuring the same concepts used in the single player game. I put some time into the matches and had quite a bit of fun, but honestly I think that this was a mode that was not needed in the game. I would’ve rather seen more focus on the single player campaign instead since that is the game’s biggest strength.

The Last of Us is a game that clearly lives up to all of it’s immensely generated hype. The story alone is spectacular, and is definitely worth revisiting on multiple occasions. Multiplayer however is more of a novelty and will eventually become forgotten after a month or two as players will gravitate back towards Call of Duty and Battlefield. The Last of Us definitely serves as a reminder that single player games with a fantastic story, while an endangered species in the ever expanding market, are not quite dead just yet especially in an age where mainstream gaming has become more focused on multiplayer.

—————

Developer: Naughty Dog
Platform: PlayStation 3
Players: 1-8 (online multiplayer)
Price: $59.99

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