Review: The Last of Us
It’s finally here and let me tell you, it is everything I expected it to be and more. The Last of Us is Naughty Dog’s first venture into an M-Rated game, and even though they went into “uncharted” territories (yes, that’s a pun), they have successfully crafted one of the finest games of this console generation.I was lucky enough to be able to play this game three times during PAX East, and even in that roughly 90 minute (30 min each day) replaying the same areas and watching the same cutscenes was enough to convince me this game had some amazing potential. The delicate balance of horror, suspense, emotion and adventure creates an environment where you truly feel the desperation of your characters Joel and Ellie, as you guide them across the country that has been ravaged for the past 20 years by a fungal infection outbreak.
Note: I will do my best to avoid spoilers and though I will talk about death/plight of certain characters, I will not name any of them and try to leave it as vague as possible so as not to ruin the game for anyone.
The game starts off with a prologue that sets the tone for the beginning of the infection. Joel is younger, and living in a non-infected world. Things quickly escalate as you are then taken through a startling scene of events where you experience the infection for the first time as it spreads rapidly through the area you live in, turning neighbors and strangers violent and crazy. You watch newly infected people attacking and mauling strangers while waiting in traffic trying to flee, as everyone around you scrambles to leave as well. The prologue ends with a heart wrenching scene, just as the military is arriving to “save the day.” Now fast forward about 20 years.
As a much older Joel, you are now within the Boston Quarantine Zone. This is where the game really begins, and while you don’t necessarily learn anything ground breaking about the infection or what has elapsed over the last 20 years, the game provides you with a very nice “tutorial-through-playing” experience of most of the mechanics. While traveling through one area, your character automatically puts on their gas masks to avoid spores, which grow out of dead infecteds. It is in this area you run into your first decision of the game; a man trapped under debris tells you that his mask has broken, and he doesn’t want to turn into an infected after breathing in the spores. You can either kill him or leave him to turn. While not a hugely critical situation, it foreshadows the reality that they live in where there is no cure to this infection, and the gravity of your potential fate.
Your time at the Boston QZ is short, but you learn and experience the basic mechanics of dealing with your enemies, both human and infected. Your skills in combat and/or stealth start to form as are your crafting abilities. You can create health kits using found items, as well as shivs for stealth killing your enemies. As the game progresses, your ability to craft other items is learned through interactions with other characters in the game. You meet and are paired up with Ellie in the Boston QZ. You are asked to get her out of Boston and deliver her to the Fireflies. The Fireflies are a militia group that decided not to live under the harsh rule of marshal law in one of the various Quarantine Zones across the country, which are operated by what’s left of the military. Your task involves getting Ellie out of the Boston QZ, and deliver her to Fireflies who will be waiting at a location in the Boston area beyond the QZ. I’ll quickly touch on this regarding scenery/buildings; as someone who has lived near Boston my whole life, it was really amazing to see the attention to detail regarding some very identifiable landmarks as you explore Boston. I imagine the same occurred for other parts of the game like Pittsburgh and locations out in the western part of the country as well.
(Boston’s Zakhm bridge makes an appearance in the game)
Unfortunately for the Fireflies, you arrive to the location to find that the Fireflies who were supposed to be waiting have been killed by infected. Through a series of events traveling from location to location hoping to reconnect with any of the Fireflies along the way, it comes to be that Joel must escort Ellie all the way to where the Fireflies are, even though he himself has no way of contacting them, or even knowing specifically where he has to go.
The journey you embark on is really where the heart of this game is. Through chillingly quiet cities, towns in shambles, and other places along the way, you ingrain yourself with Joel as the protector of Ellie. While at first she is the pain in your butt that you have to “babysit,” she quickly becomes the sole reason you make every careful decision in the game. Decisions of whether to use stealth to evade enemies, or eliminate them so that you can search for supplies. In some cases the decision is made for you. Ellie will hide out in some areas and wait for you to clear the area ahead before progressing forward. While these moments in the game are frustrating (solely because you have no AI to yell out “behind you!”), they create that tension that pulls you into the game and forces you to push on. You really feel the desperation knowing that the success of safe passage for both of your characters relies heavily on the decisions or paths you take. One false move, or poorly placed bottle could land you in a heap of trouble. But enough about combat and stealth.
(Clickers are my least favorite enemy to deal with)
The game aesthetically is beautiful. The scenery is unique to each area, with nothing that appears to be a repeated pattern or texture. If there are repetitions in textures of the environment, I didn’t notice them. The only things that started to become repetitious were the automobiles. I felt that the visual references to Jeep SUVs in particular was very noticeable after a while, but I also used to drive one, so I noticed them immediately when strewn about abandoned and destroyed cars on a stretch of road. That being said, it’s a very small thing to get worked up about and in no way really affected the story or my connection to the characters in the game.
The cutscenes are like mini-movies, and do not disappoint. The detail across the entire game is incredibly high, as even small things like the designs of games and toys inside of a toy store that you come across. Even books on bookshelves, piles of trash near garbage dumpsters or trash cans are incredible. I spent so much time in the game just going from room to room, house to house and scouring every inch of every area I could just to that I could see all the different things that were there. Even when you’re walking through certain areas of the game I would just stop and look around at the flowing water or the way the sky looked at dusk or just the wind blowing the leaves and trees around. It really is just a beautiful environment. But it’s also creepy as hell when it needs to be. Underground tunnels and subways, damp water filled basements, abandoned high schools all have that eery feel to them that you can’t shake and you just want to run through as fast as possible, but you know you can’t cause you’ll make too much noise. This game is very successful in guiding your emotions and feelings as you travel through. When you feel suspicious about an area of the game, there is good reason for it. If you are roaming through a town scavenging items and then you see something that puts you off, it’s intentional.
(The attention to detail is worth spending a few minutes just to enjoy)
Now to the story. It is not necessarily knowing what lies beyond or what happens next, but the fact that you constantly want to get all the pieces to the puzzle through progression of the game. You will become attached. It is paced incredibly well, though there was one time where I thought the game was sure to end, and then was pleasantly surprised that it kept on going. As you move through the story, more is learned about each character’s past and also helps you get attached to them, even the less respectable people you meet along the way. You fall in love with Ellie’s optimism and the fact that everything outside of the Boston QZ is completely new to her. She’s never seen true wildlife, small animals like rabbits or even real fireflies. Things that are so commonplace to us being a world changing event for her character brings you closer to her, as you can’t help but appreciate the novelties we currently enjoy without question. Listening to Joel tell Ellie about what things were like before the infection, or how Joel tries to protect Ellie from learning about the horrors of what goes on outside of the QZs. Not only does Ellie grow on us, she grows on Joel, and you get to experience that change as you progress through the game. That’s not to say that the game is all rainbows and butterflies. There are disappointments and pure shock and awe moments where you sit back and say, “I can’t believe that just happened.” Though I felt some were expected (I picked up on parallels to movies/shows that had similar plots), it didn’t change my feeling of sadness and despair at the loss of a friend in the game.
(Ellie’s positive nature is a nice contrast to Joel’s take on the world they live in)
It is simply an amazing game that pulls you in a back and forth state of tension and suspicion, keeping you on your toes but also giving you the freedom to explore and take your time when you need to. I highly recommend it to those who want a truly engrossing story with exceptional character development, very intuitive AI, and horror and suspense that won’t give you a heart attack, but puts you in a state of caution and nervousness. For those wondering, I played on the Hard difficulty and while there were moments of complete frustration due to difficult enemies and lack of ammunition/weapons, it was well worth the challenge. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be for someone who plays on Survivor mode. Unreal.
The game has a nifty statistics menu you can check out after you finish the game. It took me 18 hours, 49 minutes and 40 seconds to complete the game on Hard. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad time, but I felt the game was absolutely worth every minute of it. I really hope someday I get the opportunity to meet Neil Druckmann, the creative director of the game so I can simply shake his hand and say, “thank you for making this game.”
I could very much go on and on and on about this game and every little moment or detail that I experienced, but I think it’s much better if you go experience them yourself without having me outline everything about this game. Comment below and let me know what you think of the game, I’d love to hear what you thought about the interaction between the characters and the development of relationships between them as you progressed/finished the game.