Games like The Last of Us only come along once or twice in a generation. It is the type of game that not only makes everybody talk about games but also makes everybody who plays it agree that this is special.
The zombie “fad” appears to be holding strong these past few years. With The Walking Dead series and any number of cinema releases, everybody seems to want their piece of zombie action and for good reason in my opinion. If done well, one of the great mechanisms of a zombie themed storyline is the way it allows the creators and the writers to shortcut to the human psyche. It creates so many “what if” scenarios that allow characters to show their true selves without taking away from the protagonist nature of the character. They must do what is necessary to survive or protect their loved ones whilst also making them relentlessly question how far they would go to achieve this.
The Last of Us tells the story of Joel and Ellie with players controlling the former. Joel is a regular southern-state American, hardened by the impact of the outbreak and tasked with escorting Ellie, a fourteen year-old born after the outbreak actually happened, across America (for reasons I won’t spoil here). The country is filled with human and “infected” enemies and players must use stealth along with intuitive survival techniques, such as crafting deadly weaponry, if they are to safely protect Ellie.
Ellie knows very little of the world which precedes the broken, crumbling one of today. In fact, she knows little of the world outside the quarantine zone she grew up in to protect the survivors from the “infected” and her thoughts and questions about the way people lived their lives in 2013, with our coffee shop meets and our weekends in hotels, make for some of the game’s most intriguing dialogue. The dynamic relationship between the two characters makes for one of the most interesting in gaming history. That is a bold statement but when you spend approximately eighteen hours with these characters and never find yourself asking when it will be over or questioning how much you care, it must be good. The voice acting and motion capture are some of the best to date and go a long way to make the player care that Ellie survives.
This is developer Naughty Dog’s final PlayStation 3 outing before starting work on titles for the PlayStation 4 and you would be forgiven for mistaking this for a next generation game at first glance because it is gorgeous. The developer is already known for the level of detail they use and care they take on their previous games in the Uncharted series and they put everything into it this time too. The world feels lived in, albeit many years ago, and when the “staged” moments crop up, they only add to the feeling of immersion instead of breaking it like it is easy to do.
If you need some negatives, there are several “gamey” moments particularly involving Ellie’s apparent invisibility to the enemy. Even if that sounds like a deal-breaker, I hope it is not because The Last of Us needs to be played by as many people as possible. If anyone needed an example of the great, story-driven experiences gaming is capable of, this is it.