The Last of Us Review: One of the few masterpieces

the last of us ellie and joel

While there are almost always a dozen video games that players can get excited about each year, I can only think of a handful that really pushed the boundaries of their time; showing not just an incremental step, but a leap to surpass peers on a grand scale and pave the way for imitation.

Platform: PlayStation 3
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Price: $59.99
ESRB: M for Mature
Players: One (up to eight online)
Release Date: June 14, 2013

The original Halo brought with it an AI that was unmatched. Silly as they were, to see the grunts running in desperation after realizing that you had just planted a sticky bomb squarely on their back brought interactivity and personality to characters that wasn’t common at the time. Add in the fact that enemies would take cover when they felt threatened, run for their lives when too many of their comrades had fallen, dive away from grenades, and yell in frustration before mounting a final assault, and you have what was a very unique experience. The information that I had leading up to the release of The Last of Us indicated that I might be in for a similar, groundbreaking experience.

the last of us ambush

In The Last of Us, players are introduced to a world in which an infection has spread, altering all of humanity for the worst. The “infected” are essentially this game’s form of zombie, but they may not be the scariest foe you’ll encounter. Giving us a glimpse at our potential selves, the game is a cesspool of violence; with humans turning on each other as they desperately cling to what existence remains. Groups of hunting parties casually gun down other humans, often with no remorse. Perhaps more horrifying is just how nonchalant they can be considering the meager rewards they aren’t even guaranteed from their daily slaughter.

the last of us ruined city

Joel is one of two protagonists of this story. In an environment as harsh as this, and having experienced it for roughly twenty years, he’s become a hardened man. Being somewhat of an anti-hero, his reluctant mission is to escort a young girl, Ellie, in order to regain possession of a cache of firearms.

The plot comes at an even pace, breaking up what would otherwise be a fantastic but ultimately meaningless action game. The two protagonists play off of each other well, and we’re given sufficient reason to care about them as their relationship develops; to want to see them through to their eventual survival of this dreary world, should they be capable of doing so.

Peripheral characters don’t stay around as long as one would like, but they add to the plot. Some of them add backstory to Joel. Often their appearance will serve to further engulf players into the harsh reality that’s been constructed. We’re not always given enough time with these characters to care about them immensely, but through them we better see the effects this world has on its various inhabitants.

the last of us clicker 2

Fitting the story perfectly, the gameplay in The Last of Us is unforgiving, relentless, and exhilarating. You will not feel like a hero. You will not run openly with a gun in each hand. Every aspect of combat is brutal and tends toward realism. A small group of enemies can overwhelm you, so it is often necessary to take some of them out with stealth. Running away is usually a good tactic as well, as it allows you to once again get the drop on your foes who are attempting to find you.

the last of us hiding from hunters

Enemies, both human and infected, use their sight and hearing to search for you. Running and knocking over things such as chairs and bottles will cause them to inspect the area. Should you be seen, they will give chase. However, unlike in most games, the enemies in The Last of Us will not inexplicably know where you are; they have to work for that information.

the last of us ellie throws a brick

On one occasion, after being seen and then hiding behind cover, I snuck to another location to the right. To my surprise, the enemy who was also behind cover didn’t see that I had moved, so when he popped his head up to look for me, he was looking in the direction that I had been a few seconds ago. Enemies can be surprised, even from the front. If, for example, you hide by a doorway, you may have just enough time to get in a good hit with your melee weapon. On the other hand, running straight at them with a two-by-four is a perfect way to get yourself killed.

Battles with other human survivors often feel like a game of cat and mouse, because having the upper hand comes down to numbers and what types of weapons each side has. If you pull your trigger one more time than you have bullets, the enemies might think that you’re out of ammo, scarily causing them to advance rapidly on your position. There’s little else more thrilling than running away from a dangerous situation and knowing that you need to do all that you can to prevent your enemies from knowing where you are.

The multiplayer is intense too

the last of us multiplayer pic 1

The single-player experience is so engaging and satisfying that it can be easy to shrug off the multiplayer mode as tacked on. However, although there are currently only two modes, and both of them are versions of team deathmatch, the multiplayer is nonetheless thrilling in its own right. Players side with one of two clans in an attempt to survive for “twelve weeks” (each multiplayer match counting as a day). It’s a metagame that tasks you with recruiting virtual survivors by performing well in the multiplayer matches.

There are events such as marauder attacks that occur, and you must choose a specific objective (down enemies, revive teammates etc.) to “train” your survivors so that the damage done is lessened. The better you do, the fewer number of your group will die. Going through the twelve-week metagame is a badge of honor, and it also unlocks things for use in the multiplayer. An element that ties in with the single-player experience well is the fact that you need to take a certain amount of supplies each day from killed enemies in order to keep your survivors alive. In short, this metagame provides a little bit more importance to the happenings in the multiplayer.

the last of us multiplayer pic 2

The maps are fairly big for four-on-four team deathmatch, but certain design choices prevent the game from becoming a dull search-fest. Listen mode, which allows players to see other moving players through walls from a close distance (emulating the act of listening) is there to help, but is limited so as not to be too powerful. Camping can and does happen, but players have limited ammo. Players must grab supplies that have been dropped by players that they’ve killed, or by exposing themselves while opening supply boxes found around the map. The supply boxes contain ammo, but also materials which allow for the crafting of useful items such as molotov cocktails. The maps give you the freedom to explore and flank the opposition, but they also provide an incentive to keep moving.

There are a variety of options within the multiplayer. You start with ten points that can be used to equip skills, sub-weapons, weapons, and special weapons (which have to be purchased with another form of currency while in the game). There are skills that let you sprint more often, craft items faster, create better melee weapons, have less aim wobble, and many more. The more powerful the weapon or skill, the more points it costs, which provides a good balance. Whether you want to create a healing character, a super sniper, a melee-focused build, or a sneaky one, all of those options and more are provided. I would have liked to see some co-op and/or competitive modes that utilize the infected, but the multiplayer is good as it is to keep my attention for now.

The verdict

The Last of Us is an experience that often only happens a few times in a console generation. The realistic violence may be a bit much for some, but it’s necessary to engage players; to allow them to properly inhabit a world full of anarchy and desperate survival. The game indirectly asks the question of how far one would be willing to go to live. The action is unparalleled, the characters are ones that you’ll ultimately grow to care about, and every facet of the game is superb. Naughty Dog has created a masterpiece that can sit proudly amongst the best in video game history.

Grade: A+

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