The Last of Us is a brutal and shockingly unflinching look at humanity in a post-pandemic world. It also happens to be one hell of an intense videogame experience and a fitting final PS3 title by the acclaimed developers at Naughty Dog. Blending together a story driven Uncharted-like adventure with tactical stealth and survival gameplay, The Last of Us may be the studio’s finest creation yet.
Being their first new IP in almost six years, The Last of Us is easily Naughty Dog's most mature title in more ways than one. The theme, setting, story and character interactions are in huge contrast to their previous franchises such as Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter and Uncharted which are all certainly much lighter in tone. Uncharted had us on the edge of our seats thanks to breathtaking set pieces and intense action scenes, but The Last of Us is so incredibly tense that it's impossible to look away (even if you wanted to).
The plot in The Last of Us is centered around Joel, a hardened pandemic survivor in his late-40s, and Ellie, a 14 year old girl he is tasked with protecting (for reasons that can’t be stated due to some serious spoilers). The game is set nearly twenty years after the infectious cordyceps virus mysteriously struck the United States and began mutating humans into beings decidedly less human. Joel has clearly seen and been through a lot over the past 2 decades, whereas Ellie, being born after the pandemic hit, has never even stepped foot outside of the military-run quarantine zone. With the breakdown of government and the ensuing power vacuum, underground activities and “factions” have begun to gain a foothold in certain uncontrolled areas.
The acting and storytelling in The Last of Us is excellent and easily on par with the Uncharted series. Unlike Uncharted however, beyond a few uncomfortable chuckles from Ellie and another companion during the adventure, don’t expect much in the way of tongue-in-cheek jokes or intentional humor. The tone of the game is deadly serious, and there are more than a few twists, turns, scares and tense nail-biting scenes. TLoU is definitely more survival adventure than horror, but seeing (or hearing) the infected wandering about and then come rushing when they catch your scent will freak out even the most hardened of gamers.
Joel is not Nathan Drake. He’s older, slower and far less nimble, and apparently he can’t even jump at will. He is, however, incredibly tough and resourceful. With supplies and materials being relatively scarce, Joel has to rely on picking up discarded firearms with very limited supply of ammo, or picking up items from the environment to use or craft into weapons of some sort. Collecting supplies in The Last of Us is akin to collecting treasure in Uncharted, except the supplies actually have a use. The crafting system is simple and easy to comprehend, and most certainly adds some strategy to the game. There are times, for example, when you’ll need to choose between creating a health kit or a molotov cocktail since they use some similar materials. Crafting happens in real time and requires several seconds, so it’s usually not something you’ll want to do out in the open. You can also find work benches around the city that allow Joel to take a break and upgrade his weapons or abilities using components he’s picked up.
The Last of Us isn’t a fast paced game by any means. Joel can sprint if he’s healthy, though since it’s noisy and can attract too much attention, you’ll probably find yourself crouch-walking through a good portion of the adventure. To maintain stealth, an important technique that’s introduced early on in the game allows Joel to enter a “listen mode” to help him better locate both friends and foes who are within earshot. The ability essentially allows the player to see through walls to an extent and can be used as much as needed. Joel can carry a nice amount of equipment in and on his pack, including a melee weapon such as a pipe or plank of wood, a long gun/bow, a handgun, a distraction item such as a brick or bottle, a shiv, and a health kit. With ammo being relatively scarce, going for stealth takedowns (of humans and the infected) is almost always the best option. Except for a couple of specific situations, firearms are usually a last resort tactic.
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