The Last of Us has to be the new benchmark in videogame storytelling. The narrative is complimented with the most stylish cinematic sequences, gripping dialogue and top-notch voice-acting. This is all topped off with some of the best character animations I have seen. The animations even manage to sell the character’s emotions – something that is not always the case with games. The gameplay will be familiar to Uncharted fans, but in an evolved form – smooth, realistic actions, classy up-to-date mechanics all equate to very realistic-looking gameplay.
Developer: Naughty Dog
For fans of: Uncharted, survival horror, action, narrative-strong games
Reviewed on: Playstation 3
Also available on: N/A
If we had to give it a numerical score: 8 /10
What I liked
- Uncharted-like mechanics
- Brilliant level design
- Visually triumphant
- Eerie scoring
Not so much
- Aiming a bit tricky to get used to
- ‘Picking up’ mechanic a little off looking
- Erratic loading times
- Your partners’ AI not always great
- Crashes my console
Gameplay and Features
I am usually cautious when I hear about another zombie or ‘infected humans’ survival-horror title. It has been done time and time again, and not since a Playstation 2 Resident Evil title, can I remember being actually moved by a title in this genre. They are generally romping good fun, but I am not a fan of cheap thrills or scares, which is usually what games in this genre rely on. That has changed. Dramatically.
The Last of Us takes story-telling in videogames to new heights, in typical Naughty Dog fashion. Within minutes of the Prologue I was captivated, not so much by the story itself, but by how it was being told and by the emotion sold by the interesting characters. The visual quality was spilling over in the first few minutes, complimenting this immersing narrative – I knew I was in for a treat.
The story itself is not the most imaginative – humans becoming infected to become brutal dangers after they have turned. The non-infected rally together, fighting for resources, surviving in the very bleak world, and factions are formed in doing so. It is however, the characters that take center stage in this story.
The Uncharted underpinnings are very apparent fortunately, and the mechanics will feel familiar, but in an evolved form. The gameplay mechanics are also filled with stunning, little touches that show how classy the mechanics really are. Little things, like picking up a ladder and setting it against a wall – all so natural looking, satisfying to the player. I remember one of the first, really small touches that managed to absolutely charm me. Joel’s young daughter is sitting in the middle of the backseat of the car while the adults are driving to flee the newly infected town in the prologue. Most games will let you look around using the camera stick. Here when you looked out to the left or the right of the vehicle, the young would shift to that side of the car. This may sound simple, but really, usually games will either let you swing the camera from one direction to the other, and I for one love the fact that the developers went that extra length just to provide a slightly more realistic experience. The gameplay is filled with these classy little touches, again not unlike the Uncharted series.
While the platform and fighting mechanics are for the most part familiar to the Uncharted series, there are some new mechanics. The fighting mechanics have evolved; they’re more viscerally brutal than even that of those in Uncharted 3. The camera work depicts the frantic and brutal combat with flair. The camera moves a little quicker, zooms in or out, making every fight a visual treat. The same goes with the stealthy take-downs –more complex-looking than your average game thanks to the great camera work.
The survival theme is as deep as fans of the genre would want and compliments the stealth gameplay. Ammo conservation plays a pivotal role as do other ‘survival’ resources. You will rarely have a fully loaded ammo reserve, medi-kits and so on. Even the Shiv which is used abundantly to stab foes can only be used once unless upgraded. There is plenty to be found though, objects like pipes or bats which will help you conserve ammo by melee attacking. Objects can be collected and used to craft or evolve weapons. The crafting element is not as deep as say that found in an RPG game, but serves as a wonderful component of the gameplay. For example, since the ‘fully turned’ Tickers are actually pretty difficult to defeat in bunches, a simple pipe won’t be that effective. Add some scissors tied to the head of the pipe, and you have an axe-like weapon. Or pick up alcohol and bottles, making a Molotov bomb, and singe them. I absolutely loved the crafting element, despite it not being the deepest.
The stealth theme is further complimented by pretty intelligent AI when it came to the enemies. There were plenty of moments where I wasn’t quite as light-footed as I thought I was, and the enemies would pick me out quickly. Players can scope out areas and use a ‘focused hearing’ ability to pan out their optimum route of attack. What I really love about the gameplay is that even as few as two Tickers at once could result in me being overwhelmed, depending on what weapons I was carrying at the time. The developers didn’t rely on sending enemies in the masses to make thinks more difficult, unlike most games in the genre, the various components of the gameplay determines how easily or how difficultly it will be to fend of the enemies. You partners’ AI was not always great though. While they were definitely helpful in combat, they often annoyed me while roaming around, walking around like headless chickens. I often needed to find them, to get the to follow me again. And at times when a partner was leading, I would need to take the lead, almost like they forgot they were leading.
Surprisingly the multiplayer modes do not include a co-op or a horde mode. I actually think a co-op mode would have been a good fit here. What you do get is clan or “Faction” based online multiplayer – ‘Supply Raid’ and ‘Survivors’ mode. Players align themselves with either the Hunters or Fireflies factions. Players need to win matches, complete objectives and collect supplies, in order to progress their factions. The Supply Raid factions have unlimited respawns while the Survivors only have one life each round. The multiplayer, while strongly depicting the survival theme, is largely versus or team deatmatches. The multiplayer offering is fresh to some degree though, as it is more “thinking” driven as opposed to the classic “run-and-gun” versus modes that every other game seems to offer. The multiplayer offering works well, but it is for the outstanding campaign that I would highly recommend The Last of Us.
While the game is undeniably brilliant, my experience was not all together smooth. Firstly, I experienced some rather erratic loading times – sometimes slow, sometimes ridiculously slow. Then it would randomly crash my console, with nothing solving the issue besides resetting it, and sometimes I even needed to completely pull the plug. I tried erasing the patch, and going to previous save games, but the issues persisted. I tried some other games to make sure it was not the console, and found it to be The Last of Us only that would crash the console. It seems that my experience is a very isolated occurrence, but I did find some YouTube users and some forums reporting similar incidents.
Sound and Visuals
Visually The Last of Us is as alluring as I have seen this generation, highlighting what Naughty Dog can do with the Playstation 3. The cinematic sequences, the character animations, their movement, the expressions on the character’s faces could easily be mistaken for next-gen stuff. Only the gaming world itself – the buildings and so on – reveal that it is in fact current-generation graphics. That said, they are still of the highest quality
Another aspect that bowled me over and often surprised me was the transition from cinematic sequences to either gameplay or QTE’s. Not only was the pace of the game, from cinematic sequences to gameplay impressive, but these aspects were also seamlessly put together for the most part, and whether you realise it or not, this really helps involve you with the game as it plays out. Long gone are the times where I would put the controller down when a cinematic sequence kicked in, keeping my eyes on the screen while grabbing my Coke. That enormous difference is graphical quality between gameplay and cinematic sequences has been finely narrowed down. You are engaged right through.
Academy Award winning Gustavo Alfredo Santaolalla composed the suitably dramatic score, which complements the desperate mood of the game, appealing to your emotions all the way through. The outstanding quality here is further complimented by the brilliant voice-acting. The dialogue flows and is seems totally believable thanks the character’s animations, depicting the emotion. Unlike many titles, the voice-acting is not let down by limited animations or general visual quality of the characters. The high production quality compliments the various aesthetic components. Simply put, it is one of the finest productions you will find this generation.
Naughty Dog again prove why they are one of Sony’s best allies. The Last of Us’s charming gameplay is not technically perfect, but it is outstanding for all the same reasons the Uncharted series’ gameplay was, but it is great to see the developers have taken this to a new level. The Last of Us breathes fresh air into the survival theme, delivering a deep; immensely interesting and absolutely absorbing narrative, more so than we have seen before in the genre. The narrative never lets up, nor does it rely on cheap thrills. The narrative will suck you in, involving you with the characters, their stories and the desperate world they live in.
The Last of Us is among the very best titles we have seen this generation. A joy to play, and should stay with you long after you’re done. It is a huge pity that my freezing experiences tarnished the overall experience for me. I also would have scored the game a lot higher should I not have experienced these frustrations.