The Last of Us is one of the most well-directed games of all time; every scene feels like it was set to convey a message, every encounter feels orchestrated to deliver the best possible dramatic effect, and every line of dialogue is delivered to be practically dripping with life. From the graphics to the actual game play, players are subjected into a post-apocalyptic game like no other. Character interactions will leave lasting impressions, exploring the desolated world will make you curious, and engaging in combat is a gut-wrenching struggle. The level of emotional disconnect is pretty low throughout the story, so the experience of playing it does not necessarily end just because you put the controller down. It stays with you, and very few games can manage that.
Gameplay: Going Beyond Survival
Like many other post-apocalyptic worlds, The Last of Us is set in a future-America besieged by a virus that turns people into zombie-like things. Players take on the role of Joel, who at first looks like your typical gritty and bitter protagonist (complete with a tragic past which involves the death of his daughter). Your task is to find a way to smuggle Ellie, a young girl who is apparently immune to the virus. Not really the most original of plots to begin with, but it is in the execution that the game manages to truly make the narrative shine.
Human society in this game has been splintered into various factions - there are random survivors who follow no organisational structure, there are the rebel Fireflies whom you are trying to deliver Ellie to, there are your usual bandits, cannibals, and other "savage baddie" groups, and of course, there is what's left of the Government and the Hunters. You will encounter each of them in the game (as well as the infected) and dealing with each one is a completely unique experience. Battles are gritty, and you will have to make use of whatever weapons you have been able to scavenge. Ammunition is rare and must be conserved, and there is a large reliance on the use of stealth and tactics in order to overcome the difficult odds you will be presented with. Basically: you have to be smart to win. Sure there are a few quick time events scattered about, but for the most part, expect this game to force you to think.
One thing we have to point out is that The Last of Us is an incredible leap and evolution in terms of game making - especially when you compare it to Naughty Dog's previous major series: Uncharted. The cover-shooting mechanics in Uncharted encouraged a more head-on, gun-ho approach to combat, while TLOU takes things at a much slower and deliberate pace (and that is a great thing).
Delivery: The Hollywood Treatment
The Last of Us feels like a game that received the Hollywood treatment - excellent character animations, the facial expressions look life like, the voice acting is professional; and best of all, the story is inconceivably brilliant. The storytelling in this game takes centre stage over everything else. That is something else considering that the visuals are breathtaking (the irony of wonderfully dilapidated urban landscapes), and the game play mechanics are wickedly clever.
There's a lot of drama going on, and it all fits together in the flow of the narrative - nothing jars you out of the beat of the game's story, instead, each event seems designed to pull you deeper into Joel and Ellie's plight. Early on, players are introduced to Tess, Joel's partner in his smuggling business. While we won't spoil the details on how that plays out, their mission to sneak Ellie out of the quarantine zone at the very start of the game is gripping and ultimately tragic; and that literally sets the pace of the rest of the game's story.
Exploring the game's world shows that no matter what state the planet is in, there is an inherent beauty to be found anywhere you go. The way that plants slowly creep back into the concrete and cement covered areas is a wonderful touch along with the way that the sunlight is able pierce its way through the most unlikely of areas. It is a very screenshot worthy game and for those of you who have yet to pick it up, the remastered PS4 version delivers it all in amazing depth and clarity.
The music for the game is surprisingly well made - each key scene is highlighted by a track that manages to capture the mood. The way that the music seems to sink and blend into the events that unfold is a testament to the skill of the composer. At the same time, quality of the voice tracks are undeniably good -Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson pull off performances that turn Joel and Ellie into living, breathing, beings that you will want to root for.
Conclusion: Hopefully, Not the Last Great Game
Naughty Dog deserves major cred for The Last of Us; the story is heart-wrenching, the combat will get your adrenaline pumping, and it is literally hard to put the controller down without wanting to see what happens next. It is easy to love this game and its' characters which is something that you will not get to experience often; and we're not even mentioning the replay value of the multiplayer mode. This game deserves a spot on top of your must play list.