Games are usually all about the here and now, it’s never really been about the journey. The “30 seconds of fun” quote from Bungie designer Jaime Griesemer reigns true for hundreds of games. Those quick, fulfilling moments where trepidation, fluidity, anger and relief can all rush through the player multiple times in completely different games.
It’s a quote that became more famous than it probably should’ve done, but if that thirty seconds of fun shouldn’t be applied to one game then it’s The Last of Us.
“In many ways The Last of Us takes what made Uncharted a game so many others have tried to follow and flipped the rule book on it’s head.”
Coming in I fully expected to receive a slower and more refined expansion of what Naughty Dog had achieved with the Uncharted series. The only downtime between the action with Nathan Drake was quick quips and gentle traversal, but here in this post-apocalyptic world the landscape is so much different. In many ways The Last of Us takes what made Uncharted a game so many others have tried to follow and flipped the rule book on it’s head.
You play as Joel, an old head who’s tasked with taking Ellie across the country for reasons I won’t spoil. Throughout the game you’ll need to craft items to stay alive and upgrade your weaponry. But there’s no time to stop, at every turn the game world moves on, you won’t be able to rest during heated combat to manipulate your equipment. If you need health it takes time to apply a health pack, if you don’t have one ready you can craft one – but yet again it takes time. The Last of Us forces you to learn the rules of survival, be prepared for everything, stock up and most importantly never let your guard down.
Joel and Ellie’s tale is one that isn’t about the beginning or the end but the journey. At that journey’s end I felt nothing but emptiness, not because the journey was unfulfilling but because it was over. I soaked up the entirety of it all in fourteen hours to reach the conclusion of this story. Traversing different locations, meeting different people and encountering dangerous foes along the way.
This world is very different to ours, a fungal infection has taken the majority of humans and the surviving few either live under quarantine zones where rules are so strict and draconian many ply their life outside those walls. And it’s outside those walls where you’ll be spending the majority of your time with The Last of Us. The world is full of dangers as everyone is trying to survive against both the infected and numerous other survivors.
During combat you’ll face both the infected and groups of humans, each have their own unique style which you’ll need to adapt too accordingly. Human’s react much the way you’d expect, they’ll aggressively counter and hunt you down when you’ve been spotted, ruthlessly so on the increased difficulty levels. The infected on the other hand offer a more interesting tactic.
The most common types are Runners and Clickers. Runners are newly infected, still retaining sight and are quick off the ground, chasing you down with relentless hunger. The Clickers however, take The Last Of Us into a survival horror type realm, they only react to sound and can’t be killed by a normal melee weapon. One bite and it’s game over, these guys don’t mess around, if they know where you’re hiding it’s difficult to shake them off. Navigating a tight room full of Clickers is a horrifying experience, one false move and your careful approach plan is ruined, but make it through unscathed and the relief is something akin to surviving a zombie onslaught from early Resident Evils.
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Every person you meet in The Last of Us you’ll naturally become wary of, friend or foe has never had such an apt definition. At times characters will join you during your traversal across America, and in many cases aiding you along the way. During these moments, they never get in the way or stunt your progress like so many companion AI’s do in most games. In fact for almost 90% of the game you won’t be alone, and when Naughty Dog have constructed a system that see’s the companion AI function to such a high-standard it’s a real joy to behold. But it’s not flawless, the major instance is when sneaking around enemy camps your AI character sometimes hides in plain site of the enemy. Luckily this doesn’t catch you out though, hiding so well for so long only to be undone by a less than impressive AI decision would be frustrating. But it does take you ever so slightly out of the wonderful immersion Naughty Dog have created – a jarring issue but one that’s a technical limitation rather than a developer one.
If the Uncharted games are presented as a summer blockbuster then The Last of Us must be the hard hitting TV drama. It’s narrative is presented as more of a series of events leading up to a climax than one long moment. The main game itself is set over a series of months and develops both Joel and Ellie’s characters so much that I found myself genuinely concerned for both at times. I’d rather not mention the smallest things as the relationship between our two main protagonists is so natural it’s something that takes a step up over everything else we’ve seen in gaming. This is a genuine emotional roller coaster ride and while it never ventures into true horror territory, it can and will play on the heartstrings during it’s more severe moments.
“This is a genuine emotional roller coaster ride….it can, and will, play on the heartstrings during it’s more severe moments.”
The Last of Us is also equipped with an impressive if unconventional multiplayer mode called Factions. Within Factions there are only two modes available at the moment, Survivor and Supply Raid. Playing either will allow your chosen team to recruit survivors and gain additional supplies. It’s more of a cosmetic overlay for multiplayer than anything substantial, but playing online earns you equipment which keeps your clan healthy. The idea is to keep everyone fit enough for twelve weeks – one multiplayer match forwards time by one day.
If you’re looking for a multiplayer mode that’s a bit more slow-paced and more thoughtful than your average shooter then this is it. It’s certainly a thinking man’s multiplayer mode rather than the rough and tumble of most online modes.
Whereas other games stand out by utilising blockbuster set pieces The Last Of Us succeeds with smaller but more thought provoking scenarios. One moment in particular towards the end of the game doesn’t involve any gameplay input at all, but it was a moment where The Last Of Us transitioned from being just a game to something a whole lot more.
With The Last Of Us Naughty Dog have refined and improved on almost everything that’s come before, an amazing achievement from gaming’s premier developer.
- Joel and Ellie
- A stunningly beautiful and immersive world
- Fantastic balance of survival gameplay
- Rare AI moments spoil the immersion
- Only two multiplayer modes