Review: The Last of Us (PS3)

Endure and survive

The Last of Us, Naughty Dog, Sac City GamerAfter playing through and thoroughly enjoying all three of the Uncharted games, Naughty Dog has easily become one of my favorite video game developers.

Their ability to tell a story and engage the player all while keeping gameplay varied enough so that repetition doesn’t set in, and maintaining such a high level of detail and polish is certainly unprecedented.

But I’ll admit I wasn’t all that excited about The Last of Us until very recently.

I followed the news about the game, but with any game I try to keep my expectations in check until I’ve seen enough or heard enough to know, by my own standards, whether or not a game will be enjoyable. This keeps me from the influx of disappointment that a lot of gamers feel about so many games.

In other words, I try not to overly hype myself as to not set myself up for a let down. However, with The Last of Us, the hype train has been so prevalent in the gaming world for the last few months that it was almost impossible to avoid.

So I jumped on board and I’m glad I did.

After paying full price for three eight-hour games with the Uncharted series, I was going to wait to buy The Last of Us until it dropped in price. I heard from a lot of sources, however, that it is actually about a 15-17 (my first run went about 16 and a half hours) hour game for a single play through. I went ahead and purchased the game and before I officially begin this review I’ll just say that I don’t regret that decision at all.

Story

Ellie, The Last of Us, Sac City GamerI won’t go into too much detail about the story because it’s one that can easily be spoiled if you know too much about the events that take place in the game. There are so many ups and downs, twists, turns and even shocking moments in this game that it is difficult not to spoil.

If you’re unfamiliar with the game, here is the official description straight from Naughty Dog:

“Joel, a ruthless survivor with few moral lines left to cross, lives in one of the last remaining Quarantine Zones. These walled-off, oppressive cities are run by what’s left of the military. Despite the strict martial law, Joel operates in the black market of the city, smuggling contraband for the right price.

Joel is asked by a dying friend to look after Ellie, a fourteen-year-old girl with courage beyond her years. What starts out as a simple job to deliver Ellie to another Quarantine Zone, soon transforms into a profound journey that will forever change Joel and Ellie.

As they journey across a post-pandemic United States, Joel and Ellie will encounter different factions of survivors that have each found a unique way of dealing with the infected humans, the lack of supplies, and the threat of other survivors. As Joel and Ellie struggle to persevere, they must learn to trust each other and work together in order to survive the realities of this new world.”

Gameplay

Joel, Stealth takedown, The Last of UsThe gameplay in The Last of Us should be pretty familiar to gamers who have played the Uncharted series or even the new Tomb Raider.

Joel is equipped with several weapons like a shotgun, hand pistols, a long bow and a flamethrower, which he comes across throughout the game.

He also uses makeshift melee weapons he finds in the various locations around the game world or just uses his fists if he gets desperate.

Because this is a survival game, health is not regenerative. Med Kits are scarce but luckily supplies to craft your own are plentiful. However, the player must be careful and strategic when it comes to using these bandages because they are still fairly rare. On a play through set to Normal difficulty, I only really found myself in need of medical care without the handiness of a Med Kit about once or twice though, so it’s still pretty balanced.

The walking and running are much improved from the Uncharted games and gone is the jumping/climbing mechanic to which Nathan Drake is so accustomed. A crouching mechanic in this game is very important as it helps keep Joel quiet.

Yes, stealth is a big part of this game. In most sections of the the game, the player is given the choice to go in with guns blazing or to stay stealthy and sneak past the enemies. In addition to the hand-to-hand combat, Joel and the other characters you play as have stealth take down abilities if you can sneak up on your enemy successfully.

One element I loved is that it’s important to find a safe place when crafting tools or Med Kits, using a Med Kit or just taking a look at your inventory because the game does not pause when Joel uses his backpack. Along the way, Joel can pick up medications to upgrade his abilities like max health or to lessen shakiness when using a weapon. Weapons can also be upgraded in the game, but similar to the campfires in Tomb Raider, this can only be done at work benches found in select locations.

Players can also throw empty beer bottles or loose bricks to distract or gain the attention of enemies. This works just like throwing a grenade in the Uncharted games.

The Last of Us, crafting weapons, Sac City GamerSomething Naughty Dog is famous for, collection is a big part of the gameplay. Players can collect artifacts, Firefly (a group of vigilantes in the game) Pendants, parts for weapon upgrades, pills for upgrades to Joel, food (quick health gain), and various parts needed for crafting weapons and Med Kits.

Overall, the gameplay is tight, polished and for the most part, it works as intended. Sometimes stealth can be a bit finicky and the AI characters running out in front of an enemy can take away from the immersion of the game because this goes unnoticed by the opposing AI. Though it’s nice that your cover isn’t blown by an AI counterpart, it does make the game feel unrealistic at times.

Still, the gameplay is excellent and these minor issues don’t detract from it all that much. As with any game, annoyances like these will vary from player to player in the sense of how much they cause an issue.

Visuals/Graphics

The Last of Us, visuals, Sac City Gamer

If you look at the screenshots and videos that are all over the web, it’s easy to see that this game is beautiful. Like with Uncharted, Naughty Dog has outdone itself in the visuals department, and I often found myself stopping just to take in the view. There is a section of the game that takes places in the mountains and it was one of the most stunning scenes in a game I’ve ever seen.

While the graphics have their hiccups here and there, the overall visual experience in this game is one that pushes the PlayStation 3 to its limits.

Sound

The Last of Us, Clicker, Sac City GamerI have to start this section by saying that the soundtrack for this game is phenomenal. The level of immersion that is created by the music in this game is beyond amazing.

From the tear-jerking strums of the guitar to the emotion inducing taps of the keys on a piano, this game pulls the player in with one of the best sets of tunes ever produced for a video game.

That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.

Sound is used quite uniquely in this game. I was torn whether to put this under the sound or gameplay section of this review, but it definitely fits here.

One of the enemies in the game is called a Clicker. These are the mutated humans who were unfortunate enough to have contracted the infection that has nearly destroyed the world. One step down from Clickers are Runners which aren’t fully mutated yet. They are pretty easy to kill as hand-to-hand combat (just like with non-infected enemies) or a few shots to the head or chest is enough to put them out of their misery.

The Last of Us, Sac City Gamer, listening modeClickers are a bit harder to kill. The infection has engulfed their brain and they can no longer see because the growth has covered their eyes. However,  their hearing has increased. They use their clicking sound as sort of a sonar-like tracking system. Because of this, stealth is key.

Joel and the other protagonists can also hear around walls once they’ve made visual or auditory note of an enemy’s location. To do this, players can hold the R2 button, which allows them to see through walls. In actuality, the character is hearing through walls but that is translated into gameplay by allowing the player to track an enemy’s location via temporary see-through walls.

The voice acting and sound effects are also amazing. An all-star cast including Troy Baker as Joel and Ashley Johnson as Ellie brings this game together with superb acting and top-notch ambiance. The guns sound great, the background sounds are perfect and as I said before, the music is worthy of being praised to no end.

The one negative thing I’ll say about the sound in this game is that some of the dialogue can be muffled and difficult to hear. It may just be my TV speakers or my less-than-perfect hearing, but I found myself turning up the volume during speaking scenes and then having to turn it back down during gun fights. This didn’t exactly help the immersion.

Having subtitles on for the first play through is definitely something I recommend. This is particularly true when walking through the game world because characters will have conversations with each other and the further away you are, the harder it is to hear them. Of course, this adds to the realism but if you want to pick up on all the subtle dialogue in the game, you’ll want to have those captions turned on.

Online

The Last of Us, Sac City Gamer, onlineI don’t have a whole lot to say about the online mode because honestly, I’m not a big online gamer.

The online mode in this game is called Factions as players either play as the scavenger/survivor or the Firefly/vigilantes. Though both groups are technically survivors, this creates a sort of bad guy vs. good guy set up.

There are a couple of modes here including one where you’re tasked with surviving for 12 weeks with each day being a new game session (where one team has to eliminate all of the other team’s reinforcements) and another where you’re tasked with simply surviving, but there no respawns allowed.

The gameplay works well and there are a ton of unlocks, upgrades, temporary boosts, etc. to keep online fanatics coming back for more. Naughty Dog has a “Season Pass” DLC package in place, so like Uncharted 2 and 3, there’s sure to be plenty added to the mode in the coming months.

Though I only played one session, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The game does a great job at keeping you and your team together as you always respawn near them and they can also heal you if you are wounded.

All of the single player gameplay elements are present here and you can even access an in-game store from your backpack to purchase ammo and upgrades. As I said, I’m not a huge online player, but this mode is sure to keep gamers busy for a long time.

Replayability

Sac City Gamer, The Last of Us, Joel and EllieThis game features something that all story-based games should have: New Game Plus.

Once the story is completed for the first time, players can start the adventure again on any difficulty in Plus mode. This allows you to keep all your upgrades, collectibles, and abilities.

Because this is a survival game, players still have to collect the weapons as they appear in the game though. One bad thing about New Game Plus in this game is that collectibles (artifacts, comics, etc.)  previously discovered are still in the world so it makes it difficult to pick up the stragglers you missed the first time through.

However, it is possible to save the new game on a separate file (online and unlocks are shared via a separate save file) and then go back to the first file and play the selected chapters that have collectibles in them. From the chapter selection screen, it is also possible to see what you missed the first time through.

In the end, there is plenty to unlock, like skins for Ellie (including some cool Jak & Daxter gear) and Joel, render modes so you can play in black and white or two other color selections, and plenty of concept art. There’s enough here to make several plays of this game fun and worthwhile.

Final thought

To say The Last of Us is a memorable, exciting, emotional, must-play joyride that is one of the best exclusives on the PlayStation 3 is an understatement. Even despite its minor flaws, this game is not only a masterpiece, but one of the best games ever created.

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