The Last Of Us Review
By Max Roberts
“The problem with The Last Of Us is that not every single person currently living on Earth will play it.” – @MaverickTenSays
My friend Maverick makes a bold statement. Can a game truly be that good? Something everyone should play? In short, yes. The Last Of Us is a true experience. Not like watching a movie or reading a book. No. You are actively involved in this post-pandemic world Naughty Dog has fashioned from man’s fears. You will invest your time, energy, and emotion into the story and characters of The Last Of Us. You will feel loss and fear alongside grace and hope. The Last Of Us is a masterful production.
Creative Director Neil Druckmann and Game Director Bruce Straley had one main goal in creating The Last Of Us. The root of the entire game, if you will. Their mission was to construct “an entire game around a relationship between two characters.” Everything else was second to Joel and Ellie’s relationship. The two meet under rough circumstances and Joel is tasked with escorting the girl to the rebel group, The Fireflies, for reasons unknown. In exchange, Joel gets his shipment of guns to sell on the black market. Their tale progresses and takes a turn here and there, before you know it, Joel and Ellie cross America together. What is so great about these two characters is the bond that forms between them.
Joel is hard and more disconnected than most. He just wants to get the job done and survive. He has no issues brutally murdering anyone, or anything, that gets in his way. When Joel smashes someone’s skull in or burns a group alive with Molotov, Ellie comments on his brutality. “Jesus Joel!” is one of her insights into Joel and his behavior.
Ellie was born in the infected world and doesn’t know of the days before. She has never left the Quarantine Zone.While being able to handle her own and seeing only the dark side of humanity, she truly is innocent. She sees skyscrapers and bridges and hotels for the first time in her life. She loves music and comic books. Why? Because they offer her an escape from the screwed up world she was born into and takes her to decades past. She’ll asks Joel about the world before and seek understanding. Her innocence in her comments will catch you off guard and cause you to see our world through her eyes. It truly is magical.
Cordyceps. Let that word ring in you mind. Cordyceps are a family of fungus that takes over ants, spiders, and other insects. The fungus takes over its host and it’s sole mission is to infect other insects.
The team at Naughty Dog toyed with the idea “what if Cordyceps jumped to humans? Took us over?” That is where one of the two enemy types in The Last Of Us was born. Stages of the infection start out with the Runners. They are the most human like. They slouch and creep along, while they moan and cry. Runners are not fully infected yet so there is a part of them that is still human, crying out in pain. Their moaning will send chills down your spine.
After years of infection, the Cordyceps grow out of the victim’s eyes. To hunt their prey, this level of Infected, called Clickers, use echolocation to find and kill you.
When they aren’t clicking they can’t see you. There are times where you will be inches away from a Clicker, hoping they won’t “see” you. There is only one other enemy type in The Last Of Us, and they can be more terrifying than the Infected; Humans.
Humanity has come crashing down since the outbreak of the Cordyceps. Quarantine zones have been established, but the military runs them like a dictatorship. The black market is full of dark, back-stabbing people. Mankind is truly dark now. When you stumble across them in an abandoned building or are ambushed by gangs in a city, it comes down to either you or them. And “them” isn’t an option. The enemy AI is rather intelligent in The Last Of Us. They work as a team, reacting to what you do. They hear when you topple something over, always move in pairs, and fight differently when you have a gun. Grabbing an enemy as a human shield works, until you hear your gun click. You’re out of ammo and now the AI knows it. They’ll move to flank you and usually, they don’t care about the guy you have grabbed. Finish him and move away. The combat is all about outsmarting and outmaneuvering your opponent. The only way to do that is to have the better equipment. Remember fight smart, not hard.
To keep players grounded in their post-pandemic world and its rules, Naughty Dog has created a real-time, crafting system that keeps you on your toes. Weapons, ammo, and supplies are scarce and tough choices have to be made. You have enough rags and alcohol to make a Molotov grenade, but a health kit uses the same supplies. Make a shiv out of tape and scissors to survive a Clicker attack or upgrade your melee weapon for an ambush?
These are the choices you have to make in The Last Of Us and once they are made there is no going back. All these choices are made in real time too. There is no pause for crafting. Everything takes time and supplies, you have to weigh out the consequences every time.
There have been many renditions of what civilization might look like after some apocalyptic event. Ash and ruin as far as the eye can see is the typical picture in people’s imagination. Naughty Dog dared to paint a different picture.
The world in The Last Of Us is established across the United States and nature is taking her back. It has been twenty years since the fungus jumped to mankind. Cities are overgrown with plants and trees. Wild animals roam free in the streets. With Naughty Dog’s new lighting engine, the atmosphere is more immersive. The game’s environments suck you in. The Last Of Us is the most beautiful game the PlayStation has on the market.
When you are hunting, or more importantly being hunted, the sounds around you become your lifelines. The sound effects and soundtrack in The Last Of Us reflect this fact. From the sounds of the Clickers to hearing your enemies scuttle around trying to flank you, you will come to rely on sound. Joel even has a “power-up” that involves listening. Hold down the R2 button makes Joel listen more intently, which causes the screen to go black and white, outlining your enemies so you can see their location. While this may sound cheap to some, the feature can be turned off at anytime and you are never required to use it. Although, later on in the game, it comes quite in handy.
The soundtrack is composed by Academy Award winning Gustavo Santaolalla. The tracks reflect the atmosphere perfectly and will flow with your emotions during certain points in the game. Although, don’t expect a swelling, grand score during gameplay like in Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series. The music will play at just the right time to make the experience all the better. The sounds and music never pull you out of the experience, in fact, it pulls you in even more.
The only worry folks seemed to have with The Last Of Us, before launch, was that it included a multiplayer mode and not a single word was said about it until reviews came out. The lack of answers about the multiplayer lead most to doubt this seemingly unnecessary mode. Let the worries be put to bed because not only is The Last of Us multiplayer fun, its overall tie into the metagame and theme really makes this multiplayer stand out. At the start of multiplayer, you are forced to pick which clan you would like to be apart of; Hunters or Fireflies. From there, your own clan is born, of which you are the leader. As the leader, you are in charge of gathering supplies, training the group, and preventing anyone from getting sick. You accomplish this by collecting items in each match. Every individual online match is equal to one day for your clan. The more supplies you collect the more people will join your group. With more people in your group the more supplies you need. That is the fundamental cycle in the multiplayer.
To find your supplies, there are two types of matches. Typical multiplayer modes disguised under the names Supply Raid and Survivor. Supply Raid is your team deathmatch. Each team has a shared twenty lives. Once that count hits zero them members of the team stay dead until the next match. Survivor on the other hand is first team to win four 3 minute matches, no shared lives. Once you are dead in Survivor you stay dead until the next round. The key to either of these modes is to stay together and fight smart.
What makes the multiplayer in The Last Of Us such a well done mode, is how much it feels like the single player experience. You feel a true sense of total immersion in both single player and multiplayer. The tension is real and you can’t help but feel the weight of your survival on your shoulders. Enemies are always smart whether AI or human, supplies are low, and the fear never lets up.
The Last Of Us is simply a stunning piece of work from all the angles in the industry. From the moment you hit “New Game” till the credits roll, the ride doesn’t let up. Joel and Ellie’s journey will take you on emotional highs and lows. The sense of total immersion in the game’s world is inescapable. The story alone is reason enough to play through the game. Combined with its solid mechanics, gorgeous environments, atmosphere, and the stellar multiplayer, Naughty Dog has raised the bar on all levels. The Last Of Us is undeniably a masterpiece.