- Format: PS3
- Unleashed: June 14th
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Developer: Naughty Dog
- Players: 1
- Site: http://www.thelastofus.com/
Editor’s note: This review only covers the main, singleplayer element of The Last of Us, as it was almost impossible to find an online game the week before release. The multiplayer aspect will be reviewed some time after the game has hit retail, when the servers are full of players.
The Last of Us has technical imperfections it’s impossible to miss such as a choppy frame rate when swinging the camera around, some dumb AI, and occasional graphical glitches. It also suffers from some gaming clichés including (but not limited to) a sniper section, stealth kills, and having your carefully harvested collection of weapons and health kits snatched away without warning. It should tell you something about the game then that, despite all this, it’s a relentlessly gripping and unforgettable experience that will impress you from (almost) all angles.
After what is surely gaming’s greatest ever prologue (which only the heartless would spoil for others), you’re thrown into the shoes of Sam Fisher lookalike Joel. It’s twenty years after the outbreak of the parasitic fungus which has turned so much of humanity into monsters, and the environment has grown as wild and broken as the society which once shaped it. This is communicated wonderfully from start to finish, not by shoving your face in the script (as Uncharted 3 delighted in doing), but through a world created with a staggering level of attention to detail. A world that, in effect, you see as much or as little of as you wish.
There are huge swathes of TLoU’s America that you’ll never need to see; but despite the fact that it’s almost always immediately obvious where to go in order to advance the story, chances are you’ll want to slowly drink in every last drop of atmosphere, trying to forget the fact that – eventually – it must come to an end. Corners, alleys, even entire floors and buildings can be ignored if you wish. Most will explore them nonetheless, partly to scavenge for supplies – and partly simply to see what’s there.
Floors are dirty, glass is broken, possessions are scattered or left as though the long-gone owners will walk back into the room at any minute. There’s an unavoidable, grim voyeurism to seeing abandoned pictures and teddies in a young child’s room; an easily-missed photo of a man, beaming with his hands around two young women, standing on an office desk; a corpse at the driver’s seat of a car. This is a world that was clearly once teeming with life and now, just as clearly, is not.
The aforementioned scavenging is essential to survival, especially on higher difficulties. Joel will take off and rummage through his backpack in real time (a la Zombi U), and this is how he upgrades his attributes – and constructs supplies. There are virtually no health packs to be found, however; you have to make your own. The rag and alcohol needed could also make a Molotov cocktail – which do you need more? Do you use your last explosive with blades to make a proximity bomb, or mix it with sugar for an enemy-blinding smoke bomb? You’re down to your last shiv – do you use it to open this locked door, or could you need it round the corner it for a quick stealth kill?
It must be said (and this is rather telling) that the lowest points of TLoU are, without exception, moments of combat. Enemies come in four flavours: Uninfected (who use cover and usually carry guns), Runners (easily killed infected who run straight for you), Clickers (tough infected who are blind, but very sensitive to sound and can instakill you if they get too close), and Bloaters (fat Clickers who are even tougher and, though unable to run, have a projectile attack). Fights against uninfected foes tend to be consistently fair, as only being careless guarantees failure. This isn’t necessarily the case against infected.
Aiming, reloading and weapon sway are intentionally awkward, though can be improved (slightly) through upgrades. This is fine – it fits in perfectly with the game’s overall theme of desperation. Problems arise when you’re thrown into a traditional videogame fight (such as a wave of weaker enemies distracting you from the onset of tougher ones) with a non-traditional set of combat controls. Basically, you’re from time to time wrestling with a slow-paced combat system in the middle of a fast-paced fight. Factor in the aforementioned instakills, and encounters on the highest difficulty border on plain unfair.
So, we’d recommend a lower difficulty setting for your first run through at least. No matter which setting you go for though, you’ll persevere through everything for the storytelling. We haven’t gone into plot details because the less you know, the better. The writing is outstanding. Not outstanding ‘for a game’ – outstanding. The acting too is incredible at every turn, and strengthened still further by the motion capture. Combined with superb direction, this story (and the way in which it is told) is at least on a par with To The Moon. That’s high praise indeed.
The graphics as you surely know are, kinks aside, amazing. The sound design too is brilliant, with minimal use of music. When it’s there however it suits the mood perfectly, every single time, right down to the volume. The AI problems mentioned at the start of the review can break the atmosphere (enemies don’t hear friendly AI running and stomping around, they’ll sometimes take cover in plain sight, friendly and unfriendly AI can be oblivious of one another if too close) but never for long, and never enough to stop you playing.
Although you often won’t have trouble seeing a set piece coming a mile off, most plot twists will likely surprise you; and the ending is powerful not for what it shows you, but for what it doesn’t. You might notice that we haven’t touched on the relationship between Ellie and Joel. Simply put, the characters are so well defined that describing them wouldn’t do justice.
Not a perfect game, then, but an essential purchase if you own a PS3. Worth buying a PS3 for? Well…actually…yes.