I'm not going mince words here. The Last of Us is simply one of the best games I have ever played. It is that simple. The Last of Us is, really, about as good as games get. Don't be scared by the premise; ND has crafted something that reaches far and wide delivering an experience that's akin to a playable drama film. Wash away those horrible memories of The House of the Dead and put your fears away. The Last of Us is simply incredible.
The Last of Us is a tale that takes inspiration from various works in the genre it works with (most notably The Road, No Country For old Men, and The Walking Dead), while forging its own path to create something equally memorable and carving out its own path that sets it apart from all of its inspirations beforehand (certainly feels like it). What may sound like B-movie shlock on paper has been transformed by Naughty Dog into something no short of a masterpiece. While stalwart games like Resident Evil 1 are so horribly done that they make Ed Wood look like George Bernard Shaw, The Last of Us is an instant classic that would rightly belong in the Criterion Collection or right next to an art film. Naughty Dog really outdone themselves, and they have done something entirely else. ND has created something that feel so real and tangible for today's society. Through the epidemic certainly has ravaged the lives of so many people by turning them into horrible creatures, The Last of Us isn't so much a zombie based horror flick as it is a tough, deeply woven drama with the vision that reaches far and wide.
The Last of Us stars Joel and Ellie, two amazing characters who are heart and soul of this journey. What follows these two incredible characters is a journey that will test your limits as it touches upon society as a whole in ways that I myself wasn't even expecting. At it's core, what happens when society collapses? What is the capacity that man would do in order to survive? How far would you go? The Last of Us may seem simple, but it hides under this and explores the implications of society's horrifying ability to crack underneath the pressure. Or on a more simple but wider note: "what it would mean to live in such a world?" What follows is a brutal, but often beautiful, journey that touches upon the lives and delicately explores all the turbulence one would expect when society breaks down from a horrible apocalypse. It's a thematically rich and touching tale, with oceans of subtly and the resulting details that should take far more time to grasp than lightweight fiction would ask of you to do so. Take it all in, appreciate it, read everything that comes to you, and don't be afraid to put all of what you know and would imply during the situations that unfold throughout this extremely long journey. For my money, this is one of the best stories I've ever encountered in the medium.
Visuals and sound are two of the video game medium's greatest strengths, and you can be sure Naughty Dog knows this. Visuals are amazing and absolutely essential to the experience, using the power of the PS3 to make the experience irreversibly absorbing. Sure, the technical aspect of The Last of Us are first rate, but the artistic vision of the game is where it truly shines. The environments are absolutely PACKED with detail, and build a frightfully immerse and believable world. It feels real as you traverse it. Whether it's crawling through a decrepit hotel, a horribly bleak, ruined convenience store, the rancid and dehumanizing quarantine zones, or the serene and calm realm of nature that has overtaken humanity, the world in The Last of Us is telling and a character in itself.Animations, especially facial animations, are also top notch. Facial animation can indeed make or a break a character's emotional resonance (you've might of heard of the uncanny valley), and Naughty Dog makes sure The Last of Us does not break the emotional resonance. Simply put, The Last of Us is a beautiful game, both technically and artistically.
Sound is also amazing as well. The sound track, composed by two time Oscar Winner Gustavo Santaolalla (Babel, Brokeback Mountain), plays a big part in the game's experience. The score is sparse, but is effective in bringing a bleak and beautiful sense of isolation, also not forgetting to puncture the game's most harrowing moments with appropriate menace. At its softer moments, its tinged with a particularly Americana melancholy, which perfectly evokes the kind of western feel one would get reading Blood Meridian's most beautiful moments. Sound Design is also terrific. It makes sure that the entire world comes to life in a dizzying amount of different ways: it makes the violence almost too harrowing, the sound of the zombies horrifying, and makes the space you traverse feel real; an active experience indeed. No matter if you feel sorrow, or dread, happiness or solitude, sound is there to make sure your experience comes to life.
Also, the acting performances are on a whole 'nother level. Troy Baker in particular absolutely needs recognition for his performance, (The intro. My god that intro), but everybody else does a fantastic job. Led by Druckmann's exceptional script, the performances feel so understated, quiet, human. It's often simple and direct delivery unexpectedly leads to depth, getting into the lives of these people and how they relate to the apocalypse, the turbulence of such an event, the fear, the loss, the suffering and brutality of the world around, and beauty and heart in the most unexpected of places. It's pristine delivery, with such delicate crystal clarity and nuance, makes sure every spoken word lingers in the air with such believable weight. No matter how uncomfortable or violently dark, savage, these people get, you still understand them. When these characters speak, you simply feel these human beings within yourself.
As terrific as all of this is, graphics and sound aren't the most important aspect of storytelling. Game play is what completes a video game narrative. Ever since the medium's inception, games have been struggling to properly mesh game play and narrative, especially games with a heavy emphasis on combat. I'm not going to be point fingers at any particular game here(it's really all comes to one's subjective player experience), but there is no doubt games have been hobbled by this design flaw. Luckily, TLOU averts this with absolute skill. The Last of Us made sure that game play didn't become second nature, and as a result it has to be one of the best examples of seamless meld of game play and story in the medium. True to its survival horror roots, The Last of Us has nailed its goal of violence and game play as an art form, and as a result the game is tense, horrifying, brutal, and gritty as a player authored experience.
TLOU is a survival piece. Be of note, this game needs to play on the highest difficulty in order to truly make it a harrowing experience to interact with. Emotionally tax yourself on hard, and once you unlock Survivor mode, bite the bullet and never in turn lax the emotion. With little resources available to you and enemies that can kill you in one or two hits (assuming you're playing on higher difficulties), TLOU is as frightening real as games get. Your best bet, whenever possible, is to avoid combat as much as you can, and cling to your wits in order to make it out alive of any situation. If not, be prepared for some chilling engagement. The Last of Us is horrifically violent, so brutal that the game can really be harrowing in a way that few video games ever hope to achieve. Oh, and you swerve with an almost overwhelming sense of nausea. While some complained about the aiming, I thought it only made the game more nerve racking (it's not impossible to get used to the aiming, either). I think this is a valid complaint for those who aren't willing to deal with it (this aspect, I imagine, will be rather subjective), but it makes sure that the cover based moments still feel dangerous despite being in cover. It's like a playable No Country for Old Men, which is the highest praise I can give this game.
Mechanically, TLOU doesn't feature the complexity of EVE Online, but it opens up well enough as you go through the game. True to its genre, the game rewards exploration and scrounging, and with a variety of supplies, you can craft numerous weapons that help you creatively both offensively and defensively, such as sticky grenades, smoke bombs. Molotov cocktails, shivs, blades on melee weapons, and more. In addition, numerous amounts of upgrades to both your character (through medicine) and your weapons (through upgrades) means that you will adapt and evolve throughout the game. Better health, faster crafting times, less swaying, and many others will enhance the player character; for the weapons, expect better reload times, a few enhancements, the ability hold more ammunition, additional weapon slots (saving your character the agony of having to go through a back pack) and others. Even better, the new game plus mode makes sure that you can play through the game more than once and build upon the arsenal you had in your last game.
While the game's story and presentation, and its merge of game play and narrative, is damn near perfect (or at least close, considering perfection is impossible), I do have to point out some flaws in the game play, mostly due to minor game play lapses (which is typical in most ND games). I found the highest difficulty mode to be challenging without breaking my engagement, but there are some spots in the campaign that felt unbalanced and cheap. Battling against enemies has the weird bullet sponge feel, and it's often annoying when facing soldiers. The annoying fiddliness of the survival horror genre doesn't fully avert The Last of Us (much like System Shock 2), with combat sections that turn the game's balance from "challenging" to "unbalanced". Luckily, this happens very infrequently, and the game is still mechanically satisfying. However, just keep this in mind when you play through The Last of Us, because moments like these will come up.
I'll leave the MP to other people if they want to talk about it. It's great, but you can ignore it altogether like a bonus track because the SP is a masterpiece. All I'm saying is this: believe the hype when it comes to TLOU. The Last of Us is incredible as an experience that Naughty Dog deserves your money for the SP alone. The Last of Us is not only just a superb video game, but it's a brilliant shake up that this industry sorely needs. I remember reading an interview that they wanted to raise the story bar with The Last of Us, and in turn making other developers scramble for cover. This was the end goal Naughty Dog wanted to achieve with this release. Well, I tip my hat to you, Naughty Dog. You've succeeded. The Last of Us is another success for Naughty Dog on a story telling level, and for the medium as a whole. It's a masterpiece, one of the best games of 2013, a game of the generation, and one of the best games I have ever played.