In The Last of Us, we have our two main protagonists--Joel and Ellie. Players assume the role of the scruffy survivor Joel who has managed to survive over 20 years in a decimated world. A fungal type outbreak has wiped out most of the U.S. and turned the vibrant world we knew into a devastated wasteland leaving behind only crumbling buildings and roads. Now, those who are left, try to control the infection by installing heavily guarded checkpoints to monitor those individuals passing through.
Joel has been alone for awhile, that is until he meets Ellie, a 14-year-old female that has grew up in the demolished world and knows nothing else. An unlikely duo, Ellie starts out as just baggage to Joel, but soon becomes a trusted friend and partner. The relationship between these two characters is the heart of what makes The Last of Us such an intriguing story. Ellie is resilient and clever; eventually, she starts to break down the hard exterior of Joel's persona. She may be unaffected by the crumbling world around her but still lights up when she sees a movie poster or the beauty of a forest.
The Last of Us focuses on exploration, combat and managing resources. Most would consider the zombies as the main threat of the game, but alternatively, how survivors have responded to this has really shaped the world. Many of the remaining people have survived by gathering in large cities, which have become quarantine zones were armed forces, shoot anything that resembles a threat; rather a zombie or unknown person out past curfew. Those who have chosen to survive outside the quarantine zones are governed by bandits who try to resemble authority figures. However, the group that Joel and Ellie are trying to find are the Fireflies. This group is working hard to restore the peace and laws to the world that existed before the outbreak.
When faced with a threat, players have the option to flee or fight. These choices have to be made carefully and define your adventure. Players can utilize Joel's "listen carefully" technique by pressing the R2 button to track enemy forces around them and plan their strategy of attack. The downfall of this is that it makes Joel extremely slow and vulnerable to attacks. Since resources are hard to find, then it is often better to pick your battles in order to preserve the few you have. Joel and Ellie can scavenge buildings for health kits, weapons, tools and anything they may need to survive. Every item that is gathered will come with the risk of infection or death; which means, that how you use them should be strategically planned.
The Last of Us features a scripted, linear story that often impacts the overall enjoyment of gameplay. For example, you may find that you are pushed to pick and choose scenarios that you may have not normally selected in order to continue the game's narrative. This is not an entirely bad thing, but I think having more freedom would have made this an even better gameplay experience. Player freedom is alternatively sacrificed in exchange for a more proscribed narrative for the environment around you. One of the aspects that took the game to the next level was the fact that characters are treated like the mere mortals they are, and are in turn, vulnerable to the threats around them. This feeling of vulnerability mostly comes from the lack of resources and health items were you are constantly scavenging for any useable supply.
Even though these elements add a sense of realism to the game; alternatively, that realism is washed away through a few poorly designed combat elements. Particularly referring to the fact that our duo can often take out a room of armed baddies without breaking a sweat (which should have been more difficult on all levels); and after getting shot over a dozen times, the only damage to show from it is having a small red blotch within eyesight. Special effects for certain parts of the game felt a bit cheated due to the lack of detail. The amount of detail that went into the game's interwoven story should have also been spent on special effects dealing with combat. Alternatively, the duo can then "realistically" just duck for cover to recharge. Okay... I feel that if you wanted to make the game seem more real and focus on the vulnerability then it would make more sense that they would need to bandage up and flee from the fight until they recover. However, the gory death scenes are spot on and make it seem like more of a penalty then say just restarting from last checkpoint like in most games.
Zombies are divided into distinct types which makes each encounter seem new and fresh. Some of the creatures encountered are Runners, Clickers and Bloaters. These undead creatures can be taken out easily if they are alone, but once they are in a group, then you can become easily overran. Players will find that they encounter more human threats then zombies in The Last of Us. Most of the game's AI are awful and terribly unbalanced, but the exception to that is Ellie. In regards to the AI, I found that there were times when the AI would duck and take cover while cautiously attacking me. However, the problems I had was that immediately preceding that moment, the same solider would fire at you, and then forget my position. Next, the same solider who was so sly and cautiously attacking me one minute has now lost my position and is calling for backup. It was just hard to grasp how a solider that was so realistically smart could become so incredibly stupid within minutes of gameplay. When it came to Ellie, however, there were no complaints. She is a huge help in combat and offers crucial support when you need it. Ellie in The Last of Us can be compared to Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite; whereas for once, an AI is exactly what you need during gameplay.
The multiplayer elements of The Last of Us was just as entertaining as the single player campaign. There were a couple of options available which included Supply Raid and Survivors. Hunters and Fireflies are featured in Supply Raid, as teams have to work together, and gather resources to stay alive. Whereas, Survivors has teams battling each other over seven rounds with only one life per round.
In the end, The Last of Us is an overall enjoyable gameplay experience. The Last of Us suffered from a few flaws due to the unrealism of combat, the unbalanced AI and the lack of freedom as a whole. But in the end, The Last of Us delivered on the hype surrounding it and offered up an intriguing storyline smothered in realistic and intricate detail.
Developer: NAUGHTY DOG
Rating: M for Mature
Platforms: PlayStation 3 (reviewed)
Release Date: June 14, 2013