We may need to replace the office carpet at some point. The Last of Us, the latest opus from Uncharted developer Naughty Dog, prompted this particular author to pace up and down more times than the average game. It wasn’t that we struggled with our opinion on the title – we loved it from the jaw dropping opening to the energy sapping conclusion – but putting those emotions into words proved a real test for the old brainbox. Hopefully, we effectively illustrated our feelings in our 374th review draft, but if you’re still not sure what makes the post-pandemic adventure such a treat, we’ve compiled a handful of key reasons for your reading pleasure.
Joel and Ellie’s relationship is very raw
The Last of Us certainly isn’t the first game to attempt to create a believable bond between a child-like character and a fatherly figure, as both The Walking Dead and BioShock Infinite immediately spring to mind. But without disparaging the aforementioned games – both releases are phenomenal – we’d argue that Naughty Dog’s title does it the best. The thing that’s so heartbreakingly real about the relationship that the two protagonists form is how unlikely it is. Joel is a weary, middle-aged man who’s spent a large portion of his life simply staying alive, and he’s reluctant to look after a potty mouthed teenager. But over the course of the adventure, that aversion fades away, and he begins to rely on the friendly face.
We can’t delve into specifics – it would spoil the game, after all – but there’s a reason why the bearded hero is initially unwilling to care for Ellie, and that has a huge impact on the development of the narrative. But what makes it truly touching is the manner in which the title gradually and quietly shows the characters falling in love. Their purely platonic bond is truly heartwarming, and it’s the one bright spot in a world that’s desolate and decaying. It’s an important moment for the industry, because it doesn’t assume anything. It shows you the characters fall in love, rather than force you to accept it. And that’s down to the writing, the quality of the performances from Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, and the very subtle way that Naughty Dog builds the connection through gameplay.
Unbelievable attention to detail
We may be on the verge of a new generation, but someone forgot to tell Naughty Dog. The Last of Us is very much a PlayStation 3 release, but it doesn’t look like it in places. Yes, there’s the odd buggy animation or jagged tree branch, but it still looks better than virtually every other game on the market. And that’s not purely down to technical prowess, but also art direction. In an early draft of our review, we mentioned that many of the environments look like concept art come to life, and it’s true. There’s just so much detail stuffed into every single scene, that you’ll be coaxed into exploring every nook and cranny – even if you don’t necessarily realise it. The high-resolution textures mean that you’ll be able to read the individual details on all of the books, posters, and whiteboards. And you’ll want to, too, because it’s clear that the Californian studio’s put plenty of thought into each individual environment.
For example, you’ll happen upon homes that were clearly inhabited by families; there are photographs of summer vacations on the wall, bedrooms are littered with toys, and the furnishings are neatly arranged in a familiar way. Meanwhile, other dwellings were clearly occupied by students, with dart boards, rock band posters, and computers left lying around. The world may be deserted, but you can learn so much from it, and it helps to make the apocalyptic storyline all the more authentic. It’s worth mentioning the lighting, too, which is on a completely different level to most other current generation releases. Joel’s torch in particular is a massive highlight [ahem – Ed], which dynamically casts shadows based on the objects that it’s illuminating, and actually changes size and shape depending on the direction that you’re facing.
The gameplay backs up the presentation
A common criticism of cinematic games such as Heavy Rain and Journey is that while these titles may effectively convey strong emotions, they’re nowhere near as competent in the gameplay department. It’s an analysis that we don’t personally subscribe to, but fortunately The Last of Us doesn’t fall into the style over substance subset anyway. This is an assured game with mechanics strong enough to back up its impressive presentation. Combining stealth, resource management, and traditional third-person gunplay, combat scenarios form sandboxes as opposed to rote shooting galleries. You can approach situations in numerous different ways, and the artificial intelligence is extremely adept at adapting to your current strategy and countering it. Humans are particularly fun to fight against, because they’re not merely aggressive, but also smart. You’ll frequently get flanked, and so you’ll need to use distractions to confuse your adversaries.
Most fulfilling is fashioning traps. While you can only craft a handful of items in the game, the options that you do have at your disposal are fairly effective. Nail bombs can be built out of explosives and blades, and these can be tossed or laid on the ground. Molotov cocktails can also be used to ignite enemies. Deploying a bomb, luring your foes towards it, and then sneaking behind them while they panic over the subsequent explosion is satisfying in a spiteful way. And while the infected may never be quite as fun to fight against, they augment some interesting stealth segments, as you’re forced to slope past blind enemies who visualise using a heightened sense of hearing. There are also plenty of environmental puzzles, too, which may be simple, but make you feel smart once you get past them. That the title ties these into the overall plot so well is merely the icing on the decaying cake.
Are you looking forward to playing The Last of Us? Which of the above has got you most hyped for the title? Let us know in the comments section below.