(PlayStation 3)

The Last of Us (PlayStation 3)

Game Review

The Last of Us Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Sammy Barker

Fungal jungle

The Last of Us portrays a harrowing vision of the future that's frighteningly believable. Californian developer Naughty Dog has gone out of its way to breathe personality into every derelict room, corridor, and courtyard, eschewing the copy and paste formula of its counterparts, and delivering an experience that feels distressingly real. You may only ever encounter a pocketful of likeminded survivors during your excursion across the United States, but there are ghosts in every environment that you scavenge for supplies. Family homes are decorated with symbols of civilisation, with friendly photographs and fancy furnishings obscured by the dust of desertion. Meanwhile, college dormitories and student dwellings wear the marks of happier times, as portraits of summer blockbusters and pouting boy bands dangle crookedly from crumbling bedroom walls. Such obsessive attention to detail is what makes the PlayStation 3 exclusive such an impressive achievement – and its tale two survivors all the more traumatic.

The title takes place some twenty years after the mutation of a deadly disease. The planet has been ravaged by a fatal fungal infection – an adaptation of the very authentic cordyceps virus which controls its host by manipulating the messages sent to its brain. Those that have managed to flee the illness have set up homes in quarantine zones; military protected refugee camps governed by questionable politics. Despite offering relative sanctuary from the dangers that lurk outside, these uninhabitable settlements evidence the outbreak’s impact on societal collapse, as starving survivors plead for food and shady regulators revel in controlling each stronghold’s occupants with dubious rules and guidelines.

Amidst this dark depiction of the end of days, you’ll play as Joel, a weary remnant of the old world, and the centre of a heartbreaking plot depicting the unbreakable bond between father and daughter. Unwillingly coerced into a suicidal smuggling expedition, the protagonist develops a strong attachment to the endeavour in question’s cargo – a teenage girl named Ellie, whose only appreciation of life is the decrepit form that it currently represents. The contrast between the two characters’ unique perspectives leads to some truly touching encounters, as the duo bond over the deserted relics that litter city streets, such as ice cream trucks and movie posters. As you’d expect from the studio responsible for the Uncharted trilogy, the writing behind these exchanges is tender throughout.

And so too are the performances. Employing the same innovative motion capture techniques as the aforementioned adventurous series, Troy Baker puts in a stellar turn as the aging lead character. Fatigued from the unexpected events that preface the plot, the protagonist spends the majority of the campaign utterly dejected. But it’s Ashley Johnson’s poignant portrayal of the heroine that helps the fatherly figure to reclaim his lust for life, the childlike purity that shines through her darker side reminding him of the existence that he has lost. It’s this platonic love story that forms the beating heart beneath the otherwise grisly adventure.

That the developer has managed to craft such a compelling and believable bond in an industry typically dominated by schlocky storylines is telling, and it represents the culmination of an entire generation’s effort from the studio. There are some minor flaws in the story – the final few chapters feel a little too hurried, for example – but it’s still an impressive achievement. It proves that there can be more to the medium than merely pointing crosshairs at the heads of balding bad guys, and that bodes well for the future of gaming as a whole.

But contrary to some experimental endeavours, the cinematic presentation is supported here by some stellar gameplay mechanics. Mimicking the decay of society, you’ll spend a great deal of your time with the title’s campaign merely combing deserted environments for required materials. Resources are incredibly scarce throughout the adventure, and you’ll struggle to survive if you don’t make the most of all of the assets that you uncover. Items include sugar, blades, and explosives, and these can be combined to create powerful tools such as nail bombs and smoke grenades. The real beauty of the system, however, is that there are inherent risks associated with every product that you construct. Alcohol and textiles can be joined to concoct deadly Molotov cocktails, for example, but the same sought after items can also be used to fashion medical kits. While additional crafting options would have been appreciated, the contrasting benefits really force you to consider how you’re going to approach every combat encounter.

And you’ll certainly need to plan ahead, because these nail biting scenarios adopt the guise of miniature sandboxes. While you’ll rarely be overwhelmed, the artificial intelligence is astonishingly adept, and will force you to make split-second decisions in order to progress. Antagonists adopt the form of both unhinged humans and the infected, but it’s the former – known as hunters – that are the most fun to fight against. These factions will work in groups in order to coax you out of hiding, pushing you around the dense dilapidated environments in the hope that you make a mistake. Fortunately, you’ll have plenty of options to fight back. For example, you can throw bottles and bricks in order to direct the attention of your adversaries and force them to investigate, all the while using a combination of stealth and improvised shivs to diminish their numbers one by one. Alternatively, you can face the foes head-on, using callous gunplay to pick your pursuers off.

The latter requires a steady aim, as ammunition is in severely short supply. While you’ll have garnered a reasonable arsenal of attack options by the end of the campaign, you’ll rarely have a full stock of bullets to unload. This means that you’ll need to be sly in order to get the drop on your opponents, while also outwitting your pursuers with makeshift traps. Unfortunately, the same sense of creative play doesn’t extend to the undead, though slipping past the stage two infected – who have lost the use their eyesight – is still a nail biting endeavour. It’s just a shame that all of the enemies – reanimated or not – suffer from the same bullet sponge syndrome as the Uncharted games, particularly the lazily labelled ‘Bloaters’ – the final form of the diseased – who seem able to absorb virtually everything in your arsenal without breaking a sweat. The inherent strength of these foes does appropriately convey a sense of dread when you eventually encounter them, but their heavily armoured exterior seems a little out of place in a world that’s otherwise feels so real.

Combat is just one small portion of the experience, though, and the game is expertly paced in a manner that means that you’ll never get tired of it. For long portions of the journey, you’ll find yourself simply traipsing through diverse environments, gathering wood planks to create crude crossings, powering generators to open locked shutters, and diving underwater to collect rafts that will allow you to guide Ellie – who can’t swim – across long stretches of deep water. While the game uses a strict set of systems, the creative level design means that it never feels like you’re repeating the same sequences. The title always finds a way to keep things varied, and presents some pretty compelling puzzles as a result. You’ll never really get stumped, but you’ll be forced to think logically in order to progress, and it’s satisfying when you happen upon a natural solution using the limited resources at your disposal.

Throughout the course of the adventure, you’ll travel to a number of unique environments, ranging from a colourful autumnal college to a rainy highway and an overgrown suburban town. The visuals throughout are sublime, with each scene clad with interesting assets. Abandoned buildings are littered with the types of items that you’d anticipate, from personal belongings to household objects, each carefully dressing cupboards, cabinets, and crooked shelves. The texture work is staggering, allowing you to read the individual details on books and posters – the majority of which are purpose built for the particular building or outdoor location that you’re rummaging through. Such attention to detail means that you’ll spend a great deal of your time with the campaign simply soaking up the scenery.

But it’s the lighting that really brings everything to life. This is one of the most realistically illuminated titles that we’ve ever witnessed, delivering a borderline next generation appearance in places. Sunrays shoot through tree leaves, casting dancing shadows on the ground as gentle breezes animate the branches above. There’s a real beauty to the manner in which nature has reclaimed the planet in the absence of humanity, with foliage and plant life wrapping itself around door frames and windows. Despite the release’s dark themes, this is a brightly coloured game, and it’s refreshing to explore an apocalyptic world that’s not obsessed with grey and brown.

In the few areas where you are plunged into darkness, though, the beam of your trusty flashlight will prove your sanctuary. This is an outstanding technical achievement in itself, as it lags behind your movements to create an impressive sense of inertia. Unlike many games, the torch is completely dynamic, casting believable shadows across the ground and walls. The iris at the centre of the light source even shrinks in size as you get closer to objects, with the ray illuminating the dust particles floating in front of you. The outrageous visual fidelity really helps to add to the game’s edgy atmosphere.

And the sound design plays a huge part in that, too. The subtle use of reverb effects to adapt the tone of different sized environments enhances the sense of immersion, while the actual audio samples employed are equally remarkable. Puddles splash beneath your feet, while fresh grass shimmers, and fallen leaves crackle. Large mechanical doors rattle as you snap them shut, while firearms practically erupt in your hands. The only disappointment is that the ‘Clickers’ – infected who rely on their awareness of sound – appear to be programmed to ignore some natural noises, which breaks the illusion somewhat when the clunky footsteps of your companions fail to catch their attention. Still, it’s an incredibly minor nitpick in an experience that practically excels in every area of its presentation.

And that’s without even mentioning Gustavo Santaolalla’s sparse score. The macabre musical arrangement is just as noteworthy as the visual presentation, using haunting drones and plucked guitar riffs to build tension and underline poignant plot beats. The audio fits the tone of the adventure extremely well, but it’s not overused, augmenting an added sense of elation or trepidation to the moments that it serves best.

With such incredible attention to detail throughout, Naughty Dog could perhaps be forgiven for delivering a relatively concise campaign – but this is a long game. It took us just under 15 hours to finish our first journey on the standard difficulty, and in that time we still somehow missed almost a third of the hidden collectibles. Throughout the game you’ll be gathering artifacts that tell the tales of other survivors, as well as comic books and dog tags. There are also survival manuals that enhance some of your abilities, as well as tool boxes and cogs. The latter can be exchanged at workbenches in return for weapon upgrades, while you’ll also happen upon medication which can be spent on improving Joel’s abilities. It’s unlikely that you’ll max out the protagonist’s attributes during your first playthrough, but fortunately there’s a New Game Plus option that allows you to expand the experience with all of your gear intact. Finally, you can purchase new costume skins, graphical filters, and concept art as you complete certain in-game tasks.

All of the above would be more than enough to round out the package, but this is a developer that refuses to do things by half. As such, the game also includes a competitive multiplayer mode that boasts some interesting ideas of its own. Rather than opt for a traditional Call of Duty-esque XP progression system, the component sees you building a clan over a period of twelve weeks. Each battle that you participate in will represent an in-game day, with your faction requiring a quota of supplies to survive in that time.

You’ll earn provisions by eliminating foes and scavenging the items from their fallen corpses. Successful actions such as crafting and kill assists will also reward you with a mechanical currency known as parts, which can be spent in a MOBA-like fashion on weapon upgrades, armour, and ammo. Any of the faux currency that you accumulate during battle will be converted into supplies at the end of a round, encouraging you to perform proficiently in order to maximise the resources that you bring back to your crew. Fail to supply your faction with enough equipment and they’ll gradually get sick and die out, forcing you to start your twelve week expedition from the beginning.

It’s certainly a fitting meta game, but it amounts to very little other than statistics on the screen. More interesting is the manner in which the title transposes the survival aspects from the single player, reducing ammo to an absolute minimum, and subsequently forcing you to be considerate with your shots. You can purchase bullets at any time, but you’ll need to have already accrued parts in order to afford the expensive replenishments. As such, this is not a release that rewards you for using your artillery in a reckless manner. To add to the survival aspect, the crafting system from the main campaign also makes a return, repurposing the moral quandaries from the solo experience, as you debate over whether to produce defensive or offensive items.

There are a couple of modes on offer: Supply Raid and Survivors. Both support up to eight players, and see you divided into two teams. The former option allows you to respawn up to twenty times as a group, while the latter conveys a greater sense of mortality, dividing matches into a series of rounds and restricting you to a single life in each. The consequences of death mean that sneaking through the scenery and getting the angle on your adversaries is an exhilarating feeling, and the game succeeds at making you question every movement that you make. This is the absolute opposite of run and gun, as you need to be precise with your tactics and attacks if you intend to succeed.

Still, all of the mainstays from the most popular multiplayer games are present. You can customise your loadout, taking up to two firearms into battle. Survivor Skills represent perks, which allow you to craft quicker, sprint further, and unlock other similar efficiency enhancements. There are multiple levels to these elements, but each comes attached with a larger equip weight, meaning that you won’t simply be able to jump into battle with all of the best gear attached. As such, you’ll have to pick and choose from your favourites, and subsequently tailor your protagonist to your particular playstyle.

You can also equip one-time consumables, which are unlocked by building your faction and completing challenges that appear as you progress. These give you a single match advantage, but are exhausted upon use. You may choose to save these for important battles, but we suspect that their inclusion may carry some more cynical connotations. We wouldn’t be surprised if Naughty Dog decided to monetise these items with microtransactions at some point in the future, for example, but there’s no indication of that in the current build.

The maps, meanwhile, are largely based upon environments from the single player. You’ll be fighting through snowy settlements, school libraries, and deserted city streets. While the visuals naturally take a hit in the competitive environment – with pop-in being much more prominent here – the arenas still look fantastic, and the ability to customise your character with unlockable accessories allows you to really personalise your online personality.

That said, it’s clearly not the primary appeal of the package, and it’s unclear whether the multiplayer mode will represent anything more than a novelty for those that purchase the title for the single player campaign. The unique progression system adds an interesting twist to the component, but it’s unlikely to draw people away from established online stomping grounds such as Call of Duty and Battlefield. At the very least, though, Naughty Dog deserves credit for transferring the tone of the solo adventure into a competitive environment, making this feel like an appropriate – if somewhat unnecessary – addition.

Conclusion

An assured, touching, and engrossing adventure, The Last of Us represents a watershed moment for the medium. The unlikely bond that blossoms between the title’s two lead characters is both heartrending and poignantly paced – but the release delivers much more than captivating cinematics. This is a meaty slice of survival action that masterfully depicts the horrors of life in a post-pandemic setting. The conclusion may feel a little hurried, and the multiplayer somewhat surplus to requirements, but this is still an essential tale of survival that will consume you quicker than a cloud of contaminated spores.

Sponsored links by Taboola

More Stories

Game Trailer

User Comments (66)

ViciousDS

#4

ViciousDS said:

troy baker did an oustanding job in bioshock and i was thrilled to see him the main voice behind the last of us.........I truly say this is probably game of the year. Although my buddy swears up and down bioshock........i told him, "sorry dude just because it's bioshock, doesn't make it GOTY."

Epic

#5

Epic said:

Great it looks like I might get this one at full price and pay for the international shipping. Its just too much hype for me to handle T_T_T_T_T_T_T

get2sammybAdmin

#6

get2sammyb said:

@ViciousDS I loved BioShock Infinite, but I think this is better. They're very different games, though. I tell you what: both have unbelievable openings. Sony's requested we don't talk about the opening chapter of The Last of Us — but be prepared...

CanisWolfred

#7

CanisWolfred said:

I'm glad to hear it lived up to the hype. It still doesn't sound like my kind of game, though, so I'll be passing. But at least everyone else will have something to enjoy.

ViciousDS

#8

ViciousDS said:

@get2sammyb I wouldn't want you to spoil it anyways lol, thanks Sammy for the review man, can't wait to live stream this next friday night.

uchinakagema

#9

uchinakagema said:

I hope this game can find its way to PS4 because I don't have a PS3 and my friend who did has moved away. I have never seen such an amount unified perfect scores across the internet. It is mind boggling on how good the game may actually be and also scary :/

rjejr

#16

rjejr said:

Is there an 'easy' mode for us wimps who don't want to deal w/ constantly dieing from the infected and low ammunition? I played thru the 1st Uncharted on easy mode and that was difficult enough. I played 2 and 3 on normal and they were both easier than 1 on easy. Stupid submarine room.

Is the ending lame or just rushed? Enslaved was a great game - I don't care how poorly it sold - but then it just ended. I mean it had an ending, unlike WKC 1 which was only half a game - but it should have been much longer. Castlevania had a really good "after the credits" ending but that first ending was lame as well.

I can't believe I want to play a game w/ a zombie-like vibe.

get2sammybAdmin

#17

get2sammyb said:

@rjejr The ending's great — no spoilers — but I think they hurry it along just a little too much for my tastes. As for the difficulty, there absolutely is an 'Easy' option, yes. I didn't die too much on 'Normal', but this game demands a cautious approach. Jump in guns blazing and you're going to get your ass absolutely kicked.

@ZeD I still missed over a third of the collectibles, too... Somehow. I thought I'd explored every nook and cranny, but obviously not.

@ShogunRok Thank you so much! :)

Superconsole

#18

Superconsole said:

@get2sammyb Sammy, the real question is while I get any sleep after encountering a Clicker? I'm awfully easy to scare :P Or do you get used to them after a while?

get2sammybAdmin

#19

get2sammyb said:

@Superconsole Sneaking past them is certainly a nail biting affair. I recommend sleeping with the light on until you're finished. Honestly, though, it's the other survivors that are more frightening in this world.

Sanquine

#20

Sanquine said:

@rjejr Holy sh*t, if this guy likes the game i really need to play it now! This game is getting highscores everywhere.. Except polygon... He was whining it was to difficult for him.. (7,5... opinions right? Sponsored by microsoft in the past xD)

Pushsquare has nailed it :) It's a sony only site but not hosted by sony or something. :D

Gemuarto

#21

Gemuarto said:

Eh, reviewers love this game so much that I am starting to hate it. But still pre-ordered =(

It's a pitty that we getting this instead of Final Fantasy versus XIII or Tha Last Guardian. I mean, it's a nice game, but I am tired of apocalyptic setting, zombies, TPS and other stuff like that. Hope beared guy will not die in the end, like did all beared guys in other games.

rjejr

#23

rjejr said:

@get2sammyb - "Honestly, though, it's the other survivors that are more frightening in this world."

See, I told you they could have made a good scary game w/o infected ;-)
Infected can be killed; oppressive govts are forever and marauding gangs of survivors always have friends in low places.

I wonder if Naughty Dog could make a serious game out of Waterworld? A cross between this and Windwaker? That movie had a neat premise but it played out like a made-for-tv Sat. night Sci-Fi channel original.

Thanks for all the feedback, guess I'll be playing this on easy and sleeping w/ the lights on :-)

CanisWolfred

#24

CanisWolfred said:

@Gemuarto Yeah, I wasn't gonna say anything, but you kind of summed up my thoughts on the matter. Heck, I don't think even being a different kind of Zombie game will be enough to hold my interest anymore, I just that tired of them. I'm tired of Shooters, I'm tired of grim stories, I'm tired of "tough" decisions, I'm tired of "realism"...I honestly don't think I'd play this, or any other game even remotely like it for a very long time, if ever.

LDXD

#25

LDXD said:

Awesome review! Can't wait! And why does this game come out on a Friday instead of Tuesday like everything else!

LDXD

#30

LDXD said:

@rjejr I like your idea of naughty making a game based on waterworld. That would be sic if done right

bauckster

#31

bauckster said:

I totally get why a couple people said they are suffering from zombie shooter fatigue. Honestly, that was my initial reaction as well despite all the pre-hype surrounding this game.

After reading this review, I have to admit, I'm interested! The idea of a large world to explore, with nature growing over the lack of humanity is actually somewhat refreshing and seems like a nice contrast with the actual grim resource-managaement based gameplay. Excellent review, Sammy!!

Gamer83

#34

Gamer83 said:

Love the review. This game is so close, yet so far, just have to tell myself, 'only' 9 more days.

Ginkgo

#36

Ginkgo said:

Great article Sammy. The fact that you spent so much time speaking about the characters, their relationships and the world they inhabit speaks volumes for the game as something special.

It is interesting that the meta critic rating leaked online yesterday. There is obviously some industry chatter.

Day one for me. Everything else stops.

RaymanFan2

#38

RaymanFan2 said:

Hay, you guys gonna review Fuse?
I'm waiting on the penultimate/quintessential verdict! :)

Hetsumani

#39

Hetsumani said:

Didn't read the review or the score :P don't want any influence in my enjoyment of this game when it comes out. After playing it I'll read it ;)

belmont

#42

belmont said:

I am thinking of buying this game. PSN has it 60 euros with the soundtrack included where some local retailers charge more for the preorder. However by seeing the Season Pass I get feeling that the main game is sort of incomplete. Provided that, according to the review, the ending is rushed it seems to me that they just want to sell the real ending as DLC to gain more money. And there is no way I want to spend 20 more euros to buy the DLC. Why there is Story mode DLC in some games doesn't really make sense to me.

get2sammybAdmin

#43

get2sammyb said:

@belmont The ending isn't rushed — I just felt it was a bit... abrupt. Make no mistake, though, this is a very complete game. The campaign is lengthy, and there's lots of replay value. You're definitely getting your money's worth.

belmont

#44

belmont said:

@get2sammyb Yes, I get what you say about the ending and by reading the review I understand that the game is worth the 60 euros. But even if it had a super 30 hour campaign with the best ending even made it clearly feels a rip off to pay 20 more euros to see the "true" or "real" ending. I know this was done in some games before but I don't have any other game that had this sort of DLC (maybe FF13-2 had it, I don't remember). 60+20=80 euros is sort of very much for one game even if it is the best one ever made. Anyway I may end up buying it from PSN to get the soundtrack for free or waiting for a discount or GOTY edition but I wanted to express something more general about pricing and DLC practices.

belmont

#46

belmont said:

@get2sammyb We don't know yet but when I see here (http://blog.eu.playstation.com/2013/05/29/the-last-of-us-digital-pre-order-dlc-season-pass-available-tomorrow/) the sentence "The journey and cast of characters in The Last of Us lends itself to thorough narrative exploration and we’ve got more of the story to tell." it seems to be that the DLC will continue the story. Obviously I may be mistaken though.

belmont

#51

belmont said:

A little bit off topic but may interest some. There are some people on the EU Playstation blog claiming that the PSN price for TLOU is 40 Pounds. That is certainly much less than the 60 euros that is the preorder price I see. I would have already bought it for the first price, it is much lower that local preorders.

__efac

#54

efac said:

Many thanks, this review has convinced me to pre-order for this weekend (doubt ill be greeting much done with this AND Animal Crossing!!). Great review.

Gamer83

#56

Gamer83 said:

Game of the Year, easily, to this point and that says a lot because Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite are no jokes. I'll wait on a final decision because there is a possibility that GTA V or Watch_Dogs may sneak in there and steal it but it will take on hell of an effort. The Last of Us somehow lived up to my sky-high expectations and then some. Looking forward to the DLC there's some parts in the game where it could fit in perfectly, doesn't really need to be post-ending. Without getting too spoilery there's some backstory I'd love to see explored.

StarkEvilVash

#57

StarkEvilVash said:

Hey Sammy great review. I finished the game yesterday at over 17 hrs still missing 50 or so collectibles. I agree with everything you said and as far as the ending I'd say it's pacing was quicker than the rest of the game so it did feel rushed. My favorite thing about the game is how they base the virus off of a real thing that could happen, making for some much more than just your standard zombie game. I kept telling myself while playing that this is how resident evil should be with its latest iterations. Playing in a world ravaged by the fallout of the virus. I'm starting a new game on survival and its all ready even more realistic and of course much harder. Last thing the opening prologue was brilliant, had me on the brink of tears bg the time the opening credits started.

Davros79

#60

Davros79 said:

"The multiplayer feels somewhat surplus to requirements" .

I think the MP is fantastic personally.

JaxonH

#66

JaxonH said:

What's up with the $700 worth of DLC they're selling for the game on day one?

I start the game, I go to DLC to make sure I have my pre order bonus DLC installed, and I see this list of over 100 DLC items for sale... like, are you serious? I knew the AAA gaming industry was a greedy money sucking machine but my goodness, why isn't all that crap included seeing as it's all available at launch (and ESPECIALLY considering they said it was a crunch getting the game out on time, evidently they had enough time to bleed us dry with a movie credit's worth of day one DLC)

Leave A Comment

Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...