We’d love for this article to come as a pleasant surprise, but we suspect that it’s more obvious than a brick to the face. The Last of Us felt like a Game of the Year winner when it lurched onto the PlayStation 3 all the way back in early June, and nothing has really topped it in our eyes in the six or so months since. Outstanding visual presentation coupled with some of the best writing that the medium has ever seen sent it straight to the top of our internal poll, and while there was strong competition from BioShock Infinite, Resogun, and even unlucky outsider Grand Theft Auto V, virtually everyone on our team agreed that Joel and Ellie’s touching cross country excursion offered the most engaging experience of 2013.
We’re running out of superlatives to describe Naughty Dog’s survival horror opus, but we genuinely believe that it will stand the test of time as one of the finest games ever made. However, while much emphasis has been placed upon the adventure’s sharp storyline and strong character development, it’s important to remember that this was also an exceptional third-person adventure, with compelling stealth and combat mechanics, as well as a handful of truly memorable set pieces. With all of that in mind, we’ve rounded up as many Push Square team members as we could find to outline just why this post-apocalyptic escapade was the very best that PlayStation had to offer in an overall exceptional year.
Anthony Dickens, Managing Director
I was fortunate enough to attend a preview of The Last of Us with Sammy prior to its release, where we were given a brief talk about the game by directors Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann. Upon the presentation’s conclusion, we were dropped straight into a demo of the title’s Pittsburgh level, and if I’m honest, I was too busy figuring out the controls to really appreciate many of the aspects of the experience. In fact, I remember Sammy having completed the entire section in the same time that I’d cleared a couple of areas. Leaving the event I was impressed, not dazzled – but I was looking forward to playing the full game all the same. I had to wait weeks for the release to finally come around, but once it arrived, playing the prologue was one of the most memorable moments I’ve ever experienced in gaming. I found that this is a title that builds with time, layer-on-layer, as it sucks you down its rabbit hole. It has a fantastic story and exceptional delivery that easily makes it my game of the year.
Sammy Barker, Editor
I remember being sceptical when a long viral campaign concluded with the unveiling of The Last of Us. Survival horror is one of my favourite genres, and I wasn’t convinced that Naughty Dog – a studio that’s best known for mascot platformers and schlocky action movie-esque adventures – had the chops to do such a challenging format justice. I was wrong. This is the Resident Evil sequel that Capcom wished it had made, successfully capturing the tension of an abandoned nation and marrying it with exceptional combat. Scavenging for the resources required to stay alive is what makes this dark snapshot of a post-pandemic future so unsettling, and while there are evident systems at play – an abundance of bricks and wooden planks, for example – the overall presentation is strong enough to force you to invest in its fiction. You’ll want to engross yourself in the undead escapade, too, because protagonists Joel and Ellie are two of the finest video game characters ever written. Dense, believable, and deeply flawed, the heartrending relationship that the abovementioned Californian developer managed to concoct will be used as a case study for the narrative potential of this underappreciated medium for a very, very long time.
Jamie O’Neill, Retro Editor
There were moments during The Last of Us where I felt that the next generation had arrived, but on my humble PS3. Naughty Dog’s game was particularly effective at conveying a journey, not only across North America, but through the seasons. Winter was especially stark, lonely, and harrowing, plus with so many memorable moments, there was a sense that the developer implemented the beauty of the title's landscapes to provide much needed respite from the beasts in the game. From the opening it was apparent that the origins of this story were established from a broken heart, hardened by horror, but the game never forgot its tender side to contrast against the monsters and terror. The development of Joel and Ellie as characters felt more compelling and believable because of sharp, proficient voice acting. The Last of Us is not just my Game of the Year, but it is one of my favourite games of the seventh generation.
Kell Andersen, News Reporter
For me, The Last of Us doesn't do anything particularly new or revolutionary. What it does, though, is take all of the constituent parts of Naughty Dog's cinematic style and polish them to a fine point. It feels like the grand culmination of the techniques that the studio has developed over the course of this generation, and the result is a game that is thrilling, engaging, and utterly devastating. It’s a true masterpiece, and one that absolutely deserves its place on this list.
Alex Stinton, Reviewer
Right from its gut punch opening, The Last of Us grabbed me and wouldn't let go. By the time that I’d reached the poignant but downbeat ending, I knew that I’d played something special. It may not tread much new ground in purely gameplay terms, but Joel and Ellie’s road trip through a world on its knees doesn’t put a foot wrong. The world building, atmosphere, and most importantly the characters, are all top shelf.
Ben Tarrant, Reviewer
You saw this one coming, right? This epic post-apocalyptic adventure from Naughty Dog made sure that the PS3 had the best send off possible. Bleeding every last drop of power out of Sony’s machine, The Last of Us presented breathtaking graphical achievements alongside an emotive and hard hitting plot that honestly caused me to shed a very manly tear or two. This is one of those titles that’ll hold a place in the hall of fame, not least for being one of the PS3’s best selling exclusives, but for also putting the words “video game” and “art from” in the same sentence. Clickers, take a bow.
Graham Banas, Reviewer
I don't think that any form of entertainment has ever nearly reduced me to tears within 20 minutes, but that's exactly what the prologue to The Last of Us did. I half expected the game to take a dip in quality after that. After all, there was no way that it could maintain such a high quality. No way. But it did. And by the end of the game, some 15 hours later, I realised that I had just finished what will probably be remembered as one of the single greatest video games in the history of the medium.
Joey Thurmond, Reviewer
Personally, I found very little wrong with The Last of Us. It had solid gameplay, a compelling cast, and a surprisingly strong multiplayer component. However, what grabbed me the most is the story. It gives weight to violence in the most mature and lucid manner than any other game that I've ever played. The story also has a shocking conclusion that sticks with you long after it’s finished, and most importantly, it raises poignantly presented questions about the nature of morality. No game is perfect, but in my humble opinion, this is a true swan song for the PS3.
Marcello Apostolico, Reviewer
Naughty Dog continues to prove itself as one of the greatest developers on the planet. The Last of Us really delivered a whole new tier of storytelling quality and visual benchmarks, resulting in a truly magical experience. Within the survival horror genre, many games tend to miss the mark on providing tense, nail-biting atmosphere. However, where others have failed, Sony’s top first-party studio has set the standard. Joel and Ellie’s journey across the United States in an infected setting is one that captures your heart from the offset. It’s one of the most memorable experiences from this gaming generation.
Nathan Michalik, Reviewer
The Last of Us was one of the most immersive games that I've ever played. Each time I was faced with avoidance or combat, it was stressful and made me feel uneasy for the characters as if they were real. Every little action I took mattered. The culmination of a tiny thousand little details in the animations and the narration pulled me into the story like no other game has in a very long time. Some of the plot was so heavy, I needed a break from the game simply because it was emotionally straining. Even with the near perfect story, the gameplay was also absolutely fantastic. Combat felt intense and the controls were always smooth and responsive. It’s a game that, in my opinion, is well ahead of its time.
Simon Fitzgerald, Reviewer
The Last of Us deserves its place in the gaming hall of fame because it’s exciting, entertaining, thrilling, breath-taking, gripping, and so much more. Its stunning visuals and superb story culminate in an experience which cannot be found elsewhere. It truly pushed the PS3 to its limits, graphically and technologically, to create an experience that will last with gamers for years to come.
Alright, everyone take a deep breath, it’s the readers’ turn to share their thoughts about The Last of Us. Do you think that Naughty Dog’s opus deserves our golden gong, or were you utterly unimpressed by the first-party favourite? Would you kill a Clicker for a PS4 re-release, or are you holding out hope for a full-blown sequel? Dry your eyes in the comments section below.