The Last Of Us
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: SCEE
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: Single player story mode, 2-8 online multiplayer
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The Last Of Us comes to us from Sony subsidiary Naughty Dog, who cut their teeth with the Crash Bandicoot series before going on to make the highly-regarded Jak and Daxter games. In 2007 they became one of the industries’ biggest guns and respected developers thanks to the huge success of PS3 exclusive Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, which was followed by the even more popular and critically acclaimed Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.

While the Uncharted games are pleasant, rollicking adventures loosely wrapped in a cover shooter game engine, The Last Of Us is best described a “post-apocalyptic third-person action survival/horror/adventure game." The latest version of Tomb Raider may have borrowed some ideas from Uncharted, but the Uncharted series wouldn’t have existed without Tomb Raider and anyone who played Square Enix’s massive hit earlier this year and then plays The Last Of Us will see some similarities, even down to Lara’s and Joel’s “sprint” being painfully slow, so what goes around definitely comes around in the gaming industry.

The plot goes like this: There is a pandemic outbreak of a fungal nature which turns human victims into a degrading series of fungus-riddled zombie-like creatures who attack and try to infect any healthy humans that stumble into their paths. The US government declares martial law and people are being picked up and processed or just shot dead in the streets. The main protagonist, Joel (a member of a group of survivors known as Hunters), has the guardianship of a teenage girl, Ellie, thrust upon him-his mission to deliver her safely to an organized resistance group known as the Fireflies. The reason is that they want to study her because Ellie is unique, and has survived the pandemic without degrading into one of the Infected types.

Gameplay consists of a mixture of stealth, brutal hand-to-hand combat (with any piece of timber or pipe becoming a handy meleé weapon) and a variety of projectile weapons including pistols, shotguns, rifle, bow and arrows as well as home-made bombs and molotovs. Unlike Uncharted the game has no cover mode, but you’ll still be creeping around crouch-walking for much of the game, using any available cover and stealth. There are also plenty of occasions in which a tactical retreat (or running away screaming like a little girl in my case), using Joel’s “sprint” (L2 button) such as it is (he’s not the fastest runner) and breaking away from and attack and losing an attacker’s line of sight or getting far enough away so that enemies can’t hear you is also the best course of action. This is because The Last Of Us is definitely not just a shooter, and ammo, while not exactly scarce, is extremely limited on the default difficulty setting—finding 3 rounds of ammo can make you rejoice like you’ve won the lottery. Hunting and searching every nook, cranny, cupboard, locker, desk and drawer of the detailed and expansive locations soon becomes second nature, and, while this may be a turn off for some gamers, picking up and collecting stashes of ammo and other junk (parts used for upgrades) can be done in one swift movement with a press of the ‘Triangle’ button and without having to look straight at the items or be stood right on them, making the process a lot less annoying and repetitious than in certain other pick-up-centric games such as Resident Evil 6, Borderlands 2 and Aliens: Colonial Marines.

Another of The Last Of Us’s uniquely slick processes, weapon upgrades are crafted in-game and with little fuss. There are no complex selection screens full of stats or other complications and atmosphere-killing RPG-like turn-offs here; the crafting is an immediate, elegant and satisfying experience that genuinely adds something to the game. Imagine being in a hectic fight against a group of Infected that’s going badly, being low on ammo and finding just the right junk to make some molotovs or bombs, quickly retreating to a safe spot, crafting your new weapons and returning to the battle and roasting or blowing your enemies to pieces-this can happen in The Last Of Us.

As well as picking up junk parts to make and upgrade weapons with (from bombs to stronger, more effective melee weapons) there are tons of other pickups in the game; some collectible comics (Ellie’s favourite sci-fi comic), Firefly pendants, notes left by other survivors or artifacts, Ellie’s jokes and guides that teach you the ability to upgrade the various weapon types. Some are easy to find and others are well tucked away—fortunately you can replay individual chapters in order to find them if you miss them on your first play-through.

The Infected come in 4 different types; Runner, Stalker, Clicker and Bloater. Runners are in the early stages of infection, their vision is unaffected and they are fast, agile and aggressive. Stalkers are in the second stage of infection and lie in wait behind cover until victims get close enough to ambush. The third stage infected are called Clickers. The fungus has grown over their face so they’re blind, but their hearing is highly developed and the clicking noise they make is a method of echo-location. Clickers are extremely dangerous but easily distracted with thrown objects. Bloaters are the final stage of infection, their hideous bodies are completely covered in fungus and they lob spore bombs at you from long range. They are big and slow so easy to get away from, but they take a lot of firepower to eliminate so are best attacked with molotovs, bombs or a shotgun.

In addition to the Infected you’ll come across various groups of hostile humans and it’s usually best to use a mixture of stealth and aggressive gunplay to take them out as they have extremely convincing AI that reacts realistically to taking damage and they will also search for you as a group if they hear you or see you.

To help you locate and track enemies Joel has an ability known as “listen mode,” activated by the R2 button. This is extremely helpful in combat, as it allows you to locate hidden enemies as long as they’re moving and making a noise. If they stop moving you will lose track of them. The range of this effect can be increased by upgrading Joel’s abilities.

From time to time you’ll get help from other NPCs in your battles against the Infected and rogue hunters, and your (almost) constant companion Ellie frequently pitches in too. Her AI is quite remarkable, one minute she’ll be practising her whistling, humming or telling you a silly joke (although I suspect Jimmy Carr may be recycling them soon), then she’ll be creeping along beside you, doing a surprisingly good job of staying out of your way, and then she’ll come to your rescue when you most need it and least expect it-this literally made me whoop with delight and want to hug the girl!

Like so many other story-driven games of late, The Last Of Us also has a multiplayer component. Factions allows you to either play as a member of the Hunters or the Fireflies, the object being to keep your clan alive and see it grow and prosper by scavenging supplies, much like you do in the single player game. Killing enemies, getting kill assists (just wounding an enemy later killed by a team mate), reviving downed team mates and crafting items all earn you parts. Dead enemies can be looted for supplies and at the end of the game parts are converted into supplies. Another unique feature here is that your clan can either be populated by NPCs, or a mixture of NPCs and real recruits that you’ve played with or from your friend’s list, or NPCs with names of your friends from Facebook (this personalises your clan with familiar names but doesn’t get posted to or connected to Facebook.) There are two game modes; Supply Raid and Survivors, and you can customise the class of your character (weapons/abilities etc) to suit your play style and the game mode. Although we did experience some lag at times the game plays smoothly and the ability to craft lifesaving and game-changing items in-game gives it an almost unique feel.

Naughty Dog have created a bit of a masterpiece here, a thrilling and compelling story with characters, dialogue and narrative so strong that it could be made into a TV series tomorrow. The game looks just about as good as any game can now with our eyes now used to in-game footage from the next gen consoles, and visually the game is consistently slick; the lighting, in particular, is exquisite. The Last Of Us is game that will scare the pants off you, make you laugh and quite possibly make you cry (or at least give you a lump in the throat.) Due to the ultraviolent experiences in the game, softly spoken Joel becomes one mean dude, and Ellie is a tough cookie too, and somehow, despite her smartass teenage attitude you end up loving her and willing her to survive. You may feel that The Last Of Us is so perfect that Naughty Dog should leave it there and put a full stop firmly behind it, but I’d like to see at least one sequel; the story leaves many possibilities open and Ellie is such an endearing character.

Best Bits

- Strong story, characters and superb character models.
- The post-apocalyptic US is dying yet still manages to look beautiful in places.
- Slick crafting mechanic.
- Decent length solo story (10-12 hours)
- Slick, inventive and addictive multiplayer.
- Gory and extremely violent, but never gratuitously.
- Ellie.
Worst Bits

- May be too violent for some.
- Strangely there’s no-story co-op, when it would seem to be a natural option.

by: Diddly

Copyright © Gamecell 2013