Naughty Dog has done it again. This developer has managed to establish itself as the elite game maker of the generation, and they’ve done it with two brand new IPs. Uncharted is arguably the greatest trio of games ever seen and somehow, the team has managed to deliver another masterful new title. The Last Of Us challenges and questions, it presents us with an intoxicating atmosphere and compelling characters, and provides us with realistic gameplay that forces us to remain vigilant at all times. Overall, it’s a truly mind-boggling achievement on all fronts.
There’s no two ways about it: You won’t find a better example of graphical superiority. Prior to the release of this game, I’d say Uncharted 3 and RAGE were probably the most visually accomplished games of the generation, but Naughty Dog’s latest takes another step. The detailing of each character is exquisite, as are the amazing facial expressions. The environment is meticulously designed and strangely beautiful in an epic, post-apocalyptic way. Every movement is accompanied by an authentic animation that is a constant pleasure to behold, and the variety of locales has us constantly gazing around in awe.
The sound is just as incredible due to some of the best acting interactive entertainment has ever seen. The actors have the benefit of fantastic writing and dialogue (which is often lacking in many games), and all the major characters are wonderfully voiced. They’re so believable and likable that it’s just plain scary. The soundtrack is perfectly fitting for the theme and the effects are spot-on. The only reason it falls shy of a 10 is because the balancing isn’t flawless. There are times when one voice will cut into another, which is a little disconcerting. But other than that, with top-tier acting talent, a fantastic score and unbelievable ambient effects, the audio in TLoU is of the absolute highest quality.
In short, as far as technical achievement is concerned, few games can rival The Last Of Us . In fact, I really can’t think of any. The combination of intense and ridiculously well-detailed visuals and highly immersive sound makes for an unparalleled experience. However, we all sort of expect this, right? In terms of technical greatness and general solidarity (no such thing as hitches and glitches in a Naughty Dog game), is there anything that can really compare? We anticipated nothing less here, correct? It’s the gameplay and narrative that is by far the most interesting aspect of this analysis.
One could actually make the argument that TLoU is a survival/horror title, because it may indeed have more in common with that niche genre than with standard action/adventure games. That being said, I believe it’s a heady mix of both categories of gaming, which results in a singular experience. You really need to make every shot count and running headlong into a group of enemies is never a good idea. Stealth and strategy are key elements. Everything you do, you do it to survive. You scrounge for useful supplies, you stay low and keep quiet when necessary, and you carefully evaluate each situation before proceeding.
But during the first half-hour, we aren’t really checking out the control, the gunplay, or the aforementioned strategy. No, we’re watching a prelude to the main storyline and the climax will rend your heart. I’m warning all parents or parents-to-be, for very much the same reason I warned people about the opening sequence in Heavy Rain . It’s just so heartbreaking. However, it’s also extremely well done in every possible way; how it plays out, all the panic and high emotion that inundates the scenario, and the horrifying result are hallmarks of a top-quality movie. The acting, atmosphere and production values are really that good.
It’s also a necessary preview because we immediately understand Joel and his desperate need to protect those he cares about. This is tempered by twenty years of being in a constant fight for survival, which ultimately creates a multidimensional character who you pity and root for at the same time. His partner, Ellie, is also excellent. In the previews, she was sort of depicted as this fiery teenager with a “screw you all, I can handle myself” mentality. That’s cool and all, but it’s a little predictable and even clichéd, if you really start to think about it. However, we see a lot more of Ellie as the adventure unfolds. She's more complex than you think…
She can be scared and vulnerable, and she can also be spunky and almost impossibly brave. In short, Ellie is almost exactly what you’d expect from a 14-year-old girl who lives in a world we can’t really fathom. Her wonder at first seeing a forest, her fear and anxiety when coming upon Clickers, and her fierce individuality makes her a truly authentic personality. Pairing her with a man who does what’s necessary for the sake of survival, who flat-out refuses to relive a past tragedy, who can be brutally rational and touchingly sensitive, was a master stroke. The relationship between Joel and Ellie is one of the most intriguing and best-developed relationships in all of gaming.
As for the gameplay, let me start by saying that if you’re looking for Uncharted , you’re going to be disappointed. The Last Of Us is slow, even ponderous at times, and it emphasizes thought, strategy and tact. It’s about survival first and foremost; everything else is secondary. When Joel gets shot, he doesn’t just go, “ouch, let me get behind cover and magically heal myself.” He cries out and falls to the ground, where he’s instantly more vulnerable, and he requires medical treatment afterward. His aim isn’t perfectly steady and he must fight hard to break free from crazed, infected assailants who see him only as a meal.
Control is almost flawless. There is no “cover” button; you can simply crouch behind something to protect yourself, and enemies will hear you if you’re loud. Joel’s only skill that isn’t quite realistic is his ability to focus his hearing, which lets him see outlines of foes through walls. It’s wicked useful, though, and he has to move very slowly while focusing. For the record, it also takes a few seconds to patch himself up or reload, so you constantly have to prepare. I love that part, because it’s precisely what you’d have to do if you were in his situation. Prepare and hope for the best. That’s all you can do, and it’s amazingly tense and immersive.
As an AI partner, Ellie is fantastic. She reminds me a lot of Elizabeth in Bioshock Infinite , in that she never gets in the way and she can be awfully helpful in a pinch. She can distract enemies and she can even help during down-and-dirty brawls. One time, an enemy had Joel pinned near a truck and Ellie leaped on the foe’s back and started stabbing away with her pocket knife. The dynamic nature of combat is just incredible. If you’re near a part of the environment Joel can use when locked in mortal combat, he’ll use it; he’ll slam someone’s head off the arm of a sofa, or something like that. And you can use the environment to mask your movements as well.
There’s a crafting system that works very well. By using raw materials you collect, you can create shivs (essential for dealing with Clickers), medical kits, Molotov Cocktails, nail bombs and other useful items. You can also use a workbench to upgrade your weapons with parts you gather up; you can increase clip size, range, power and the like. You can even add another holster so you don’t have to dive into your backpack to select another weapon. Lastly, Joel can improve with vitamin supplements he finds; he can increase his max health, his ability to master gun sway and his capability with a shiv. You can bolster the strength of melee weapons, too.
You explore to survive. You consider the materials you have before you move into an encounter. You think first and act second. Fully mutated humans have become Clickers, who are almost entirely blind and hunt by sound. Merely infected humans are just insane; they either wander around mumbling to themselves or stand in a corner, sobbing. If they see you, though, they’ll rush at you like out-of-control maniacs. Then there are soldiers who want you dead for other reasons, and they’ve got flashlights and body armor. The variety of foes you face, combined with the diversity of the environment, makes for a captivating gameplay experience and one you won’t soon forget. This game has the tendency to stay with you.
It isn’t perfect. It really isn’t. I honestly believe the camera sits too close during melee encounters; I know Naughty Dog did it to enhance the in-your-face impact and urgency. But I don’t think it’s necessary and it would’ve been more helpful to see what’s going on around me. Then again, one could argue that this too is realistic; how much would we see if some nasty thing was right in our face? Also, there are times when I’ve questioned the hit detection, in that I’m fairly certain the aiming reticle was properly positioned, but the bullet still didn’t make contact.
Lastly, the multiplayer. A crutch? Unnecessary? Nope. With no supernatural abilities and multiple individuals pushing to survive, it’s just amazingly effective in imparting a group-wide feeling of tension. Making too much noise will allow you to become visible on your opponent’s map, and you must use the same kind of strategy and foresight as you would in the campaign. Split into Factions, you fight for the Fireflies or the Hunters, and you must participate in Supply Raids and a Survivor mode that tests your skills to the max. There’s even a well-designed unlock system that rewards your efforts and different goals to keep you interested. It’s unique and highly entertaining, and every bit as captivating as Naughty Dog claimed.
The Last Of Us is an industry-defining masterpiece. It’s progressive and immensely accomplished on both the technical and artistic front. The writing is great, the acting is superb, the characters are beautifully designed and developed, there’s a riveting sense of authenticity, and the immersion one feels is unmatched. It’s not flawlessly executed; hence, I can’t give it a 10. But I seriously doubt that will dissuade anyone, because if you want to experience one of the most memorable games ever created, you have no choice but to purchase The Last Of Us . Play it and appreciate interactive entertainment at its finest.
The Good: The most impressive graphics yet. Fantastic score and sound effects. Precise, reliable control. Appreciated focus on survival, realism and strategy. Some of the best acting in gaming history. Excellent ally AI. Well-developed, authentic characters. Great story with solid writing. Multiplayer is fun and refreshing.
The Bad: Slight camera issue. Very minor gameplay miscues.
The Ugly: N/A