ESRB Rating: The ESRB rates The Last of Us M for mature because of strong language, sexual themes, intense violence, and blood and gore. This is a brutal game, no mistake about it. Imagine if our world had been infected with a pathogen so strong that it wiped out virtually all life on Earth. Now imagine what the rest of the people would do just to survive. That’s what this game asks of players. How far would you be willing to go to protect the ones you care about? This is a world where it’s kill or be killed, by any means necessary.
Plays Like: A lot of comparisons will be made to the Uncharted series and rightly so. This is an action game by the same developer, and yes there are light puzzles and exploration elements mixed in with third person action. The core difference is that you you have a finite amount of supplies to see you through to your next objective. Progression is linear, but combat encounters are anything but. Towards the later portions of the game, more and more action set pieces make their way into the mix, but at no point can you just blast everything in your path. You constantly have to juggle your supplies to ensure you can survive what may lie just around the next corner.
Review Basis: Sony sent us a retail copy of the game far in advance so we could get you this very review before the madness of E3 begins. We were unable to test the multiplayer portion of the game, so this review is based on the single-player only. The review will be edited, and the score adjusted after the game officially launches to include the multiplayer portion.
I cannot possibly say enough good things about the story and overall narrative. If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, or Children of Men, you’re going to absolutely love this game. What begins as a tragic tale eventually blossoms into a story about hope. Along the way there’s heartache, betrayal and everything else you can imagine. Much like Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s The Walking Dead, no one is safe. Characters you deeply care for may be at risk, and that’s part of the game’s charm. Which other developer out there would have the courage to make players feel so attached to characters, only to rip them away later on.
The story is told through cutscenes, dialogue between characters, and my personal favorite, through journal entries that people have left behind. There are also newspaper clippings and other sources of information that players can find, which help explain exactly what has transpired in this world on the brink of madness. Regardless of where you get your information, the story is always interesting, and always powerful. In fact while some aspects may feel cliché, the overall story is likely my favorite mature storyline of all time. By the time the credits rolled, I had to sit back just to take a moment and let it all sink it. It has been a very long time since I’ve had that feeling from a game. Very well done Naughty Dog.
Another aspect that can’t get enough praise is the setting. The game takes place twenty years after a horrendous plague has ravaged the entire world. You are free to explore this world at your leisure. Sure you can move along from point A to B quickly, but doing so would be a grave injustice. Familiar surroundings suddenly look mysterious, as nature has slowly started to take over. Homes that have been abandoned or raided are now free to explore. The inner explorer in you will have a field day when you reach certain areas with literally a half dozen different homes to venture into. Eventually the scale increases and you traverse crumbled apartments, underground sewers, metro stations, and much, much more. Naughty Dog has created a living breathing world that’s both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. It’s spectacular.
+ Graphically this is one of, if not the most impressive game of the generation. From ridiculously detailed environments, fantastic motion captured cutscenes, great animations, excellent special effects, to the living, breathing world itself, The Last of Us will amaze you more often than not.
+ Audio is equally impressive. From actually being part of the core gameplay with the Listening Mode (which allows Joel to pinpoint enemy targets even if they’re hiding behind walls), to enhancing the setting, the audio is fantastic. Sound effects in particular are used perfectly to help bring this crumbling world to life.
+ Music is only used during key scenes, but some of those will stick with you forever, because of how powerful they are.
+ Crafting, and upgrade help keep you alive. They also encourage players to explore. The more you look around, the more scraps you will find, which in turn will allow you to craft shivs, Molotov cocktails, smoke bombs, med-kits, and more. Special pills allow you to upgrade Joel’s ability to heal himself faster, switch weapons quicker, etc.
+ Real-time weapon swapping adds a new element of realism to the game. Players have to actually remove Joel’s backpack and switch out weapons, or remove a health kit in order to heal themselves. That means doing these things require time, and a quiet corner out of harm’s way. No longer can you just press a button and heal yourself.
+ Core gameplay is split between exploration, combat and a mix of the two. The overall goal is to survive by any means necessary. While moving from point A to point B is linear, combat isn’t. Players decide if they’re going to try and bypass all enemies, or if they’re going to use stealth kills, or go in Rambo style. Whatever you decide to do, you only have a certain amount of supplies. Finish those off and you’re forced to use stealth.
+ Exploration is encouraged not only because of the crafting system, but also as a means to progress the storyline. Ellie may see something she has never seen before and if the player interacts with her Joel will inform her of what such, and such is. Scenes like these personalize the characters in such a way that wouldn’t seem possible.
+ Transition scenes, basically areas where you’re moving from point A to point B and where there’s no action, feel a lot like the exploration scenes in Uncharted. That’s a good thing, especially since puzzles here always revolve around trying to figure out how to gain access to areas that are just out of reach. Some of these moments are breath-taking.
+ Fantastic use of enemies. There are three main types of enemies, human scavengers, infected Runners, and Clickers. Each has their own strength and weakness. If you’re in an area with more than one type, a great amount of variety in gameplay opens up. By utilizing your gear appropriately you can make short work of all those that oppose you.
+ Normal difficulty may be a little on the easy side for those experienced with third person action games, but crank the difficulty up a bit and you’ll quickly run out of supplies. That’s a huge part of the charm though. If you’re trying to survive a harsh world like this, you want to be low on supplies at all times to make the experience that much more believable.
+ Fantastic AI. Enemy AI will try and flank you if you stay in one spot for too long, and partner AI is just awesome. You can count on your friends to assist whenever possible. Sometimes you’ll be taken by surprise, only to have Ellie jump on the enemy’s back and stab him in the neck. The further you progress, more advanced options are available, which you’ll want to take full advantage of.
+ Partner characters are not immune to enemy attacks. If an enemy manages to grab hold of one of your pals, you only have a limited amount of time to save them before it’s game over. This is important because of one of the issues mentioned below.
+ New Game + allows players to replay the game on the same or lower difficulty setting with all the upgrades from their first play-through.
+ Almost every trophy in the game requires multiple play-throughs, which means hardcore players are going to be coming back for lots more.
+ Designed for the hardcore. Don’t want to use Listen Mode, you can turn it off. Don’t want the game to give you hints after a short period of time, no problem, that can be turned off as well. It’s nice of Naughty Dog to think of the hardcore crowd. If you want, you can make this an extremely difficult game.
+/- Later portions of the game start to feel a bit too Uncharted-like, whereby players’ options on how to proceed with combat encounters go more or less out the window. Thankfully there aren’t many areas like this.
+/- Since there’s no lock-on cover mechanic, sometimes enemies will see you even though you’re 99% sure you were in the shadows. This issue pops up now and then, but doesn’t hinder gameplay.
+/- Some overused puzzle elements where you need to find a make-shift raft for Ellie to use. It’s neat the first time, but by the forth it gets a little old.
+/- Is Tess Elena’s long lost sister? Their character models look extremely similar.
– Everyone in the entire game you come across has infinite ammo, but you. Even your partner has infinite ammo. Eventually you’ll learn that you can pit your partner against the enemies and just let them go to town on each other. Thankfully partner characters can be killed if you’re not careful, so there is a slight trade-off.
– How is it that when I kill an enemy who has infinite ammo they don’t drop a single bullet when they die? Later on in the game they do, but every enemy should drop at least one bullet if they’re carrying a gun that shoots infinite ammo.
Letting a Bloater get up close and personal. Trust me, don’t let it happen, it’s painful.
Is The Last of Us the greatest game of the generation? That’s a question only you can answer. What I can tell you is that this is a game that deserves to be played. It’s setting, and story will absolutely impress. There were more than a few moments where I nearly had a tear in my eye. That’s the first time a videogame has ever done that to me. The new “play a cutscene” areas were likely the most powerful I’ve ever experienced, and certainly change the way future games will be developed. The combat is fantastic, exploration a joy, and the design is impeccable. Is this the best game of the generation? I don’t know, but it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played.
Final Score: 9.8/10