WARNING: This review contains some minimal spoilers. If you don’t want to know anything about the story then stop reading.
Zombie games seem to be more than just common now-a-days. Even more so than just a zombie game are the zombie games that are focused more on the human story than the zombie story. The Last of Us is exactly that, a zombie game that you have a hard time calling a zombie game because it is about the human side. That is not the only cliche the game uses though in its storytelling but even so, Naughty Dog delivered an incredible title.
The game starts off around present day with Joel and his daughter Sarah (cue the obvious reaction of “Shit…”). You start at the beginning of the outbreak that causes a zombie-like condition and has Joel, Sarah and Joel’s brother, Tommy, trying to escape the city. As you can imagine from the cover and, well, everything that has been said about the game, Sarah doesn’t make it and there is our first “zombie game/movie” cliche. However, the way in which the opening is delivered is very powerful and done in a way that takes the traditional trope and tweaks it just enough to make it work. Immediately the game jumps ahead 20 years and Joel is a battered, old survivalist in Boston with a partner, Tess, who primarily smuggle goods to get by. The common view of everything is basically that there really isn’t any good in the world and everyone is just looking out for themselves. Just a little while after this, you are introduced to Ellie, a 14 year old girl who is immune to the infection that has since plagued the entire world and are tasked with escorting her to a facility where a cure can be extracted from her.
I don’t want to get into any more detail than that but its safe to say that the game is truly a roller coaster ride of emotions. From the ambient dialogue in the levels which brings the characters truly to life to the amazingly well done cut scenes, your attachment to these characters steadily grows. Some of the scenes in the game are telegraphed completely but even still, you are shaken when what you know is going to happen actually happens. One of my favorite scenes in the game, which I’ll just refer to as the Giraffe scene as to avoid spoilers, is easily one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever witnessed. It really shows that with the world going to shit on the human side, the rest of the world is still existing just fine and you almost want the moment to last forever. Similar to TellTale’s “The Walking Dead,” Naughty Dog is able to bridge the gap between character in a video game and human and by the time you finish the game, you actually have feelings for these characters as they seem real. I can’t count the number of times that I almost died from trying to save Ellie and not because that’s the point of the game but because my mindset was inescapably “you don’t mess with Ellie.”
Throughout the game you will fight Infected and humans alike. There are certain parts that will make you take a step back and think about who you’re killing and you feel bad about what you’ve done in some of the scenarios. All of the people murdered just to get this little girl to this lab to potentially save the world. The game is very good at presenting you with contrasts and there are subtle nuances throughout the ~14 hour game that you may miss completely if you don’t pay attention. The game is very good at presenting you with sequences that you can completely miss if you look away for even a second that will strike you in the heart if you notice them.
The Last of Us features a good amount of weapons that you obtain over time but most of them, you really don’t use until you have to. Most of the game consists of Metal Gear Solid style sneaking around so you can attack enemies from behind to conserve ammo. The sneaking segments are helped by the fact that Joel, evidently, has a super power and can hear incredibly well, so that you can pinpoint enemies if they make any noise. When you aren’t sneaking, the next best thing to do, as many quickly learn, is use your Bow because you have a chance to gain your ammo back and its a silent kill. It almost reminds me of Resident Evil in how much you have to watch your ammo as the game doesn’t tend to be nice about giving you extra. There is also a crafting menu that you will use a lot to make things like med kits, molotovs, smoke bombs, shivs and more. The gameplay doesn’t get much deeper than that, when its not cut scenes, its a lot of walking through towns and then segments of fighting. You can also increase Joel’s stats through supplements (pills) that range from better listening distance to more health to less weapon sway.
My biggest drawback with this game is that it isn’t fun. It’s not because the controls are bad or the mechanics are bad, its because there is literally no fun factor. The entire game is about survival and that’s what it boils down to. If you make a mistake, you know it immediately as you won’t be alive much longer. This ends up leading into a lot of frustration during certain “fights” and can really piss you off. Also, your AI companions while great sometimes, can be completely idiotic other times. Thankfully, the AI characters are not detected by the enemies or this game would be nearly unbeatable. On top of the intense amount of difficulty in the game, even on Normal, certain things add to it even more that really just annoyed me, such as a ridiculous amount of weapon sway. This can very easily make you miss very crucial shots and make you start an entire segment over again. Which somewhat leads into my next drawback, that a few sequences seem to be “violence for the sake of violence.” Lastly, there were a few bugs that either barred my progress so I had to reload my save or even one that caused my crafting menu to stay up until I reloaded my save that really took me out of the immersion of the title.
Back on the good side of things, the voice acting is remarkable. Every line delivered feels natural and makes you completely believe these characters are real. I especially have to commend the writing for Ellie along with the performance by her voice actress, Ashley Johnson. That isn’t to discount any of the other voice acting in the game as it is wonderful too but this girl has never known what life was like before the infection broke out and you completely believe it in the things she says in passing. One of my favorite, fairly comical lines that she asks, completely seriously is “did everyone use to own a boat?” upon seeing one to which Joel just responds with “Yeah, I used to own a yacht.” which she believes until he tells her that that isn’t true.
Naughty Dog really knocked it out of the park with “The Last of Us.” The game uses a lot of cliches from zombie games/films but does it in a way that you can completely forgive it because its done so well or tweaked in just the right ways. Its kind of hard to consider this just a game because of how immersed you become in it and as you play it, you completely forget you are playing a video game. It is a very realistic look at the behavior that someone could have during a “post-pandemic” world and is an experience that definitely should not be missed.
- Amazing narrative and story
- Incredible voice acting
- The character seem real
- Some very offsetting bugs
- Weapon sway is very aggravating
- Intense difficulty