The Last of Us - Review (PS3) *Finally!*

(Note: Sorry about the extreme lateness of this review. I’ve been meaning to post it since I finished the game during release week.)

The Last of Us is one of the hardest games I’ve had to review yet. Based on the glowing reviews since its release, that probably sounds kind of strange. Have all the 9s and 10s the game has received been warranted? Perhaps.

Naughty Dog, developers of the Uncharted franchise, have created a game which is an odd mix of horror, humanity, post-apocalyptic fiction, and thought provoking themes, all while relying heavily on several tropes that permeate a lot of current, popular fiction. This is both a good and bad thing. From a story standpoint, you can see most things coming from a mile away. From a gameplay standpoint, you’ve probably played this game a million times before. The difference here is that Naughty Dog executes these fiction and gaming tropes in a way that’s never really been done in a videogame before. Probably the only thing that comes close is Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead.


Story: 10/10
The Last of Us, at first glance, falls into the zombie-fiction genre. The thing is, it’s not really a zombie game. Like the premise for most stories in this genre, an unknown virus is unleashed on the world’s population, turning people into flesh-hungry monsters that feed on other humans. The bitten are then transformed into zombie-like creatures which continue the cycle for every person that they bite. This eventually spreads to the point that the entire world turns into a creature-filled wasteland with a few people left doing whatever is necessary to survive. Yes, that sounds like a zombie game, but it’s really more about a man and a girl who form an extremely strong father/daughter bond and the choices they make to survive.
The story centers on Joel, a man who loses his daughter (Sarah) during the initial outbreak. In the beginning, Joel is presented as a good man and father to Sarah, but by the time the actual story begins (20 years after Sarah’s death), he has become like the rest of the world: A man who will do what he must to stay alive.
Now a somewhat cold mercenary, Joel is tasked with escorting a 14 year-old girl named Ellie across the country since it is said that she may contain within her a cure for the infected.
What may seem like a simple premise actually turns into a harrowing adventure much like Stephen King’s The Stand. That story also dealt with people trying to make their way through the country and the new dangers a post-virus world might present. Joel and Ellie must traverse abandoned cities and towns to make it to their various destinations, all the while battling other survivors, cannibals, and the infected.
The things I like most about any story, whether it is a novel, comic, movie, TV show, or game, are well-developed characters that you can identify with and care about. Joel, Ellie, and the relationship they develop, are extremely well thought out here, surpassing the clichés that rear their ugly heads at every turn. But even then, the trope of the “father / daughter” relationship is thrown at them and it still works. This is due in part to the game’s fantastic writing. The story flows naturally (though it’s a bit slow in the beginning) and by the time it’s over, you feel as though you’ve been on just as much of an adventure as Ellie and Joel.

Visuals: 8/10
For a console game, The Last of Us is gorgeous, though I’ll admit that I’ve been quite spoiled with the capabilities of the PC. Some “jaggies” are present due to the limits of 720p and occasionally the framerate stutters, though that’s virtually non-existent.
The character models in-game can be a little hit-or-miss at times, but the environments are what makes the visuals shine. Even dilapidated, moss-covered buildings look beautiful in combination with excellent lighting effects. Everything looks as though it actually exists in the real world, giving an authentic look to a game which is trying to look as realistic as possible.

Sound: 8/10
Since this is an action/survival-horror title, music is not really that prominent. During character moments and cutscenes, the music fits quite well, but is nothing to write home about. One thing that I found interesting is that the closer Joel and Ellie get to an enemy, the music ramps up and intensifies. For gameplay purposes, this adds a lot of tension as you sneak around while being down to your last few bullets.
The voice acting is perfection. There have been a lot of games recently that have had superb voice acting, but The Last of Us hits it out of the park. Honestly, the voice work in this game (coupled with the writing) puts most Hollywood actors and writers to shame.   
As far as the environmental and overall sound design, it’s ok. I’ve heard better from games like Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed III. I just felt as though the sound could have been a lot better for the sake of immersion, especially since the game does this so well in other areas, but it’s just really generic.

Gameplay: 8/10
The gameplay is nothing necessarily innovative, but at the same time, it’s solid. If you’ve ever played Rockstar Games’ Manhunt (PS2/Xbox/PC), you’ve played this game. The stealth aspects and gunplay are nearly identical to that title. The only difference here is that you’re up against zombie-like creatures and other survivors, rather than demented gang members. Limited ammo and resources always leave you feeling like you may not make it through the next section of the game, making you resort to other paths (like stealth) to get through. You’ll have to be smart if you run out of ammo, and because of that, the game really does have a feeling of true survival-horror. It’s actually possible to avoid combat altogether 90% of the time if you want, but doing so is much harder and more time consuming.
Speaking of time consuming, this game is loooooooooooong. Or at least, it feels that way. I kind of took my time with it, searching everything and taking part in any nuances I found, but my final play time was around 16 hours. That’s pretty long for a 3rd person action/survival-horror game and it makes you feel as though you’ve been across the entire country on foot, just as a game of this magnitude should.
One minor complaint I had was, by the time I finished the game, I felt as though using “zombies” as enemies was not really needed since you spend most of your time fighting survivors. I guess the developers felt like they needed something a little creepier to fill up the empty space between obstacles that a virus-ridden world would present.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Last of Us. Again, it does nothing new or innovative with any of its aspects, but Naughty Dog’s execution of things that have been done before is excellent. Just give it some time, as it takes about 3 or 4 hours before the game starts ramping up and getting good. Honestly, I was bored out of my skull for the first 20%, but when the characters started growing on me, I really started to settle in and enjoy it.
But that’s what makes this game extremely hard to review: For every one bad or questionable aspect I found in the game, I found 2 awesome aspects. The story, writing, acting, solid gameplay, and realistic environments, more than make up for any shortcoming that The Last of Us might have.
The big question: Is it worth $60? Yes. If you’re a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre, this is definitely one of the best games out there.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Image taken from Google Images.
Posted on September 28, 2013 .