The Last of Us has a story to tell in form of an experience that has you questioning the very definition of morality. The dialogue is excellent and visuals so upsetting that you can’t help but feel sorry for anyone living in that world.
Two decades have elapsed since the outbreak of a deadly disease that has turned human beings into dreadful monsters, and has left the world in tatters. Survivors are stuck in quarantine zones and settlements where they do what they can to keep themselves alive. While playing the game, I couldn’t help but think that the dead were luckier than those who survived because I could sense how miserable they were.
Players take on the role of Joel, one such miserable survivor stuck in a vicious circle that would turn anyone into a desperate, despicable human being. But I felt empathy towards him.
The Last of Us doesn’t revolve around Joel, however. The essence of the story lies in his relationship with a young girl named Ellie. Joel and his partner, Tess, are smugglers who end up having to smuggle Ellie as part of a deal. This is where the brutal and emotional journey begins.
The duo forms a father-daughter bond under the most extraordinary circumstances that one can imagine. Ellie was born into the post-apocalyptic world and is full of curiosity about life before the destruction. Her fascination with things that she hasn’t seen and doesn’t understand, and the growth of her character, bring remarkable realism to the game.
In a hopeless world, Ellie’s life holds immense value and brings hope.
In my first encounter with the infected, I learned the hard way that it takes more than just bullets to stay alive. Each variation of the infected requires players to use a mix of techniques to rid themselves of the enemy. For instance, Runners are those creatures that have been freshly infected and still possess human features. They’re easier to kill as Joel can sneak up behind them and strangle them. While I easily fought them off, I still felt a little guilty. Knowing that they weren’t attacking me by choice, and that their actions were out of their control, made me a little unhappy while taking them down.
On the other hand, Clickers use their senses to detect your presence and their attacks are deadly. They can kill players instantly with a bite. These creatures cannot be strangled, but can be stabbed to death with a shiv, which the players can craft.
The ability to craft items comes in handy before dealing with the enemy or for saving our character with a health kit should we be seriously wounded. But this isn’t all that there is to it. Crafting requires making decisions. The ingredients players use to craft one item can be at the cost of forgoing another item of use.
Combat requires making decisions as well, and this defines the gameplay. It might not be a wise decision to fire the few bullets that you have left into a Runner when you end up in an area with a few Clickers afterward. Conversely, you might want to save your weapons and items for another time, and choose to stealth-kill your way out of an entire area regardless of which type of enemy you encounter.
There’s a lot of disturbingly realistic stealth action in the game, which ends up being unavoidable quite a number of times when players are surrounded by hoards of enemies, and don’t have enough weapons or objects to defend themselves with. One of my very few gripes with the game is what felt like a recurring need for silent kills. I almost felt as if it was pointless having a loaded gun. Thankfully, Joel’s sense of hearing enables players to somewhat detect the enemy, a concept that bears a little similarity to the “Eagle Vision” in the Assassin’s Creed series.
I also experienced a few issues with the AI in The Last of Us. A considerable number of times, Ellie got in my way, and a few times, my companions blew my cover. This certainly got annoying, especially during nerve-wracking enemy encounters.
One thing to note here is that different human groups in the game are at odds with each other, but their enemy is common. Whether they’re the Hunters (who are survivors but ruthless killers) or part of a resistance group called the Fireflies, they’re clinging on to life and face the same threat.
The in-game environment and graphics are undoubtedly stunning. The surrounding felt as real as it could possibly be, and detailed enough to warrant having a look around. I often found myself stopping to read signboards and store names. Even while squeezing myself in through broken walls in dark, gloomy areas, I couldn’t help but try to picture how beautiful it would have looked if the area was bustling with life.
The amount of detail is mesmerizing. Whether you’re inside the ruins of an office with broken printers and computers, or outside the ruins of a pizzeria, you’ll want to give Naughty Dog some much deserved credit for the effort that they put into creating a post-apocalyptic United States. The world looks beautifully sad, the lighting and textures compliment the environment, and ruins wonderfully reflect the agony of mankind.
The game’s multiplayer consists of two factions and two modes. The factions are the Hunters and Fireflies, and the modes are called Supply Raid and Survivors. In Supply Raid mode, players can respawn in a deathmatch, whereas in Survivors mode, there are no respawns.
The multiplayer mode requires as much strategic planning as the single-player campaign, if not more. Players can craft items like bombs, shivs and Molotov cocktails, which can prove to be crucial. We’re also blessed with the sense of listening in multiplayer mode to help trace enemy movement, which is quite useful. I found myself making decisions similar to those that I made during combat in the single-player campaign. After being instantly killed a few times, I resorted to planning out my attacks.
While the multiplayer can be fun, I can’t say that it’s truly outstanding or the best multiplayer experience that I’ve ever had. And I don’t think Naughty Dog intended for it to be taken that way. It’s a fun addition to a solid campaign that everyone must try out at least once.
The Last of Us is not your typical survival horror game set in a standard post-apocalyptic world that you see in video games. This game is unique for the most part, and lays an emphasis on decision-making and morality. The relationship between Joel and Ellie and their adventure together is one that I’ll remember for years to come. However, The Last of Us could have offered better combat that wasn’t so restrictive and didn’t feel like a chore at times. Additionally, the AI could have been improved. Having your cover blown and your companions blocking your way in a narrow place can be ridiculously annoying.
Final Score: 8/10
We received a copy of The Last of Us from Sony for review. I completed the game on Normal difficulty over a weekend, which includes two hours of multiplayer. I read almost every signboard and created my own mini game of flinging bricks and bottles at various objects that I used as targets.