|ONLINE:||Yes. 2-8 Player Multiplayer|
|RELEASE DATE:||June 14, 2013|
|PUBLISHER:||Sony Computer Entertainment|
“It Can’t Be For Nothing..”
The Last of Us isn’t going to win any awards for originality in concept. However, this is by far one of the best takes on the post-apocalyptic story I’ve honestly experienced in a long, long time.
Where most apocalypse games focus on the aftermath of the disaster, The Last of Us takes an approach more akin to The Walking Dead, focusing more on the characters and their relationships – in particular Joel & Ellie.
The game starts with a rather shocking moment that I won’t spoil here. The main story picks up 20 years after that, with Tess returning to Joel after making a deal for ration cards in exchange for supplies. Tess was attacked by a couple of thugs, sent by a man named Robert who has sold some weapons of theirs that he really shouldn’t have.
Tess reveals to Joel that she’s learned Robert’s location, and they head out to try and find him. It’s on this mission that you are introduced to how the world is now. Curfews are required. The city is run like a police-state – with military acting as guards, handing out rations of food to citizens. Rebel groups are hunted down. People found hiding out in condemned buildings, are rounded up and scanned. Those who are infected are killed on the spot.
It’s not a happy existence.
You’re also introduced to most of the game’s mechanics during this time. Each new mechanic is introduced in a way that furthers the narrative – so it never really feels like a tutorial. For example – when you reach a city checkpoint, it’s then attacked by a rebel group known as the Fireflies – this introduces the quick turn mechanic, as well as how to heal in the game.
After finally finding Robert and dealing with that situation, you run into Marlene – the leader of the Fireflies. She’s injured, and needs something smuggled out of the city. The Fireflies are in shambles, and Joel & Tess are basically a last resort. The Fireflies are the people that Robert has sold Joel & Tess’ weapons to, so, in exchange for the weapons, they agree to help Marlene.
Once you reach the Fireflies’ camp, you’re introduced to what exactly you’ll be smuggling. A young girl – Ellie. A girl they feel holds the key to figuring out the entire infection epidemic.
It’s at this point that the main story starts to really play out.
As I mentioned before, the story isn’t all that original. I do like that the infection [Which is never really explained how it happened, outside of notes and newspaper clippings that you pick up in the environments.] is based on something that genuinely exists – the cordyceps fungus.
It’s not the concept of the story that I love – it’s the way it’s portrayed. It shows that the infected really aren’t the worst things out there. Other humans are just as dangerous, if not more-so.
It’s brutal, violent and dark. Disturbingly so at times. It also forces you to watch. Cutscenes take control away from you. You can’t affect what happens on screen – you just have to deal with it – and it’s not always pleasant.
The interactions between Joel and Ellie are what really bring the characters to life. Spend some time in an area, or backtrack a bit, and Ellie whips out a book of puns, and cracks [hilariously awful] jokes.
In a story where there is, honestly, very little to smile or laugh about, the little moments of peace and tranquility help to ease the tension and lighten the mood, just a bit. They aren’t meant to make you fall on the floor.
There was a moment late in the game that I just loved so much, it was hard to want to make Joel move again, because it meant traversing back into the darkness. It was just so serene.
It’s the small moments like that, coupled with the unabashed brutality that make this story work.
“You Can’t Deny The View, At Least”
The Last of Us is quite possibly the most beautiful game I’ve played on the PS3. Running on the same engine that the Uncharted series uses, that’s been polished and refined over the last 6 or so years, the game is a beautiful piece of work.
Animations are smooth, and flow into each other with little to no stopping inbetween. Characters and environments are well detailed, and facial animation is absolutely stellar. The use of voice recording during motion capture really shines here.
The voice actors, Troy Baker in particular, manage to turn in very human performances, injecting the heavy emotional toll you’d expect these characters to be under, given their circumstances.
That all said, it’s not without it’s flaws. I’ve spotted a few glitches here and there that mar the overall experience a slight bit – but nothing horrendous. The framerate is smooth – never slowing down at all. The worst I’ve seen is the area outside a window blanking out completely in a glowing white light, which only occurred when the camera was pointed in a specific direction, and some bad textures here and there when examining them up close.
“Endure & Survive”
The gameplay isn’t much to write home about, but it’s solid.
The Last of Us emphasizes a stealthy approach over guns blazing. In true survival horror fashion, supplies are limited. Very limited. Ammo is scarce, and you can only hold a small amount for each weapon – which you’ll burn through very quickly if you need to use your firearms for any reason.
You can find supplies scattered about the environments that you can use to craft items like Nail Bombs and Health Kits, but they often require you to find multiple pieces before you actually have enough to do anything.
There are areas in the game that hide stockpiles of items – hidden behind “Shiv Doors” – but these are few and far between, and also require you to sacrifice a shiv to open them – which can mean the difference between life and death when faced with a Clicker and no ammo.
Speaking of Clickers, there are 4 different types of Infected – Runners, Clickers, Bloaters and Stalkers.
Runners are your basic Infected. Nothing special about them – they charge at you when they spot you, and try to take you down. Clickers are much more dangerous. They can’t physically see you – rather, they see with sound, like bats. Even if you’re sneaking, if you aren’t moving carefully, they will find you. If they catch you, and you don’t have a shiv handy – it’s game over.
Bloaters are very large, heavily armored Infected who lob spore bombs at you. They are difficult to kill, and it’s probably better to try and avoid them altogether than take them on. Like Clickers, if they manage to catch you – you die. There’s no protection for it, either.
Stalkers are like Runners – but sneaky. Like their name implies, they stalk after you, quietly [other than a little giggle or growl here and there. They aren’t tough, but they just might scare the crap out of you if you don’t know they’re there.
To counter these, you have a mechanic, called “Listen Mode”, which focuses Joel’s hearing on the area around him. Anyone or anything making noise will be shown in a glowing white silhouette, through walls. This allows you to plan ahead a bit.
Keep in mind, though, that this mechanic is only available on difficulties below Survivor.
In keeping with the stealth theme, you can pick up bottles and bricks that are scattered throughout the world and toss them to distract enemies – lead a pack of Clickers or Hunters away from your position to sneak around or get the jump on them for a sneak attack. Or toss them directly at an enemy to stun them for a moment, and close in for the kill.
Joel is just a man. He’s not ex-military, or some super-powered badass. He’s just a man. His combat reflects that. While using a gun, his aim sways badly – though that can be reduced with upgrades. His melee attacks are brutal. Vicious. He’s not trained – just trying to get the job done. Hit an enemy with an upgraded crowbar that has a blade attached, and the weapon gets stuck and has to be yanked back out by Joel.
It’s not pretty, but it’s effective.
Gunplay works when you’re forced to use it. Human enemies go down relatively easily, but Infected, like the Bloater, can have entire clips emptied into them and still not be dropped. It’s better to find another way to deal with them.
Like most games these days, there is an upgrade system. You can upgrade both Joel as well as his weapons. For Joel, you can upgrade his health, reduce weapon sway, increase crafting and healing speeds as well as Joel’s Listen Mode distance.
These upgrades are purchased with Supplements – pills and plants that you find like other supplies, just out in the world. These are few and far between, however – and the upgrades are a bit pricey. Unlike weapons, your skills can be upgraded at anytime, given that you have enough supplements.
Weapons can be upgraded using parts and tools you find while scavenging. These aren’t quite as rare as the supplements, but they aren’t plentiful either – and, like Joel’s upgrades, they are little expensive. Weapons also require a workbench to be upgraded – and, as you would expect, these are rare.
Luckily, there is a New Game Plus feature, which allows you to start a new game with all of your previous upgrades, though you’ll have to reacquire all of your weapons and items. The weapon upgrades carry over as well.
One thing I’m a bit disappointed in, is that I like to explore, and The Last of Us doesn’t really reward that. The areas are fairly large in size, and there are collectibles – but the majority of them are on the linear path you have to follow anyway. There’s very little reason to explore the levels, which is sad because they’re beautiful.
I didn’t spend much time with the online portion, just enough to try and get a feel for what’s going on. My time playing was spent on the Hunters’ campaign. Each game played counts as 1 day in a week. The campaigns last for 12 weeks, and your goal is to try and build your clan as large as possible by the end of that 12 weeks.
Just so you know – that’s 84 games, and 2 separate campaigns.
You do this by obtaining supplies within the match – which you earn for opening item boxes, scavenge them off of fallen enemies, and the parts you have leftover when the match ends are converted into supplies.
Parts you acquire in the match are used to upgrade yourself and your weapons – you can purchase armor which will keep you alive a little longer, and you can obtain a “Purchase” weapon – which is a high-powered weapon unique to the loadout you chose. There are 4 loadouts to choose from – Assault, Sniper, Support and Stealth. Each has different weapons and perks.
You can also create up to 4 custom loadouts, with your choice of weapons and perks that you’ve unlocked from playing online. Unlocks are earned by collecting supplies, and gaining members into your clan.
There are two game modes – though they are very similar. Supply Raid is like a basic deathmatch. Each team has a set number of tickets, and the team to reach zero first, loses.
Survivors is a bit different. There are no respawns. The match lasts for 3-4 rounds, and each round ends when either team is killed off. Once you die, you don’t come back until the next round.
Most of the mechanics from the single player game are present in the multiplayer. You can craft health kits, bombs and shivs, as well as upgrade your melee weapon. You find crafting items in item boxes and scattered around the map. You pick up parts in the world and for doing different things, like killing an enemy, or reviving a partner. These parts can be spent on ammunition for your weapons, you unique “Purchase Weapon”, or armor.
Your main goal, as I mentioned, is to earn supplies to feed and grow your clan. Each game sees the amount you need to earn increase. At the end of each match, your total supplies earned is shown to you, then, the amount you needed is subtracted from that to feed everyone. The rest goes toward your unlock progress.
One thing I kind of like, is that the game can import your Facebook friends, and use them as survivors within your clan. It’s a nice, personal touch.
Oddly enough, there isn’t much in the way of replay value. There are multiple difficulties, each with a New Game Plus mode, and a ton of collectibles, but that’s about it other than the multiplayer.
It does warrant at least a couple of playthroughs if you want to max out Joel’s stats, and if you want to earn the Platinum Trophy, it’s going to take at least 3 playthroughs – once on Easy/Normal/Hard to unlock Survivor, once on Survivor, and then once more on Survivor+.
Speaking of trophies, this is definitely going to be a fairly time-consuming platinum. It requires at least 168 multiplayer games to be played – and you have to win at least 2 of them, finding all of the collectibles, and completing a few playthroughs on the different difficulties.
It’s not hard by any means, but it’ll take a while. So, for the trophy hunters, this’ll last them a while at least.
My honest opinion? Buy it.
This is, without a doubt, one of the best games I’ve played – not only this year, but this generation. I don’t say this lightly. If I were to have a Top 10 list of the best games I’ve played – this would certainly be on it – and I dare say I’d even put it above Metal Gear Solid 4.
Naughty Dog has proven that a game can be violent – extremely violent – without that violence being the actual focus. They’ve shown that a game can truly make you care about its characters. They’re more than just avatars on the screen that you puppet around – you want them to survive, you want them to get through their problems.
Yes, the story is linear, and there isn’t much reward for exploration – but these are minor flaws in the scope of the lasting impression this title will leave on you.
It’s also nice to have a survival horror game come out, that actually feels like a survival horror title. It doesn’t blow things up constantly. It’s tense. It’s brutal, and at times it can genuinely scare you. It makes you uncomfortable – and it’s amazing for it.
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