Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: July 29, 2014
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre: Survival Horror, Action
Author’s Note: This is my first time playing The Last of Us, and the review will reflect my experiences as someone who has no prior knowledge of the game. Although this is a review on the HD re-mastered version, I will discuss the merits of the game for both new and old players of the series.
Where do we start when discussing The Last of Us? Do we talk about dynamic personable characters like Joel and Ellie that make players actually care about their future?
Can we start with the winding storyline that pits these characters in impossible circumstances in a post-apocalyptic future? Or do we recount the memorable sequences that truly test our mettle whilst being overrun by marauding undead?
All of these elements are responsible for The Last of Us becoming more than a game. It transcends the entire medium to become something different, something beyond, much the same way a profound film can give life to a devout cult following.
Naughty Dog has created an interactive work of art that masterfully engrosses gamers in a broken world full of death, danger and mayhem–but amid the chaos there is a very real, very human story about struggle and survival.
These dramatic elements perfectly punctuate the elements of raw horror and action in such a way that the game certainly takes on a cinematic scope.
In many ways, the game crosses the boundaries of film and gaming media to allow a sort of beautiful combination between the two. It feels as if players can step into the movie screen, to actively participate in the fates and struggles of the characters while being propelled by the magical hands of film directors in their movies.
Story: Haunted by a World That’s Moved On
The Last of Us chronicles the story of a world that fell to its knees by a rampant fungal infection known as the Cordyceps Brain Infection. Society crumbled almost overnight, with pandemonium and chaos reigning supreme. Soon nearly all of the population was infected and rendered into hideous, misshapen monstrosities that fed on the living.
To survive, society had to splinter into groups and gather into fortified Quarantine Zones that protect the remaining uninfected population. Rather than restore any semblance of humanity or society, these zones are ruled by a militant entity that simply exiles or executes residents for petty crimes or suspected infection.
These zones perfectly articulate the true bestial nature of man when faced with such a crisis, and show how far society will go to preserve any measure of safety. The outside world is an ever-present threat that weighs on the psyche, transforming survivors into cruel, misshapen shadows of their former selves.
The game centers around Joel, a hardened and grizzled survivor who operates in the underground black market trade in a Quarantine Zone outside of Boston. Along with his associate Tess, Joel frequently penetrates the outside world and chances death to smuggle goods and sell them to residents in the zone.
While out on a raid, Joel and Tess come across a wounded Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies–a humanist rogue militia faction that’s embattled with the military–in Boston.
Marlene was on a quest to bring Ellie, a very special young girl who might be the key to a vaccine to the recombinant fungal infection, to the Fireflies. Marlene charges Joel with transporting Ellie to the group. Joel, owing Marlene a favor, reluctantly accepts.
Along their state-wide trek, Joel and Ellie become inseparable. They face insurmountable odds on a daily basis, doing what they have to to survive. Their bond is a magical one and shows that even in the face of death, hope can still shine through.
Game Mechanics: Combat, Exploration, Scavenging and More
The Last of Us: Remastered functions exactly like the original in terms of game mechanics. The game utilizes the frame set forth by Resident Evil games with a third-person view, and players will often have to interact with their surroundings to solve puzzles to advanced further (just like RE games).
Joel and Ellie make the perfect team in this regard. Quite often Joel will need Ellie’s small stature to get to certain areas or unlock gates, creating a dynamic cooperation between the two. Since Ellie can’t swim, Joel will have to find a floating pallet for her to ride in order to cross water and get to the other side to solve a particular area.
Ellie’s cooperation doesn’t just end at tossing down ladders or propping open sliding metal doors; she’s incredibly handy in combat. At her core, she’s a resilient survivor who won’t balk at emptying a clip into an enemy or tossing a brick when Joel’s getting choked out–she even sometimes leaps on the back of a baddie to stab away with her lethal switchblade.
Throughout the game players can scavenge raw materials and create makeshift weapons like sugar bombs that mask your movements, deadly shrapnel grenades, or molotov cocktails that spread fiery havoc to enemies in a radius.
Joel’s main arsenal is a nice webwork of different tools of survival that range from handguns–revolvers, sawed-off shotguns and pistols–to scoped hunting rifles, a flamethrower that belches fire, boomsticks that pack a huge wallop, and even a bow that Lara Croft would approve of.
A tactical combination of makeshift explosives and firearms makes a big difference when tackling hordes of Clickers and Runners–or even a group of marauders. This strategic gameplay also serves as a satisfying mix of shoot-em-up action and survival horror.
The CBI has warped those its infected into ferocious monsters of varying kinds. Players will have to use stealth and strategy to dispatch Clickers, who are blind but adept at hearing, and be careful to sneak up on Runners, who have eyes like hawks. Stalkers use a sort of echo-location to find prey. Bloaters are the most terrifying; these hulking masses of mutated flesh use their might to literally tear apart their prey.
Bandits, on the other hand, are just as dangerous as the infected. These survivors are desperate and have nothing to lose, and that makes them all the more deadly. With the bandits and their groups, Naughty Dog perfectly captures the duality of man in dire situations–many of which actually turn out to be more deadly than the monsters they fight.
Gameplay is broken up into adventure-style progress through different areas and punctuated by tense “battle royale” sequences. Essentially different areas are lead-ups for those big finales, but the game does an excellent job giving players the resources they need to prepare medkits and snag much-needed ammo for those battles.
The lead-ups involve miscellaneous puzzle solving, small-scale battles, and exploration–and it is in these moments where the game shines the most. Exploring the ghostly and hallowed suburbs, for example, brings a true sense to the loneliness of the abandoned world.
The people of the past are gone, but evidence of their lives–their houses, their belongings and even journal entries and notes–remain like silent monuments of a world that’s moved on. Everything that’s vital or useful has been taken, but buildings and cars pepper the streets like relics of a forgotten time.
This is the magic of The Last of Us. The dramatic cutscenes that transition the sequences themselves add new depth to the experience, giving it life and making it take a truly remarkable shape. It seamlessly blends heart-pounding action with infected battles with the tear-jerking drama that fully realizes the strife of surviving in a decaying world.
Conclusion: A Marvel of Modern Storytelling and Gaming
With The Last of Us, Naughty Dog seamlessly captures the effects of a world torn by terror and death, presenting the primal side to survival and how this struggle warps any society. Survivors turned on each other for supplies, looting and killing with wanton carelessness that exposed a side to human nature that reflects that of the undead.
The story articulates the rigors of such a world where people murder for canned goods, and killing is a necessity and the toll it takes on the living. This duality of man is ever-present, and in many ways its much more frightening than the bloodthirsty ghouls who feed on the flesh of the living.
Rather than re-hash the popular post-apocalyptic zombie theme, Naughty Dog has delivered an original and fresh take on the archetype with its fungal infection. With a hosts of twists and turns in the story, players navigate a dynamic plotline that spreads to the heart of an impossible conflict, all while tackling nerve-wracking terror and action along the way.
The graphics are impeccable and seem to tap into the PlayStation 4’s visual power, delivering pristine visuals at a fluid 60 frames-per-second. Using the platform-specific Photo Mode, players can turn into amateur photographers and capture their favorite moments and share them across the web.
At it’s core, The Last of Us: Remastered remains Naughty Dog’s magnum opus and stands as a clear marvel of our generation. The game transcends multiple mediums to deliver one of the most ambitious and truly immersing experiences in the industry, all while seamlessly dishing out visceral action that reflects its general themes.
If you already own the game and have beat it, I personally wouldn’t recommend picking it up again as the game isn’t changed in any way other than performance-wise. Sony’s thinking in putting it out on PS4 was to give new players the chance to experience it in its entirety, so you should just play it on PS3 if you want to re-visit it’s hallowed splendor.