When it comes to games that are deemed as “must play”, I think it’s fair to say that The Last Of Us is on the list for a great deal of people. Between that, and it being a PS4 exclusive, I thought it was about time that I gave it a shot.
Made by Naughty Dog, the very same people who brought me some of my favourite gaming memories (through the Uncharted series), and surrounded by an almost universal acclaim, how could I go wrong? Right?
I’ll be honest, I’ve kind of steered away from this game, for a long time. I actually bought it for PS3, and never played it, which is basically a sin.
Keeping it at bay was for two reasons, one, because as far as I could tell, it was just another zombie game, of which I had already had my fill. And two, because everyone loved it, and I figured it was being over-hyped (this isn’t the first time I’ve let this be a barrier!).
So, I let it roll by, understood that people loved it, and figured I don’t need any more zombie nonsense.
What I didn’t take into account was the fact that it was made by Naughty Dog, and, well, they’ve never let me down, in fact they have created some of the best gaming experiences around. The long and short of it is, yet again……I’m a stubborn dumbass that sometimes needs to ignore public hype, and just enjoy things for myself, for crying out loud.
Getting the PS4 was the perfect time to give it a go. Looking for these PlayStation Exclusives to go through, and I’d just finished Shadow of The Colossus, time to jump onto another bandwagon!
So, I got my copy, got it installed, and then I found myself sat with some trepidation. What if it isn’t as good as they say? Should I read more about it? Can I be bothered with another zombie/survival game?
I quickly got over myself and got loaded up.
Immediately the game gets to work in building story and providing the level of exposition that a lot of games just can’t manage. I learned about Joel’s past and the beginning of the outbreak.
Within a few heartfelt minutes, you’re running for your life, but already invested in the characters on-screen. It’s not just about the infected, in fact, they’re incidental. It’s about the people and how they’re affected, about how they react and adapt.
Soon, it’s present-day and you’re still Joel, but leading a very different life. Times have changed, and he looks like he’s had a pretty rough paper round.
Pretty swiftly, I’ve gone from not really wanting to play, to needing to know how the world is like it is, how the people in it are surviving, and what’s going to happen next. Yup, Naughty Dog have basically got their hooks into me, yet again.
The Last of Us
It isn’t much longer until you meet Ellie, the other cover-character that you see with Joel, and circumstances dictate that it’s you two moving forward.
I don’t think it right to spoil any story beats, regardless of the game’s age. However, I do think it important to mention how well Naughty Dog manage to make you care about characters.
There’s no “tutorial” per se, but other characters are always passively filling in the background of the world, adding context to things, and at the same time being fleshed-out as proper people. It’s really clever, and very impressive. I didn’t have to sit through 20 cutscenes to learn about the world, you absorb it as you go.
You quickly learn that The Last of Us isn’t really about infected people, nor is it about the infection itself. It’s about humanity, society and survival. You meet other characters along the way whom you have a history with, you meet new allies, you face off against the military, gangs and of course the infected. Not everything is black and white, and the shades of grey we operate within as humans, that’s where the meat of the story is.
Not just a story
The thing I need to remember, is that it isn’t just a story. It may have all the trappings of a cinematic endeavour, but it is a game, too.
Games have mechanics that seperate them from just being an interactive movie, and The Last of Us is no different.
There is a lot of back and forth between you and your partners, giving each other boosts over ledges, having to float them across water because they can’t swim.
You’re always working on some kind of basic environmental puzzle to traverse from one area to another. It’s constantly pushing you to look around and use each other to move on. Clever, simple and fun. You’re never stuck, you just haven’t found the right way yet.
Apart from that, the stealth and combat elements are just as crucial, and mostly, go hand in hand. So often you find yourself having to get through an area filled with hostiles and you have every opportunity to just sneak by. Not that I ever manage it. One mistake and the whole world comes crashing down. I often find myself down to that last bullet, with two enemies left, searching for me. Intense isn’t the word!
Every melee attack is brutal and feels hard-hitting. Upgrading your gear gives you things like a pole with blades sticking out of it, so you can smash the skull of an incoming assailant with it, and stick the blades in there for a one-hit kill.
You can snipe, you can throw molotovs, you can use a bow and arrow. The means in which to kill are plentiful. The ammo and resources to make these things, are not. Every bullet spent, is the potential bullet you should have saved for the next guy. Survival and resource management is important!
So I’ve got the basics down, and I’ve encountered a few different types of infected. I find myself happy to put the game down from time to time, but that’s mostly because I’m quite invested now, and the stress of another bad-guy filled section is enough for me to sigh and think that it’s too much for Joel (me!) today.
I was a little surprised to find that Joel has some kind of hearing ability, which allows you almost sonar-like abilities, to see silhouettes of enemies through walls within the vicinity. With the game being so gritty and realistic, it was a little jarring to begin with. It isn’t a deal breaker, and honestly, I use it all the time. I just didn’t expect The Last of Us to employ something like that.
I haven’t covered the aesthetic or the audio, but I don’t think I’m even half way through yet. I’ll be coming back to either do the usual “further” and “final” thoughts, or perhaps just a “final thoughts”. I can’t compare it to the original PS3 release of The Last of Us, but that isn’t too important. What matters is how it presents itself as a finished article, remastered or not.
There’s a lot to cover, and I’m not sure one piece is enough to justify it. Let’s see how I get on, and see if it ends up as good as it has started out to be.