The Last Of Us Review
It says a lot about the state of shooters that the most refreshing thing about The Last Of Us is the limited amount of time spent pointing a gun at someone’s head.
For a change we don’t have increasingly difficult enemy variants to headshot, convenient locations for reinforcements to suddenly appear from or a bit with an on-rails mounted turret.
For once it’s more about surviving, than shooting.
The Last Of Us is special. Not in an arty-farty ‘oh-the-story-is-so-deep’ kind of way, but in that it doesn’t cater to common tropes, it simply does what it wants to do – popular consensus be-damned. For that alone it deserves your attention.
Had you not been keeping up, then know that The Last Of Us is set during the aftermath of a viral pandemic, turning the majority of the world’s population into parasitic zombies or selfish (and aggressive) bandits.
You’ll play Joel, a 20-year survivor of said pandemic; handy with a gun, more than a little bit surly and a smuggler. And not the Robin Hood kind.
The Story Of The Last Of Us
The story focuses on Joel’s journey as he takes his young ward, Ellie, from one side of an American wasteland to the other, encountering the trials and tribulations that you might expect along the way.
And that’s all we’ll say about the details of the story. It’s a large part of why you’ll play, truth be told, and Naughty Dog has excelled itself both in terms of characterisation, animation and general quality of storytelling.
If Uncharted is Michael Bay, The Last Of Us is the Cohen Brothers: character-driven, plot focused and not always derivative of its forebears.
So we’re not about to spoil the events of The Last Of Us. They probably won’t shock or awe, but they do help solidify Joel and Ellie as characters, both as individuals and as a pair.
Part of the skill of Naughty Dog’s storytelling comes in its pacing, carefully picking moments of tension and moments of exploration. This is a wasteland, after all, and scavenging will play a large part of it.
From Boston, With Love
The Last Of Us is fairly clear-cut about when you need to be aware; it’s obvious when there are enemies to overcome or not, but that’s to its benefit.
This is primarily a stealth game. Taking on a large group of enemies with a little too much bombast will only end in your demise.
In fact, play the game on a harder difficulty and each ‘arena’ of sorts will become puzzle-like in nature as you strategise the best solution to particularly challenging sections.
Will you grab bottles and bricks to stun enemies for an easy finishing melee attack, or use a cautiously placed Molotov to take out three enemies out at once?
Even weighing up the types of enemies is important, too. A bandit with a melee weapon can only charge in, but can you get to him without attracting the attention of the guard with a rifle on the ledge opposite?
The zombies come in different forms, too. Brain-addled Runners, for example, are recently turned zombies that charge at you once their line of sight meets a Joel-shaped silhouette.
Clickers can no longer see, but are more resistant to melee attacks and can only be stealth-killed with crafted shivs.
Though you’ll have a preference, each encounter is a series of considered options; your ammo, your equipment, your craftable materials.
Combat, Crafting And The Last Of Us
Crafting, in fact, is a huge part of the game. Smartly picking clean an area of supplies with give you an added edge, enabling you to build smoke bombs, nail bombs, Molotovs, shivs and more.
Play slowly and you’ll become an unstoppable force.
Unfortunately The Last Of Us can feel a little repetitive at times. The inclusion of a noise detection mode – shorthand for an ability to see through walls – means any potential fear or lack of preparation is washed away by the fact you can trace enemies as they navigate the environment.
It’s likely included for the sake of accessibility, however, since it can be deactivated in the options menu. If you want to feel panic with every corner you take in The Last Of Us, we’d highly recommend disabling this feature.
Each encounter plays out largely the same, however, and it doesn’t matter if you’re up against zombies or bandits, there’s always cover to creep around and patrolling patterns to learn.
It’s a slight tar on an otherwise exceptional combat system. Gunplay is weighty and imprecise – the way you’d expect any ‘normal’ person to be after an apocalypse – while fisticuffs is brutal. Stealth suffers from the same flaws of most stealth games but, on the whole, is still an enjoyable experience.
But What Of The Last Of Us’ AI?
One thing we should point out is the reactive AI that had been shown at various conferences doesn’t seem to have made it into the final game.
Enemies seem to have an endless supply of ammunition – which you can’t even collect after a battle – and won’t think twice about opening fire. There’s no sense that your enemies need to conserve ammo as much as yourself.
As a result it means that, if a gunfight does breakout, you’re only option is spend your hard-earned bullets resolving the situation or restart the encounter.
Ignoring the promised depth of AI that had been seen previously – sometimes these things don’t work out, we won’t criticise The Last Of Us for that – it does fly in the face of the world that Naughty Dog has built.
Speaking of which, this plant/zombie universe that has been realised doesn’t quite feel as fully realised as we’d have hoped.
The problem is Naughty Dog’s reliance on cutscenes. As brilliant as they are – and honestly, they’re some of the best, most emotive cutscenes you’ll see for a long time – they remove some of the impact this harsh world could’ve had.
The World Of The Last Of Us
There are no shades of grey presented for the player to react to in The Last Of Us. Suspicion is provided through Joel or Ellie, never through our interaction with the world. It’s never our suspicion.
Bandits are always bandits, never people. The few survivors you do meet along the way act as little more than decoration to a scene rather than fellow comrades in a difficult world.
Had Naughty Dog handed a little extra choice to the player – or perhaps a bit of control – its world would’ve felt that bit more real, but instead you’re left to react to the decisions your on-screen characters make, controller sat quietly in your hand.
“Things just happen… and you move on,” claims Joel during the game, as much his own personal mantra to surviving a zombie apocalypse as an adage for the level of interaction you’ll have throughout The Last Of Us.
It’s a shame because there’s clearly a lot of effort gone into building a deep universe, yet no amount of collectable memorabilia can hide the fact that you’re watching a story be told rather than playing one.
It seems we’re back to the story, but then that is a large focus of the game. It is what makes The Last Of Us so special.
Its pacing won’t appeal to everyone – this is a comtemplative experience – but The Last Of Us is brave and deserves to be rewarded for such.
Version tested: PS3.
The Last Of Us also features a multiplayer component and, though entertaining, isn’t quite as important to the overall experience. This is largely a single-player game.
You can read our hands-on of The Last Of Us multiplayer to find out more.