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Review: The Last of Us

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There has been many post-apocalyptic video games lately, and it almost seems as if the genre has been revitalised with new gusto – which is a good thing. But The Last of Us isn’t newly as new as people might think, as the action-adventure survival horror was first announced two years ago. With all the hype surrounding it, is it as great as people are hoping for?

A screenshot of Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us (image: Naughty Dog)

What we like about it

The menu screen of the title is deceptively peaceful, with greenery growing around a quiet windowsill and a curtain waving gently in a soft breeze. But delving straight into the action, the opening sequence and the following events very quickly establish exactly what the player is in for.

From the onset, players are thrust into a situation in which they will feel slightly uncomfortable, guiding a pre-teen girl trapped in a world that is starting to unravel very quickly. Walking through the eerie silence of her home at 2am while she confusingly search for her missing father has been perfectly designed the unsettle the player’s nerves – establishing the circumstances for the rest of the title.

Even at the early stages, the graphics are simply superb – a great deal of attention has been paid to even the smallest of details. In the section where main character Joel and his daughter (Sarah – controlled by the player), and his brother Tommy, travel by car, players will be able to look all around them. But what makes this excellent, is the fact that Sarah will act like a real person, holding onto the back of the front seats, the window armrests and the back seat as she turns around in the moving vehicle. It’s not just the camera that’s moving, it’s the whole character.

In terms of plot, the title zips forward 20 years after the outbreak of a deadly fungus that has plagued humanity, and all but nearly wiped out the Earth’s population. Fighting for their survival, Joel (the main character) teams up with other survivors to make ends meet – but it all soon takes a turn for the worst.

It’s naturally much more complicated than what is eluded to in the opening levels, and players will have to go through some truly testing sections. But a good thing about the general plot is that it’s established early in the title, and unravels as the player goes along.

Being a third-person title, players will get a good overview of the terrain and levels, and actions that need to be completed. While performing actions, players are guided towards what they need to do, but the beauty of The Last of US is that they gently show players what to do or what to use, instead of thrusting an action-point onto them.

For instance, when a ladder needs to be used, a small icon will appear at the top of the ladder, and if players don’t pay attention, they might miss it. It’s great that the title is gentle with decisions, instead of making the player feel that they are compulsory.

Joel will have to take on creatures as well as deranged humans (image: Naughty Dog)

The parasitic fungi that is wafting through the city’s dank corridors and alleyways have turned some citizens into blood-thirsty killers – transforming them into different kinds of grotesque beasts and human-eating creatures.

Taking on these creatures around nearly every turn, players will have an option to either attack them head-on, or to employ a stealth strategy to sneak by unnoticed. Both option will have varying results, but it’s entirely up to the player on how to handle the situation.

Getting away from them is going to be tough, and navigation is another aspect where the game doesn’t coddle the player – providing no mini-map, direction for progress or even a general direction in which to go. That is completely up to the player to figure out.

And while there are different kinds of enemies – with varying degrees of difficulty – players will get hurt. There is a rather steep climb in the difficulty curve when changing settings, so players need to be prepared.

But unlike other titles where a button is pressed and the character is healed, Joel takes his time to apply the bandages to dress his wounds – leaving him even more vulnerable. When healing, players will have to find a quiet spot to perform the task.

It's not all doom and gloom, as Joel and Ellie venture into fresh air (image: Naughty Dog)

This is great for two reasons: it brings an aspect of realism to the title, and further enhances the panic state where the players feel defenceless while tending to their wounds. The same goes for reloading a weapon – it happens at almost real-time speed, with Joel taking his time to insert the cartridges.

But it’s not all lost – parts scattered across the levels, which Joel can pick up and use to upgrade the weapons he is carrying. Faster reload speeds, better wound dressing and improved aim all help him in his quest in getting away from the madness.

Besides the absolutely excellent graphics and gripping plot, there is another aspect of the title that isn’t as apparent. Being almost a third character on its own, the relationship between Joel and Ellie (revealed later in the game) has been carefully crafted to make players feel responsible for her life.

Even though Joel isn’t her father, players will feel his battles and struggles as the title goes on, as he takes care of her as if he was her father. It’s specifically design to put players in his shoes, and works beautifully with the title.

What we don’t like about it

As mentioned previously, the title provides no mini-map or direction for progress, and while this actually works, it can be a bit disorientating and confusing – especially when the bullets start flying and a Clicker is around. But then again, it’s for that exact purpose why it was designed that way.

The title can’t truly be faulted on any one aspect, but the character’s aiming of weapons could have been a bit better. Players might struggle to find the sweet spot and how to handle the sensitivity of aiming, but it will correct itself after a while.

While the over-arching plot is brilliant, some of the smaller missions or side-quests might feel like a bit of a grind, but luckily they don’t last very long and actually contribute small portions to the bigger scheme of things – which makes it bearable in the end.

Conclusion

The Last of Us is a carefully-crafted and beautifully curated masterpiece that encompass pretty much everything that an excellent game should be: stunningly beautiful graphics, a plot that would make for an excellent film, enemies that will scare and frighten the pants off anyone, and character development that’s worth of an Oscar.

No game is perfect and The Last of Us does have some small niggles here and there, but it’s completely forgivable. Players even remotely interested in the title should definitely add it to their collection, as we haven’t seen a game this stunning so far this year.

Our score: 9.2/10

http://youtu.be/XKcwNIPiGKc

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor

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