Summer is here and it’s time for us Brits to get terrible sunburn, complain how hot it is, to ignore hosepipe bans and drink in beer gardens. For the gaming community however this means the great drought. Where we are forced to leave our darkened bedrooms and encounter the big fiery ball in the sky for the first time in a year. Yes summer is notorious for the lack of new releases and gamers have been known to go crazy in the heat until September provides them with their much needed fix.
But this year has been somewhat different. Streets appear deserted. Curtains are drawn in almost every home. Where have all the people gone? Is it the Zombie apocalypse? Well almost. For those of you who haven’t cottoned on to which game I am referring, let me take great pride in introducing you to Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us.
Before I begin, if you haven’t played The Last of Us turn away now, go to your nearest games shop and make this your only purchase of the day. This review may contain spoliers for which I apologise.
The Last of Us is exclusively available on the PS3 and the storyline, which has sent everyone into a frenzy of excitement, is fundamental to the whole experience. Imagine all of your favourite – yet pivotal scenes from games over the last decade. John Marston and the fated ending to Red Dead Redemption, the heart strings pulled when you lose Jason in Heavy Rain, the ending to Telltales Walking Dead series, Aerith dying in Final Fantasy 7. All of these examples have been stunning moments that have helped set apart each of these fabulous games. But what about a game that constantly has these moments throughout? A game that is an exciting roller-coaster that seems to endlessly find a new way to twist the knife? A game that at times is familiar in tone and characterisation, but still offers something new. The Last of Us is certainly that game. At times it may be predictable but nonetheless it always manages to deliver a high emotional impact that audiences simply cannot ignore.
Visually the game is one of the most beautiful looking games of all time. The level of detail to characters, the dirt on their faces are almost palpable to players. Environments, lighting and textures envelope you. In fact, you could spend hours just roaming the streets or forests and not feel short changed by the game at all.
Naughty Dog’s Last of Us is a glorious cinematic powerhouse that truly understands the undertones of the human soul. A mysterious infection has swept across the world turning people into wild fungus contorted looking creatures. Inevitably zombie comparisons will be drawn. The remaining survivors will perhaps count themselves the unlucky ones as they have to struggle to survive. Living day by day is a hardship in itself. Most of the major cities are either abandoned or in lockdown by a totalitarian government who intend to prevent the risk of further infection.
Whilst the game’s storyline is set in a world where people have become infected by an unknown disease, the main theme is not about mankind’s struggle to survive, but man’s struggle to live, especially with each other. This is summed up by the games three chief characters. Joel, Ellie and Tess.
Joel is our main protagonist who arguably goes through the biggest journey. Deeply affected by the events that have taken place, Joel is often loyal yet will repel anyone who may get too close. He, by far, is the most interesting and conflicted individual in the game. Tess is strong and independent yet knows that to survive, Joel is necessary to have around. There are suggestions that Joel and Tess are a couple but more due to a similar mind set and forced circumstances than an actual loving relationship. To me this is an incredibly refreshing take on the standard couple dynamic and is symbiotic to their situation. Would these two have even met if the world hadn’t have fallen apart? Would their attitudes and approach to each other be different? In a world where desire doesn’t exist because need is the only way of life, The Last of Us often plays down any sexual tension throughout the game. Instead reverting to the subtle nuances between people. Characters who can convey everything with one look – yet say nothing – only helps to add to the realism of the game world.
But Joel and Tess’ routine is knocked for six when they encounter Ellie. Joel and Tess must smuggle Ellie out of the main city and across America to meet up with the Fireflies (rebels in the eyes of the new government). Ellie is young and naive but certainly not innocent. She approaches the world with warmth and optimism as if seeing it all for the first time but knows the world isn’t all roses, we discover she has seen her fair share of hardships and we see more of them in the perilous journey ahead. Joel and Tess soon realise they are not just fighting for themselves anymore but for something much bigger, a family perhaps? Now, for the first time in years, they all have something to live for.
The game mechanics don’t exactly offer anything new but they are all executed incredibly well making gameplay intelligent and tense. By that I mean that The Last of Us is quite a tactical game. You must scavenge for parts, forging weapons and stealthily (or not) take out your opponents to safely guide Ellie through the various locations across America. Players, primarily, control Joel throughout and will see you either pitched against infected humans or hunters. Hunters are cut off from the rest of society and would kill you on sight for your possessions. Civilisation and a colonised state are ideals that have clearly been thrown out of the window. If it wasn’t for your companions you would feel that the whole world is against you.
Fighting your own species and the infected all reflect man’s inner monster. At times you question who is the more evil, the infected or your fellow humans? Or perhaps yourself? You discover throughout your long journey how similar you may be to the rest of the world despite feeling isolated. The amount of people you kill just to survive or protect is no different to the vicious acts that your enemies inflict upon each other. But once again this comes to the realism and grey areas that TLOU likes to play around with. No character or plot is two dimensional, in fact there are so many layers within each major scenario that this has lead to some interesting discussions across the net about every character’s decision. Particularly Naughty Dog’s decision around the ending. As a result we at Twinstickgaming have written a further two conflicting articles to the ending of the game which you can view soon on our website www.twinstickgaming.com to get an idea of what we mean.
This game is much more than a standard survival horror and it’s pacing is exemplary. The makers know exact when to scare, build tension, extend plot elements and develop character interaction. Once the waters of repetition are disturbed the game will effortlessly shift pace without drawing attention to itself. The cinematic and thematic moments seamlessly flow into the gameplay itself, creating an immersive and engaging experience. You will be left stunned by the opening (I even cried, proper man tears), devastated by events that befall your characters and yet you will be left guessing. For me TLOU is one of few games that doesn’t talk down to its audience or spend any time explaining itself. The game tackles hard issues like life and death, depravity, cannibalism, oppression and man’s need to do anything to survive. Hence the game’s visceral violence. For those with a weak stomach, you probably should avoid this game. Whilst there are far more violent games out there, such as GTA or God of War, there is a real sense of pain that goes through you when someone is stabbed or bones break. Further adding to the authenticity of the game.
As many will undoubtedly know, The Last of Us received 10 out of 10 almost entirely across the board – and rightly so. The game is a masterpiece; perhaps the most engaging, dramatic and well paced game I’ve played on current gen. The flaws to this game are so minor they are barely worth mentioning. Occasionally your companion AI will do something stupid, it only happened once or twice to me, but Ellie did run in view of the enemy but somehow, due to the game design, remained unseen. This can sometimes ruin the tension but it is much better than the AI undoing all of your hard work by alerting the enemy, which has plagued so many other games. Joel also never gets a bad back. You spend a majority of the game crouched listening through walls for hunters etc that standing up is a bit of a novelty. Stupid to point out but you’ll soon realise that the crouch button is your best friend hence why you’ll forever be in crouch mode.
Furthermore, there are only three types of infected meaning that despatching your enemies can become a little repetitive a times. This does not undermine the difficultly of fighting the infected and the lack of variety is counter balanced by the human enemies who use various tactics and weapons to overpower you. And finally, just to be really picky I will bring up wall hugging. Searching for parts, ammo and health packs is essential, especially later on in the game when they become few and far between. Every time you enter a room you will automatically slam yourself against the wall hitting the triangle button in the hope that some cupboard door will open up with a host of goodies inside. (Try the game on hard mode however, and most of these goodies vanish.)
But seriously that is it for negatives. This is all I could find that I thought let the game down and this is only marginally because The Last of Us is heaped in brilliance. So far, this year hasn’t really delivered, with many new or re-booted titles falling way short of expectation and with everybody’s eye turning to the new consoles it is a remarkable achievement Sony and Naughty Dog have brought to us. At the end of the current gen cycle we have perhaps witnessed one of the greatest games of all time. Not just in terms of drama, tension and gameplay but one that has lead us to question the very essence of games and how they should be made. So with summer being the cause of drought The Last of Us has certainly quenched our thirst and restored faith that games are still a relevant and evolving medium. However, the game industry has been left with a problem, how will it make a game better than The Last of Us?
TwinStickGaming will have further articles on all things Last of Us so keep your eyes peeled