This review consists of no spoilers at all and is based on two playthroughs:
One on Normal that took 14 hours.
One on Hard that took 16 hours.
The Last of Us is no video game; it is a sheer display of art.
For as long as I have praised gaming and loved the adventures I have been to, whether it is the marvelous treasure hunt found in the Uncharted series or the patriotism found in Metal Gear Solid:
I have found a game that has held me like no other.
The story in The Last of Us is the most mature, tense and most well told story I have ever experienced. This is the kind of story you will find in an excellent literary book. From the start to finish: TLOU never seizes to impress and it leaves an impression I will never, ever forget.
Being set in a post-apocalyptic world where cordyceps (a genus of fungus) has been evolving to attack humans and alter their behavior to what the universe refers to as the Infected: There is a real beautiful feeling of nature reclaiming its domain and it is nothing short of a marvel to witness. The infected create this tension within the game that along with the human encounters really make for a varied experience with amazing moments that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
From unrivaled storytelling to the ridiculously well done cinematics, Naughty Dog proves yet again that they are the greatest developer out there when it comes to telling a story. But what is truly interesting with The Last of Us, is that not only is the storytelling out of this world: So is the dilemma and overall ethics and morale decisions that the game awakens. Will you kill a man to end his suffering? Or will you save your bullets in order to survive with less effort?
Without going into spoilers: TLOU features one of the greatest stories I have ever taken a part of and it is due to several factors but most important of all: It is the interaction between Ellie and Joel that make you truly feel for these characters and the outcome of it.
I have never in my life been any more invested in the well being of a character as much as I have with these two protagonists. The dangers they face constantly reminds me of how lethal this world is and how at any moment: Something completely unexpected might happen. It is this realism and sense of fear that drives the player throughout the game. As most games drive on fun gameplay or interesting design: The Last of Us has you playing the game for the fear of these characters. You want to know what is going to happen to them and ultimately: You want to get to know them better.
The interactions between Joel and Ellie will leave you with a sense of love and affection that will linger for a long time to come. It is beautiful. It really is.
The Last of Us also goes on to further state that Naughty Dog is the greatest developer from a pure visually and technical standpoint. This is the best looking game on the Playstation 3 only rivaled by the likes of Uncharted 3. The amount of detail put into this fifteen hour game is nothing short of ridiculous. Whether it is the amazing lighting or the blood dripping from Joel as he is injured: TLOU offers a ridiculous amount of realism that I have never seen in a game to this date. The insane vistas and views you get of a lush and vegetated America as you pass through towards your ultimate goal: The Last of Us isn't just pretty, na-ah:
It is downright gorgeous.
While the Playstation 3 is showing its age and with new consoles on the horizon, one has to wonder how on earth a game on a seven year console can deliver such quality. It is baffling.
Likewise to the visuals, Naughty Dog has crafted an insane sound design that is nothing short of marvelous. Playing this game with a 7.1 surround stereo headset is the way to go. Every action from jogging, reloading, shooting, punching to the wind, water and infected is so well done, it immerses you into the world like no game before it.
The voice acting is of unparalleled quality as well. Troy Baker truly brings life to Joel. Ashley Johnson, (with this being her debut game and all) nails the performance as Ellie. I actually had to create a twitter account and send shout outs to the both of them in order to fully get my appreciation across. And it is not just the main cast but all the other supporting casts are fantastic and the way they play off of each other only further reinforces the fact that this game is something special.
The soundtrack and music by Gustavo Santaolalla has led to some of the most incredible pieces I have ever heard. It has introduced me to a new kind of music that I dismissed prior to this game. The Last of Us is a piece of art and if you ever need to remind yourself of what you just went through: Get the soundtrack and listen to it. I am actually listening to it currently as I am writing this and my heart is filled with emotions that I simply cannot express into words.
I realize how much this whole review is coming off as a love letter to Naughty Dog but quite frankly: I cannot help it.
The gameplay in The Last of Us is my favorite gameplay of any video game, by far.
It is groundbreaking in my eyes. While many of the mechanics are from other games, the way TLOU combines them is unseen in a game to date. The context sensual melee is insanely satisfying and was one of the main reasons to why I could enjoy Uncharted 3 over and over again. Not only is it making its return, it is also vastly improved. By having such a focus on gore and brutality, TLOU has every punch feel powerful and satisfying.
The ammunition for guns being scarce adds an extra dimension of how to tackle each situation. Having the situation not be restricted to what you can do but rather to what should you do in order to proceed without losing too much of supplies is an outstanding design choice from a gameplay perspective.
The guns also feel incredibly real and you are frightened once someone fires a bullet. The effect of being shot has you linger and get pushed back. This prevents any kind of guns blazing approach that so many games have which led to periods where I would avoid firing my gun due to the repetitive nature of it. It also eliminates the feeling of bullet sponges, endless spawns of enemies and so forth. The gameplay feels natural and even more importantly: It actually works and fits the theme of the world which is something many games do not do. The reason this is so important is because the time you spend in the world immerses you more and more. It ultimately helps you grow fond of the characters within it.
You can also craft various items to help you and with time, you can upgrade your weapons as well as upgrade certain actions Joel does to be more effective or faster.
I would also like to take the time to point out that the AI is without a doubt the most realistic AI that I have ever witnessed. There are so many combat scenarios that play out differently due to how the enemies' reacts based on what I am doing. It truly feels dynamic and unique. It also adds to the fact that rather than having many enemies to kill like most games, each kill feels real. You are taking lives in order to preserve your own. The combat design and area layouts are also a joy to play. There is so much one can do here and it truly feels like your own playground.
I have never felt quite the same after playing TLOU when it comes to other video games. They come across as shallow and rather dull. I miss the AI communicating between each other. Aside from minor hiccups from your friendly AI which I personally feel is barely worth mentioning: The AI is insane. It also adds to the interaction which drives the story and creates the amazing journey. How so? Because Ellie and other companions will actually aid you in midst of combat and it is not the kind of help you see in most games. The help here is very much appreciated and I cannot count the amount of times Ellie has jumped on a guy and saved my butt.
The lasting appeal:
What else is there to say?
The singleplayer is memorable and offers so many ways to tackle each situation. You will find a lot of time to be spent here with an original playthrough being around 15 hours; this is a ton of content. There is also a vast amount of collectibles one can get as well as some minor yet fun unlockables such as skins and different color tones.
The game also has multiplayer! I have yet to dive into it but I don't have to. You see, this game is as masterful as a game can get and while I strongly feel one should score the overall product as all of what it offers: This game is a masterpiece and I simply have to let the world know of my own thoughts and inner feelings. Make no mistake however: I plan on playing the multiplayer rather much.
How, Naughty Dog? How?
I cannot understand how this developer goes and shatters my expectation, game after game. As far as I am concerned, not only are we getting the luxury of playing a game that is made by the best developers in the world, we get to play THE best game this world has ever seen.
The game is not perfect, no game is. But it is as good as I can imagine a game to be.
Ellie and Joel... You have a special place in my heart and as corny as it may be:
I love you for it.
(not a representation of the final score)
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Overall: 11/10 - "A masterpiece that trumps the frikkin' scale"