For me the zombie/end of the world genre has (literally) been done to death. Endless movies, tv shows, toys, comics, games, zombies, zombies, zombies…we get it. Enough already. So it was with great hesitation that I dove into The Last of Us, yet another foray into the tired flesh eating end of the world category. Admittedly, the only reason I did was because of the games amazing developer, Naughty Dog, who are responsible for one of my favorite gaming series of all time, Uncharted. And I’m glad I did give The Last of Us a chance, as it is easily the most cinematic and ambitious video game ever created.
Naughty Dog is in top form here with The Last of Us, creating a complex, character driven story, that never hesitates to punch you square in the gut. Also, there are zombies…but the zombies in this game are unlike any previously brought to the mainstream so far. In The Last of Us, zombies are a direct correlation to a naturally occurring fungi called cordyceps, which infect the brain of its host via spores and create a sort of madness in it. As a consequence anyone who is bitten by these “zombies” or exposed to the spores becomes infected.
(The very real cordyceps fungi infesting an ant colony)
There are various types of infected, all of which are extremely fast, deadly and eerily clever, but, zombies aside, you also have to deal with an even greater threat here, human beings. With civilization completely destroyed, people have become merciless survivors that form raid parties or gangs to stay alive. Betrayal is common and trust is hard to come by. Killing is no longer a moral conundrum, it’s merely a survival reflex action. As the gamer along for this ride, this helps create a very intense sensation of being alone in this giant world. With all of the dangers of parasitic monsters roaming around, you still have to worry about a seemingly normal passerby who might be even more of a threat to you. The Last of Us, NEVER gives you a second to let your guard down, you constantly have to be alert and the feeling of impending doom this creates is palpable.
(clickers are an extremely deadly form of infected who use a type of sonar to locate their prey)
While the plot of The Last of Us could simply be described as “escorting a girl who is seemingly immune to the infection, to an underground organization to harbor a cure” it is so much more than that. Protagonists Joel and Ellie are wonderfully brought to life in this game through a brilliant script, voice acting and facial animations. Hell, the initial 10 minute introduction to the game kicks things off with such an amazing display of pacing, urgency, character development and soul crushing tragedy, that it rivals what most big budget Hollywood movies can do with 2+ hours of screen time.
The Last of Us in terms of game play is very similar to Uncharted, as such, it’s 3rd person perspective is flawlessly executed control wise, largely in part to a beautifully responsive camera system. Weapons and ammunition are extremely difficult to come by, so every combat scenario has to be treated like a chess match and requires copious amounts of forethought. There is a also a brilliant upgrade system for your weapons which make a tremendous impact on damage, handling etc. In addition, strong stealth mechanics are implemented to make up for the lack of ammunition and while this is also flawless in its execution, it can also be frustrating when facing off against multiple armed opponents in close combat situations. I went through my first play through on the hard setting and found myself dying frequently in combat, not due in any part to a flaw in the game, just the brilliant a.i. of my attackers. As someone who enjoys a challenge, I absolutely relished in this. Gameplay is not without its minor complaints however, as you can only push someone on a pallet across water (because Ellie can’t swim), or boost someone up onto a ledge so many times without finding it a bit mundane and repetitive.
All in all, The Last of Us is without a doubt, an absolute must have for any Playstation 3 owner and one hell of a good reason to go out and buy one if you don’t already own one yet. Developer Naughty Dog continues to show their dominance in creating uniquely gorgeous cinematic gaming experiences that are full of believable characters, living, breathing worlds and unrivaled realism.
The Last of Us wondrously manages to take a tired and played out genre and make it relevant again, it’s a beautiful and terrifying journey into tragedy, survival, loss and letting go. It could very well be the most important video game ever created in terms of narrative and character development and shows that this uniquely immersive form of entertainment needs to start being given the respect it deserves.
Sock Talk Jon gives The Last of Us a 10 out of 10