Game: The Last of Us
Publisher/Developer: Sony/Naughty Dog
Genre: Survival horror
Describe This Game in Three Words: This will hurt
Plot Synopsis: Twenty years after the world is overrun by a strange fungus that turns people into savage zombies (And worse), the survivors live under dictatorial rule in the few quarantine zones. One such survivor is Joel, who stumbles across a young girl named Ellie that may hold the key to overcoming the disease. Now Joel and Ellie must evade the monsters, both living and undead, as they cross America in the name of hope.
Up Up: We're entering what is obviously the top of what the seventh generation systems are capable of, so whatever we see released for the PS3 between now and Christmas is almost by definition the best that the system can do. Tomb Raider, Sleeping Dogs, and now The Last of Us stand as immersive artistic masterpieces that blur the little bit of line left between cinema and video game.
The game starts off in classic horror mode, but is so expertly set up that transitions between cut scenes and actual play are almost seamless. The voice acting is top-notch, and brings home the sheer unholy mess that this particular end of the world encompasses in a way that will stop your heart.
Most games of this scope, even Naughty Dog's own Uncharted series, have locations that seem exotic and slightly fantastic. Not Last of Us. Care has been taken to make the ruined towns and cities look exactly how you would expert civilization's rot look. Every minute is terrifying because it is just so real. Even the puzzle mechanics feel organic and unforced, even if the idea of a 14-year-old who can't swim but can drive a manual transmission post-apocalypse takes a little believing.
Last of Us definitely rewards the cautious but brave player. Avoiding enemies while still managing to scrounge for supplies and training manuals to improve your skills feels like an enormous accomplishment. Every single safe point you make it to becomes a badge of honor.
Down, Down: There's no beating around the bush, the game is hard. Even on the easy setting you will be dying a lot. The game encourages you to not get into firefights because taking down enemies with guns is difficult, and resources are stretched very thin. You're pretty tough, but all the second tier undead enemies, the skin-crawlingly disgusting clickers, can immediately kill you just by touching you.
There are still plenty of places where the game forces you into firefights, though, and here there is some real breakdown. Let's say you perfect playing as Batman and silently eliminate all your enemies without ever alerting them that a killer is hunting them. If that's you, then you're going to be un-tested for when you have to take on armed human gangs.
On the other hand, if you manage to get good at the more direct approach, you're still at a disadvantage. Armed enemies don't drop much guns or ammo as logic dictates they should. Worse yet, clickers can only be taken out in close combat with a homemade shiv to the skull. You have to find or make those, for a long time you're limited to three at a time, and they break. All your melee weapons break, actually. Even Chris Redfield started with a good hunting knife, but they're nowhere to be found in this world.
These mechanics do make for some very tense gameplay, but at times they're a little nonsensical.
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Left, Right, Left, Right: The game's controls are purposely designed to simulate the pain in the ass it would be to have to constantly switch weapons from a back pack, encouraging you to look for ways to upgrade to holsters to make it easier. Yet another reason not to turn enemy encounters in gunfights, at least in the beginning. Aside from that, moving Joel is fluid, spotting your next step is a snap, and hand to hand combat in particular is pretty awesome.
B, A: I have a much larger point to make on the violence in the game in another article, so stay tuned for later. Until then, I want to congratulate Naughty Dog for creating one of the most in-depth gay characters I have ever seen in a game. Joel's acquaintance Bill is a last man on Earth type of guy in a nearby town to the game's start who supplies Bill with salvage. He's rude, paranoid, but loyal and brave enough. It's only near the very end of your time with him that it's revealed that he's gay, and his infected partner hung himself. It's dealt with in a refreshingly matter-of-fact way that is just wonderful. Realistic portrayals of gay men are few and far between in gaming, though it's hoped that that will not be the case much longer.
Start?: This is not a game for the squeamish or the casual. You will be putting a lot of time into it, and much of that time will be spent cursing the clickers or the damned human hunters that prey on travelers. That plus the emotional rollercoaster makes for a hard game to like. If you can take it, you'll never regret playing the Last of Us, but only if you can take it.