I’ve never written a review for a video game although I’ve read plenty of them. I’ve just never written one. In typical fashion, those who make a living writing reviews for video games, often get technical at one point or another. I’m not going to get technical during this piece. Sure, I’ll touch down on what the game looks like, but I’m not going to go all crazy and talk about pixels per inch or how a game could have looked better had it used more parallel projection. OK, I just googled “video game terms” and that came up. I have no idea what it means and it doesn’t matter to me either.
I first discovered The Last of Us while at my nephew’s house a couple of years ago. I was thinking of upgrading my PS3 to a PS4 and he said to me, “If you do, get The Last of Us. It’s the best game I’ve ever played.” He popped the disc in and showed me the first 10-minutes of the game. I wasn’t overly impressed by it at the time but, after playing it, he wasn’t wrong.
A few weeks went by and I purchased my PS4 at a local Target. Coincidentally, it came with a free digital download of The Last of Us. Once the system was set up and once tying it to my existing PSN account, I downloaded the game and began to play.
I immediately noticed the upgrade from the PS3 to PS4, at least in terms of how good things looked. The PS3 was only able to display 720p at 30 frames per second (fps), whereas the PS4 goes to 1080p at 60 fps, enhancing image detail and providing improved fluidity to all motion.
The game starts with a somewhat short cinematic. We’re introduced to Joel and his 12-year daughter, Sarah. After giving him a new wrist watch for his birthday, it’s off to bed for the both of them. Sometime very early in the morning, Sarah wakes up to an empty house. As she gets out of bed, the transition is handed over to the player. You’re now exploring the house as Sarah. This is done flawlessly and is one of the game’s highlights. Cinematics are used to drive the story with seamless transition of control over to the player. It felt like I was participating in a movie or guiding the events of a movie. After finding her father and leaving the house, a tragedy ensues changing the course of Joel’s life. I’ll leave it at that to keep this a spoiler free review.
Twenty years later, Joel wakes up in a darkened warehouse of sorts. It’s here we’re introduced to Tess, the adult female interest in the story. We also learn that the world isn’t what it used to be. The earth is now plagued by a disease infecting the brain of roughly 60% of the planet, or in this case, the United States. This disease has turned normal people into crazed killers. I won’t go into the details here, but you’ll want to steer clear of the “clickers” when you hear them. They’re a vicious, nasty bunch.
Tess and Joel are off to see a man who we learn took their weapons cache. This encounter does not end well for the man, but we do get introduced to Marlene at this point. We see that killing is a way of survival in this new world and it helps set the tone for the rest of the game. Both Joel and Tess are acquaintances of Marlene. She has a task for them if they’re to get their weapons back. This task is to escort a young girl by the name of Ellie to a group of survivors named The Fireflies. Joel is extremely hesitant to do this as he has emotional issues regarding his daughter Sarah, and Ellie is a reminder of a life Joel left behind.
Tess, however, is adamant that she and Joel get this girl to her destination, so Joel doesn’t have much of a say in the situation. We learn later in the story that Ellie was bitten by one of the infected but hasn’t turned. In other words, she’s an extremely good candidate to be used to develop an antiserum. With that, I’ll leave the story here with the intent to not give any more of it away.
I’ve often said that there are two important elements in game production: gameplay and storyline. In the case of The Last of Us, both are at the top of their game (no pun intended). The story here seems simple and basic at first. It’s just an adventure game moving from point to point. It is however, complex at times and plays to the emotional side of things, often in unexpectedly poignant ways. The relationship between Joel and Ellie is clearly drawn as father and daughter, but Joel refuses to play along for most of the adventure.
About mid-way through the story, Joel is badly injured so things take two unexpected turns. First, you’re now playing Ellie for the first time in the dead of winter. This is a fantastic and welcomed shift in perspective. Second, things turn to the dark side because we’re introduced to a seemingly very nice male character who turns out to be the villain – a mean, nasty, vicious man. I found this to be an interesting change of pace and a risk from a game design point of view. A risk that pays off tremendously well.
As far as gameplay and graphics go, this one is amazing, especially considering it’s officially an older game from the previous generation of consoles and the dawn of 4K gaming has begun. The Last of Us was first released on the PS3 in June of 2013, then remastered and re-released on the PS4 in July of 2014. I can’t make direct visual comparisons between the two because I never played the PS3 version of the game; however, I’ll provide an image below for you to compare the difference. You can see that Joel’s face looks more life-like on the PS4 compared to the PS3 version of the game.
As far as gameplay goes and, while I played through the game just fine, the user interface (UI) feels a little clunky. With a wide array of weapon choices at your fingertips, the UI could have been improved and hopefully will be in the upcoming sequel The Last of Us 2. There are work benches spread throughout the game allowing Joel or you as the player to upgrade weapons in your inventory. You do this by collecting junk such as tape, metal bits and other similar things while playing through the game. This is a nice addition for variety and customization that doesn’t present itself as too difficult.
As of this writing, I’ve played through the game twice on the default difficulty level. My goal for 2017 and before the release of The Last of Us 2, whenever that might be, is to play one more time through at a higher difficulty level, maybe even on Survival level, but not Grounded mode as I hear that’s a real bitch to get through.
To summarize, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us remains a groundbreaking piece of gaming entertainment. It takes storyline and gameplay to new heights, blending them together seamlessly. It’s like playing in a movie and not playing a video game. It’s that good and extremely fulfilling.
“It’s the best game I’ve ever played” – my nephew wasn’t wrong.
If you enjoyed this piece or played the game, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
Contributed by Mike Murphy