The Uncharted series is widely regarded as one of the best of our generation. It continues to captivate audiences with its superb storytelling, jaw-dropping visuals and irresistible game play. Uncharted, and other Playstation exclusives, has undoubtedly been the deciding factor for many consumers on the fence about purchasing a Playstation 3.
As the time for new generation consoles to take the scene draws nearer, developer Naughty Dog is again tasked with creating a title which truly exploits the hardware’s capabilities before focusing on the now current-gen PS4. They have certainly set a very high bar with their previous games, but will they manage to surpass all that and truly prove why they deserve to be at the top spot in game development?
Let’s find out.
The way The Last of Us looks on PS3 should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever played a Naughty Dog game before. If you haven’t, you will be blown away by the sheer beauty of the game. No other title on consoles looks as detailed and alive as this post-pandemic world. From the desolated streets to the freezing snow to the lifeless buildings; everything can and should be stared at in pure amazement.
Cut scenes are a whole other aspect of the game, and I must say, they are the best-looking I’ve ever seen in any video game to date. They really are, and what makes them so special are the facial expressions of the characters involved in them, to the point that you actually feel they could be real people. You can tell when someone’s angry, sad, happy or depressed just by looking at them, they way you would in real life.
The gorgeous visuals are heightened by a masterful sound design, which serves to increase dread in the various terrifying situations the game throws you into, highlight the characters´ thoughts and feelings, and set a tone that stays with you throughout and even after you’ve finished the game, one that portrays the hopelessness and desolation of the game’s setting. Furthermore, the superb theme brought to us by Gustavo Santaolalla is simple, yet runs deep with emotion and personality, and is enlightened by the stellar voice acting work by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson.
But let’s face it: none of that would matter if the game didn’t have a gripping story, one that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go easily. Storytelling has always been one of Naughty Dog’s best attributes, and they don’t disappoint here. But that is obviously an understatement: The Last of Us is truly a masterpiece of modern gaming, packing a plot capable of making you wonder who the bad guys really are, and undoubtedly begging the question: what would happen if humanity was struck with a deadly infection that left it crippled?
The game attempts to answer that question by placing us in the shoes of Joel, a smuggler tasked with escorting Ellie, a little girl who has more going for her than meets the eye, and the two embark on a desperate journey to safeguard the future of the world as we know it, encountering several threats along the way. “Escorting” is a word that couldn’t be farther from the truth, though, because you never, and I mean never, feel that Ellie is a little kid it’s your job to protect. She can most definitely hold her own, and I think players will be surprised as to how useful she actually turns out to be.
Which brings me to an important aspect of the title at hand: the star of the show, as many would refuse to believe, is not actually Joel, but Ellie herself. Throughout the 16+ hours my first play through lasted, I never stopped caring for her, watching out for her around every corner, and I can´t stress out enough how well Naughty Dog handled the character, not forcing you to treat her as someone you’re in charge of, but instead giving you time to build your relationship with her, until the moment you actually feel it’s your moral obligation to stay with her until the end.
Here´s a little anecdote I’ll allow myself to share with you: on the day I knew I was going to finish the game; I literally could not wait to get back home and see how the story came to a close. I’ve never been so emotionally gripped by a game, so much so that when I finally witnessed the closure of Joel and Ellie´s journey, I must say I felt a teeny bit disappointed. I didn’t think the ending did justice to the amazing game that lay behind it. But after giving myself a little time to reflex upon it, I realized the game ended perfectly, leaving much to the player’s own interpretation but, at the same time, making you think about what it implies as regards to the entire story you’ve just experienced. All in all, The Last of Us is a fantastic audiovisual treat followed up with a top-notch story that should be the envy of many Hollywood productions nowadays.
Let´s face it: survival horror in video games ain’t what it used to be, with old fan favorites like Resident Evil and Dead Space shifting to a more action-packed experience, leaving the dread and desperation of the genre to be handled by indie titles which, although really good, just can’t compete with AAA offerings. But fear no more, gamers (see what I did there?): The Last of Us has arrived and with it comes a great example of survival horror done right.
Traversing dark hallways with a handy flashlight was something so common during the past generation, but now it seems all but forgotten. However, Naughty Dog´s latest offering proves that action and horror can, in fact, blend seamlessly to create a truly engrossing experience, without one overshadowing the other in the process.
I´m not saying, mind you, that the game doesn’t have quiet moments where you really get to appreciate your surroundings, but it is the contrast between these and the relentless stages that truly make the game shine.
Anyone who´s ever played the Uncharted series should feel right at home here, seeing as Joel moves, aims and shoots much like Nathan Drake, which is really good. The controls feel smooth and responsive, and when you blow someone´s head off, you feel like you´ve caused a great deal of damage.
This brings me to another matter: the gore. There is plenty of it here, and I´m glad Naughty Dog didn’t stick with a “Teen” rating to please younger audiences. Instead, they crafted a deadly world and stuck with the idea that to survive in it, you can´t trust anyone and must do whatever it takes, and that sometimes mean getting your hands dirty.
Now, not everything is similar to Nathan Drake´s escapades, as Joel can switch between weapons in his backpack in real time, meaning there´s no pausing the game to do it, which really adds to the tension as you need to find the perfect time to do it or risk getting your head chewed off.
The title also packs a fresh crafting system to keep things interesting: Joel can combine items found in the environment to create deadly weapons and necessary supplies for his journey, and this simple yet deep idea reinforces the fact that scavenging is the name of the game in The Last of Us.
Among the piles of stuff you can find, there are certain special pills which serve to upgrade your abilities, from augmenting your hearing distance (a kind of Batman: Arkham City-esque see-through-walls) to increasing your health bar. These are vital to survive in the later stages of the game, where a single mistake could mean “game over”.
A big part of the story mode revolves around using stealth to get past the infected, and Naughty Dog handled it perfectly, introducing several different types of enemies, each requiring a different tactic to overcome. For instance, the clickers are blind but possess a super-human hearing capability, meaning you need to be extra quiet around them if you don´t want to die instantly, as one bite from them means game over. The runners and stalkers, however, are much more easy-going on you, and you can take them out with a little more ease, but if you run into a pack of them, that definitely means trouble.
Human enemies, on the other hand, will defend themselves with firepower, so running head-on towards them is probably not the best of ideas. Joel can cause distractions by throwing empty bottles or bricks at walls or nearby enemy locations, then take advantage of their confusion to slip past them, or, if you´re feeling extra destructive, mow them down with your guns.
Not everything is perfect during these sections though, as I sometimes found that, while you are completely out of view, Ellie may be running around in plain sight without getting discovered, which bugged me off a little and diminished my immersion while playing. Furthermore, there were tiny audio glitches scattered throughout the campaign, making characters omit lines that were clearly specified in the subtitles. None of these issues are game-breaking, of course, but they are noticeable.
As if a long and satisfying single-player mode with four difficulty levels and the inclusion of New Game+ wasn´t enough, the game also packs a multiplayer mode, making you choose between two different factions and battling it out against the opposite one in two different modes, Supply Raid and Survivors. The single player crafting system is transferred beautifully into the online experience, and the fact that both your character and your load out are fully customizable makes this portion of the game worth checking out, and that´s not mentioning the band of survivors you´ve got to maintain. Every successful match increases your band in size, while doing poorly lowers its numbers, and that aspect alone is innovating to say the least, since you no longer rely on kill/death or win/lose ratios to judge your performance. Of course, I don´t think anyone will play this game for its multiplayer component, but I would not recommend anyone to skip it, since it proved to be a really fun and different alternative to the campaign.
// The Verdict
The Last of Us is truly an epic masterpiece, one that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go until the very end, and that will likely stick with you for a long time, just like it did with me. Naughty Dog should be commended for leaving the Playstation 3 with arguably its best exclusive, joining the ranks of countless others and perhaps surpassing them all, and positioning the studio as one of the best developers around. The sheer quality of the title at hand is probably unrivaled as far as this generation goes, and it is definitely a serious contender for game of the decade. Yeah, it´s that good.