The Last of Us is the kind of game people wait for. It’s worth waiting for, as well. For those concerned about spoilers, there will be none in this review.
The basic storylines of the game seems deceptively simple: a fungal apocalypse essentially destroys the world, with survivors holed up in quarantine zones. Twenty years on, said zones are downtrodden, oppressed, and Joel, a smuggler, is hired to bring a young girl out of one of the zones to a safer place. It’s no simple task- the world we see every day has crumbled, and is populated by crazed tribes of scavengers, fungal zombies, and plenty of dangers from the environments and injury alone. The initial outset of the game seems simple, but it’s deceptively complex at times.
Make no mistake, the game is gorgeous. A lot of work went into the design and visuals of every non-tunnel environment, and even some of the requisite sewers/tunnels/drainage pipes/etc. found in almost every game.Trees grow out of subway cars. Vines hang off of buildings. Simply sitting down, and looking around can be a game in and of itself, watching the ways that nature reclaims the world Joel inhabits. There’s all kind of subtle touches, from graffiti advice to an overgrown pool table- signs of careful thought, all laying a certain air of authenticity over the entire game. It feels overgrown. It feels neglected, rusted through, empty. On top of that, you’re not running through it at a breakneck pace, trying to catch glimpses of the scenery as you mow down yet another group of bad guys or infected.
The pacing of the combat in the game overall is a strange mix of desperate improvisation and careful, stealthy planning. Sometimes, you’re able to sneak up on your enemies, choke them to death or shiv them. Other times, you’re trapped in desperate brawls where you beat men to death with bricks and boards, whatever comes to hand. The combat isn’t poetic or gorgeous- it’s as ugly and brutal as they can make it. There’s nothing pretty about bottling a man, or stomping on their heads. The gritty atmosphere seeps into the combat, even at its cleanest, when you’re using a hunting bow to take a deer. There’s no simple flop of the enemy as you down them- and more to the point, the infected seem to be suffering every time you see them. The infected seem to be these horrible, enraged people in agony lurching and screaming towards you. It almost seems to be merciful to put them down; it’s just another thing to blur the lines between good and evil done in the game world.
However, far and away, the characters remain the best part of the game. Their decisions are informed. Their pasts are hinted at, and like any person with pain in their pasts, they hide it as best they can. Ellie steals the show, but upon a second playthrough, I found Joel’s subdued southern manner to be as likeable as Ellie or any other character. This really is an understated game- a lot of the cues are subtle and can be easily missed. There’s no Gears of War style HE MURDERED MY FATHER KILL HIM blunt-force story. This game definitely fits in with the idea that games can be nuanced and subtle, while exploring serious topics. It touches on everything from the manifestation of PTSD to father-daughter relationships. You can’t help but wince as Joel keeps Ellie at a distance, or how Ellie does her best to cheer him up when things seem grim.
Overall, The Last of Us is a Game of the Year contender, easily. My few quibbles are largely minor; 9mm revolver? Don’t you mean .38? Small things, with the singular exception of the multiplayer. I look at the idea of multiplayer in a game like this as I looked at the multiplayer on Spec Ops: The Line. Which is to say something cancerous, and dragging the entire game down. Canned (silenced, for those unfamiliar with the vernacular) pistols and burst rifles? Do those weapon options seem in line with the austere vision of the blighted future? The entire point of a large proportion of the Last of Us is spent surviving with only the barest supplies, duct-taping broken scissors to lengths of pipe because you have a dozen rounds of ammunition spread across four guns. You struggle, you fight, you bleed to live another few minutes with a brick in one hand, two rounds in the handgun stuffed down your tattered jeans. The Last of Us is a great game, but its singular weakness is the multiplayer; nothing breaks your vision of the world of the game like being killed by xx420StonedTesticleHunter420xxx in a multiplayer match. Overall, anyone who owns a PS3 should own this game if they have any love of story or gaming. It’s a grim, beautiful, subtle vision of a post apocalyptic world.