The Last of Us begins with an emotional opening sequence which sets the theme for the rest of the game, not to give away too much information to those who haven’t played the game. We are then located 20 years after the viral outbreak and placed in the shoes of survivor- Joel. Currently living a fairly quiet life based in a quarantine zone in Boston. Joel is soon to be pushed to his limits as he is hired to smuggle 14 year old Ellie out of the zone to find the Fireflies, an anti-government group trying to restore civilisation to the world.
Ellie’s personality is the entire opposite of Joel’s; when we first meet her, she’s joyful, adventurous and eager to greet the outside world. Their relationship is the main focus point, as we follow their brutal journey across the crumbling remains of America.
As Ellie and Joel progress through this harsh reality, we begin to see them develop, becoming closer together. Ellie is consistently curious about everything she views, questioning all the new substances around her. Regardless of the current situation; she still has a mature attitude towards all that’s happening around her. There isn’t time to be a child in this world. The very few moments when she has the chance to be are precious and important- so they tend to stick in your mind.
We’re soon lunged into multiple encounters with the infected, areas consisting of clickers (infected given their name due to the sound they make). These are one of the most terrifying enemies you encounter, as you shuffle slowly through poorly lit corridors, listening carefully for the possibility of one of them to slowly catch up behind you. They’re attracted to any sort of sound, if you happen to create even the slightest bit of noise, they will be hunting you down within seconds, creating a scene where only quick reactions will keep you alive. They can kill you almost instantaneously. If you think that was bad enough, they also alert every other infected in the nearby vicinity, exposing Joel’s current location. The enemies which will usually appear in these situations are known as runners and they will attack in large packs; they’ll continuously pound Joel if they reach him- trapping him making it difficult to escape and as a result Joel tends to end up losing a chunk of vital health depending on the games difficulty settings.
Another type of enemy includes the ‘hunters’ who are ruthless humans trying to survive, using any means necessary. They have formed large packs and live by killing anyone who enters their boundaries unwittingly. They give an impression vision of what ordinary people could really transform into when there’s nothing left to lose.
The combat system allows you to play around with different tactics; some situations are best matched for stealth, attacking enemies quietly from behind since Joel will take significant damage when running head first into an enemy. From experience, diving in with guns blazing typically turns out to be a bad idea. One gunshot will stop Joel in his tracks, slowing you down and causing you to take even more damage, getting stuck in these positions can often force you to run and hide to get a better advantage in tough situations.
Ellie is beneficial in fights although a non-playable-character for a good chunk of the game, she will warn Joel as to the position of enemies, which will allow you to have extra time to consider your options. She can also help when Joel’s in a severely bad situation by lugging bricks and bottles at enemies to stop them in their tracks. Occasionally Ellie will finish an enemy off, using her only weapon for a long period of the game, a knife.
Joel is clearly middle aged, his running is slow paced when out of battle, his movements are cumbersome and he lacks the ability to jump long distances, making you find ladders and planks of wood to reach difficult places and even relying on the help of allies especially Ellie to progress.
There are long stretches of the game where there is very little combat, which allows the player to look and experience the breath-taking surroundings, so few games take the time to do. This also allows time to scavenge useful items to ‘craft’ with. Crafting is an essential necessity throughout the game, such as medical supplies, smoke bombs, shivs and other necessities which can mean life or death during tricky encounters. Joel will also infrequently come across training manuals; these will upgrade your weapons capability which is certainly useful.
Some technical issues can take some of the realism away from the game, for example, Ellie or another companion will clearly walk into an enemy’s line of sight and they simply ignore her existence. But if her visual presence ignited combat each time, I’d rather they ignore her than produce an unwanted battle when otherwise avoidable.
Naughty Dog has created a story driven experience that will most certainly be remembered, this is something which future games should aspire to be. The Last of Us is a realistic representation of a catastrophic fungal outbreak. The harsh realities of what people will do in order to survive. However we have also been shown Ellie, proving that there is some decency left in the world, something that is truly worth fighting for.
SCORE: 9 out of 10
REVIEWED by: Rachel Ellis
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Released: June 14, 2013