I have never played a game in one sitting, but The Last of Us pulled me in and never let go from the start of my 16 hour journey with this phenomenal game. I will be up front and say that I strongly believe that The Last of Us is the best game I have ever played, and easily takes my top slot for my favorite game ever played. The question is how did it do that with such ease?
You play as Joel, a hard-edged southern man who sees the world torn apart by a disease called Cordyceps Unilateralis, a mushroom-like fungus that takes over a person’s brain causing them to lose control of their body and mind. At his side is Ellie, a charismatic fourteen year old girl who’s personalty is almost exactly opposite of Joel’s. Ellie was born into the infected world, it’s all she knows. Joel, someone who knows of both worlds and Ellie who only knows the infected one creates a wonderful dynamic for intriguing dialogue throughout the journey. At one point in the game she mentions how she had never been in nature before and comments on how beautiful it is. It’s these moments where The Last of Us shine because with the use of Ellie, Naughty Dog is able to cleverly ask thought provoking questions that apply directly to the world we live in. It also helps that Ellie isn’t a mindless companion who follows you around on the trek, she comments on almost everything you come across in the world, and in combat isn’t a burden to have around. It doesn’t feel like she holds you back at all, and she will even help you out by pointing an enemy’s location or throwing an object at one to stun them. Joel, Ellie, and their story gives the game an amazing amount of realism like no other game I have ever played.
The narrative that is the backbone of The Last of Us and most of all it is one about a journey; a journey about a man and a girl unwillingly forced upon each other and how they came to care for one another in a terrible world full of despair. It is wonderfully told and every element of the game add to the immersion and depth to it. At the heart of the story are its characters, they are the stars of this game, each character has a believable personality that makes them special to the game. Even the many opponents you face are extremely believable as they struggle and try to talk you out of killing them when you have them in a stranglehold, and scratch and claw at you when you decide to end their life. They will back down if you have a hostage, or run away if you have a better weapon than they do. Overall the AI is smart and authentic adding to the immersion, and it’s all tied together with superb voice acting and visuals from beginning to end, I honestly don’t know how they made a game look so good on a current-gen system. All of these factors help to make a compelling narrative that begs many questions along the way pertaining to what we take for granted, how we view and handle our relationships, and about life in general.
The gameplay is based off combat, stealth, and crafting. I thoroughly enjoy this aspect of the game as, like every other part of the game, also adds to the immersion of the narrative and the world. Guns are a big part of combat, but ammo is scarce encouraging you to take a stealthy approach, and it is entirely possible to go through some stages without killing anyone. Personally, my favorite thing to do was use the bow and arrow, getting one-shot-kills against unsuspecting foes. There are two types of enemies, humans and the infected, each foe has different strategies for how you combat them. The infected are harder because there are different types of them that you will encounter, and having these different types in the same area is the hardest part of the whole game. There are ones that have a heightened sense of hearing, but can’t see you, or others that can see you, but don’t hear as well, and their unpredictable walking patterns make it really hard to get past them. Although, both the human and infected enemies are both difficult to face playing on the normal difficulty. The gameplay adds to the immersion with realistic fighting and stealth animations to go along great sound design all around. There is also wonderful crafting system to make offensive items and health packs on the fly while in the combat. The game never pauses while crafting adding even more authenticity to the experience. You can also level up your abilities and the weapons you wield, giving a refreshing amount of RPG elements that fit well within the game. It reminds me of titles like Bioshock or Dishonored, but on a smaller scale, where you have linear objectives, but different ways to go about getting there. The gameplay is challenging but never cheap, if I died I always felt it was because of my own mistake and not the game ripping me off. I spent almost no time yelling at my TV during this game, which was nice. The gameplay is challenging, engaging, but most of all fun, and from the realistic sounds of the guns, to the subtle animations that take place while stealthily moving around the environments the game is a joy to play and adds to the immersion of the game.
Although the single player isn’t the only mode in this game, there is also a multiplayer that fits well within the confines of the game. Set in the single player world, you join one of two factions fighting for territory and supplies trying to survive. It acts similar to any other multiplayer shooter where you level up to get better weapons and gear, but doesn’t feel as favorable to high level players since they have a point system that restricts you from adding too many highly upgraded things into your loadout; making the beginning levels less of a grind. All the weapons from the campaign are here, plus a few extras. The crafting system is also present which also makes it stand apart. While the multiplayer is, by no means, the focus of the game it is a good change of pace from other multiplayer shooters I have played before, and adds rather than subtracts from the games overall experience.
The Last of Us is a game that does almost everything right, and I can’t imagine them doing anything substantially different that would have made it a better experience. I’ve never played a game that used every element of itself to build upon one another making each one better because the other exists, and a lot of this is thanks to the attention to detail Naughty Dog took in approaching this game. It is the most immersive experience I have ever had, and delivers a story that not only is my favorite in a video game, but one of my favorites in all the movies I’ve watched and books I’ve read throughout my life. It is a masterpiece to say the least, and one that will define a console generation.