The Last of Us Review: Naughty Dog Steps Up Its Game

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The Last Of Us is Naughty Dog’s newest IP and their first foray into the survival horror genre. Originally announced at the Spike TV Video Game Awards in 2011, gamers have been waiting patiently to get their hands on it. That is until we saw that last shotgun blast of the gameplay reveal, then we went nuts. Now just about 2 years later the game is here and its everything that was people expected and a whole lot more.

You play as Joel, a gruff seasoned gun runner doing what it takes to survive in the Boston Quarantine zone. Joel has been through a lot and done things not many people would consider morally sound but in a world of rabid killer fungus what choice do you really have? Along with his partner Tess they are chasing a weapons dealer who ripped them off.

While looking for him they run into Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies. The Fireflies are a resistance group calling for all arms of the government to return. Marlene has the weapons that were supposed to be yours and to get them back you need to do her a favor. She needs something smuggled out of the quarantine zone, a young girl named Ellie. Ellie is a foul mouthed 14 year old with a curiosity that sometimes gets the better of her. This is the beginning to an astounding adventure that takes place over the course of a year and covers a large portion of what was formerly the United States.

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Your journey begins 20 years after the Cordyceps fungi has mutated to infect human hosts. The Cordyceps outbreak has decimated the population outside the walls of the few remaining quarantine zones and is even making its way into them now. Getting a bite or scratch from an infected person is the end of you. The Cordyceps works its way to the brain where it gains control. Fueled by the need to spread itself, the Cordyceps makes the host lose its mind and attack anyone and anything in its path to ensure the fungus’ survival.

The victims of the first stage of infection are known as Runners. They’ve just turned and are fast and deadly. Unlike the other types these infected still have their sight. The second type of infected is called a Clicker. These things haven’t been human for a while as you can tell by the fungus growing out of their faces. With the Cordyceps growing through their eyes clickers use echo location like bats to find their targets.

These guys are dangerous and can kill you in just 1 hit but its their clicking that makes them truly terrifying. The third type of infected is a Bloater. These are the longest living victims of the cordyceps and have fungus growing everywhere like body armor. These are by far the hardest to kill. These giants like clickers can one hit kill you but they also throw chunks of fungus that release spores into the air making them that much deadlier.

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The deadliest of all the enemies you will face however are humans. These aren’t your typical survivors out on their own. They work in groups and quickly notice if one of their friends has disappeared or stopped responding to them. They call out your position to each other and try to flank you constantly. Even when they aren’t armed with a gun they can still be some of the deadliest people you will meet.

The Last Of Us has a great post apocalyptic setting which is both beautiful and terrifying. Inside quarantine zones people are routinely checked for infection and quickly killed by injection or bullet to the head if found to be a carrier. People live in poverty and barely survive off the rat meat some people sell throughout the city. Ration cards are given to residence but food shortages make them for the most part useless. Abandoned buildings full of fungus line the streets and checkpoints are placed at the entrance to each district of the city.

Outside the quarantine zone is a whole different world. Skyscrapers can be seen crumbling and falling apart after years of disrepair and mother nature working her way back into the territory that was once occupied by humanity. Large cities and small towns alike are all nearly abandoned aside from the few non infected that try survive in the wild. Houses and alleys are overgrown with vines and shrubs. Large wooded areas full of cliffs and creeks provide amazingly beautiful scenery in contrast to the dark decaying buildings of the quarantine zone.

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The storytelling in The Last Of Us is unmatched. From the heart wrenching intro all the way to climatic finale you truly feel like you know these characters. You will feel the their pain when they suffer and you will enjoy their moments of happiness as fleeting as they may be. Throughout every twist and turn of this fantastic adventure you connect with Joel and Ellie in the most profound way possible, your emotions. While traveling with Ellie you get to see her learn and grow. Since she has never left the quarantine zone everything on the outside is new and amazing to her.

The short conversations Joel and Ellie have while wandering whats left of the world are great. Its the small things like talking about what the world used to be like or what Ellie would have want to be when she grows up if there was no infection that really make you connect to these characters.

(Before I get into the gameplay I should note that for my playthrough I turned off the listen mode that shows where sound is coming from. Naughty Dog have built in a good amount of settings so any headset should work brilliantly for determining the direction of enemy sound just make sure you set the audio settings correctly for the headset.)

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The Last Of Us has some of the most tense gameplay I have ever had the joy to play. My entire time playing I really felt like I was there and I was able to act how I would in those situations. Missing a shot was devastating to me. Gameplay is best described as a combination of Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid and Uncharted. For a large portion of the game you will be sneaking. With ammo and supplies running low its almost always the best choice for plan A. Of course plan A typically breaks down and you end up either running for your life or fighting it out with what little ammo you have. One section in a burning restaurant is particularly tense, watch out for it.

The exploration sections are just as tense as the main gameplay. Sneaking into houses to loot for goods not knowing if there is an infected inside its light less interior can be creepy. Crouching through halls and tunnels with your flashlight illuminating everything in front of you is amazing and Sneaking by a group of clickers only inches away from them is chilling and leaves you with a sense of accomplishment few games can match.

Graphically the game is comparable to some next gen games I have seen. What Naughty Dog has done here is simply astounding. Everything is intricately detailed from Joel’s backpack all the way down to the dirt paths in the woods littered with fallen leaves.

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Even the blood splatter is realistic which shouldn’t be surprising considering Naughty Dog has said they spent a considerable amount of time learning how blood flows and sprays in the real world. Watching heads being smashed in will make you wince as the blood sprays along anything in its path.

The water in creeks and rivers flow with the white wash you would expect from water traveling down a river and over rocks. Something as small as turning on your flashlight can be outstanding. The way light shines and reflects making the darkest areas become alive with color. People’s faces and clothes are so detailed that Joel and Ellie’s facial expressions can convey their emotion better then words sometimes.

The Last Of Us has unbelievably great audio. The voice acting is amazing and brings with it a sense realism. When combined with the great facial expressions you really feel as though these are living breathing people.

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The sound of a clicker lurking in the dark waiting to strike is particularly terrifying but sneaking through an entire room full of them with the clicking completely surrounding you is heart stopping. Just wait until a Clicker grabs hold of you from behind unexpectedly.

One thing I was really impressed by was the sounds of the weapons. Each gun has its own distinct bang. While plenty of games have different sounding guns this is different somehow. It almost seems as like they actually found these guns in the real world and recorded them being fired in very high quality. I can’t really explain it but there’s just something about the sound of that hunting rifle that makes me feel like I’m really holding it when I pull the trigger.

Overall The Last Of Us is an amazingly fantastic game. With its almost next gen graphics and its emotionally gripping storytelling it is by far the best game I have played all year which is saying a lot giving the stiff competition it’s has to go up against. Naughty Dog has taken their game to a whole new level and I cant wait to see what the future holds for them and this franchise in general.