The Last of Us Review (PS3)

The Last of Us features one of gaming’s greatest ever openings. It’s immediately clear Naughty Dog—the acclaimed developer of series’ including Jak & Daxter, Crash Bandicoot and Uncharted—has learnt an awful lot from producing the three blockbuster titles that star Nathan Drake. Gone is the inspiring theme tune, witty quips and general feeling that guns will always prevail. In its place stands a tale that smothers players from the off. It is uncomfortable, tense, and absolutely brilliant.

Set 20 years after a debilitating infection has ravaged America, The Last of Us is the work of a team that continues to grow in confidence. Joel, the game’s leading character, is the polar opposite of his spiritual cousin Drake. He is a lonely, aggressive, guilt-ridden mess whose early misfortune renders him emotionless until he is given a purpose. Tasked with delivering a young girl named Ellie to the Fireflies resistance group, Joel is thrust into a journey he never wants to take. Much like Troy Baker’s previous role as Booker DeWitt in Bioshock, he must deliver the girl and wipe away the debt.

Ellie is a fearless character, but she'll still need your help from time to time

Unfortunately for the leading man, his debt is greater than monetary compensation. Not wanting to spoil the opening quarter of an hour, it’s safe to say Joel subconsciously agrees to the mission for reasons that noticeably remain on the periphery. Although various characters question Joel’s past, he quickly focuses on getting his forced friend to her destination.

Ellie is a special girl and an excellent character. She is intelligent, assertive, gutsy, and unlike most virtual representations of women, doesn’t bow to male pressure. Ellie never succumbs to the role of sidekick; without her, The Last of Us’ emotional impact and drive would be non-existent. This title features three female characters who shape the narrative without retreating to the damsel in distress trope; a major step forward for storytelling in videogames.

That’s not to say Ellie doesn’t need Joel’s help. Despite being fearless, she is still very much a child. This is never rammed home more efficiently than in moments that require passing a deep void of water or flowing river. Makeshift rafts must be found in order to get her across such gaps, as physical limitations overpower her will. In the beginning, Joel doesn’t carry out each task willingly, but rather out of necessity. With a 16 hour playtime for those who inspect every crevice, the blossoming of Joel and Ellie’s relationship is motivation enough to keep playing, let alone the chance to explore a relentlessly bleak and interesting world.

The duo’s trek through Boston is a frightening one. Once out of the heavily-guarded city centre, hordes of infected are left to fester. Although these shouldn’t be considered zombies, the average enemy is easily-agitated and will run at players as if they sprinted straight from 28 Days Later. Other types of foe include the Clicker; a boil-ridden pussbag that can only sense through sound. As Resident Evil 4 taught us, blind enemies are scarier than anything else, especially when the Clicker’s live up to their name after being disturbed. Similar to the little girl from The Grudge, if you hear a clicking cry, it’s time to change your pants. Brilliantly, moving from your position is the worst thing possible in this situation.

If you enjoy tense games, The Last of Us is nothing short of tense

Supplies are short, meaning Joel and Ellie need to be inventive when dispatching unwanted attention. You’ll fashion scissors and tape into shivs, alcohol and rags into Molotov Cocktails and learn to thwack enemies with any weighty pieces of material including wood, crowbars and baseball bats. Advanced crafting skills let you tape scissors to baseball bats, providing an instant kill. Most interestingly of all, Joel learns how to make unorthodox bombs a short while into the game, meaning any excess blades or scissors you find can be utilised to provide a shrapnel-styled blast against unsuspecting opposition.

Whether you’re creeping through sewers, using cover to safely progress across deserted towns or searching an old school, combat is never too far away. Infected enemies are intentionally idiotic and are far more likely to act on reaction than strategically hunt you down. Human hostiles work together in packs, run from cover to cover and use grenades to flush you out. You are almost always provided an opportunity to eliminate as many as possible via the means of stealth, a task that rewards those who prioritise the most reachable targets. If you fail to gain an advantage, gunplay is tight and realistic, meaning one well-placed shot always amounts to a kill.

Some of the game’s most memorable moments come from situations you set up. Deep in the sewers, I stumbled upon an engine that needed to be fired up. Of course, doing so attracted major attention from the infected and resulted in a quick death. Approaching the same task once more, I laid a number of handmade bombs next to doorways and routes of entry. After powering the engine, a quick sprint upstairs lead me to hiding inside a dark corner. Hearing bombs detonate in the distance is something special, as is the achievement of wiping out half the horde before they get anywhere near your position.

Luckily, similar to the Clickers, our hero is blessed with tremendous hearing ability. Players can see the outline of enemy positions when slowing down to focus, a mechanic that allows strategical movements to take place. Although smooth for the most part, AI allies have a habit of running straight through a hostile line of sight, a happening that is randomly met with no reaction or mass hysteria. Human baddies are also prone to missing Joel’s position even though he is less than a foot away, providing you with ample time to strangle quietly.

In all honesty, that is perhaps the only major gripe of an otherwise tremendous game. There are many shocking scenes and twists of fate that I really don’t want to ruin for you. As the narrative progresses, it’s impossible not to invest emotionally in a set of characters whose story tugs at the very heart of what it means to be human. You’ll meet other survivors, hear their stories, but when it’s all said and done, Joel and Ellie’s relationship is defined by the answer to one question.

Satisfying, if not bloody

This title may have been a real risk. Launching a new IP at the end of a console’s life-cycle is a gutsy and bold move, even from a developer of Naughty Dog’s standard. But then, this is a gutsy and bold game. It’s a product that—even with a generous single-player campaign—can’t help but throw in challenging multiplayer. It wants you to want more, and after an enthralling slog, wants you to still be thinking about its world long after the credits have rolled.

The Last of Us provides the perfect benchmark as we head into the next generation. Naughty Dog has ascended to greatness once more with an emotional title that deserves every success it will get. Joel and Ellie’s time together is truly fascinating and highlights exactly what can be achieved when character and story are prioritised above everything else. Much like the adventures of Drake, if you own a PS3, you need to own this game.

Top Gaming Moment: The opening section is truly stunning.

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By danfreeman (SI Elite) on Jun 21, 2013
Well i`ll hopefully get a ps3 by monday and this`ll be the first game i`ll try,can you guys tell me of any other ps3 exclusives that i should look for?
By HenoKutus (SI Elite) on Jun 21, 2013
Killzone,Uncharted,God of War series are great on PS3!
By The_Tingler (SI Core) on Jun 21, 2013
Depends what type of game you're after danfreeman. The Uncharted trilogy certainly, anything else is down to your tastes. Killzone 2 and 3 if you're a shooter fan (less so Resistance), God of War I personally find incredibly boring but you might love them. Heavy Rain if you haven't had anything spoiled. Infamous 2 is better than 1.
By danfreeman (SI Elite) on Jun 21, 2013
I played the crap out of GoW 1 and 2 on my ps2 and both the games on the psp so i`ll definitely get 3 and whatever the last one was,as for shooters i`ll probably stay away unless i can use cheats,i cannot aim with a controller for the life of me. I`m generally looking for action and arcade titles.
By mrcalhou (SI Newbie) on Jun 21, 2013
I ended up camping by my friend's house to use her PS3 just to play through Infamous 1 and 2. I enjoyed both of them quite a lot.
By JonahFalcon (SI Elite) on Jun 23, 2013
Wow, this game is boring. Fetch quest The Walking Dead ripoff. The "escort little girl" trope is getting very very tired.
By danfreeman (SI Elite) on Jun 23, 2013
Hey at least it`s not Amy.