Review: The Last of Us (PS3)

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Title: The Last of Us
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download
Release Date: June 14, 2013
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Price: $59.99 (US), £39.99 (UK) / $79.99 (Survival Edition), £59.99 (Joel Edition)
ESRB Rating: M
PEGI: 18
The Last of Us is also available on PlayStation 4.
The PlayStation 3 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

DLC Review(s) For This Game:
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Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 322 of the podcast.
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Editor’s Note:
Portions of this review also appear in our PS4 coverage of The Last of Us Remastered.
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** This will be a completely spoiler-free review. All screen shots are directly from Naughty Dog and have been carefully selected so as not to give anything away. **

Gameplay:
The Last of Us is set twenty years after a fungal pandemic has wiped out most of the population leaving governments and cities in ruins. Joel and Ellie are cast together on a quest that you’ll need to play the game to find out about.

I understand a lot of people want to compare this to other games, the Uncharted series in particular, to get an idea of where this game stands but none of those would be fair comparisons. This is a unique experience and a brutally real story. You’ll be surprised, a lot, along the way at the things you see and the choices the characters make. You control their actions as they move through the world but, for the most part, the choices are pre-determined. Critical moments will come along and you either go along with them or you die. They may not be the choices you would make, but that ultimately makes the game that much more compelling. You hit these junctions and you really aren’t sure how the characters will react. In some ways it’s a refreshing change from the choice trees we’ve been given in recent games. This is a story with well defined characters, you’re just dropping in on their lives and helping them get through a bit.

This game definitely won’t be for everybody. It’s a slow paced game requiring a lot of patience. This is a dying world with scarce resources that will really make you approach each situation with an unusual degree of caution. That’s not to say it’s impossible to find ammo and such, (playing on Normal) there were stretches of the game where I was full up on everything, but you can’t always rely on that and there are times when instead of fighting, you’ll need to make a run for it and just hope you can actually get away.

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When you do come across enemies, you’ll need to stop and assess the situation before proceeding. How much ammo do you have? What other kinds of weapons are at your disposal? These are important questions that can mean the difference between life and death in any given encounter. You’ll be able to listen and you’ll get a sort of Batman sonar type view of the immediate area (this can be turned off in the menu). It’s nothing super-human, you’ll only “see” them if they’re making noise and they’re within your range of hearing, but it can be a huge help in planning your next move.

Besides guns and such with their limited ammo, you can sneak up on enemies and choke them out or use them as human shields. You can also find blunt instruments to use as weapons along with bricks and bottles that can either be used as distractions or weapons. There’s a limited crafting system in the game as well where you can use all the stuff you’ve collected while searching each area to create various items which will be critical to your survival, so finding the right ingredients (and enough of them) is very, very important.

You also have the ability to upgrade weapons with stuff found on your journey as well as give permanent boosts to health and other things with pills found around the various levels. You won’t be able to upgrade everything in a single play through so it’s best to focus on what works for your style of play. After finishing the game, you have the opportunity to start a second play through with New Game Plus which will keep all of your upgrades in the new game.

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The AI is pretty fantastic as they’ll change tactics depending on what weapon you’re using versus what weapon they have and even how many of them are still alive. It’s scary to see their flanking tactics in action and how they’ll methodically search for you if you happen to elude them for a moment by running away.

One final note for trophy hunters, you’ve got your work cut out for you. You won’t get trophies for completing a level, instead most of the trophies are centered on collecting every item in the game and completing it on every difficulty level and every difficulty level again on New Game Plus. The levels do stack however, so if you complete the game on Normal, you’ll still get the trophy for Easy as well. To put things in perspective, I spent about eighteen and a half hours slowly completing the game once and I came away with four trophies total, two of them for completing the game on Normal and Easy. Good luck everyone.

Visuals:
Total immersion is important in a game like this. You need to feel completely wrapped up in the story and the plight of your protagonists in a way that makes you really empathize with them. Naughty Dog has shown over the course of three Uncharted games that they can pull this off. In The Last of Us, it really feels like they’ve upped their game.

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Every last little corner of the world you inhabit is pixel perfect. This is a game that not only encourages exploration (yay for me) but with scarce resources actually requires it. The last thing you want is muddy textures or some such nonsense taking you out of the experience and there’s nothing like that to be found here.

Add in a healthy dose of Easter Eggs and you’d be hard pressed to not want to explore every area you enter. Of course, that can, at times, come with a price in the form of Infected lurking behind that tantalizing door, but the risk is often worth the reward.

Lighting, shadows and every last discarded toy or scrap of paper pulls you in to this world in a much more complete way than anything I’ve experienced in a game before this. It’s just that good. That’s not to say that everything is perfect. There’s still some pop in every now and then but it’s somewhat rare. I also had one (and only one) instance of an enemy clipping through a wall briefly but that was it during the entire time I played.

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Audio:
Music cues throughout the game tend to be subtle but you’ll really need to pay attention to them to get a handle on your current situation. Surround sound is used to wonderfully creepy effect as you’ll often hear the infected long before you see them. Throughout most of the game, you’ll simply hear the ambient noises of nature reasserting itself in the world. It makes for a unique and somewhat foreboding experience.

Joel’s “bat-sense” like hearing also makes a big difference in how you approach different situations. Listening in on enemies as they discuss their plans and then keeping a close watch (and ear) on their movements can mean the difference between life with a series of stealthy take-downs or a quick death in an all out gun battle with flanking enemies.

The voice actors do an amazing job in making all the dramatic exposition and witty banter feel natural and real. Troy Baker as Joel (who also happens to play Booker DeWitt in BioShock Infinite) and Ashley Johnson as Ellie do outstanding jobs with the bulk of the work but Brandon Scott, W. Earl Brown and Annie Wersching as Tess in particular all give stellar performances critical to the flow of the story.

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Online/Multiplayer:
While I didn’t get hands-on time with the multiplayer due to scheduling conflicts, I did learn all about it and can go into detail here.

You begin by choosing your faction, Hunters or Fireflies. These two groups are seen throughout the single player campaign but to discuss who they are and how they fit in to the world would spoil some things so I’ll just leave you with the names. You’ll be locked in to your choice until you either complete the multiplayer story mode or your faction gets completely wiped out. This automatically builds in loyalty to the faction you choose and keeps things interesting.

There are currently only two game modes available, Supply Raid and Survivors. Supply Raid will allow you to respawn a limited number of times while Survivors is one and done with both playing out as a Team Deathmatch type of game. This is not Call of Duty, this isn’t even Uncharted. If you go into this with that freewheeling, run around and kill everything kind of attitude, you’ll find yourself dead and frustrated pretty quick.

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The caution and patience you learned in the single player campaign proves invaluable here. You need to take your time, sneak around, listen for enemies, scrounge parts and craft better weapons, it’s the only way you’ll survive. There will usually be objectives given during matches which will force you to alter you play style a bit but caution is always the key.

It’s really unlike most multiplayer scenarios in the way it all plays out and people are either going to love it or hate it because of that.

Conclusion:
The easiest way to sum up The Last of Us would be to say that it’s a slow moving, somewhat depressing experience punctuated by moments of sheer terror, but that would be selling the game short. Naughty Dog, as expected, has shown once again that masterful storytelling will truly enhance the game experience and make you care, really care, what happens to the protagonists throughout the game.

This world feels real, depressingly real when you understand how badly society has come off its hinges, but it’s in the interactions, between Joel and Ellie, between them and other characters in the game, both enemies and friends, that you really get a feel for the situation everyone is facing and how they’re coping with it.

I said earlier in this review that “Total immersion is important in a game like this” and you’ll feel it from the very first frame to the roll of the credits. This very strong contender for Game of the Year is an experience you can’t miss.

Score:
10

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Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 25 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation – minus the Switch.

Josh is currently the US PR & Marketing Manager for Fountain Digital Labs and has recused himself from any involvement on PS Nation arising from posting or editing any news or reviews stemming from FDL.

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