Last night I completed one of the best action adventure games I have ever played. As much as I wanted to savor and spread my gameplay time over a few weeks, I could not stop playing The Last of Us. It kept pulling me back in and pushing forward to unravel the journey of Joel and Ellie. The captivating story of these two characters and the characters they come in contact with is on parallel with Oscar caliber movies. You can feel their heartfelt emotions and despair unlike any other game before it. Combine this with a riveting and brutal survival action gameplay and you’ve got one of the most original gaming experiences that it will be talked about for years to come.
It’s no surprise that many game reviewers are calling The Last of Us a masterpiece.
Note that I’m not going to give any spoilers about the game here. I do hint a some of the experiences without actually revealing what happens. If you haven’t played the game yet, you can keep on reading.
The Last of Us Story and Characters
Often games that attempt to provide an emotional story with engaging characters often save the final heart wrenching punch for the end. Not in The Last of Us, the game starts off with a hard dose of reality of what is happening and provides a brutal scene that tugs at your heart-strings right off the bat. You immediately feel the pain of the lead character, Joel, followed with a deep sense of despair by what is happening. That’s just the prologue.
Throughout the game you’ll experience these heart wrenching punches when you least expect it and simply be in shock and awe of what you just experienced. Each time it left me standing there in the game world to reflect upon what just happened. Going through it in my mind and asking why did that have to happen, couldn’t it have gone another way? There were multiple times this happened to me throughout the game. Often catching me off guard of what I was expecting to happen. This is the signs of masterful writing, well thought out character development, and artful story telling by the Naughty Dog team.
Each of the characters feel so real and sincere as they struggle to survive in the dire reality that the world is falling apart at the seams. It is survival of the fittest as humans are back on food chain in a world that can be brutally dangerous. Trust no one and always be prepared to do what it takes to survive. The Last of Us truly is on par with some great books and films, except that this, depending on your play style, is a 12 to 20 hour immersive gameplay experience. For me, it is some of the best form of home entertainment you can experience from a video game.
The Last of Us Game World
The subconscious character throughout the game is the game world and levels. Everything in the game is set in reality and is easily believable. The post apocalyptic setting, the natural decay of the cities with mother nature reclaiming its land and growing over the concrete jungle, to the deserted neighborhoods and looted homes, they all contribute to not only supporting the story but telling its on story of what has happened to our world over the last few decades.
You can feel the love and attention to detail that went into creating a living and breathing world. A lot of thought went into the levels to help each area feel original and unique. Every area provides its own character and story to be discovered if you take the time to explore and soak it all in. This is one of those games I highly recommend you take your time playing, don’t rush through it. Take the time to explore and discover everything the game has to offer. Trust me, it’ll enhance the overall gaming experience.
It is a beautiful game with some impressive views that can easily catch you off guard as you simply admire the overgrown cities that mother nature has reclaimed or lush nature in the forest or country side. Naughty Dog has clearly mastered the Playstation 3 hardware and is showcasing that power in the stunning visuals throughout the game. At times it looks like a next generation game title.
The Last of Us Gameplay
Striking a balance of gameplay and story in a survival adventure game, or any game, can be challenging. Some game developers do a good job while others struggle with the pacing. The balance in The Last of Us is done so well that it keeps you moving forward effortlessly, you never feel like you need to stop, let alone want to stop, instead you want to keep playing. It reels you in and keeps you immersed.
It provides a delicate mix of story, character development, discovery through exploration, intense close quarters combat and gun combat. All balanced throughout the game so each area and encounter feels fresh. Introducing a new style of gameplay that requires you to be strategic and stealthy, but if you get discovered you can easily be over run and killed unless you react quickly and break line of sight. The combat gameplay forces you to react and quickly think on your feet.
Those unexpected battles provide some of the most intense and memorable gameplay experiences in the game. These times where you feel completely overwhelmed and fearing for your life, yet if you take the right action, you can survive the scenario and regain the upper hand. However if you don’t, you’ll quickly find yourself in a brutal death.
It provides a natural intensity as you’ll do anything to stay alive and survive.
A key factor to the intense gameplay is the limited firepower and health. Bullets, molotov cocktails, and melee weapons are scarce and limited. Melee weapon combat is gruesome and lethal, however they have limited use before breaking. At anytime in battle you could easily go through your arsenal and be scrounging for bullets and supplies while hiding from the threats around you. If you can’t, then you start swinging punches and slamming guys into countertop corners and walls or stomping on their heads for a visceral death.
Health does not regenerate, you need to patch yourself up with med-kits and food. Healing yourself takes time, so if you’re in a combat scenario, you need to hide out of sight and heal yourself quickly. Same for crafting throwable explosives. This helps to create an intense urgency when in a combat situation. All of this combined provides that delicate balance of captivating gameplay.
Video: The Last of Us Launch Trailer
Naughty Dog has raised the bar with The Last of Us on all levels, be it story telling, characters, gameplay, music, sound and level design, all combined to create a richly detailed and immersive gaming experience that will stick with us for a long time. It is a prime example from which other game developers will learn from and apply to their future games. I took my time with the game, exploring everywhere admiring the beauty of the scenery, when the credits rolled my gameplay time was just over 21 hours. It all depends on how you play, my son-in-law Ryan played the game and he beat it in 12 and 1/2 hours.
As many reviews state the game is a masterpiece, it’ll likely become on of the highest rated games to date and will easily win many Game of the Year awards for 2013. However it never feels like a big blockbuster, it stays grounded and down to earth, there aren’t any over the top big set pieces, instead the game is filled with lots of balanced series of well done set pieces that feel very real and organic to the story arc of the game. It is the constant surprise of stellar story, characters, level design and gameplay that makes The Last of Us so amazing and memorable.
Even with taking my time and exploring every aspect of the levels I still managed to miss stuff. There are a lot of collectables in the game world and I think I ended up with about 80% to 90% of them. Many of the collectables provide an additional layer of story through notes and journal entries that expose what happened to the people in the area you’re in. If you can read the writing on the collectables, I’d recommend reading it as written instead of using the optional read button, it continues to add the immersiveness of the game.
Hands down this is one of the best journeys you’ll experience in a video game.
The Naughty Dog team are masters of creating an incredible and captivating gaming experience and they should be applauded for their efforts. I’m already planning to going back to start a new game to experience it all over again, but this time I want to try it on the harder difficulty to make the combat even more intense. If you have not played The Last of Us yet, do yourself a favor and go play it. For the best experience, play it on a big screen HDTV with full surround sound and preferably in a dark room.
Take your time and soak in everything it has to offer. Trust me, you’ll love it.
The Last of Us Resources
- The Last of Us on Amazon
- Official The Last of Us site
- Naughty Dog
- IGN review (10)
- Game Informer review (9.5)
- Game Trailers review (9.8)
Update: The First Truly Mature Action Game
I didn’t spoil the games story while sharing my thoughts, but I can’t get the experiences and story out of my head. I was thinking about writing another post that would dive into it while exposing spoilers, however I came across a great article on Games Radar that does an excellent job in explaining why the game and the story you experience in the journey is so exceptional. There are spoilers in it, so don’t read it until you’ve completed the game.
- Games Radar: Why The Last of Us is the First Truly Mature Action Game.
For those of you who have played and completed the game, what did you think? Did you have a similar or different gaming experience? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below and thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts.