The lights are on
**********As Seen On The Young Folks**********
Naughty Dog has crafted an experience that simply can not be touched by nearly any other development studio. Looking beyond its fantastic survival-oriented gameplay and jaw-dropping visual appeal, The Last of Us is a game that left me with a lasting impression, more so than almost any other game that I've played. The Last of Us is one of, if not the most mature game I've ever played. Not mature in the fact that it has obscene amounts of blood, gore, and offensive language (albeit it most certainly does), but that it tackles the ideas of choice, motivation, and sacrifice to a degree that challenges any person's moral compass. The game is an overwhelming display of realism and hopelessness. Some might find the extreme conditions and situations the two protagonists find themselves in to be unnecessarily grim, but Naughty Dog's vision is executed to perfection. The mood they want you to be in, you will be in, whether you like it or not.
The game features two main protagonists. Joel is a middle aged man who has been hardened through twenty years of survival in the post apocalyptic world. Ellie, a young girl entrusted to Joel's care, is both naive and experienced all at the same time, her innocence being ripped from her as the two embark on their journey. Together they must trek across parts of the United States, confronting smugglers, gangs, and hordes of zombie-like infected that were a result of the epidemic which has been ravaging the world for years. Our two adventurers might be the only hope for mankind and the end of the infection. The consequences of their actions can't possibly be foreseen, and the player is strung along for the ride the entire time. I found myself caring for Joel and Ellie more than any other video game characters that I've gotten the chance to know.
Naughty Dog is famous for their outstanding visuals, most notably the recent Uncharted series. The environments in The Last of Us are gorgeous, showcasing some fantastic lighting and weather effects. In one particular instance I found myself staring out a window just to admire the rain trickling down the panes of glass. The character models and animations behind Joel and Ellie are very detailed, as are the different types of infected enemies that they confront. The game's cut scenes are beautifully done, accenting the brilliant voice acting that goes along with them. Naughty Dog even gives us an option to watch all of the cut scenes from start to finish, without interruption, something I plan on doing after another playthrough of the game.
The gameplay is extremely competent, especially for a survival game. Ammo is understandably scarce, making you feel like every shot counts and forcing you to weigh your options before jumping into a fight. Perhaps the best strategists are the ones that know when to fight and when to flee. Materials are scattered throughout the scattered debris of cities and towns, allowing you to build makeshift items such as Molotov cocktails, smoke bombs, and health kits. Stealth is your best friend during combat and the game can be insanely hard at times, but it is always immensely rewarding. Different types of infected also test your skills, as some of them can't see but can hear you if you make all but the faintest sound. In addition, the continue+ option ensures that you have a reason to play through the story multiple times, unlocked after completing the game for the first time.
What really brings the game home is its haunting soundtrack. The score has both ups and downs, contrasting beautiful melody with hollow, empty chords. The action segments are highlighted with unique percussion pieces that don't go over the top so as to make it feel like the epic, cinematic action film that it's not. The Last of Us frequently returns to the main theme, leaving the player with a sense of paralyzed emotion amid the devastating events that occur throughout the story. Music brings out emotion unlike any other medium, and Naughty Dog owes a huge hand in the success of The Last of Us to the fantastic work of Gustavo Santaolalla. The Academy Award winning composer has created a soundtrack that propels the narrative in ways that little else could.
The Last of Us left me with a feeling of emptiness and uncertainty, and that's not entirely a bad thing. At first I was underwhelmed with the ending of the game. As the credits rolled and the conclusion continued to sink in, however, the more I began to praise the courage of Naughty Dog's writers and creative team. They show a great amount of respect for their fans and gamers across the globe by creating such a depressingly honest final chapter. The entire experience is emotionally driven from start to finish. The game's final moments, just like the rest of it, have you questioning your own beliefs about what is right and wrong and what you would do for the people that you love. The Last of Us delivers exactly the kind of impact that it was meant to, and I won't soon forget my journey with Joel and Ellie.
Rating: 9.5/10 stars
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