The lights are on
The Last of Us, the latest game developed by Naughty Dog, the studio who has brought us the wonderful Uncharted series, is a game that is not easily digested. There are some points of note that you should take into account before playing this game, such as the incredibly brutal violence, the vulgar language, and the generally depressing feel around the whole game. This isn't a game that you pop in to crack a smile; it's one you put in because you want to experience what it has to offer. And a game of this caliber offers a lot to those wary enough to put it in.
Before going in and praising the story, I'm going to start with some of the technical aspects of the game. The graphics, as you can see in any video or image of the game, are incredible. They are pushing the system to the limit and are only rivaled by those of games on high end PCs. The visual style of the game is also intriguing, as the game takes place usually in highly populated areas where the plant life has taken over. You'll see grass sprouting out of asphalt roads, trees growing out of buildings, fungus growing in flooded basements, and even giraffes in Salt Lake City (don't ask). The world is beautiful, but has it's dangers. Because of the collapse of civilization, creatures known as clickers inhabit the cities and towns of this America, and there's always the danger of them popping out of any corner.
The sound design is also incredible and complements the story superbly. The soundtrack is haunting and moody, and the clickers are terrifying. You'll hear them before you see them, as they make a distinctive clicking sound, hence the name clickers. It provides a tense and frightening moment every time you hear that sound in the next room, especially at one point in a flooded hotel. The voice acting is also phenomenal, with Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson providing their voices for the main characters Joel and Ellie, respectively. They put tons of emotion in their voice work, and it pays off tremendously with us really caring about the characters they've brought to life.
Now, let's get serious here. Naughty Dog has always been known for their incredible storytelling ability, and they may have outdone themselves here. The main gist of the game is that our main character Joel must escort this little girl Ellie across the country for reasons I won't spoil here. It takes the duo all the way from Boston to the Rocky Mountains and then some, but if you look at it like a post apocalyptic road trip, you're doing it wrong. It's more so a tale of two strangers becoming father and daughter, and it's a beautiful reminder that we all have something worth living for. Particularly one gut-wrenching point about two thirds into the game shows just how much these two have come to care for each other. It's difficult to explain the greatness of their journey without spoiling some of the events and characters they come across. I know it's been said before, but the best foil to compare the game to would be Cormac McCarthy's "The Road", as they both are some of the best stories told in their respective mediums.
To accompany the story comes a simple yet rewarding gameplay system that rewards caution over a quick trigger finger. Ammo is scarce, and every wasted bullet is one less enemy dead, but can also be your death if you don't play your cards right. The two enemy types in the game, the infected and other humans, each offer a unique play style to take out properly. If you decide to shoot the first clicker you see, you're gonna have a bad time. But if you take the time to assess the situation, you can get out without fighting a single enemy. Humans, on the other hand, will try to seek you out, and most of them have weapons of some sort. But, to even the odds, Joel can craft a number of different items, from molotov cocktails to shivs to stealth kill enemies, he can use items found in the environment to craft assistance items to help in battle. The general gameplay has a very old school feel to it, not relying on recent game trends like regenerating health, auto-aim, or a dedicated cover system. It all works in the game's favor, providing a unique experience that stands out from the typical third-person action game.
Accompanying the genius single player is an added multiplayer mode. While the game would have certainly been enough without it, it adds a nice alternative for those who would rather shoot their friends than the AI. Packing two modes, Supply Raid and Survivors, each a twist on team deathmatch, the multiplayer mode provides a brilliant idea for sustaining players and keeping players coming back. At the start of the mode, you choose allegiance for one of two factions, and are tasked with keeping a clan alive for 12 weeks. You do this by collecting supplies that are naturally gathered throughout a multiplayer match, and the number of supplies you get is based off of your performance in the match. In other words, the better you do, the less people go hungry, and with added missions like fighting off malaria and marauders, it has long legs that will hopefully keep it played for many years to come.
The Last of Us is an incredible game, and easily one of the best of this generation. I highly recommend it to anyone with a PS3 and able to handle situations like suicide, rape, and mass genocide. It tells a mature, compelling story with beautifully crafted characters and situations. Easy game of the year contender, even at this early point in the year.