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NOTE: This is a spoiler-free review.
It is, to this point, undeniable that Naughty Dog knows how to makes excellent games that make you feel, think, and react. Undeniable. They have unquestionably transcended the medium by going from the loving and carefully crafted Crash Bandicoot series to that of the action packed vistas and firefights of the Uncharted saga. And now...now they've brought us destruction, and masterfully so. The Last of Us is humanity's desperate call for help in the darkness, and while the game itself has been answered with glee and overwhelming and robust applause, that lone call, if it had originated from a character present within the game itself would be going unanswered. Times are desperate, and you haven't even seen anything yet. This isn't a story about saving humanity, but rather surviving what is left of it. And that is what makes the storytelling and gameplay of The Last of Us both invigorating and amazing.
This is a story of a man- Joel, and a young girl- Ellie. There are other characters present along the way, but they quickly fall away in importance to reveal the fact that the companionship of this dynamic duo is truly at the heart of this dark tale. In the wake of a horrifying epidemic that has killed millions, nay, billions- Joel and Ellie work together to survive the fallout of what they've been left with, and survive day to day- or try to. However, they are not alone in this task, nor in the world they have been left and stranded within. Feral, fungal infected roam the lands in many shapes- namely clickers and runners, for which their names will be made apparent all to soon after purchasing the game. Other survivors litter the landscape as well, whether dead or alive, and many of whom are not nearly as friendly towards others as they could be. What starts off as a simple story soon becomes a complicated narrative that knows just how hard it is to survive, and how easy it is to die- all the while twisting the knife deeper and deeper in the player's gut along the way emotionally.
All the while you are continuing upon your chosen 'quest', you find yourself deeper and deeper in a simple race for survival and escape from the horrors of what is now a twisted and real reality. Almost like how there is a reaction for every action, every beautiful moment of The Last of Us is equally balanced with a disconcerting and horrifyingly terrible and brutal one. Naughty Dog paints a grim painting with each stroke of their storytelling genius, but it is a story that I would much rather experience over and over in the game and appreciate than have bypassed in favor of some other game of less realism. In order to fit in with the theme of survival above all else, you will find little to no ammunition in containers about, and when you do- it's basically Christmas, or some holiday. Any and all ammo you do find should be conserved just as it would be in fellow survival game I Am Alive, as it is just as important- if not more so. Supplies is as scarce, and even more important to your survival. You'll constantly be scrounging, crafting, and moving. It's essential. That sense of intense, underlying fear that you always feel in apprehension of other survivors and infected can only truly be mirrored in other post-apocalyptic tropes such as The Walking Dead and State of Decay.
In other excellent post-apocalyptic games such as Fallout and Wasteland, you really feel pretty powerful at times, and the overlying sense of vulnerability isn't really included in the experience. This is most definitely not so in The Last of Us, as you can easily be killed, and it is very difficult to kill your opponents. It is this sense of underpowered ability and difficulty that makes The Last of Us such an awe-inspiring and satisfying experience to behold and play through. As with the Metro series, but amped up even more so- stealth is the name of the game, and survival is the final step of that game. It is possible, but incredibly difficult to sneak by your enemies, and also dramatically intense after or during doing or having done so. The odds are almost always overwhelming, and you will almost never have the upper hand in any scenario, forcing you to utilize every ability you have to stay in the shadows in order to survive successfully. Each mechanic in combat and stealth is well-oiled to perfection, and completely rock solid. The only complaint would be of the unceasing difficulty and trial and error of any good stealth game in certain sections, but that is, of course, a ridiculous assertion to even attempt to berate the game on.
Now, The Last of Us is a mature game for good reason- not only is it an incredibly brutal and violent game, but it incorporates many questionable elements that you should probably not suggest younger people to. That having been said, if you let your children play Call of Duty games, that's one thing- but this is one thousand times more bloody, questionable, and overwhelming than any of Makarov's actions or Raul Menedez's. All this serious writing does, however, contribute greatly to the story at hand, and the underlying sense of human frailty woven throughout. The world is grim, the gameplay equally so, the dialogue believable and dry, and the story excellent. The Last of Us scores high marks in every test, and perfectly conveys just how far people will go, or have gone to work to save those close to them, as well as to survive. It isn't just a story so much about Joel and Ellie, but about surviving, and how survivors interact believably with one another.
As violent and surprising as the single player element is, and linearly comparative to that of Naughty Dog's Uncharted series as well- there is another striking similarity between the two excellent games and franchises: multiplayer. Now, while multiplayer does not always work for story-based games such as The Last of Us, it has been pulled off successfully here, closely related to Uncharted multiplayer in more than a few ways, but retaining its own ingenuity. Of course, it is missing the emotional and driving element of the single player story, but the multiple deathmatch variations provide more satisfying and brutal kills, and more uses of taciturn genius in stealth and conservation. You won't be running in guns blazing here. Sure, it's like Bioshock 2 and Red Faction- where you probably won't play the multiplayer much, or remember it long- but the single player more than makes up for everything, and the multiplayer isn't too shabby either. It features a decent progression system, neat modes, and brutal gameplay.
It's hard to have the strength to fight on in Joel and Ellie's adventure, with the few marks of beauty in the beautifully rendered environments, and the overbearing and omnipresent sense of grim, gritty, desperation- but that has nothing to do with how the game is made or its quality at all. In fact, the sense of anxiety and fear that the game brings through its story is its greatest accomplishment, as not many games have successfully made gamers feel in such a way before. Horror is one thing, but an embracing and overarching story is another entirely. That's what makes the difference between games like Silent Hill: Downpour, and The Last of Us.
Concept: Fight for survival in the fallout of a global epidemic, in a world where everything that has gone wrong has gone wrong, where there is little hope to be enjoyed.
Graphics: Truly, the environments, facial features, and everything in between are not only amazingly rendered, but spectacularly animated and interactive as well.
Sound: Sound plays a large part in The Last of Us's gameplay, and it seems only fair that the game have a brilliant musical accompaniment and excellent voice work as well.
Playability: Gameplay is brutal, tense, and challenging- not to mention extremely difficult and frustratingly good at all times.
Entertainment: It's not always easy to stomach and handle, and it'll certainly throw you for an emotional rollercoaster of a ride, but The Last of Us is a spectacular story and game first and foremost, and therefore an incredible experience I wouldn't miss for the world.
Replay Value: Very High.
Overall Score: 9.75
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