After a stunning and powerful introduction, players are thrust into the world of The Last of Us a good 20 years after a new fungus species decimated the human population and turned areas outside of military control into bandit infested wastelands. Playing as a hardened smuggler named Joel you see how the world has changed and how people have changed along with it to live in this harsh new reality. From the outset the world feels real and alive, with NPC characters taking notice of Joel if he tries to eavesdrop, whispering in hushed tones about his reputation around the DMZ, simply asking how his day is, or carrying on with their conversation if they don’t notice him or if you simply don’t decide to intrude. Food is in short supply, people are getting infected every day, and life just seems to go on without a point for Joel and his partner Tess, both of whom are selfish terrible people that survive without a purpose.



Everything changes for Joel when a member of a rebel faction known as The Fireflies task Joel with smuggling a 14 year old girl named Ellie out. Joel accepts the job and embarks on a journey across the United States to get Ellie safely to The Fireflies. Outside of the world, you see the remnants of the former United States in a believable state of decay, with rusty cars everywhere, graffiti scribblings, and foliage growing out of control when there is nobody there to take care of it. Even the smallest details and little touches aren’t forgotten, and it all adds up to a world that feels as real as it does hopeless.



Level design is well crafted, rarely do you walk into a room full of obvious cover for an obvious upcoming combat encounter (though there does seem to be more litter for you to throw in places full of enemies it seems), and with the exception of the occasional staircase blocked by a piece of furniture, the areas you explore are open ended enough that they don’t feel artificial. There are various rooms and areas to explore or use to get around your enemies, and while some offer good loot, others are simply desolate and empty. This sort of design offers an interesting risk/reward scenario, particularly in conjunction with randomized enemy drops that mean having to guess whether the benefit of exploring an area or taking out the enemies in that place outweigh the negatives of running into a dead end or wasting more resources in trying.



The AI is a mixed bag here, though the human enemies you face are fiercely intelligent and the infected you face are terrifyingly focused on your death, they can come off as a bit “gamey” at times. Enemies will often work together and try to flank you or call out your position while seeking you out, with even the infected enemies acting as deadly predators that will try to locate your position and sneak up on you from behind. There’s also a good amount of variety in both human and infected enemies, with different levels of intelligence and gear in the human enemies as you progress, and different levels of infection allowing for multiple variants of the infected to fear (particularly the clickers, blind creatures that have become completely overtaken by the cordyceps fungus that will seek you out using echolocation). But when trying stealth, every enemy seems to follow the same set pattern that can feel unnatural and make it a breeze to get to the exit, among other annoyances.



Despite their intelligence, the enemies will still prioritize Joel’s death over their own safety. At certain points the game forces you into killing every enemy in an area, which is unfortunate and feels unfair, particularly when the game seems to chastise Joel for his brutality within the story without allowing for other, less violent methods. It doesn’t even feel good to kill enemies, with even the worst enemies coming off as especially human and real, and the violence is especially hard to stomach when some enemies beg for their lives or simply happen to be in the way of Joel to his objective. Despite their intelligence within combat, gun enemies also seem to have an unfairly limitless amount of resources that they often neglect to drop. Despite every gun toting enemy I’ve faced firing pot shots at me like they had a bandolier, ammo drops were incredibly rare and at best I’d only get 3 or 4 bullets for a random weapon. Still, combat is a very strong point for the game, for the most part you do get to choose how an encounter goes and unlike Uncharted the story supports the idea of Joel as a crazed killer, though I won’t go into any details.



The progression and variety keep the game interesting right up until the very end, and while the story follows a basic skeleton, there are some things you won’t see coming and the characters you see are all so well written you might not care about the occasional zombie apocalypse cliché. Both gameplay and story switch it up, and as Joel and Ellie travel across the country, they come across various interesting characters and situations that add up to make the subplots almost more interesting than the over-arching story itself. It also helps that Joel gets access to more items and weaponry as the game progresses, and while he’ll be toting multiple guns and a better set of skills towards the end, you still never feel like Rambo, especially with Joel having roughly as much health as any other enemy he faces and only limited supplies to heal himself with or to use against enemies.



The Last of Us also sports a surprisingly fun multiplayer mode that further emphasizes the focus on survival with its unique ranking system and slow paced game modes that are based around teamwork and planning, as much as being good with a gun. Of course you need a multiplayer pass to play it if you don’t buy the game new, but it’s a compelling little side mode to the already spectacular (and lengthy) single player.



The Last of Us is a complete package, but even if you ignore the multiplayer entirely, it manages to be worth your time and money. This is potentially the best game this year, and easily one of the top videogames you can find on the Playstation 3, as well as a perfect showcase for why games are art today.