Okay, I'm officially announcing to everyone that I am jumping onboard The Last of Us bandwagon. With Uncharted 3 being my third favorite game of all time, followed eventually by Uncharted 2, I had much faith in Naughty Dog.  They were charged with the task of making the apocalypse interesting again and convincing gamers that there is still a lot more to be explored within the genre.  Having played a few of the other big-name titles released in 2013, I can happily say that The Last of Us was the most complete experience I had in gaming all year.

The story is centered around a man named Joel and a girl, Ellie, who is the cure to a recent outbreak, turning humans into zombie-like creatures.  The infection is called Cordyceps.  It's a type of fungus. Because of this, most of civilization has been wiped out.  The game offers a prologue at the beginning of the game presenting the outbreak.  Joel is a single father and is attempting to protect his daughter amidst this outbreak when things go horribly wrong, turning Joel into a closed, quiet, and abrasive semi-jerk.  At this point, I was sort of glad because Nathan Drake (of Uncharted fame) was a mass murderer, yet he maintained his enthusiastic attitude throughout all three games.  Joel felt like a living, breathing character.  Twenty years later, we find Joel sleeping on a bed, waking up, and then going to make some pancakes.  Actually, he meets up with a woman named Tess who informs him about this girl (Ellie) who may be the cure to this godforsaken virus.  Tess informs Joel that she must be taken to the "Fireflies," a rather corrupt military group with noble intentions of salvaging the human race. 

The gameplay isn't nearly as graceful as the Uncharted series', but it ends up being for the best.  For a game based on realism (besides the apocalyptic plot), I didn't expect much out of the gameplay.  There are no "cover mechanics" and ammunition is hard to come by, but it all gave me a sense of horror and desperation.  There are many types of situations you will run into throughout the game.  You will either fight Fireflies, the infected, or hunters, which are really just groups of humans together who hate the Fireflies.  To start off, there is a crafting system in the game.  By collecting different parts spread all throughout the game, you can craft different items.  Initially, you can craft only a shiv and health pack, both incredibly vital items.  Soon, it will expand and you can craft bombs, molotovs, and smoke bombs, among other useful items.  There are plenty of situations you'll run into in the game.  With most enemy encounters, you will want to strive for stealth, as it saves ammunition and, better yet, stress.  The enemies you'll run into include Fireflies, the infected, and Bandits and Hunters, which are basically people who hate the Fireflies and also anybody who doesn't join them.  After Joel and Ellie depart from Tess, they occasionally run into different and familiar folk, including Ethan, an abrasive but helpful paranoid survivor and even Joel's brother.  It normally happens for a reason as well.  Joel and Ellie's relationship develops gradually throughout the game and the game becomes very emotional with various plots and, as all apocalyptic things must have, deaths.

It was aforementioned that you should aspire to stealthy tactics and it holds true all throughout.  It's only when it gets heated that you should pull your firearms out.  You start out with a pistol, but soon gain a rifle, a shotgun, a bow, and, by the end of the game, a fully automatic assault rifle.  Getting shot at, realistically, will cause immense sway, as opposed to Uncharted, where Nathan barely flinches, and you don't regain much health, adding to the ever-growing suspense.  Ammunition comes far and few between (usually found with parts used for crafting), so you should spare your ammo.  If you have to resort to fists, you can, and I frequently ran across various melee weapons, which shivs can be attached to for instant kills.  The infected are arguably the most difficult enemy to fight, despite not carrying ranged weapons.  Sound can be concentrated on by holding down the R2 button, which can help Joel listen through walls and the screen will display enemies all around in a initially-short vicinity.  Stealth is definitely the best weapon against these ferocious and varying creatures.  The easier are the simple infected humans, called runners and stalkers, but there are also clickers, which cannot see, but if they hear Joel and catch him, they will kill instantly.  However, there is a last type called the bloater, which also kill instantly and are the most resilient.  If you choose a firefight over stealth, they will absorb the most bullets.  The human enemy types' only difference, which is the most significant and game-changing, is that, as opposed to the infected's only weapon, which primarily involves melee, they carry firearms primarily.  Therefore, they make for the most difficult enemies to shoot, if stealth is not chosen or Joel's cover is blown.  This gameplay provides for many thrills and even more close calls.  I deeply enjoyed its depth.

The Last of Us initially includes three multiplayer modes, which all boil down to "hunt or be hunted."  The crafting system transitions well into multiplayer, as does the shooting gameplay, and the stealth mechanics.  There is also a leveling-up system and upgrades and new weapons as you level up, which can give you an edge over other players.  I appreciated the fact that I really had to be on my toes and that only the most clever will survive.  Once a gun is fired, the person who fired the gun will appear on the map.  This happened to me quite often, as I am not a patient person (when it comes to video games that is).  I was hunted down a lot.  Because of my lack of patience, I would run out into the open frequently and proceed to get shot by hidden enemies or run over a trap.  Needless to say, I was extraordinarily bad, but I did occasionally get killstreaks, not in the sense of Call of Duty, but simply that I managed to get five kills at a time.  Even though this multiplayer, like Uncharted 3, comes with a class system and character customization, I felt it was shoehorned in, like Uncharted 2's multiplayer.  I appreciated Naughty Dog's attempt at making multiplayer based on The Last of Us' near-perfect gameplay mechanics, but it felt like more of a shoe-in, as it wasn't as deeply conceived as Uncharted 3's.  Despite this, I found it to be a fun, one-weekend experience.

The graphics and presentation do nothing but help the experience.  Foliage, shadows, and lighting look ultra-realistic.  Faces are realistically covered with grime and the character models are just as realistic. Naughty Dog has graphically topped its last efforts with this game and it shows.  The cutscenes look gorgeous and the environments are breathtaking.  The PlayStation 3 has officially been pushed to its limit.  No game has ever looked more stunning.

I'd like to go back and talk about the absolutely fantastic story.  This game's stories provides more emotion than any other game I've played in the now-last-generation group of consoles.  The script is very intelligent, the dialogue is not even close to cliché, and the voice acting is second to none. While the main storyline involves Joel and Ellie's evolving relationship, there are many other story arcs, including one where Joel and Ellie meet up with a guy and his younger brother.  It becomes a tragic relationship eventually, as the main duo have to part with them.  Perhaps one of the most talked-about aspects of the game is its male protagonist Joel and his monster-like qualities.  Normally, with a game like Gears of War or Halo, Marcus Fenix or Master Chief can gun down hundreds of aliens and the player won't take a second thought, but Joel is presented as a human being and thus when he guns down a Bandit, he is committing an act of the utmost evil quality.  By the end of the game, he will have killed dozens of humans and infected ones alike, and the player will see him as a monster.  Near the end, a nurse makes mention of this.  I have never been more aware of mortality in a video game than in this instance.  The second most important matter is the ending.  The Last of Us contains a very open-ended ending , with well-done and well-timed delivery.  While I haven't had the chance to talk about it, I've thought about it and I still don't know how I interpret it.  Perhaps it reveals Joel's truly selfish character or asks the player if it was all worth it.  Either way, it was a strangely satisfying and complete experience.

The Last of Us easily wins my pick as Game of the Year 2013.  I may be jumping onboard the same bandwagon as everybody else, but with good reason.  Despite the seemingly shoed-in multiplayer, the gameplay was incredibly tense and realistic.  The story was head-and-shoulders above any other game of last generation.  It is truly the PlayStation 3's swan song and perhaps the best swan song ever crafted for a console.  Naughty Dog has clearly proven it knows its away around a story and fantastic gameplay, and I am convinced that they are currently the best developer in the industry.  The characters felt real and the graphics are the most impressive seen on a console thus far.  The Last of Us is a more-than-worthy investment.  Its story has proven that video games can in fact rival movies and TV shows. Naughty Dog has easily crafted one of the best games and stories of the last generation.  The Last of Us is by a landslide Naughty Dog's crowning achievement and perhaps a generation's crowning achievement.