Opening with one of the most captivating introduction sequences I have ever experienced in a videogame, The Last of Us starts up by taking your breath away and seldom stops. Joel, a father and a wanderer finds himself in a world succumbing to a unique type of zombie apocalypse. After events early in the game leave Joel especially jaded, he becomes a quintessential survivor; Joel will do whatever is necessary to live one more day in a world filled with ruthless scavengers, terrorists known as the fireflies, and creatures that will drive you insane if they get a good bite or scratch. Despite most things looking grim for Joel, he quickly receives a mission that will take him far from the quarantine zone that he had resigned himself to and into a truly crazy world.
The gameplay in The Last of Us consists of three distinct parts: exploration, stealth sections, and outright gun battles. Exploring actually takes up a considerable portion of the game and facilitates much of the storytelling that develops the fatherly bond between Joel and his 14 year-old companion, Ellie. During these sections you can also search around for supplies that are used to construct useful items like med-kits or Molotov cocktails. Additionally, hidden collectables, like comic books for Ellie to read, are scattered in places that only the most thorough will find. Next, stealth sections are a huge part of this game and arguably a part of every confrontation. While the stealth mechanics do not have the depth of Splinter Cell, they are streamlined well and sneaking becomes as second nature as using any of the other weapons in the game. Before the enemies know that you are in the room, you can throw bricks and bottles for distractions, strangle unsuspecting victims, or even use explosive weapons like the Molotov cocktail without being seen. Since Joel and Ellie both have unexplainably good hearing, they can pretty much see any enemy that is making a noise through walls. While this may seem extremely overpowered, and often is, enemies eventually start to sneak themselves, making them invisible and more frightening. Finally, once you are revealed, a typical shootout occurs where you can use any of the weapons in your arsenal to eliminate your foes. Firearms range from a shotgun-like pistol to a flamethrower and all pack a serious punch. Every shot you land on an enemy sends them reeling and shots that hit you send you to your knees. Melee weapons like wooden planks or fire axes can be used for grisly effect as well.
During all three of the aforementioned sections, crafting, upgrading your weapons, and even upgrading your character are integral parts of The Last of Us. When you collect supplies from the environment like alcohol and tape, you can use them to construct improvised weapons on the fly. Thankfully, the menu system is well designed such that you can craft a first aid kit during a battle and use it while under cover. Next, gears are hidden around the environment and can be used to upgrade your weapons' fire rate, ammo capacity, or even armor penetration. Most of these upgrades feel significant once purchased and affect the weapon for the rest of the game. Finally, pills can be collected that can somehow upgrade Joel’s abilities. Upgrades to Joel include increasing his hearing range or reducing weapon sway (which is significant early in the game).
Even though zombie-like creatures are the main enemy in this game, many encounters involve scavengers that will attack you and your allies for the spare scissors in your backpack. The scavengers use the same wide variety of weapons that you have access to and are adept at flanking you while their teammates keep you pinned to a given barrier. As the game progresses, some start to wear body armor, helmets, or even start to sneak, increasing their difficulty. The zombies, on the other hand come in a few forms that require different tactics. Some have recently turned into the undead and run frantically toward you once they see you. Other zombies, called clickers, have been infected so long they cannot see. These zombies use echolocation to find you and will attack at the slightest noise. All of the zombies are very creepily animated and make grotesque, unnerving noises as you attempt to sneak up on them and take them out silently.
The multiplayer portion of The Last of Us is much more sneaky than similar online titles, which is a great thing. Players must scavenge for resources to build weapons that they can use against the other players. In addition to having the preternatural hearing of the main characters in the campaign, enemy players can be marked for your whole team to see. The online mode has several game modes including one that gives each survivor only one life to use. This mode also has Call-of-Duty-like perks that can be used to upgrade your character. It seems like the online for The Last of Us will offer an interesting experience long after the main campaign is finished.
Graphically, The Last of Us is a stunning tribute to this current console generation. Characters look amazingly realistic and facial animations are even better than Naughty Dog’s other famous franchise, Uncharted. The scenery is also detailed and interesting. Cityscapes on the east coast look brilliant as they bathe in the light of the sun while subterranean tunnels are immersive and dark. The design of the zombies was extremely well done and immediately conveys the level of sickness of each one.
The voice acting in this game is amazing and was used many times to convey huge emotional payloads as the plot twisted and turned. Enemies, particularly the zombies, sounded as they should; scavengers swore believably and zombies moaned and cackled creepily. The music is definitely better than most games I can currently think of and had mostly acoustic guitar tracks that really conveyed the depressing mood of a world on the edge of collapse.
As far as stability, I did not encounter any problems until literally the last 15 minutes of the game. For some reason, the cutscene dialogue would play, but the screen would be black or a frozen image. I had to look up the ending on YouTube to see it properly and have yet to properly finish the last cutscene on the console because it freezes. I do not think that this is a common issue, but it is unfortunate.
The violent content in this game has few equals. Heads can be decapitated with fire axes or blown off with a well-aimed shot. Body parts can be removed from the impact of bullet hits. When a zombie kills Joel or Ellie, a graphic cutscene will play with the zombie ripping out neck tissue or even gouging out Joel’s eyes. Large blood pools emanate from dead corpses and zombies have a lot of dried blood on their bodies. Additionally, some scenes depict cruel torture, such as breaking a victim’s legs or shooting them in a non-lethal way, to extract information. Another moral pitfall is the cursing in this game. The f word flows freely from nearly every character's mouth, but it comes most surprisingly – and nearly continuously – from Ellie who is only 14 years old. Some scenes require you to make predetermined moral decisions that are reprehensible and violate most people’s code of ethics if they were to actually do it. Finally, there is some sexuality in the game in the form of an adult magazine containing males that one of the male characters views. That same male character is also suggested to be “partners” with another male character. Additionally, Joel is in a relationship with a woman named Tess and they live together.
Despite all of the moral failings of this game, I can’t help but feel that it was one of the most immersive and thought provoking games that I have ever played. The entire story, especially the ending, are well worth the monetary admission price, but I can only recommend this game to those who can accept the extremely graphic and offensive moral content of this game.