Joel and Ellie barely sur­vived the initial ambush. Cor­nered and out­num­bered, the duo’s only chance of sur­vival was for me to steer them through it. Out of ammu­nition, I was in for a hell of a fight.
I am not a ‘gamer.’ Occa­sionally, I play “Call of Duty”or “Bat­tle­field” with friends, but “The Last of Us,” released in June of 2013 as a Playstation 3 exclusive, is some­thing dif­ferent. “The Last of Us” is a sus­penseful, third-person, sur­vival game –– real­istic, emo­tional, and enthralling.
It was pro­duced by Naughty Dog, which also pro­duced the award-winning “Uncharted” series.
Set in the post-apoc­a­lyptic world so often abused by video games, it is easy to believe “The Last of Us” is simply another ‘shoot em’ up’ game.
It’s not.
Rather, it focuses on two major char­acters, Joel and Ellie, as they cross a disease-ravaged United States from Boston to the West Coast.
The main story is set 20 years after a fungal out­break killed mil­lions and turned even more into crazed ‘infected.’ A weathered sur­vivor of the initial out­break, Joel promises a dying friend that he will escort Ellie, a resilient and resourceful 14-year-old girl, to a secure facility over 2,000 miles away, where her safety can be assured.
As they venture from a mil­itary quar­antine zone in the ruins of Boston, the duo faces hordes of ‘infected,’ par­tic­u­larly fright­ening crea­tures called ‘Clickers,’ and more com­monly, packs of sur­vivors who kill to stay alive.
The infected, unlike ‘tra­di­tional’ zombies, are fast and work together in groups to swarm and subdue their victim. ‘Clickers’ are worse. In them, the infection got cre­ative, blinding them and forcing them to develop an eerie ‘clicking’ sound which acts as a form of echolo­cation.
Placed in Joel’s shoes for the game’s majority, the player is almost always out­gunned and out­matched by various oppo­nents.
Dark and intense, “The Last of Us” never slows down. Between the intense moments, pow­erful scenes draw the player emo­tionally closer to the duo. Joel and Ellie both connect through the course of the game, as they cope with loss together. They are not mere means to an end. I found myself caring for them and responding emo­tionally to their tri­umphs and failures. Unlike the mindless char­acters in a shoot ‘em up game, Joel and Ellie provide purpose amid the vio­lence. Their per­son­al­ities ground the game in real human responses rather than knee-jerk volleys solely for the sake of vio­lence.
Players find them­selves as underdogs, forced to employ a variety of tactics to outwit their enemies and survive. Ammu­nition is scarce, so you are often forced to rely on using the envi­ronment to your advantage by impro­vising weapons from whatever you can find, be it a table leg or Joel’s bare hands.
“The Last of Us” is a com­pi­lation of motion-cap­turing tech­nology and years of intense graphics work. The char­acters look, move, and sound real. It is often dif­ficult to tell when the game tran­si­tions from play con­trolled by the player to pre-pro­grammed cin­e­matic moments.
The game pro­ducers paid close attention to detail: from the exact layout of the Uni­versity of Eastern Col­orado to tiny streams and puddles that add realism to Joel and Ellie’s world. Players find them­selves bat­tling enemies in Pittsburgh’s flooded tunnels, searching for sur­vivors in the hallways of aban­doned and col­lapsing dor­mi­tories, and even hunting deer in the frozen and snowy wilderness of Col­orado. The con­stant change of scenery ensures that the gameplay never grows old.
The mul­ti­player aspect of the game mimics the campaign’s third person gameplay for a more real­istic and dif­ficult combat expe­rience. Similar to online gameplay, the player can ‘level up’ and gain new weapons while also building skills that can be used on the bat­tle­field.
Having received perfect and near-perfect review scores from major pub­li­ca­tions such as IGN, Meta­critic, and Game­In­former, the game is slated to win the Game of the Year award for 2013. The pow­erful and cap­ti­vating sto­ryline coupled with the out­standing graphics and gameplay put “The Last of Us” at the fore­front of a new era of story-driven games that look and feel like movies.