The Last of Us is different.
Really, really different.
Sure, it’s a third-person action/survival title with “monsters”…
But doesn’t that make it a survival horror title?”
No, no it doesn’t.
Naughty Dog has somehow found a way to merge a post-apocalyptic survival story with a creepy enemy contingent that’s both terrifying and real. Instead of gray, goo-headed zombies, the “monsters” are humans infected with the cordyceps…a very real parasitical fungus.
The most famous example of cordyceps is Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a strain of the fungus that infects ants and compels them to climb trees and “lock” their body on to a branch in direct sunlight. The host dies, while the fungus gestates, finally exploding spores into the air, where they will filter down to the forest floor and re-infect more ants.
The concept of TLoU is that the cordyceps fungus mutated to infect humans, resulting in a pandemic that crippled the world. The majority of the game takes place 20 years after the outbreak, where the United States has been reduced to clusters of survivors…and the concept of “good and bad” has gone out the window. Sure, there are tons of enemies to battle, but there are no real “good” guys anymore.
That’s one of the most interesting concepts in TLoU: who are really the “bad” guys? Are they the shambling, infected hordes? I mean, all of the infected people aren’t zombies…at least, not in the traditional sense. Sure they’re aggressive and violent, but some are capable of being “cured”.
So then, that makes the human “hunters” the bad guys, right? Again, not really. Living in the shadow of a post-apocalyptic world, humanity has been reduced to a pack of scavengers. And since military presence dwindled to nothing over the past 20 years, factions tend to police themselves. That is, they look out for their numbers and stage assaults on other “bad” groups, because they have what we want.
At the core of the game, everyone’s looking to live another day. It’s not really that much of a stretch to look at the “other” side as just another pack of people just trying to survive. Then again, all that understanding tends to evaporate when they start firing at you.
Speaking of survival, you’ll have to search houses, cabinets, boxes and yes, bodies, to cobble together weapons and items. Collect enough alcohol, a rag and you’ll make a molotov. Glean enough sugar and explosive and you can make a smoke bomb. Scissors and tape gets you a shiv! But possibly the best item–explosives and scissor parts makes the nailbomb: a devastating grenade OR a brutal land-mine that can be used to kill unassuming enemies. You can hold up to three of each crafted item at a time, so craft often and keep stocked up!
Baiting is a huge part of TLoU: you’ll need to throw bottles and bricks as a distraction, then sneak up and execute them before alarms can be raised. While this can be a repetitive mechanic in the game, it’s necessary. Hell, you can spend almost the entire game sneaking through areas without killing/incapacitating anyone, but it isn’t easy. Though enemies walk pre-conceived paths (boo!) they’ll respond quickly to foreign sounds. As a result of this, you’ll have to distract enemies into investigating remote areas and jump on them quickly. If you wait too long, the alarm/dinner bell rings and your experience gets a lot harder.
But wait, there’s more! After you finish the 20-ish hour campaign (we topped out right around 19, halfheartedly looking for collectible items), there are two multiplayer forms to pick from: “supply raid” or straight-out “team deathmatch”.
As you start the “story”, you’ll either pick the Hunter faction or the Firefly faction (spoiler alert: it’s the same game for both). Choosing your faction just adds color to the flimsy story, but the basic concept is that you’re responsible for a survivor group, and you’re looking to both expand and maintain your team.
There’s actually a pretty slick continuation system at work in multiplayer: it’s set over a series of “weeks” and each match counts as a day. During your “month”, you’ll start with 5 people in your camp, but that number will quickly grow. At the end of your match, your stats will be converted into cans of food, which will nourish your camp. Conversely, killing enemies spectacularly will get you bonus cans and extra parts, which can be converted into cans or used in-game to buy more armor, ammo and special weapons.
Failure to bring back enough parts/cans means hungry people in your camp…and hungry people can quickly turn into sick people. The problem is, you’ll have to maintain consistent progress to keep everyone happy and “win” the multiplayer story, and a huge part of that is picking good teammates.
Like other recent multiplayer titles, TLoU does not reward the lone wolf. You’ll want to choose your teammates carefully, and back them up on every move. Are you climbing up into a window? Someone better keep an eye on your six. Gonna do a batch of crafting? Do it next to someone who can watch your ass for you. Successful matches depend on solid teamwork. So do everyone a favor and sync up your damn headset, huh?
Gaining cans will also unlock customization options for your characters, better perks to choose from and better weapons to equip. And damn is it addictive. I can’t remember a third-person game I played online this heavily since Gears of War. It’s well balanced, tactical and fun.
The Last of Us is easily one of the “MUST BUY” titles for PS3, bar none. It gave me some of the most white-knuckle, terrifying moments of any game I’ve ever played…and it managed to do it both in single- and multi-player. Is it perfect? No, there are definitely minor annoyances throughout the game.
The sheer architectural beauty of a ravaged world combined with excellent scripting, stellar actors and an overall decent storyline will have you dismissing the glitches/annoyances like they were mosquitoes at the summer’s best cookout.
Buy it. Buy it today.
There’s one MAJOR point that keeps it from getting a perfect score, though.
*MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD*
The final moments of the game will either have you nodding gravely, or throwing your controller in anger. For me, that’s what keeps The Last of Us from getting a perfect score. Because even though the story dictates that it’s moving in a certain direction, they should have included it as a CGI segment, not a player-controlled one.
I liken it to Fincher’s Se7en; that is, people that were mad at Mills’ (Pitt) final actions truly weren’t paying attention to his character development. Joel’s growth is remarkably similar.
MY problem with it was that there was no non-violent way to beat the game: there were things that I was forced to do in the game’s final moments that made me wince…and trying to get through doing anything other than killing simply wasn’t an option.
But maybe that was the point: Naughty Dog wanted to force you to get dirty, even if you played clean up ’til that point. Maybe they were going for the “nobody’s good and nobody’s evil” reinforcement…but it left me more annoyed than anything else.
Still, ending aside, it was a stellar journey and I look forward to doing it all over again in “plus” mode!