You should stop reading this review and play The Last of Us. That is all you need to know. Wait, you're still here? Really now? Oh, okay. Fine. Since you're not budging, we'll tell you exactly why you should be playing the latest from the creators of the spectacular Uncharted series.
The Last of Us is what happens when a rather exceptional studio tackles what seems to be the stereotypes du jour of the video game world, that is, zombies, post-apocalyptic scenarios, gruff, grey protagonists and survival horror. And Naughty Dog does so with aplomb. The Last of Us stands out, not so much for its premise and setting but for the way it's been executed. It's rather stunning, to say the least.
The feeling of post-apocalyptic desperation is spot on
Without spoiling much, the world is in the throes of a disaster and most of the populace has been transformed into zombies. The people are now shambling, mutated wrecks with the need to feed on unsuspecting victims. Amidst this chaos, the few uninfected find themselves in quarantine zones under a military regime or as bandits inhabiting seemingly deserted towns to loot unsuspecting survivors. The Last of Us has you traversing across the United States as Joel, a hardened smuggler, in order to deliver a young girl called Ellie to a group of freedom fighters.
You'll come across deserted ghost towns, fellow survivors, the odd out-of-place situation or two and tons of the Infected (what the zombies are called) to avoid or kill. While most modern day titles like to harp on any seemingly minute element of choice, The Last of Us goes about such things with relative ease, throwing you into a situation where every moment might be your last.
Early on, you're told that you can either use stealth to avoid enemies, be they monsters or human, or just end them in brutal combat. The former requires tremendous patience and a seemingly infinite number of save file reloads, while the latter depends purely on your hand to eye coordination and inventory management skills. Go pure stealth, and you end up not having to worry about supplies, since ammo and health are relatively hard to come by. Decide to go all guns blazing, and you'll soon end up spending a lot of time trying to find supplies to keep you going. There are some moments where you're forced into fire fights, but they're few and far between.
Ellie and Joel make a great duo
Nonetheless, if you choose the violent route (as most of you will), you'll be rewarded with controls that have a bit of heft to them and require you to cleverly time your punches, line up your shots and avoid getting hit. You see, unlike most games that have you playing a spry superhero-esque protagonist who reeks of agility, speed and finesse, you're in the role of a fifty-something man who doesn't hold back his punches, but is vulnerable all the same. It doesn't take more than few hits before you see the "Game Over" screen, which makes planning before a fight even more important. To do so, you can craft an array of makeshift bombs, melee weapons and health items aside from the usual range of guns.
You'll find yourself crafting a lot simply because weapons and ammo are hard to come by. You'll soon realise that it's easier to land a punch or twenty on unsuspecting foes than it is to shoot them. It helps that the controls and animations for melee combat make it quite addictive. Combat is well paced and does a good job of making you feel vulnerable; even when you come across some really high-powered weaponry, you never feel completely in control, as the game throws just enough foes at you to up the ante. It's a fine approach that makes you feel that every battle might just be your last.