If you were to come to me and say: “Here’s a game where a zombie-like virus has taken over the world and society survives only as small pockets in a violent world” I would have said no thanks, we have plenty of those already; the world seems addicted to zombies at the moment. If you had come to me and said: “No no no, this game focuses on the interactions and human qualities of the people;” I would have responded with, “Oh, like the Walking Dead?” But in truth, despite the Last of Us being described in such a way, those terms don’t capture what it is that makes The Last of Us a game that could very well be the game of the year for 2013, and I mean that honestly.
You start playing the game as Joel, a 30-something year old man living in Texas. From there we play one of the finest introductions to a game I’ve ever seen, as we control Joel trying to flee the city with his loved ones on the night a fungal virus that drives people insane spreads throughout the town. Once the calamity is set up, the game skips ahead 20 years later to show the world as it is. The only people left live in highly militarized areas, and most barely scrape what they can to survive. Joel and his partner Tess are soon caught up paying back a debt that involves the transport of a young girl named Ellie, and from there Joel and Ellie are caught up in events that would leave them crossing half of the ruined USA, and letting us personally witness the last days of human civilization.
The finest job The Last of Us does is in its setting and tone and how it draws the player in. The player truly does feel like part of this bleak world, and the visuals and music especially beautifully draw the player in. The game goes between urban and rural settings, and also lasts over a period of time, meaning that the player witnesses changing seasons as well. There is a legitimately huge scope taking place, and the game feels like a very large adventure. A great amount of thought was put into how to construct a ruined world, and there are hundreds of small details and places to go.
The player is joined by additional NPC characters at various points, and another quality of the game is how these characters interact. They talk back and forth based on what you do; in quiet moments they play with what is around them and joke about what you lead them to, not just what is on a scripted linear path. In combat, they shout and shoot and if you are attacked they support you in a very realistic way.
Speaking of combat, the game aims for the player to be predominantly stealthy, Joel has no superpowers, so sneaking is always a preferable option as a couple of bullets can potentially finish you off. There is a great amount of meaning to each action as a result, and the tenseness you feel as you play is challenging rather than off-putting. If you are engaged in combat, it is brutal and visceral and realistic. Joel is fighting for survival, and his desperation is reflected in how he fights, which is very intense to watch. This is especially clear when you enter zombie filled areas; these are not ordinary zombies, but rather a fungus which has taken over a person completely, and if left for too long, they mutate into scarier forms. Controlling Joel as he tries to escape these areas is genuinely scary and frightening.
The remainder of gameplay involves platforming and crafting items from materials you gather. For one of the few times in any game, I found myself using every item available to me; as each was useful for a certain situation. The rest of the time, weapons are simply substituted from bottles and bricks on the ground, but running out of your limited bullets still feels impacting.
The Last of Us has a multiplayer component that certainly doesn’t hurt it, but has little connecting to what makes it such a gem in the singleplayer. It is a game made by people who love games, who had an interesting story to tell, and who know how to give that to us in the form of an actually playable game, rather than a movie. Each aspect of it complements the other, and I recommend this game for everyone, despite how grim and gloomy it can be, I loved the characters and each was well-rounded and crafted. The Last of Us is a must buy if you own a PS3, if only that you can gain your own personal experience from this title which I feel will remain in my thoughts for a long time to come.