Platform: PS3

I would like to start my review by saying I absolutely hated this game at one point. I’ll explain why as the review goes on, however if you want to make the jump to the score, at least take these parting words on board: this game deserves all the credit it receives.

 photo 537_Joel-with-Tess_zpsb1176e27.jpgThe Last of Us sees you take control of main protagonist, Joel, survivor of a semi-apocalyptic cordyceps-type fungal infection that took place over 20 years ago. Joel lost his daughter back when the infection started and has been surviving along with a few others blessed with immunity for the past two decades.

Aggressive zombie-like ‘infected’ humans now plague the entire planet, forcing the military to take control and hem most of the ‘safe’ humans into quarantine zones. The military have bombed most of the cities, however some of the infected survuved and are still a very real threat, along with rogue groups of non-infected marauding bandits.

Humanity is surviving in small blockaded quarantine zones, former shadows of the cities they once were. A rebel group called the Fireflies seeks to end the military martial law quarantining humanity, and through Joel’s new occupation as a smuggler, a Firefly asks Joel to smuggle a ‘package’ for them in the form of a young 14-year-old survivor named Ellie.

To say any more than this will spoil the story, but I can say that this game's story Is its main strength. It’s not simply because of the smooth narrative flow, but for the very ‘human’ decision making required by the cast of characters during the course of the game. Never at any point does the game feel forced or otherworldly. On the contrary, the game feels completely plausible in its execution of emotion and story.

Joel who is accompanied by Ellie through most of the game and gameplay is somewhat similar to Naughty Dog’s much lauded Uncharted series, in the sense of the game adopting a 3rd person over the shoulder combat and exploration mechanic. However, there are some keen differences that start to make themselves clear once you realize you are controlling a very ‘real’ human individual.

 photo 20059Joel-uses-weapon-as-plank_zps26e3e3eb.jpgFor example, in Uncharted the main character you play, Nathan Drake, is controlled like most ‘Hero’ videogame characters – he feels invincible and can perform almost impossible tasks under insurmountable odds. Joel, however, feels like he has very real human limitations: he can’t fire straight, he can melee but he gets tired and messes up now and then and he also needs Ellie to help him create a path through obstacles blocking the duo’s way.

Combat therefore feels very realistic with most weaponry having very accurate aim, but with Joel’s natural sway causing you to miss quite often. One of the most important challenges you will face in combat is the conservation of ammunition and I’ll say right now that The Last of Us is one of the stingiest games when it comes to ammo. This is a game that took notes on what was wrong with Survival-Horror games of the past and present, and improved upon them by making ammo incredibly scarce. So, if you want to be successful in surviving, your character will have to learn to sneak about and take out enemies intelligently. Never at any point will you ever survive by brazenly running and gunning past enemies: there just isn’t enough ammo, enemies very rarely drop ammo, and you will always be killed.

 photo 823_Ellie-Bow_zps82821200.jpgTo add to this sense of sheer survival, the weapons in this game are very ‘DIY’ in feel, featuring ‘last resort’-style standard pistols, a bow w/ arrows (That are absolutely deadly!), a shotgun, flamethrower, rifle and more. The game never hands you weapons that are overpowered like the ones seen in Uncharted or most modern day FPS games.

Joel can also craft and modify items depending on how many parts he picks up. Throughout the game you can collect various ingredients to craft items such as health kits, nail bombs, Molotov cocktails and much more. You can also modify your current set of weapons. However, once again the game is very sparing with the amount of mod-able machine parts you collect, so you will never be able to max out all your weapons in a single playthrough.

Joel can also upgrade his skill abilities by collecting pills. This way he can invest in having more health or decrreasing the amount he sways when aiming down a gun’s sights. This little RPG element was a nice touch to the gameplay and helped bring uniqueness to the survival horror format.

Enemies come in two varieties: non-infected humans wielding melee weapons or guns and infected humans that vary between ‘Runners’ that run and try to beat you-up / bite you or ‘clickers’ that are blind but are alerted by sound and can kill you in one bite.

Non-infected human A.I. in this game demonstrates, in my opinion, some of the best strategic A.I. to date. Most of the time the humans will be prompted by their leader to check out sounds or flank you. Joel has the ability to ‘listen carefully’ and see the enemy silhouettes through walls. However, enemies never stick to a predetermined route and will rally, flank and avoid you, always getting the upper hand and making them incredibly deadly.

Infected humans, however, are more of a straightforward encounter. The most paralyzing aspect about these encounters is most probably the fear they can induce. If you're a veteran of survival horror games, you will probably find encounters with infected a bit more intense rather than scary. To say the least, stealthing past ‘runners’ and trying not to alert ‘clickers’ is very challenging and once alerted, they will attack you en-masse causing you to dispense a great deal of ammunition.

The game's ‘normal’ level of difficulty is intensely challenging, almost on par with Zombiu’s “You are going to die very soon” challenge, so I'd say the challenge rests somewhere between Dark Souls and an Uncharted game: not too difficult, but not too easy at all if you don’t take things slow and in a strategic fashion.

 photo 20860joel-ellie-lobby_zpsc8587ccf.jpgGraphically, the game is lovey to look at, but the most impressive visual aspect of the game has to be the motion capture of its cast. I often couldn’t wait for gameplay segments to finish so I could get straight back into another cutscene. I'd go as far as to say it exceeds LA Noire’s facial motion capture!

The voice acting is also absolutely amazing, with no overacting, celeb-intrude or awkward script. Instead you can really tell the Naughty Dog staff chose their cast with care and worked along side them to help them understand every situation that was happening in the game.

The very real human emotion that runs through this game’s story and through its performers is like nothing that I’ve experienced in any other game title. I would even go as far as saying that it’s probably never been pulled off before in such a flawless fashion and we could be very well witnessing the very first computer game that has captured a strikingly real performance lacking the usual video game sins of forced overacting and verbose dramatics.

The Last of Us also contains a fantastically original soundtrack that doesn’t rely on contemptuous out-of-character orchestrations that litter so many films/videogames nowadays. Instead there is a minimalistic tone to the game’s soundtrack that fits oh-so-well whilst constantly reminding the player of humanity’s dreaded predicament.

The single-player campaign length is incredibly long if you take your time exploring every nook and cranny for items + secrets. My initial playthrough took me roughly 16 hours to complete, however Naughty Dog has provided players with a New Game+ that lets you keep your invested skill abilities from a previous playthrough.

 photo lou-06_zpsd8cd45d3.jpgThe game also comes with a bundled ‘Factions’ multiplayer. The multiplayer is very tactically driven, pitting you against a human team of either ‘Hunters’ or ‘Fireflies’. You grow your ranks during matches and build supplies whilst offing the other team. If you die you will have to wait until the next round of gameplay. There are about seven rounds in total, typically. There are two multiplayer modes to choose from: Supply Raid and Survivor. In the former you can respawn, however in the latter you can't.

If you win in multiplayer, your clan will grow, but this means you will have more maintenance in feeding, curing diseases and providing shelter. You can also select various missions to bolster your clan’s skills.

The ‘Factions’ multiplayer really reminded me of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker's mother base gameplay, building an army through trials and tribulations. However, the multiplayer in The Last of Us really felt more like an extension of the single-player story, letting you see what it's like to lead and survive with an entire clan backing you up.

As I wrote in my introduction, I absolutely hated this game at one point. I took the game for granted, rushing in like so many other present-day games train you to do, and dying needlessly through my efforts. I scolded the ability of ‘clickers’ to kill you in one hit, or Joel’s ability to do a melee combo then suddenly decide to stop dead in his tracks staring at who he was attacking. However, it was really my failing to not realize that who I was controlling wasn’t some toughened up military bro-dude with a million kills on his track record. Joel is just a regular dude from the southern states of America who is trying to survive.

I even loved the main menu sound effects that sounded EXACTLY like the ones used for the menu navigation in Silent Hill 2. It was this little Easter egg that I felt was a nod to the creator’s inspiration in making a survival horror game.

I really felt The Last of Us did everything right. It is one of the best survival horror games ever made. It isn’t classically disturbing, obscure or surreal like Silent Hill, it isn’t overly grotesque like a modern-day Resident Evil entry but it demonstrates the horror of which humanity is capable, and that for me was more real and disturbing than any ‘survival horror’ game I’ve played before.

 photo 20057Joel-points-out-bridge_zps2188fc6e.jpgFor me, this game is in massive competition with Bioshock: Infinite’s story. However I will say for those wondering what their ‘Game of the Year’ should be, that Bioshock: Infinite is the best ‘High Fantasy’ release of the year thus far, where as The Last of Us is the best ‘Emotionally and Visually realistic’ game of the year. It’s a ballsy and confident claim, I know, but I just can’t see this game being topped, even if another 10/10 game comes along, it just can’t be anywhere near as unique as this game.

The Last Of Us was a unique experience, incredibly fun, and extremely challenging. It swayed my emotions of feeling extreme sadness at the plight of the survivors to moments of happiness and hope. This game deserves all the accolades it receives and has earnt the right to be called one of this generation’s most games. A wonderful way to end the PS3’s generation while segueing into the next-gen era with the PS4.