For: Playstation 4
James Baker has been cogitating on this reissued classic for months. It’s time to let his cat out of the bag.
SET IN AN overgrown, post-apocalyptic, nightmare world, where people survive in the walled off ruins of cities run by a ruthless military, who “protects” the populous from the hordes of infected in the outside world, this is a well-paced, beautifully realised, character driven, Omega Man-style epic.
You start out by learning the back story of the main character. The introduction to Joel offers an insight into the beginning of the outbreak and sets the tone for the rest of the game. After a 20 year flash forward and a few hours of play, Ellie is introduced to Joel. The relationship between them is similar to Kee and Theo in Children Of Men. In fact, I could save myself some time here and say it’s basically Children Of Men, but greener and with infected people.
To begin with, delivering Ellie safely to the resistance is simply another job for Joel to complete, but as time goes on they begin to bond and even rely on each other. Each character is well fleshed out and believable, Ellie filling the “annoying but mature beyond her years” role nicely, while Joel is the typical “gruff, bearded hard man with a soft spot” character – though again, well played and believable. All of the minor characters are also well played and engaging, making for a more engrossing story.
The setting for The Last Of Us is of course the overgrown crumbling ruins of our planet. This is a trope that has been explored many times before in games, movies, comics and books. For me, this is one of the most complete and enthralling examples of the crumbling world scenario. Instead of being a bleak, dreary burning mess, the world is colourful and vibrant. Nature has started to take over and buildings are covered in creepers and vines; trees grow through roof tops, stagnant water fills low lying streets and metro tunnels. Even in the patches where the infected have been destroyed, the fungus that caused the outbreak has grown out and formed structures reminiscent of the hive in Aliens, but with green spore clouds filling the air around them. It all feels bigger than the characters, adding to the isolation and the feeling of hopelessness. Most importantly it’s believable and you can lose yourself in it.
Stealth is the name of the game when it comes to combat. You can always find bottles or bricks to distract your enemies with, and sneaking around a fight is usually preferable to trying to take on a horde of the infected. There are firearms, of course, but melee weapons and take downs are easier against most foes if you have the patience. Ammo and crafting resources are sparse so should be used wisely if found.
There’s plenty of white knuckle tension in The Last Of Us. One particularly orifice-puckering sequence stood out as either a homage to Dead Space or a “this is how you do it”. While trying to find your way through a booby-trapped labyrinth of abandoned streets, you enter a large warehouse, only to step into a loop of rope on the floor. A split-second later, a counter weight falls from the ceiling across the room and you’re dragged upwards by your ankles and left dangling upside down. Ellie goes to the counter weight to start cutting you down, when you start to hear the infected coming over the surrounding fences. Armed only with a pistol, you have to fend them off.
If you’ve played Dead Space 2 you might have a vague recollection of a similar sequence involving a monorail, though Dead Space had to resort to jump scares to keep your pants soiled. The Last Of Us does this with pacing, an awesome score and relatable characters who are deeper than the puddle of coffee on my coaster. The horror doesn’t come from the usual scary creatures jumping out at you when you least expect it. Instead, it’s driven by needing to survive against all odds to get Ellie to safety. This provides some truly harrowing moments, particularly later on when Joel takes a re-bar to the torso and Ellie has to take control. This event and what follows really proves the mettle of Ellie’s character.
The worst thing that can be said about The Last Of Us, is that it can be predictable. It runs a lot of the same paths as games that have come before it. You can predict, for the most part, that you’re going to be chased by the infected if you run down that hall way, or once you get upstairs there will be more dudes just waiting to set you on fire, and you know that there will be a convenient chest-high wall to hide behind in the next room. But when it’s presented this well all can be forgiven, and you can continue to enjoy the experience. Predictability isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it’s not always about originality. Sometimes it’s just nice to play a game where everything is well executed. Resident Evil may have been one of the first of its genre, Fallout may have had an awesome post-apocalyptic world and Uncharted may have had some mind-blowing set pieces, but this is a good example of how to do all those things, particularly well, in one game. It’s a well-crafted version of things that have already been done before. The Last Of Us takes heavily from other elements of pop culture and produces a defining game in the genre.
It does suffer from a couple of pet peeves of mine, one of which is puzzles with no obvious answer, where you spend half an hour wandering around a room looking at every pixel in great detail in case you have missed the solution. This is a fairly minor complaint I guess, and could simply be an error between the controller and the floor. The other though, is fairly annoying. A lot of games share this particular issue. Generally if you shoot something in the head, it will expire. Not so here: scope firmly fixed on head, gun fired, target staggers backwards as though shot in the face, but does not go down. On some occasions it took three precious rounds to the head to take down a single human enemy. Normally this isn’t an issue in a game, as ammo is readily available, but when you have a total of eight rounds that you have collected and saved for an encounter such as this, it becomes frustrating. I’m no Lee Harvey Oswald but I’m not a crap shot either.
All in all this isn’t the most original game in the genre, it’s simply one of the most polished and well executed, bar a few niggles. It’s the kind of game I’ll play over and over again for years to come just to soak up every detail. JAMES BAKER