These are some of the words that describe the characters in The Last of Us, Naughty Dog’s latest game release on the PS3. Unfortunately, these words don’t only describe the flesh-eating creatures.
The Last of Us takes on the zombie genre with a twist - mind-controlling Cordyceps affects humans, turning them into murderous creatures. The worldwide epidemic has no cure, even after twenty years since the outbreak. Society breaks down soon after, separating humanity into three factions. There are the areas under direct Military rule, with an iron fist of course. And then there’s the Hunters, ruthless individuals that prey on anyone outside of their community. As for the Fireflies, they are a group that are hopelessly trying all means and ways to find a cure, with the military breathing down their necks.
Naughty Dog presents a very dark narrative to the zombie apocalypse genre. With every glimpse of hope lies many other horrific decisions and actions Man takes to survive. Broken and tattered, the walls of society brings forth desperation, allowing acts like stealing and murdering for supplies and ammunition to be a normal cause of life, especially to the Hunters.
You start out as Joel, a grizzled middle-aged survivor who has been through 20 years of loss of his daughter since the beginning of the outbreak. Dabbling in all sorts of vices to keep himself alive, Joel finds himself in a situation to smuggle a teenage girl named Elie outside of Boston city centre to the Fireflies in order to retrieve back a large stash of weapons and supplies for the community he is in.
Cold and aloof at the start, the chemistry between Joel and Elie is very much similar to a father-daughter relationship. The constant turmoil and hardships the two endured throughout their journey forged that bond. Battling the Infected – humans affected by the Cordyceps fungus – and the Hunters created opportunities for this.
Survival is the main theme of the game, which leads to crafting makeshift weapons and supplies such as nail bombs, molotov cocktails and health packs out of various materials. Shivs can be created through crafting as well, and can unlock previously inaccessible doors. These doors lead to a treasure cove of materials and ammunition. The crafting menu is simple yet intuitive, arming you with supplies from scraps littered throughout. Unfortunately these scraps are hard to come by, and will require a fair bit of exploration to gather them for your crafting needs. Various notes and memos provide insights on previous interactions with the supporting characters and former survivors.
Combat mechanics revolve around the third person shooter genre, with some tweaks on weapon and supply management. Swapping out weapons and items is quick and hassle-free as long as you do your necessary upgrades at the bench. Parts and pills needed for equipment and status upgrades are impossible to complete with your first run, and will require multiple completions to upgrade fully. Working with what you have, and upgrading your inventory accordingly to suit your play style is absolutely essential.
Despite being a third person shooter, it forces you to not go guns ablazing at your enemies. Stealth is key, sneaking around to avoid your enemies will be essential to your survival. The Listen mode acts as a radar of sorts, marking your enemy’s locations momentarily. This allows for sneak kills by strangulation or jamming a shiv at its throat. Enemies attack you from all sides most of the time if you are not careful, and your best bet is sneaking about and dealing stealth kills. The Infected comes in various shapes and sizes, though the enemy variety is pretty small. Some dash at you, while others deal 1-hit K.Os, bringing you back to the last save point. Fortunately, the game saves itself rather frequently, usually right before any enemy encounter.
The 20 hour single player campaign brings you through dilapidated cities and suburbs of the United States, from Boston to Pittsburgh, Colorado and Salt Lake City. Lush greenery spreads rapidly in those 20 years, taking over all urbanized areas. There is hardly a room that isn’t filled with pieces of rubbish and chipped wood. Or walls that are crumbling and falling apart, if not already so. Dynamic lighting is used here, and there is absolutely no load screens in between cinematic cutscenes. Our only gripe was that the manual saving and loading takes quite a bit of time.
You would have thought that The Last of Us is purely a single player experience. However, there is a multiplayer portion, called Factions.
Choosing your side as a Hunter or a member of the Fireflies, you collect supplies to sustain your community. How fast your community grows depends on you and your team’s performance. The objective is to keep your community alive for 12 weeks. Two modes are available for you to gain supplies: Supply Raid and Survivors. It’s kill or be killed, and killing your enemies and looting their supplies off their bodies contributes to the success of your community’s survival.
With Supply Raid, your team has 20 lives shared between each team member, while Survivors rely on a best of 8 rounds for each faction. External factors include attacks to your base, recruiting new members may break or aid in your quest.
The idea of this premise does bring about many extra hours of fun, levelling up for weapon and supply upgrades. Sadly, the experience is marred by the lag present with at least 50% of the matches we encountered. Given that teamwork is essential for the survival of each faction, there are times where players choose to break off from the group, of which each individual member gets picked off one by one.
Problems don’t just stop there – a Day 1 bug that we encountered with the inability to save your progress, but we found a workaround (switch off your internet connection to your PS3) for that.
A robust single player experience of humanity’s desperation to survive, slightly marred by an annoying multiplayer experience and a save data bug. Even so, The Last of Us won’t be the last of our list of favourite games we have played so far in 2013. It is definitely a great contender to one of our favourite games for the PS3.