You are Joel. Twenty years ago, the infection came and changed the world forever. Fifty-something – that makes you an old-timer, especially these days when people don’t live very long. But being old doesn’t make you weak. Or soft. You’ve survived because you’re a tough son-of-a-bitch. So when someone screws up and your gun deal goes sour you’re looking for compensation, which is a lot more complicated than it first sounds. For a start, the Fireflies have your guns. The renegades are ready to deal, but not for free. They’ll give you your guns, they say. But you have to deliver something first.
This simple task sets you off on a mission that is way more difficult than you imagined, and way more important. More important, perhaps, than anything you’ve ever done before.
The Last of Us is set in a world where most humans are infected by a brain-invading fungus, which turns its victims into mindless killers. There are small pockets of survivors – Safe Zones – guarded by the military. Beyond these enclaves, the city streets are deadly, ravaged by time, neglect and the chaos that took place when the infection first occurred. The streets and buildings are prowled by the infected in their various forms, all of which are highly dangerous.
To survive out there, you need to scavenge. So take time to check everywhere. Every corner, every drawer. The items you find are finite, so use them wisely. Mostly, what you find will be useless on its own, but find complimentary items and you can craft shivs, which you definitely need, and med-kits, which you also definitely need, as well as other items. Keep at least two of each ready at all times. Make sure you craft regularly as, once your item slots are full, you can’t pick up any more until they’ve been used.
You will also find skill upgrades. These pill-like boxes build up in your inventory until you can improve your health, hearing or other skills. You will also find weapons, which get more badass as you progress through the game. Pick up junk items to upgrade those weapons with at workbenches.
The combat is varied, as are your enemies, some of which are uninfected humans and as difficult to kill as the infected. Your basic combat is melee, primarily with fists, though grab items like crowbars to do more damage. The long-range weapons vary from revolvers to shotguns, and even bows, and you can craft various forms of explosives, which can be thrown. A particularly fun weapon was a sniper-rifle someone left lying around. I have to admit I ‘missed’ a couple of targets with that one, just so I could have a do-over.
By far the best form of combat, for me, and a truly pleasant surprise, was the stealth. I speak as a stalwart Splinter Cell fan, and this game equalled/surpassed Splinter Cell, hands down. The stealth was especially good for dealing with ‘clickers’, which are the long-term infected and completely blind. They see with sound, so you need to sneak to either avoid or stealth-kill them. If you’re the kind of gamer who likes to move in blasting, you might end up dying. A lot. If you really want to kill clickers that way, aim for the body. The fungal growths around their skulls act like armour – shooting one in the head just tells it where you are. Double/triple-tap to make sure it’s dead. You can also stealth-kill humans, or grab them to use as shields.
The transition between gameplay and cut-scenes is practically seamless, and there are enough cut-scenes to keep the story moving smoothly. They also offer breaks from the game’s sometimes crippling tension.
The music in The Last of Us moves away from the soaring orchestral scores of Uncharted, but still remains beautiful, haunting and poignant. The simple guitar riff plucks nostalgia from the broken cities, the overgrown streets, the homes left undisturbed for decades. For all its simplicity, it’s powerful and evocative.
As always, Naughty Dog transports real-life places to the game with fastidious attention to detail. The settings are convincing, varied and often terrifying, especially when your flashlight starts glitching and you just know there are clickers out there somewhere. From sewers and underground railways to broken down hotels and decaying homes. Urban jungle to overgrown suburb, there’s always areas to explore, and always the danger that something nasty lurks nearby.
As we also expect with Naughty Dog, the characters are rich and convincing. I particularly liked the fact that sexuality wasn’t used as an enticement. No ripped torsos or barely-hidden nipples here, everyone dresses like survivors. None of them would win a beauty contest either. Tess is hard-faced, Bill is fat , Ellie has a squint and Joel is grizzled and scarred. But that just makes them real. That means they could be me, or you. And I like that. I also like the fact that each character has a past, even the minor ones. It makes them human, and believable.
No spoilers on the story other than to say, it’s up to Naughty Dog’s exacting standards, if not better. Good. Really good.
I found it difficult to fault this game, but nothing’s ever perfect. Positioning trolleys so they could be climbed on was sometimes hit and miss, and you sometimes had to stand back from a climbable wall to get the action triangle to appear. Perhaps the most annoying element was the weapons menu, which doesn’t pause the game. Select handgun or rifle on D-pad and hold X to switch weapons. Yeah, when there are clickers and runners coming at you from all directions and you just ran out of bullets? I confess I killed more with a baseball bat than a gun for that reason. However, I also asked myself how quickly I’d be able to swap weapons in real life. So, hey. Realism right?
In all. An awesome game.