Naughty Dog just keep on going from strength to strength. They’ve truly utilised the full power potential of Sony’s PlayStation 3, and the results are mesmerisingly beautiful with their latest output, The Last Of Us.
As the player, you are thrown head first into the downfall of an apocalyptic USA as single father Joel. After seeing a his home town become overrun by the mysterious zombie-like Cordyceps spore virus, we flash forward 20 years later where he encounters 14 year-old Ellie. They get thrown together and we find out Ellie may be the key to curing the virus and finding a vaccine, and they set off cross-country to find the Fireflies. The character relationships in this game are the real reason for its critical but somewhat cult success. The father-daughter bond between Joel and Ellie and the struggles on their journey are the most heartfelt and believable ever created in a video game.
The first thing that will strike you with this game are the graphics. As with the Uncharted series every pixel is so rich, detailed and smooth that a small part of you could almost weep. The world created by Naughty Dog, even though a deserted one, breathes with so much gritty realism and life. There are particles in the air, flickering lights, leafs blowing on the ground and water leaking from pipes. It’s ironic that given the circumstance of the setting the game’s locations are visually beautiful (in an eerie way). Over the seasonal timespan of a year we travel through “alternative” America; Boston, Lincoln, Pittsburgh, and Salt Lake City (not your typical New York City or L.A.). To me, being set in these smaller communities adds to the realism and emotional impact off the story, as in some way this could be happening in your town.
The gameplay and mechanics in The Last Of Us is as solid as a rock. Whilst there is a heavy pre-install required and initial long loading times, the cutscenes are seamlessly integrated allow the story to have great fluidity. Whenever Joel brushes against an object or wall he will react differently according to it’s size. There are countless other little touches that amazed me as the player, such as having to shake the PlayStation controller when the batteries are low on your torch or Joel raising his hand to his eyes when you walk out into daylight. The simple and intuitive player mechanics aren’t going to change the world, and they’re not meant to otherwise it would detract our focus from what’s happening on screen. It feels like every topic to immerse the player just one more level has been implemented by the developer.
The Last Of Us in an important entry in the gaming catalogue. Its well-written characters and tense story along with its powerful visuals completely immersed me in the world. Whilst being distributed as a video game it paves the road for a a new form of storytelling. The emotional impact is greater than the vast majority of Hollywood’s post-apocalyptic exports, the only one with a similar tone being The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel. The cinematic scale of the game compiled with it’s poignant soundtrack (notably from the same composer of Babel and Biutiful) at times made me forget that I was actually playing a video game. One in particular [spoiler] was during Joel’s do-or-die escape around the hospital corridors with Ellie in his arms at the end. There are moments like this in The Last Of Us that will stay with you long after the completion trophy chimes. If you haven’t picked up this title just yet, I highly recommend that you add it to this year’s Christmas list.