To say that this game is eagerly anticipated would be the understatement of the year. After three beautifully crafted Uncharted games, all eyes have been on developers Naughty Dog to see if they could replicate their earlier success with a new franchise. The Last of Us, which releases on the 14th June, is a bold affirmation that they can.
The Last of Us, for the few who haven’t heard, is a third-person survival-action game that takes place in the very near future. Humanity is on the brink of extinction due to a parasitic fungus that has wiped out millions. It’s an illustration of what happens when mother nature fights back . . . and wins. Entire cities have been terraformed, leaving vegetation, vines, and moss growing on buildings, cars, and freeways.
Adding to the apocalypse, those infected by the fungus plague becomes mindless, bloodthirsty killers - or to put it crudely, zombies with mushrooms growing out of their head. It sounds comedic, but coming face to face with them engenders the opposite response.
Move forward twenty more years; desperate survivors are holed up in quarantine zones, protected by strict military rule. These “lucky” few are heavily controlled, under curfew, and constantly screened for any sign of infection - often with extreme prejudice. It’s here that we find the two central characters in The Last of Us; Joel and Ellie.
Joel is an obvious father figure and through a harrowing sequence, we find out just what he’s been through. He’s a hardened scoundrel with a heart of gold and a complex past, one that predates the infection and consequent transformation of mankind. The introduction sequence in The Last of Us is one I’ll never forget.
Now in quarantine, Joel becomes involved in an anti-establishment faction and is tasked with escorting fourteen year old Ellie away from the harsh environment. What follows is an epic journey that covers the width of the United States of America.
The Last of Us is a heavy, gritty struggle for survival, as Joel and Ellie trek cross-country avoiding death around every corner. Danger will come not only in the form of the infected, but also in fellow survivors who are so desperate they’ll do anything for food or supplies (including cold-blooded murder.) At other points in the game, you’ll also encounter heavily armed and well organised military units who are out to bring escapees back to the quarantine zone.
What unfolds from here is a superb example of solid storytelling in a video game. We won’t go into any detail to avoid spoilers. But, as fans of Uncharted will expect, the game is full of plot intricacies, deep character development, and there are even a few surprises thrown in. The Last of Us is a tour de force that changes pace alarmingly - a roller-coaster ride that has to be experienced first hand to be fully appreciated.
Complementing the plot, the game delivers everything with the level of polish that we have come to expect of Naughty Dog. The third-person controls are slick and the character animations incredibly fluid. Joel’s movements in particular are nearly faultless, whether he’s engaged in intense violent combat or simply climbing a wall or picking up ammunition. As you explore your environment, your companion Ellie will keep pace and intelligently make observations or stay out of trouble when enemies are nearby.
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