First off: Spoilers. Can’t help it.
Second off: Criticisms aside, “The Last of Us” is my game of the year, no question. It is undoubtedly a classic, and reminds me a lot of BioShock Infinite with much better gameplay and a cleaner ending.
For those who don’t know, “The Last of Us” is a survival-horror shooter about the last surviving humans in the zombie apocalypse. The story follows Joel, a bitter middle aged man who lost his daughter twenty years before the game actually begins in a very emotional prologue section, and Ellie, a fourteen year old girl who we learn is immune to zombie bites and needs to be transported across the country so they can use her to make some sort of cure or vaccine. Through a series of events Joel ends up being the person tasked to transport Ellie, so there’s your premise.
I’ll start off by saying that the story is truly great. As you might expect it’s all about Joel and Ellie forming a father-daughter relationship. Joel is a very interesting character. There are two sides to him – Joel the ruthless killer who will do whatever it takes to survive, and Joel the father. Throughout the game Joel (and Ellie too, for that matter, though to a lesser extent) kill a LOT of people. Granted many of them were trying to kill them first, but still. And it is heavily implied that before the events of the main game take place Joel was a bandit who would ambush people and kill them for supplies. He’s a ruthless killer.
At the same time, you can’t help but feel sympathetic towards him. The bond he forms with Ellie forms slowly and is clearly very painful for him. The point is to make this contrast. Joel is a great father who would do anything for Ellie, whatever his other flaws.
The end of the game is highly predictable (I got it pretty much immediately, actually), but executed well, and it’s very powerful. When they finally make it to the hospital, Joel learns that in order to make the zombie cure they need to kill Ellie. So Joel rescues her, then lies to her and tells her that they’d already given up on making a cure. This is the perfect mirror to Joel’s two sides. Ellie is his daughter now, and to save her he’ll do literally ANYTHING, even if it means dooming humanity. You can’t help but admire the love he has for her, while at the same time questioning the people he kills in order to spring her. It does, of course, help that it’s heavily implied that Ellie is never told that they’ll be removing her brain. This makes the morality of rescuing her a little clearer, but even so he has to kill a LOT of people to get to her. Ultimately I was a fan of the man – I mean, they WERE trying to remove a young girl’s brain without her consent, and seeing Joel’s character arc is quite moving.
Graphics-wise the game is the best I’ve ever seen. The graphics are absolutely stunning. Facial expressions in particular are rendered in pitch-perfect detail.
Now there’s gameplay. Generally, the gameplay is great. I can’t help but wonder, though, if the game would have benefited from…not being a zombie game? Fighting humans was always a blast. The enemy human AI is incredible. Which is why it made me question the presence of zombies. You’ve created one of the best human AI’s of all time, so instead of focusing on that you’re going to have long levels featuring monsters whose instinct is to run directly at you once you alert them to your presence. It seemed like a bit of a waste.
That’s not to say there weren’t a LOT of human enemies – there were. And that’s also not to say the zombie sections weren’t fun – they could be. Still, when zombie levels went on a long time I found myself starting to wish I wasn’t there.
Combat is really fun. You can sneak up behind people and strangle them, back into a chokepoint and throw a molotov cocktail, shoot them out, or, my favorite, many times just sneak past them without killing anybody at all. It’s difficult without being overly frustrating and feels very realistic.
I don’t like to give number or star rating. The reason is that my first impression is to give a nine out of then (point off for the zombie sections and the predictable ending). And yet, my first impression is also to give Infinite a nine out of ten, but this is clearly better than Infinite. So, I’ll give the game a thumbs up. It’s not perfect, but it’s a masterpiece, and the obvious game of the year. Definitely better than BioShock Infinite. It’s not as good as the Portal games, and perhaps on the same level as the original BioShock. Maybe a tad worse.
Highly, highly recommended.