The Last of Us Playstation 3 Review
It’s safe to say at this point you’ve read five reviews for Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, and I can honestly say that’s a liberating feeling. I don’t necessarily have to worry about the most provocative title, description, or anything else that’s used to rake in the impressions. I have free reign to conduct my review as I’d like without any specific expectations. First things first, Naughty Dog (in my opinion) is certainly the top developer of this console generation. They continually create gaming experiences that land them perfect review scores, and it seems, with the exception of Uncharted 3, that they continually one up their previous efforts. The Last of Us is a triumph on many levels, the plot is carefully layered, characters are fully developed, action sequences are instinctual, and once again the visuals push the envelope of what’s possible on the Playstation 3.
The Last of Us starts modestly enough as a father and daughter unwind after a hard days work. The moment, however brief shows us our protagonist, Joel’s deep love for his daughter, and the connection they share. Things take an abrupt turn for the worst as a contagion begins to infect humanity on a colossal scale. The narrative is then shoved ahead to years after the fungal infection ravaged the known world and left it a primal shell of it’s former self. Humanity fringes upon extinction, horrible manifestations referred to as Clickers lurk in the shadows, and mankind’s small amount of survivors are restricted to heavily policed quarantine zones. Joel has now adapted to the very harsh reality that he faces daily. He’s become a shadow of the man you first glimpsed, and has taken to black market smuggling as a means to an end. He and his partner, Tess, have managed to eek out an existence trafficking drugs, weapons, and all manner of contraband. However, their past experiences pale in comparison to what’s ahead. The pair has been asked to deliver precious human cargo by the name of Ellie to resistance group known as the Fireflies. By all accounts Ellie holds the key to the salvation of the human race. Their journey is filled with tragedy, triumph, and a piercing connection that’s rarely attained in video game storytelling. The Last of Us creates an unwelcome, opposing situation where it’s hard to determine who, or what, is your largest threat.
As I mentioned previously, The Last of Us harnesses Naughty Dog’s proprietary game engine that’s best known for powering the Uncharted series. Which means you’ll continually enjoy sharp visuals throughout your time in the ruins of the old world. The tech behind the Uncharted engine has redefined what’s possible from a graphics standpoint on the Playstation 3 console. The Last of Us provides stunning representations of a world being reclaimed by nature. The juxtaposition of a literal concrete jungle is a sight to behold. Lush vegetation encroaches upon office parks, college campuses, suburban homes, and rural communities. The segments that take place in fully forested environments were the only instances of texture popping I noticed, these rare occurrences were spurred on by fast movement through the environment. Otherwise the impressive visuals didn’t suffer, even in large scale confrontations.
The Last of Us features a somewhat cookie cutter weapon and character upgrade system, but it’s executed rather nicely and character advancement doesn’t turn Joel into a superhuman. parts collected within environments are used to upgrade the effectiveness and efficiency of your arsenal, and what amounts to XP is utilized to mostly bolster Joel’s survival skills. Stealth and ingenuity are a must when it comes to combating constant insurmountable odds. Certain situations require a completely passive approach to retain enough supplies for the road ahead, and others downright punish you for not doing so. Your many encounters with Clickers (deformed humanoids as a result of prolonged exposure to infection) and Runners (newly infected humans) provide a terrifying theme of helplessness. My take away from The Last of Us’ many confrontations was – you have to play smart to succeed, otherwise things get dirty very quickly. Aiming a firearm felt a bit stiff to begin with, but Joel isn’t a trained soldier and he’s anything but a crack shot. Later upgrades offer a bit of relief to weapon sway, and fit into a situation where continued gunplay fosters Joel’s increasing familiarity with his weaponry, thus making him more authoritative in combat situations. Another great addition to The Last of Us is on-the-fly item crafting. Rarely do you find an item that’s readily available for use. In most cases you’ll have to collect the required materials to create items that are paramount to your survival. I found my favorite item to craft was the shiv. It’s use is well known, and it proves to be a versatile tool in a post apocalyptic reality. Short problem solving sessions are peppered throughout to calm the frenetic pace, and what small amount of exploration that’s available is rewarded nicely with necessary loot.
Clean visuals, tense combat situations, and an interesting plot help make The Last of Us a memorable experience, but the characters that come to life on screen are the real selling point. Joel is a heavily conflicted character that’s learned to push away all forms of affection in order to protect himself from tragedy. Hard situations breed equally hard participants, and Joel’s no exception. His primary focus is that of survival, even though he’s unsure what his motivation to do so is. Joel’s a broken, disenchanted man that is continually shaped by the heinous acts he commits in the name of self preservation. His lack of moral semblance has made him a prime subject for the trafficking of goods that both sustain and take lives. When he’s presented with moral choices his reactions are, for the most part, unsettlingly cold and calculated. Initially his role in Ellie’s transportation is viewed as that of a postal carrier delivering a parcel, but the continued hardships of the journey cultivate a relationship that Joel has feverishly worked to suffocate. Ellie’s character is the product of a society without morals, and the absence of nurturing of any type. She’s grown into a brash, lewd, and decidedly ungrateful young woman. Her character being molded by constant loss and betrayal. To a lesser extent she bears the same rough exterior as Joel. The constant threat to their well being and a shared goal bring these two despondent characters together in a very meaningful way.
I have to admit, for the first half of my time with The Last of Us I wasn’t sure where the perfect scores were coming from, but as I continued my journey with the characters, and was witness to their development, I started to see the layered genius of Naughty Dog’s seminole outing. The long time first party Sony developer is known for their globe trotting Uncharted series, but I believe that The Last of Us has defined them as one of the most the prominent developers of our generation. The bleak, foreboding tone combined with flawed, natural characters make The Last of Us arguably the most satisfying experience I’ve had in gaming. The closing moments made me question my own resolve, and what I’d sacrifice in the name of a loved one, and nearly brought tears to my eyes while contemplating it. The Last of Us is the finest piece of gaming I’ve ever had the privilege to experience. Period.
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