From most accounts, The Last of Us was one of the games of a the generation when it was released on the PlayStation 3 last year. While Steve had some valid criticisms of the game when he played it last year, I have just finished the recently released PlayStation 4 version and, despite some issues, have been truly impressed.
Please note that spoilers might lie ahead.
The story grabbed me from the off, Joel’s life is turned upside down with the outbreak of an infection that creates the now traditional zombie outbreak. The opening sequence hit me with a punch to the gut, I knew something drastic would happen to lead you to building the relationship with Ellie, but the way the opening was crafted caught me. Not many games do that, largely as the tales they tell can be so weak. The start of The Last of Us told me that this game means business.
It was just a shame that things took a bit of a downturn for the next hour. These opening sequences in Boston do a fine job of helping you understand what has happened to the world while introducing you to some of the game mechanics, but it can be quite plodding at times and really not indicative of how the game unfolds once you meet Ellie. Once you meet up with her, things start to take shape as you leave Boston with Ellie and Joel’s friend Tess.
After escaping the military search parties, you gaze out across the ruins of Boston with the apparently simple aim of getting across town. This leads to an office block adventure, sneaking about different rooms, taking out infected and learning about the lives of Joel, Tess and Ellie. It is a structure that you follow several times through the game, enter a building, scavenge your way around and take out infected or plain old bad guys. It is a structure which works, and first time around, it works very well as you don’t have a clue what is going to be around the next corner.
The gentle storytelling which unravels the lives and motivations of the characters is truly impressive, while I felt cold towards Tess during the pre-Ellie sequences, you start to appreciate how the three characters could form a family of sorts on their journey across America. Sadly, that hope is ripped apart shortly before you enter one of areas of the game which didn’t click with me.
When spores of the cordyceps fungus are around, your view is obscured by the fog of the spores. Trying to navigate and sneak around the enemy in these conditions isn’t easy, and it only gets worse when you have to swim. While I appreciate Joel has to take on the water duties as Ellie can’t swim, the underwater mechanics are poor and left me frustrated. In that early game swimming sequence in the ruined train tunnel, I was well and truly lost. I took the drastic steps of letting Joel drown so I could reload at a point where Ellie could direct me to where to do.
It was a frustrating moment, and in hindsight is one of the weakest in the game. For the most part there is decent signposting of where you need to go, normally through the excellent use of lighting effects. This section, and several other later ones (your arrival at the dam being another) show that not everything fits perfectly into place. In contrast, a late game hunt through a town hit by a snow-storm is well crafted with clear audible and visual cues on where to go. It makes those moments where things don’t fall into place feel all the more jarring.
Similarly jarring were the issues I had with AI navigation. During the initial office block sweep Boston, I got to a moment where Ellie and Tess were blocking a doorway…my only solution was to reload the last checkpoint. They aren’t game breaking moments, but they take away from the otherwise impressive sheen. There are also times where you just want to explore the ruined world, yet as you do so, Ellie or your other companions continue walking down their prescribed route talking away without consideration that you are eagerly exploring the world trying to find more supplies. It can leave you missing out on parts of the narrative or clues as to the next objective.
The game more than holds its own despite these niggles. The atmosphere is wonderful with my favourite sequences coming after you meet with up with Henry and Sam. Your exploration of a water treatment facility outside of Pittsburgh works so well as it places Joel with the younger brother, Sam while Ellie and Henry are left to escape the infected. On your journey through the facility you uncover notes from past survivors charting their lives they forged in a concrete world. While most notes are inconsequential and stand by themselves, I found myself invested in the lives I was reading about.
After the fraught escape from the facility, you have some time to explore a quiet residential suburb. Ellie and Sam forge a friendship and you witness Joel explaining small things like an ice-cream van to these children who grew up in a ruined world. This sequence has a harrowing end, one that I feared was coming, but still played out very well. I had enjoyed the earlier journey with Bill who helps Joel and Ellie find a car, but I infinitely preferred the action that takes place when you are with Henry and Sam, though I do have to say that bump-starting a car with Ellie and Bill was a fun experience.
I felt that there were a few miss-steps in the tale. Joel’s reunion with his brother failed to spark any connection with me, but it does a great job of developing the relationship between Joel and Ellie. It is also a section of the game that lets you ride a horse, always a positive moment in any game. Soon enough you find yourself controlling Ellie during the winter in some of the best, yet darkest moments of the game.
All too soon you arrive in Salt Lake City and I took a moment to reflect on how the relationship with Joel and Ellie had evolved during the course of the game. Their relationship is perhaps the best I have witnessed in a game and the ending still leaves me wondering whether Joel does the right thing by lying to Ellie who has been through so much. It is though, the perfect way to end the tale, one that I won’t soon forget.
The Last of Us is a great tale with some great action, and a bit of not-so-great action. All told though, it is a brilliant adventure. The Remastered edition comes with the Left Behind DLC along with all of the multiplayer maps. Is it worth picking up if you have already played the game on the PlayStation 3? I can’t answer that question, but for anyone who hasn’t tried it out yet, it should be a must-buy.
Verdict – Red Mist
Platforms Available/Reviewed – PlayStation 4
Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Game purchased at retail.