The Last of Us
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3
World-wide Release Date: June 14, 2013
Trophies: 1 | 7 | 9 | 7
Trophy Guide: The Last of Us Trophy Guide by Compalicious
From Naughty Dog, Sony's critically lauded first-party developer, comes The Last of Us: a third-person survival-thriller/adventure game, set two decades after a fungal pandemic brings society to its knees, turning those infected into mindless abominations, and plunging mankind into an ongoing struggle for survival. In the middle of it all we find Joel, a taciturn smuggler, and Ellie, a precocious teenager. For the better part of a year the two journey together from the confines of a quarantine zone in Boston across the dying remnants of the continental United States, surviving bandits, the infected, and each other. With a boldly dark narrative so clearly inspired by the likes of 28 Days Later, True Grit, and The Road, does The Last of Us, with its unique setting and narrative-driven structure, do enough to elevate itself above the derivative trappings of an over-saturated genre, or is it just another 'survival' game that you can live without?
The game starts slow, but with purpose. After a surprising and thoroughly compelling scene-setting prologue, we join Joel in Boston's Quarantine Zone. He's reluctantly charged with smuggling Ellie out of the city after his partner, Tess, leads him into a potentially lucrative deal with the Fireflies, a dwindling resistance movement combating what they see as the tyrannical rule of the military in the hope of one day restoring all branches of government. Knowing only that he needs to get Ellie to a larger Firefly group somewhere out west, Joel heads off to find his estranged brother, Tommy, a former Firefly, hoping he may know where to find his former brothers in arms.
For those in any way familiar with post-event fiction, the premise and certain events will feel familiar, and possibly predictable. Much like Cormac McCarthy's The Road, however, the premise and the setting play second fiddle to the game's fantastic cast of characters, providing context for who they are and what they do. The world of The Last of Us is a character-vehicle; a tool to explore the lives of Joel, Ellie, and others, and an incredibly effective one at that.
Along their journey, we witness and experience Joel and Ellie's developing relationship. Initially it’s awkward and uncomfortable; neither of them wants to be where they are, but they have no other choice. Over the course of their journey, and as a result of shared experiences, however, the two truly come to care for one another, just as we, the players, come to care for Joel and Ellie. Never before in a game have I cared for characters as much as I did for the cast of The Last of Us; each and every person you encounter has so much personality, and so much depth, you can’t help but feel a thoroughly human connection.
Thematically and tonally, The Last of Us is unquestionably dark, a particularly bold move from Naughty Dog, who are best known for their light-hearted and consequence-free Uncharted series. This is not a typical narrative by any stretch; things start shitty, and they only get worse. The last few hours of the game, particularly, explore some deeply confronting issues, and during my first playthrough I had to put down my controller and process exactly what I was experiencing. What is interesting was writer Neil Druckmann’s decision to explore humanity, rather than infection or the infected as so many other games of the genre are wont to do, which I found quite refreshing. He explores the breakdown of society, contrasts anarchy and martial law, and forces you to think about what it is that you’d be willing to do to survive. Druckmann also challenges conventional character tropes: Joel is not your typical male-power-fantasy hero, nor is Ellie a weak or submissive girl that needs to have her hand held.
Amidst all the darkness, The Last of Us always manages to catch you off guard with glimpses of beauty.
Beneath all the darkness, however, there lies a constant and inextinguishable sense of hope and determination. The Last of Us regularly juxtaposes the dark and the depressing with scenes of tender beauty and tranquility - in spite of all the terrible things you see and do, there's always something worth fighting for. Following some incredibly harrowing events towards the end of the game, there's a scene shortly afterwards where you, as Joel, get to see Ellie once again as the carefree young girl she once was, and suddenly it makes everything you went through worth it. It's just one example of the many touching events, scripted and unscripted, which keep you going.
As powerful as the narrative is, and as deftly written and performed as the dialogue is, what is truly astonishing about The Last of Us is how much is conveyed indirectly, subtextually, and intertextually. The game's environments are beautiful, and dripping with character and history; ruins are convincingly over-grown with vegetation, flooded tunnels are appropriately dank, and cities are uncomfortably desolate. A mound of luggage on the ground just outside a quarantine barrier, clearly abandoned in great haste, is the only evidence of some terrible event that occurred during the outbreak. Houses in the suburbs look both lived in, and ransacked - toys lay forsaken on the colourfully carpeted floor of a little boy's bedroom, family photographs adorn mantelpieces, and faded messages to friends and loved ones are scrawled across the peeling wallpaper, while drawers, dressers and closets have all been tossed through in search of valuables and essentials. Environs are also littered with Artifacts - collectible snippets of a world that no longer exists, including letters to loved ones, journals detailing people's attempts to survive, and military pamphlets warning survivors to evacuate the city. Much like The Road, The Last of Us' greater narrative is not interested in explaining how or why the world came to be as it is, but for those interested in learning as much as they can, artifacts provide a lot of backstory and really help to flesh out the world.
Storytelling in video games has come a long way in the past few years, both in terms of overall quality and engagement. Some are straight-up fantastic like Red Dead: Redemption and Bioshock, while others are more subtle, like Ico and Braid. The Last of Us, in my mind, stands above them all, incorporating elements of both styles to tell a story that is unparalleled in depth and realism, and rich with character and heart; it's unafraid to explore the dark side of humanity, or make you question your beliefs. Neil Druckmann's narrative vision is uncompromising and unflinching, and while it may be impractical to objectively compare or rank video game narratives, in my mind The Last of Us would undoubtedly be in the running, if not the front-runner, for the greatest story ever told in the medium.
The biggest challenge for developers creating a game with a strong emphasis on its narrative is to do so without compromising player agency. Games like Telltale's The Walking Dead certainly struggled to balance these two seemingly exclusive concepts, with the final product strongly favouring narrative at the cost of interactivity. The Last of Us has definitely struck a good balance between the two, complementing its character-driven narrative with terrific gameplay.
The game mixes stealth, exploration, and cover-based shooting, providing you with a range of options and strategies which it encourages you to experiment with by severely limiting your resources. This isn't your momma's survival game - ammunition is rare, relegating firearms to more of a get-out-of-jail-free role, rather than a dependable offensive option, so instead you'll be scavenging whenever you can for the most mundane of items; scissors, tape, rags and gunpowder can be combined in varying configurations to create a makeshift shiv or a nail bomb, all of which is performed in real-time. Some items have overlapping requirements, forcing you to choose between, for instance, crafting a Molotov cocktail to help with a hoard of infected, or a Health Kit to patch yourself up after the hoard has been dealt with. You should also remain on the lookout for equally ordinary 2x4s and Lead Pipes which, along with some more exotic items found later in the game, can be wielded as melee weapons, and all of which will break after a few hits, depending on how sturdy their construction is. All melee weapons can be upgraded as well, using crafting components to make them more deadly and more durable. Crafting has been done to death in survival-horror games like Dead Island and Dead Rising, but rarely before has it suited a game thematically, or tied into the combat, as well as it does in The Last of Us.
The stages for the game's impressive combat are not so much open as intricate: labyrinths of corridors, various forms of cover, rooms, stairways and windowsills to vault, rich with opportunities for strategic manoeuvering and flanking. Sight and sound play an integral role, with human enemies tracking you by the former, infected mostly by the latter; both behave unpredictably, and no two encounters are ever the same. Sound can also be your friend: empty glass bottles or loose bricks lying around can be picked up and thrown, creating a much needed distraction for human enemies, or perhaps creating a valuable opportunity to take out a group of infected, who will all rush to investigate the source of the noise, with a well-placed Molotov or Nail Bomb. Human enemies will attempt to flank you, or flush you out, while the infected will simply come sprinting towards you, requiring snap-decisions if you want to make it out alive.
A stealthy approach to combat is strongly advised; Joel is more than able to handle himself in one-on-one situations, but a more direct approach will see you swiftly surrounded, out-gunned, or out-matched. Stealth mechanics are brilliantly simple; there's no cover button, or sticky-cover system - instead, you're free to move about in whichever way you please. The speed at which you move determines the amount of sound you make, and if you see something you think you can hide behind, you probably can. Aiding your efforts to remain undetected, Joel has the ability to focus his acute hearing, resulting in something reminiscent of Batman: Arkham Asylum's 'Detective Mode'. This ability - aptly named 'Listening Mode' - allows you to see any and all enemies in a certain radius, provided that they are making some kind of sound. It's a welcome addition, but it never feels overpowered (unlike in Batman) because you're still always so vulnerable.
Successfully clearing an entire area of enemies using stealth is extremely satisfying, and is certainly my preferred modus operandi.
Don't. Make. A. Sound.
If you mess up, though, and are either spotted or killed, you can restore to the nearest checkpoint, which is something you'll probably be doing a lot - especially if you're like me and anything less than a completely successful stealth attack is considered a failure! Checkpoints are generally established at the beginning of your most recent encounter, meaning you lose no more than a few minutes progress, and herein lies the only real gripe I have with the mechanics of this game: as a result of the liberal distribution of checkpoints, there is almost no risk - no punishment for failure - involved in combat, which in a survival game is somewhat antithetical. Without meaningful death, or tangible consequences for mistakes, part of the game's 'survival' element is lost. For some, like myself, seeing the characters you care about meet a grizzly death is enough of an incentive to do anything and everything possible to survive, and sufficient a punishment for failure, but for those looking for a gameplay-driven incentive, there really isn’t one, because a death means, at worst, losing only a few minutes of progress.
When it comes to the actual murderin', The Last of Us is brutal. It's certainly one of the more violent games I've played in recent memory, but not in a conventional sense. Many games glorify violence, with titles like God of War going as far as to elevate it to a core mechanic. The Last of Us instead uses violence to shock you, to terrify you, and to disgust you. When you choke out a bandit, his eyes widen, he gurgles and splutters, all the while clawing at your face in desperation, before finally succumbing, exhaling his last breath, and going limp. It's also realistic, without being over-the-top. If you're unlucky enough to get hit by a Molotov, for example, you'll catch on fire, you'll see the fear and the pain on Joel's face, and just as he starts to scream - the most unnerving, disturbing scream I've ever heard - the screen will go to black. You know what happens, but you don't need to be shown it. Unlike Spec Ops: The Line, The Last of Us isn't criticising you for committing violence, rather it uses it to very bluntly communicate to you that every minute of every day is a struggle for survival, and the second you give up, you'll die, and in the most brutal fashion.
Neither is the violence relentless. Enemy encounters and the occasional set-piece are spaced quite evenly with subdued sections which you can progress though at your own pace. These moments of respite are very welcome, and give you a chance to really soak in the world of The Last of Us. It's during these sections that you're also encouraged to scavenge for supplies, explore for collectibles, or perhaps engage in some optional conversations with Ellie. In fact, during the entire game there are only a few instances where Joel is ever separated from Ellie. She follows Joel wherever he goes, but never gets in the way. During combat she takes cover beside you, and if you're in trouble, she'll come to your rescue, jumping on an infected and stabbing it with her switchblade with undisciplined ferocity. Ellie's AI does run into some difficulties, though, most notably in combat - while you do your best to remain hidden and silent, Ellie will, more often than not, run around noisily, including out in front of enemies. Likewise, during the section in which secondary characters join you, they too run about without any concern for stealth. Fortunately, though, the game never punishes you for those kinds of issues, as detection is based entirely on Joel's actions, but it certainly detracts from the experience when your charge runs out in front of a Hunter and yells out "that one's got a gun!"
Naughty Dog certainly know how to do the big stuff, but they're also masters of detail. Using your flashlight for too long causes it to flicker and cut out, prompting you to tap your controller just like you would a real torch. Oftentimes, during combat, Ellie will run over to you and take cover - at first it looks like a pathing glitch, with both characters occupying the same space, but upon closer inspection you can see that Ellie is actually in between Joel and whatever it is you're taking cover behind, while Joel puts his arm around Ellie, as if to shield her. Lots of little things, just like these, go a long way towards immersing you in the game.
In terms of difficulty offerings, there are three to choose from initially, while a fourth difficulty, Survivor, is unlocked upon completion of the game. Really, though, there are only two: if you're playing a survival-thriller on Easy, you're doing it wrong; similarly, Normal doesn't provide much in the way of a challenge, leaving you with Hard, which I strongly recommend choosing for your first playthrough, and Survivor, for those looking for a further challenge. As the difficulty increases, so does the damage you take from enemies, while the number of resources at your disposal drastically decreases, which really emphasises the survival aspect. Lastly, on Survivor difficulty, you're stripped of your Listening ability, forcing you to rely on your own senses which, combined with minimal supplies and greatly limited health, makes for some nerve-racking encounters.
Like in Naughty Dog's Uncharted games, multiplayer in The Last of Us is totally ancillary, and you could easily be forgiven for passing it over, or dismissing it out of hand. That would be a mistake. Prior to revealing any details, the game's lead artist, Nate Wells, took to twitter to reassure fans that The Last of Us' multiplayer is "the best ever conceived." While his statement was somewhat hyperbolic, it's certainly true that multiplayer is not business as usual.
The Last of Us' multiplayer is every bit as brutal and tactical as singleplayer. There's a fairly steep learning curve, but a familiarity with the controls from singleplayer will certainly stand you in good stead. Currently there are two game-modes: Supply Raid and Survivors. The former is a standard team-deathmatch affair with a limit placed on time and respawns, while the latter, though similar in premise, has no respawns, and is best-of-seven contest. Matches are small four-versus-four affairs, and teamwork is key to surviving. The maps, all set in familiar locations, are rich with strategic options, stemming from their size, inherent verticality, and abundant cover, allowing you to plan ambushes, set traps, or flank exposed positions.
Singleplayer mechanics have also been carried over, with a few tweaks, of course, for balance. Listening returns, allowing you to listen for nearby enemies so you can plan your next move. It is, however, a restricted resource, meaning you can only listen for a few seconds at a time before the ability needs to recharge. Crafting also returns; it's essentially the same, with the exception of Nail Bombs and Molotovs, which now require three components, rather than two. It's not just tacked on as an oddity, though. Crafting is very much an integral part of multiplayer matches, and if you want to have any success, you'll be crafting weapons and health-packs whenever you can.
To inject some variety and individuality into the mix, you can not only customise your appearance, but you can create custom Loadouts, choosing from a range of small and large firearms, and a baker's dozen different Perks. Similar to Black Ops II, each weapon and perk has an assigned value, based on its damage or strategic value. Each weapon and perk can be upgraded to be more effective as you progress through the multiplayer, but each attachment you add to the weapon, or each degree you increase the perk by adds to its points value, limiting your options. With so many weapons and perks to choose from, you're able to try out hundreds of permutations and experiment with a variety of stratagems, adding a great deal of depth to multiplayer matches. For those daunted by the sheer volume of choices, though, there are also a number of pre-set loadouts that give you early access to some higher-tier weapons and perks at the cost of customisability.
What makes multiplayer truly unique, however, is how it's packaged. The thing that drives you, what keeps you coming back for more, is the multiplayer meta-game, known as Factions. When you first start multiplayer, you choose to join either the Fireflies or the Hunters, and, having done so, are put in charge of a Clan of survivors, the health and wellbeing of which is tied to your performance in multiplayer matches. The better you do, the more supplies you can gather for your Clan. Similarly, consistently poor performance in matches will lead to the downfall of your group. Your ultimate goal is for your Clan to survive for twelve weeks, and doing so will not be easy. Each multiplayer match you play is representative of a single day, and every few days you'll be faced with a new challenge. These challenges often put your Clan at great risk, but if you overcome them you are handsomely rewarded, and they give each match you play real lasting consequences.
This unique, intense and strategic multiplayer package is unfortunately let down by a lack of game-modes. There are currently only two - the beginner-friendly Supply Raid, and the more hardcore Survivors - but it is worth noting that Naughty Dog has promised additional multiplayer maps and "expansions" in upcoming DLC, all of which are also included in the Season Pass.
Ever since Uncharted 2, Naughty Dog have been pushing both the PlayStation 3 and their propriety game-engine to their limits, squeezing out every bit of processing power, and optimising every single resource. With The Last of Us, the limit has finally been reached. It is, without question, the best looking game on the PlayStation 3. Even the main menu is breath-taking. Seriously, look at it! The lighting is particularly worthy of a mention - the early stages of the game take place in both the late afternoon and early morning, meaning that the world is bathed in a beautiful orange glow that you can't help but adore.
The Last of Us is heavy on cutscenes, all of which look phenomenal. With the use of performance capture technology, something which Naughty Dog have been experimenting with since Drake's Fortune, the game's characters are all brought to life with stunning realism. Other games, most notably L.A. Noire and Heavy Rain, have made extensive use of the process, but I always felt they came up short in one area or another; L.A. Noire had terrific facial animation, but character movement was stiff, while the opposite can be said for Heavy Rain, which had fluid character animation, but its character's faces unfortunately, along the spectrum of realism, fell into the Uncanny Valley. In The Last of Us, there are no such problems. Animations are lifelike, especially in cutscenes, lending a great deal of credibility to Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson, and the supporting cast's performances, really allowing you to engage with their characters, while every subtle movement and facial expression is reproduced with such detail that you can't help but think you're watching a film. Transitions between cutscenes and gameplay are seamless, keeping you immersed in the experience without interruption.
Pursuant to the same goal, there are also no in-game loading screens. That said, each time you launch the singleplayer for the first time, you'll be hit with an unusually lengthy loading screen - not even the fireflies that float around the screen to the strains of the game's theme (in what is admittedly a completely mesmerising display) have the patience to stick around for the full 80 seconds it takes for the game to start. Once it does start, though, you can play from start to end without ever seeing a loading progress bar.
The score, composed by Academy Award-winner Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain and Babel), is absolutely beautiful; it's powerful, yet understated, with a distinct South American feel. Though used quite sparingly, it perfectly complements emotional cutscenes, and subtly heightens tension in already tense situations. Sound plays a very important role in the mechanics of The Last of Us, and thankfully the audio design is outstanding. The terrifying howls and shrieks of the Runners perfectly conveys their constant state of anguish and their uncontrollable rage, and the deeply unnerving cacophony of clicks and screams from the Clickers reverberate around the room and carry down hallways. Gunfire sounds impressively powerful, and melee attacks sound as painful as they look, while ambient sounds of nature can be heard wherever you venture. Subtle audio cues convey important information like an enemy's level of awareness, while incidental sounds like breaking glass and heavy footfalls help you to navigate environments while avoiding enemies.
The game's impressive visuals and the lack of in-game loading screens take their toll, though. From time to time, the PS3's aging hardware struggles to keep up, resulting in some very noticeable, though infrequent, visual stuttering, and the issues with motion blur, present in previous Uncharted games, also make an appearance. Overall, though, performance is smooth, with a consistent frame-rate and little-to-no texture pop-in. During my playthroughs I only ever encountered a few minor glitches - mostly related to character scripting - and I never experienced any freezes or crashes. None of these issues had any meaningful impact on my experience, or my ability to play the game, but when a game is as technically stalwart as The Last of Us, you really have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find faults.
The trophy list of The Last of Us is somewhat of an oddity in the realm of AAA titles: a fairly numerically-even distribution of Gold, Silver, and Bronze trophies, for a grand total of twenty-four tokens of self-worth; a far cry not only from the majority of big releases, but Naughty Dog's previous games as well, most of which feature forty-plus trophies that are handed out like candies at Grandma's house. To give you an idea of how sparse the trophies are, in my first playthrough - during which I explored extensively, completed a total of twelve chapters, and killed a number of enemies - I earned a single Bronze, game-completion trophies notwithstanding. The Last of Us' trophy list was clearly designed with protecting immersion in mind, a bold move on Naughty Dog's part, and it's a model I'd definitely like to see other developers adopt in future games.
In terms of difficulty, The Last of Us is definitely a respectable Platinum, requiring a minimum of three playthroughs, the collection of 141 collectibles, and your participation in 42 optional conversations, as well as a minimum 168 (mostly successful) games of multiplayer. Collectible hunting is not a chore, though, because each and every journal, tape recording, or love note you find contributes something to your experience.
The Last of Us is, in a word, beautiful - from its characters (main and supporting), level design, artistic direction, and its score, everything about this game is beautifully evocative and engrossing. A few minor flaws interrupt the experience, and detract from the survival element of the game, but ultimately these can all be overlooked simply because the game is so fantastic. I can keep rattling off words of praise and adoration ad infinitum, but the simplest way to summarise my experience with The Last of Us is to say that I was up playing until 6am on multiple occasions, without ever realising how late it was, or how badly I needed to go to the bathroom, either because I was just so enamoured with the Joel and Ellie's story, or because I was so desperately scavenging for supplies to sustain my clan while trying to help my teammates to victory. The Last of Us is not just one of the best survival-thriller games; it's one of the best games of any genre. Period. While there's no such thing as a 'perfect game', The Last of Us is just about as close as you can get.
An emotional roller coaster from start to finish, The Last of Us is second to none in terms of interactive story-telling. Mind-blowing performances from Troy Baker (Joel) and Ashley Johnson (Ellie) have brought writer Neil Druckmann's characters to life with finesse and grace. The world of The Last of Us feels real - it's filled with echoes of life pre-pandemic, contrasted by clear signs of desolation and decay. The premise may be cliché, but The Last of Us' amazing characters, main and supporting, elevate the game's narrative to the same level as those works it is so clearly inspired by.
The amazing story is complimented by stellar gameplay, rife with tension, danger, and desperation. With intuitive stealth mechanics, combined with the management of light and sound, The Last of Us' gameplay feels familiar yet unique; simple yet intricate; and straight-forward yet strategic. Crafting and item management adds a further layer of strategy, forcing you to give weight to every decision you make. AI behaviour quirks can be immersion-breaking, and the liberal distribution of checkpoints detracts from the survival element, but these are easily overlooked.
A wonderfully novel meta-game keeps you invested in the frantic yet tactical multiplayer which borrows a number of the mechanics from singleplayer. Challenges and missions raise the stakes, and the wide variety of perks and weapons create a great number of strategic options. The undeniably fun package is let down, however, by the limited selection of game-modes.
Naughty Dog continue their tradition of technical wizardry on the PlayStation 3, pushing the console to heights few other developers have even glimpsed. While not without some minor visual stutters, The Last of Us is by far the best looking game on the system, with beautiful lighting, jaw-dropping vistas, and an insane level of detail. Extensive use of Performance Capture means Joel, Ellie, and the rest of the cast both look and sound stunningly realistic. Seamless transitions between cutscenes and gameplay, and a lack of in-game loading screens, ensure you stay completely immersed in the experience, though the trade-off is an unusually long first-instance loading screen. The fantastic visuals are wonderfully complemented by Gustavo Santaolalla's hauntingly beautiful score. The Last of Us is a feast for the eyes and the ears.
Overall: 10/10 - Epic