The Last Of Us – Thoughts So Far

I picked up The Last of Us this weekend.  I have to admit that I’m not a fan of the Uncharted games which are by the same company, Naughty Dog, so I was a little bit worried The Last of Us would just be a rehash of those games (I know, I know, the Uncharted games are very popular and it’s a travesty I don’t like them, I just haven’t been able to get into them).

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Warning:  May be Spoilers ahead!

First off, what’s the game about?  Well it’s a survival action game set in a world where most of the earths human population has been wiped out by a plague.  It’s not a zombie game, though you’d be forgiven for maybe thinking so at first.  Somehow it’s worse, because whilst a zombie outbreak is, lets face it, not likely to ever happen, the ‘plague’ in this game is something you could see actually happening.  Know what Cordyceps is?  It’s a genus of fungus.  Which are endoparasitoids.  That is, they live on, or IN, creatures like insects.  Seriously, these damn things infect,say, and ant, and it then replaces the host tissue.  The host is alive whilst this happens.  Hell, some types of Cordyceps can affect the behavior of its host, so the last act of the host before it finally dies is to climb a plant and attach itself to it so it’s spores can be spread further once the fungus has sprouted from the corpse.  Google it, the pictures are… Interesting.  Now these fungi don’t infect anything more complex than insects, arthropods (snails etc) and other fungi, but imagine if something changed and it did.  And there you have one of the reasons the game is so damn creepy.

Creepy, but beautiful.  Graphic wise the game is astounding, especially the cities.  Some cities and towns have been abandoned for 20 years, and nature is slowly reclaiming them.   It’s just a shame these quiet, green spaces are full of danger.

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But what about game play?  A game looking good is all very well and good, but if the storyline and gameplay sucks that doesn’t matter (Aliens:Colonial Marines, I’m looking at you).  Well, I was impressed.

You play the game as Joel.  The game opens in the present day, on Joel’s birthday no less.  After a hard days work he returns home to his daughter, Sarah, at their home in Texas, but things quickly go down hill as the plague causes chaos and you have to escape town with Sarah and Tommy, Joel’s brother.  Without spoiling things too badly, this game has the most heart-wrenching prologue I have even seen, I nearly cried.

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20 years later and Joel is a survivor making ends meet any way he can.  It’s hinted that he has done some pretty bad stuff along the way, maybe later in the game it will reveal more, but I’ve not gotten that far yet.  But then in a world where civilization has gone out the window who can blame people for doing what they need to do to stay alive?  He’s a well fleshed out character, well voice acted, and no matter how rough around the edges he seems I like him, which is always a good thing, I don’t enjoy games where I don’t like the main character(s), the main reason I’ve never played more than a few hours of Final Fantasy XIII.   Joel lives in a quarantine zone in the ruins of Boston, run by a pretty ruthless military, and makes a living as a smuggler with his friend Tess.  A militant group called the Fireflies who oppose the fight the military need a young girl called Ellie smuggled to a rendezvous point for a very important reason, but of course thing don’t go according to plan, and Joel end up setting off on a trek across Infected America to get Ellie where she needs to go.

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Ellie… I had my reservations about this character.  In Resident Evil 4 I would occasionally turn my gun on Ashley as she was such and annoying, whiny brat.  So I was almost expecting Ellie to be as bad.  I was pleasantly surprised.    She’s really not that bad.  She was born after the world ended as it were, and led a very sheltered life, so when you are escorting her through the ruins she’ll come across things like comic books and comment, which is a really nice touch.  Ok, like most games where you have an AI controlled follower she gets in the way and occasionally alerts people when you are trying to sneak up behind them, but I can forgive that.

So is the game a rehash of the Uncharted games? Well, the sneaking around does certainly feel like the sneaking around in the Uncharted games, but other than that I’d say not.  And the sneaking around is great!  I get so into it that if I am discovered, even if I clear all the bad guys I tend to restart the section, just to try and get the sneaking part right.  If you wanted you can get through whole sections without killing anyone if, you can just sneak by them.    And the Clickers, a type of Infected, require some good sneaking skills as they are damn hard to kill, but totally blind, so as long as you are quite and stealthy you can go right passed them, holding your breath as you creep along a few feet away from them, hoping you don’t make a mistake and alert them to your presence.  Sure, you could probably go through the game mindlessly killing everything you come across, but I like how the game wants you to think about how best to get through a situation rather than “Kill ALL The Enemies!!”.

The game is pretty violent though, for all its beauty and moralizing and back story you can’t get away from that.  It’s not just the Infected you fight against, you fight against the military, and Hunters, people in the ruins of the city that think nothing of killing innocents to get what they want.  There is blood aplenty, and finishing moves that wind up with crushed skulls and severed body parts, so it’s not a game for the fainthearted or young kids.  The cut scenes don’t shy away from death either.  But it’s not out of place in the game.

I’m nowhere near finished, right now I’m in Pittsburgh trying to avoid Hunters as I make my way through, but The Last of Us is one of the best games this year, well worthy of being Game of the Year in my opinion.  If you like action games with a well thought out plot then I’d recommend you pick it up.

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