The Last of Us
There are lots of words that could be used to describe The Last of Us, and I’ve decided to go with “bloody brilliant”. “Brilliant” has us covered for quality, because The Last of Us is undoubtedly high quality from start to finish. It’s not just brilliant. It’s really, really brilliant, which gets us to the adjective “bloody”.
Great attention has been given to every facet of the game: each aspect of gameplay (mainly exploration, stealth and gunfights) are brilliantly done, each working intuitively and complementing each other. Exploration aids in stealth by giving you routes to circumvent enemies, and in gunfights by giving you advantageous positions to kill folks (and former folks) who avoiding isn’t an option. It also gives you decent amounts of materials for crafting things to help you in both, such as shivs for silent takedowns, Molotov cocktails for fights, and health kits for when both approaches have gone horribly wrong. Although if you venture into the hardest difficulty level, exploration becomes depressing: there are basically no supplies.
Stealth is tough and unforgiving, and arguably the strongest part of the game. It’s almost certainly the part that will give you the most harrowing memory: your encounter with “clickers” (zombie plant-monster things that locate you through sound), as you slowly sneak through a pitch-black abandoned subway station.
The Last of Us is probably a stealth-focused game: you could consistently go in all guns blazing whenever you see something in your way, but the scarcity of ammo pretty much dictates that you’ll not have enough resources to survive consistent, drawn-out firefights. Many stealth-focused games tend to fall down a bit once you’re forced into combat but that’s not the case with The Last of Us.
Combat is tight, rewarding, and visceral. Every gun (and you’ll have to cycle between them as your ammo supplies for each wax and wane) is satisfying to use, and each is nicely suited to different circumstances. Sticking to cover is a must, because enemies fire accurately with weapons that pack a decent punch. If you’re hit by incoming fire you’ll stumble back, exposing yourself to further damage if you were stupid enough to be out in the open. Using medkits to heal (assuming you’ve scrounged enough materials to make some) takes a long time, so having to heal in the middle of a firefight is often fatal. Hell, even having to reload (assuming you’ve scrounged enough bullets to let you do that) can be fatal, especially when facing the infected hordes, rather than fellow humans.
A lot of things are fatal in The Last of Us. Combat is well balanced, so it rarely feels unfair, but you’ll die pretty regularly. If this happens to be at the hands of fellow humans, death is usually unremarkable – a bullet transforming you from a bloke with a gun to meat on the floor. If it happens at the hands of an infected however, it’s anything but. You don’t turn to meat on the floor – you turn to meat the second it gets its hands on you. Fortunately, your weapons (particularly shotguns, improvised bombs and the various melee weapons you pick up) mean that you’ll be able to hand out as much dismemberment as you receive. And paragraph covers a second meaning of the word “bloody”.
Other meanings of “brilliant” could cover multiple facets of The Last of Us. The most obvious is the meaning in “brilliant sunshine” to describe how goddamn pretty the game is. Your time will mainly be spent traversing decaying cityscapes, through buildings in varying states of collapse, roads where nature is doing a pretty good job of re-establishing itself since the fall of humanity, and deeply creepy underground sections lit only by your woefully insufficient torch, all of which look beautiful. If that’s not enough, you’ll also get the occasional quiet jaunt through forests, just to make damn clear how pretty The Last of Us is.
It isn’t just a pretty face though. The level design is incredibly clever. Although The Last of Us is broadly linear, you’ll never feel like you’re just walking down a corridor (except, I guess, if you are just walking down a corridor). There are always alternate paths and areas to explore. It rarely feels like there’s a “right” way to go, but you keep getting drawn inexorably along to where the game wants you to go. As if to demonstrate how good the level design is, one late game section puts you into the middle of strange (multiple meanings of strange too) town in a blizzard so severe that you can’t see more than a few feet in front of you. But you’ll still find where the game wants you to go without too much difficulty. Even when you’re supposed to not be able to find your way, you’ll be able to find your way. That’s a pretty nice trick to pull off.
The level design is brilliant (now using “brilliant” to mean clever), and the characters and plot are just as good, if not better. The Last of Us also does a great job of keeping the overarching plot (Joel to escort Ellie to where she needs to be) in place, but supplementing it with smaller tasks so that the overall plot doesn’t ever boring, and the stakes are high enough to keep us invested in the outcome.
From a character perspective, the main focus is on Joel and Ellie, but on their travels they meet a host of different characters, and pretty much every one comes into the world as a fully-fledged, well-realised person. Each also has at least some semblance of character arc in their time on screen (apart from possibly Marlene, although she gets some development off-screen through tape recordings spotted around).
Joel and Ellie’s individual arcs are both good, with a pretty great (and somewhat surprising) payoff at the end, and they also have a combined arc as their relationship changes from smuggler and cargo to something much deeper. To be honest, the plot and characters are good enough that if the gameplay was shit it’d still be worth playing. I can’t think of many (or any?) other games I can say that of. The Last of Us is pretty comparable to a flat out great TV series: good characters, varied paces, decent twists and turns, and a strong overall narrative and character arc that drives all the way through to the conclusion
I could raise some minor quibbles (such as surprisingly in this generation, a lack of choice about how the plot develops, and the fact it’s a console exclusive), but they’d be nitpicking. Add a very decent multiplayer mode that does a very good job of retaining the tone of the main game, and you’ve got a near-perfect package.
Fun, pretty, and complex: its bloody brilliant.