I was actually a bit nervous when I picked this up. I mean, it’s so revered, it’s impossible not to wonder if it really could live up to the hype. Well, I needn’t have worried; I absolutely understand the hype. The Last of Us really is special. Included in the PS4 remaster is the similarly excellent Left Behind DLC.
The Last of Us takes place around two decades after a zombie apocalypse, caused by some kind of fungal infection which causes the infected to lose their minds. The protagonist is Joel, a weary man who lost his daughter in the initial panic. With the surviving humanity living in heavily militarised quarantine zones, Joel works as a smuggler. When hunting down a stolen cache of weapons with his companion Tess, Joel encounters Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies, a rebel group fighting the quarantine zone authorities. In exchange for the location of the weapons, Marlene asks Joel to bring a teenaged girl named Ellie to a Firefly safehouse outside the quarantine. Initially reluctant, Joel soon discovers Ellie’s secret; that she is infected, but has not turned, seemingly the only person with an immunity. Joel and Ellie embark on an epic trek across the country to the Firefly safe house, with the infected and waves of bandits pitched against them.
Summaries like that is part of the reason I couldn’t get too excited for this game. It basically sounded like The Walking Dead crossed with Children of Men, with nothing too original. Although the concept itself isn’t brimming with originality, in terms of execution I’ll struggle to think of anything which does it better. Joel and Ellie feel like real, fully rounded people, and their journey together is absolutely convincing. The Last of Us also manages to avoid the zombie clichés, with a story which had me gripped and frequently incredible emotional. There are lighter moments too, with the banter between Joel and Ellie regularly raising a smile. The Left Behind DLC, which focused on Ellie both during and prior to the game, was frequently laugh out loud funny. It’s all bittersweet though, with a palpable feeling of sadness throughout the whole thing.
The Last of Us has a key theme, which may sound cheesy: love. Not just love as a redeeming force, but as ultimately the most dangerous thing in this new wasteland. No practical society can truly last, because people are incapable of making sacrifices for love. It is simultaneously humanities best and worst trait. Now, this concept is one that I’ve seen explored loads of places before, but possible never better than in The Last of Us. This is a game which will rattle around in your brain for a long time to come. I also have to mention Ellie; the feisty female sidekick in FPS games have given us some great characters in the past, such as Half Life 2’s Alyx Vance or BioShock: Infinite’s Elizabeth, but Ellie manages to eclipse them both. She’s strong, funny and vulnerable, and easily one of the best game characters of all time.
Again, I was initially concerned that the gameplay would suffer to the story, but that isn’t the case. The Last of Us is a third person shooter with survival horror elements, a bit like Resident Evil 4 but less clunky. There’s a strong element of ammo conservation, with stealth encouraged whenever possible. The shooting is responsive and satisfying when a shoot-out does occur, but you never feel powerful, with Joel being much less hardy than your standard shooter protagonist. This adds to the horror element, with a crafting system allowing Joel to create shivs or makeshift bombs from objects scavenged from the world. There’s also a weapon upgrade system and a skill tree and they’re pretty simple, giving you a nice element of customisation. The stealth is really effective, with a cover system which is contextual but actually functional, something the Assassin’s Creed games have been pretty much failing to pull off for years. There are some light puzzles, but you’ll spend most of your time picking through wreckage, sneaking around or shooting.
The two types of enemies are the ‘infected’ and bandits, which need to be approached in very different ways. The most interesting enemy is the ‘clicker’, which is a blind infected which sees through echolocation. You have to move very quietly to avoid being caught, and when they do they kill you in one bite. You can create distractions using bottles and bricks to distract foes human and infected alike; you’ll have thrown lots of these by the time the credits roll. Although not nearly as slick as other shooters, the gameplay of The Last of Us supports the narrative, whilst actually being fun as well. If all you want to enjoy is some top quality shooting, go buy Wolfenstein; The Last of Us isn’t about being satisfying, it’s about being rewarding. The game is a decent length as well, long enough to feel epic in its scope, but short enough that it tells a compact and tight story. With the DLC, and the multiplayer as well, The Last of Us: Remastered is a great package.
The Last of Us: Remastered looks fantastic, easily holding its own against current gen games (although that in itself is perhaps a little worrying). The environments are detailed, and the faces for the characters utterly lifelike. It’s weird imagining that Joel and Ellie aren’t played by physical actors, instead being mo-capped by people who look nothing like them. That’s not to put down the actors though; the performances are phenomenal, with industry stalwarts Troy Baker and Nolan North making career best performances, and the less known Ashley Johnson being a revelation as Ellie. Of course, one of the biggest differences between the PS3 and PS4 version is the upgrade to 60 FPS, which really drove home to me for the first time just how much of an improvement it is. The ability to hit 60 FPS consistently is going to be the big challenge for this generation of consoles, with Naughty Dog showing us how it’s done.
The Last of Us: Remastered is the best game I’ve played for the PS4 so far, and as someone who didn’t own a PS3 I’m so glad I got an opportunity to play this. Believe the hype; The Last of Us is one of the most affecting gaming experiences I’ve ever encountered.