Level Up! The Last of Us Review (Mania.com)

By:Tim Janson
Review Date: Friday, July 05, 2013
Source: Mania.com

When a game comes along that is as good as The Last of Us, it’s a normal inclination to look behind the curtains and under the rugs to find some imperfections.  And no, this is not a perfect game but you do have to look hard to find something to criticize.  Sure, you can point to the many obvious pulp culture influences; films like “28 Days Later” and “The Road” being the most obvious…or, just about any other post-apocalyptic setting where society has crumbled.  Originality might not be the game’s biggest strength but it uses this setting as well as any similar game that came before.
The opening gameplay prologue lets you know right away that this is going to be something dark, disturbing, yet special.  We meet Joel, the character you will play as, a single father scraping by with his young daughter, Sarah.  Their lives are tossed into chaos with the outbreak of a mutant virus that ravages the country, turning infected humans into rabid, monstrous killers.  A frantic escape from their home along with Joel’s brother leads them into town where Sarah is shot and killed by a soldier.  Within a mere ten minutes you find yourself sucked into Joel’s tragic world where he lives and his daughter dies in his arm in an emotionally moving scene.
Now jump forward twenty years.  Humans live in small, militarized zones and Joel, grizzled and angry, does what he needs in order to survive, along with the rest of what now constitutes civilization.  He’s scruffy, his hair tinged with grey, and he’s obviously weary of life and yet he presses on because that is all there is to do. Joel’s primary source of work is smuggling along with his friend, Tess, to gain ration cards to buy food and other necessities.  The pair tracks down a local gangster who has stolen a cache of weapons from them.  Eventually they discover that the guns were sold to a rebel group known as the Fireflies.  The Fireflies leader offers to return the guns, plus much more, but first she needs the pair to complete a dangerous task.  They need to smuggle a teenaged girl named Elle out of the city as she may hold the key to curing the plague. Thus begins an epic, quest-like adventure across the wasteland of America to see young Elle to safety.
Along the way the trio will encounter not only the plague ravaged zombies but also groups of bandits who are just as homicidal as the zombies.  Joel may be the game’s protagonist but you’d be hard pressed to consider him a “Hero”.  Joel is just as violent and murderous as the many foes he encounters.  He thinks nothing of killing and frankly he’s not a nice guy.  But as the game progresses and he develops a father/daughter relationship with Elle, it’s hard not to root for him.  The emotional trauma of his own daughter dying in his arms helps to develop this symbiotic-like but dysfunctional relationship. 
But it’s not only the well-refined characters and terrific voice acting that immerses you in the game but also this fully realized and darkly troubled near-future.  You’ll travel through disparate settings like dense woodlands and abandoned cities, all with their uniquely gorgeous details.  You explore them not just because you need to scavenge for much-needed supplies but also because you want to see what’s behind every corner.
But take care, because danger lurks around many of those corners.  Joel and Elle are going to need all their resources to survive their trek.  This means fighting in a brilliantly designed combat and stealth system.  I am generally not a big fan of stealth combat…mostly because I don’t have the patience and tend to suck at it…but Naughty Dog has nailed it!  A cool ability that allows Joel to focus his hearing and see outlines of enemies through walls or floors allows you to plan out your attacks. Yet it takes more time perhaps than wading in guns blazing but it’s worth it when your path of carnage has left bodies strewn about.  Plus, ammo is not unlimited. It’s not Resident Evil but if you go in firing from the hip you’re soon going to find yourself out of ammo and surrounded by enemies.  And there’s frankly a morbid fascination with sticking an enemy with a shiv and watching him gasp out his final breath.  And Naughty Dog has not forgotten about the AI of the enemies.  It’s smart and it plans and that makes a battle strategy all the more important.
The game also features a crafting system that allows you to gather various items and combine them to make something else.  You can make weapons or you can make items that will help heal or aid in other ways but be careful…this crafting all takes place in real-time.  You need to find a safe spot or else you might come under a surprise attack and that’s not going to be pretty!  Weapons can also be upgraded but again, you will have some difficult decisions on what to make and upgrade.  This isn’t one of those games where you are going to be able to max out weapons, health, etc…Choosing incorrectly can lead to your premature end. 
In addition to its lengthy campaign of 10 – 15 hours, The Last of Us features a surprisingly entertaining multiplayer mode.  Survivors pits you and your faction against another in a brutal deathmatch.  Supply Raid takes a different tact and offers a life-sharing mode and weapons crafting.
Rich charcters, gorgeous (although not perfect visuals), and a deeply emotional storyline all combine to make The Last of Us a certain Game of the Year candidate.

Mania Grade: A
Rating: M (Mature)
Platform: Sony Playstation 3
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog