21 January 2015

The Last of Us

Naughty Dog's The Last of Us was one of the more talked about and generally respected video game releases of recent years. I never really paid it that much attention back when it was originally released, but now that I have a PS4 and the 'Remastered' version had been out for a while and I could get it for a fair price, I figured I'd finally give it a shot.

The Last of Us is a third person action-adventure game set 20 years from now in what's basically a fairly typical 'zombie apocalypse' setting. The monsters aren't called zombies, but 'infected', and have strange fungal growths and stuff, but basically it's still your average zombie apocalypse. Humanity's remnants are held up in quarantine zones under martial law, or loot the ruined cities in lawless gangs. Joel is cynical, middle-aged smuggler, who gets tasked with escorting a teenaged girl, Ellie, who's apparently immune to the infection and could thus be the key to humanity's survival...

Honestly, it all sounds terribly clichéd. It took me a while to really get into it. But it turns out the story is more about the characters than anything else, and the characters are pretty good, as is the dialogue and voice acting. The game succumbs to some video game tropes occasionally, but I mostly enjoyed its style of storytelling. Joel and Ellie's mission turns into an epic journey across America, with many twists and turns. You'll visit a nice variety of different environments, too, and fight your way through many tough scrapes... The game is also obviously targeted to a mature audience. It is very gritty and violent, and the story is not without tragic moments.

The Last of Us plays much like many modern third person action-adventure titles. There's an emphasis on stealth, facilitated by some neat features, like the ability to focus on listening, which allows you to practically 'see' through walls. There's a decent variety of different weapons at your disposal, too, of course. You'll face both infected monsters and regular human enemies, which'll require different strategies.

I played on normal difficulty and found some of the action sequences surprisingly challenging (though I should note that I'm generally pretty bad at action games). Sneaking past multiple enemies isn't always easy, and you can die pretty fast if you get swarmed by enemies. Also, while the game is fairly linear, it doesn't always do the best job of telling you what you're supposed to be doing. Especially in the earlier parts of the game I felt almost frustrated at times, but the action got more fun later with more weapons and tools to choose from. For those much better at this type of gameplay there are multiple harder difficulty settings as well. (I have no interest in trying those, though...)

Originally released for PS3, the 'Remastered' PS4 version presumably has at least a better resolution, though I cannot say how much it differs. The game looked fine to my eyes, anyway. Some of the outdoor locations especially were quite pretty, and the art direction and level design in general wasn't bad, nor was the audio.

The PS4 version also includes the DLC Left Behind, which delves deeper into Ellie's backstory. It was pretty decent for DLC content, though not hugely long. All in all I spent some 20 hours on The Last of Us Remastered, which is a pretty decent length for an action-adventure title.

So yeah, both in terms of story and gameplay, it took me a little while to really warm up to The Last of Us, but in the end I quite enjoyed it. It doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel in any way and it has its problems, but it's a fairly well put together action-adventure title, with nice atmosphere and storytelling. Will I ever replay it? It's one those games I think I could well replay some day, but in practise I know I rarely get around to... I'm glad I played it, in any case.