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The Next Level In Gaming

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With most of my articles and reviews I usually have my own weird writing style to amuse and intrigue…..but not today. Because every now and again in life, a game comes along that makes jaws drop, a game that garners near universal praise and a game that genuinely makes me sad when I’ve finished it because I can’t experience that all-important first playthrough again. Today…..The Last of Us gets this super rare/serious review to honour this truly remarkable game….well only a bit of seriousness…..

The Last of Us is a monstrous statement of intent as to what we can expect from games in the future and the next generation of gaming.  By having a couple of memorable characters forging a beautifully broken relationship, interspersed with additional characters enhancing an incredible narrative and a post-apocalyptic survival adventure you get Naughty Dog’s finest hour yet.

America is the starting point of the journey and it’s an early peek of what is to come for the soon to be disaster-ridden world. One of the main character’s you will control is Joel and his daughter is trying to sleep. She is suddenly awakened by a phone call from Joel’s brother Tommy, requesting to urgently speak to Joel, only for the line to go dead. It quickly becomes clear that things aren’t right and it leads to a desperate exodus from the city as thousands of people attempt to flee but get feasted on by newly diseased people called “Infected”. After an intense opening we are suddenly lurched forward a few years (20 to be exact) and you find yourself controlling a much more grizzly and aged Joel along with his female companion Tess. Soon after, you encounter the focal point of the game which is the escorting of Ellie, a 14 year old girl, to the rebel faction known as the Fireflies as she could be the answer to the infection.

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In terms of characterisation, Ellie is an absolutely wondrous gem and a breath of fresh air for gaming. Actually forget that, Joel and Ellie both are and they are black holes that suck other characters into their path of characterisation enlightenment to extract more detail, exposition, emotion and story. Joel from the get go is an emotionally crippled man who sadly has a negative and distasteful view of the world due to what he’s seen around him. He gives the impression he’s a remorseless bastard.. But do you know what the funny thing is…? He’s anything but. He just does what he has to. Survival of the fittest.

On the other hand, Ellie has the slight pressure of being the only human alive (to our knowledge) that is immune to the Cordyseps virus which is what has created the monsters known as “the infected”. She has the infection but her body is resistant to the metamorphosis process of becoming an infected. She doesn’t realise her importance and as such her light-hearted attitude in a serious environment littered with death, limited supplies, simply stunning environments and even more potential death is brilliant.

Speaking of environments, graphically the game has picked up the benchmark set by God of War, Gears of War, Uncharted etc and run far into the distance with it leaving many top titles quaking in fear and crying. I’d think at some point we’ve all imagined what a world ravished by a pandemic would look like. Cities look destroyed and left desolate without a trace of life. Oddly enough, in order to create this effect the world needs to appear lively and open. Lots of the city areas are openly and pleasantly lush with gorgeous greens, everywhere you go is a sight to marvel at. What makes it all so commendable is that snowy areas are easy to do and destroyed buildings are easy to do, it’s not easy to do them this well. The attention to detail is one thing that struck me with The Last of Us too as Naughty Dog are nailing down the more simplistic details that you take for granted; like trees.

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Yes. Trees. Trees are trees. But the branches actually move if you walk into them! I genuinely cannot think of the last game I played where you didn’t just walk straight through them. But Naughty Dog trees now have physics. The water is almost lifelike and the appropriate amount of clothing gets soaked dependent on what part of your body is engulfed in water etc. From the early days of my childhood on Crash Bandicoot and Sonic to this…. it’s just something that makes me smile and makes you appreciative of the advancement in video game technology.

This technology helps our dynamic duo, Joel and Ellie, to CONSTANTLY interact with each other and what’s more surreal is that this is sustained till its 16 hour+ conclusion. Forget the main story which I’ll rave and froth at the mouth about later, Ellie’s struggle to whistle is an amusing little thing to pick up on as she learns to do it after failing to do it earlier in the game and Joel acknowledges she has one more thing to annoy him with. Whistling will then occur sporadically throughout the game and it’s the tiny little things like this that make you open your eyes and realise how lazy games have been over the years. Personalisation and immersion all through additional pieces of dialogue should now necessitate the future of compelling game making I hope, nay I implore!

The interactions between characters and environments are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before and I was overwhelmed for the majority of the game. Brawling with either human or infected enemies can lead to an all-out bar room brawl with anything capable of inflicting damage. Having a fistfight next to a wall? Joel will smash his head into it. Tussling next to a chair? The enemy will go through that chair. But as a whole the combat is incredibly satisfying. You have a nice gap between the discoveries of each new weapon and there is a nice selection from rudimentary pistols to full-on flame throwing fierce fear fire force!!

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Combat can be a thinker as ammo is scarce along with supplies. This isn’t like your standard shooter where you can find clips of ammo in abundance; it’s easy to become a miser with regards to bullets as you never can tell what unfathomable scenario you could find yourself in next. Scenarios may feature any of the types of Infected within the game: Clicker’s, Bloater’s, Runner’s or Stalker’s.

The soundtrack never falters with every piece of music created for every situation in the game. Intense battles are met with a frantic chorus of desperation mixed with the horrible sounds of the infected. Clicker’s make the most horrible croaking sound and they’re blind but have impeccable hearing so any false moves and you’ll have your throat ripped out instantly. Bloater’s are BIG things that take most of your weaponry to take down and have ranged attacks. Runner’s are fast enemies that can see anything so be wary and Stalker’s are a mix of a runner and a Clicker but not as deadly as you might think.

Now one of the crucial aspects of the game is the crafting system which is delightfully ingenious in its own right. Throughout the journey you’ll find supplies such as blades, tape, alcohol etc. I’ll stop you there; I know what you’re thinking; that’s one sadomasochistic party. But no reader, that’s not what I’m getting at. Using all the resources at your disposal you can concoct devices such as molotovs to inflict quick fiery death or craft a first aid kit to use when you inevitably get attacked by a swarm of infected. It requires thinking too because you may have enough alcohol for either one first aid kit or one Molotov.

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Now the A.I is either a sore point for people and I understand why. Naughty Dog made the decision that if enemies see Ellie or any other ally companions you have with you, then they won’t be discovered and will be ignored (even obnoxiously loud footsteps as they run past and even INTO enemies). But this was done as to not punish the player for A.I’s lack of understanding to life or death circumstances. Nevertheless, whilst it does very slightly bother me, I understand it. The amount of times I’ve sneaked my way around a part of the game picking off enemies is countless. The amount of times my companions have wondered into enemy paths is also countless and to have had my cover blown as a result of this then it makes me thankful for Naughty Dog’s decision.

The A.I in the game is rather good though I must say. Human enemies will converse amongst themselves and strategise against you by skilfully and carefully flanking you, plus checking all around them. If they do get their hands on you then expect a graphic death as your face gets pummelled to death, likewise with infected enemies. The game never holds back with its gory detail and yet it attains glory in its gory..ness.

You headshot a man with a hunting rifle and that is skill. Seeing head hole disintegrate into chunks and a pool of blood provides thrill in the kill. Not to sound excessively warped but your survival is paramount and you have to be under the illusion that these people want to end your existence as soon as possible. So by showing that your marksmanship is superior it makes the overall experience more rewarding as you were the better man.

Your mission to deliver Ellie is a long one, almost 16 hours for me first-time round, and I do mean first one because you will be playing this at least one more time. You can also start a New Game+ whereby you keep all your equipment and weapons just as you had when you finished the game. The pacing of the game is just right as it never feels off or fast etc. It’s not plagued, no pun intended, by Hollywood set-piece cinematics and this story that feels so tangible is just too moving for words. I’ve said that characterisation is at the forefront of the game’s storytelling mechanics because Ellie’s maturity for someone her age is undeniable and she’s like a flower that you see grow before your eyes into a hardened veteran almost. Joel’s reluctance to accept her is so powerful and so understanding that at the same time that you can feel the tension between THEM hurting YOURSELF.

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I’m usually reluctant to cover online in games as I see it as optional, but The Last of Us managed to grip me properly for the first time since Call of Duty 4 as I couldn’t stop playing game after game after game. The transition from single player to multiplayer is great. You choose to be either a Firefly or a Hunter and you have to survive a 12 week journey as either. Each match you play constitutes a day which means that in order to complete the journey you need to play 84 matches.

In each match, you and 3 teammates must fight the opposition which consists of either 4 Fireflies or 4 Hunters (depending on what side you chose). It doesn’t really affect how the game plays and you have to earn parts/supplies for your faction. You kill an enemy you get some parts which are used to buy in-game upgrades during your matches. But those parts are automatically converted into supplies too.

After each game you will have earned so many supplies through various ways and you automatically gain survivors for your camp. As each day progresses you’ll find, particularly early on, that you keep gaining survivors. It gets to a point where additional survivors are dependent on your ability. If you’re not so good at the game then you might be stuck with between 40-50 survivors, which aren’t too hard to maintain. Sadly, I managed to get to a point of having about 105 survivors which required MVP performances every game; not easy, but fun.

Missions crop up after several days where you can gain or lose a percentage of survivors, some missions even have the risk of losing 100% of your survivors so it lives up to the mantle of the main game’s survival theme.

100 / 100XP

Pros

+Aesthetically perfect

+A story to gawp at

+Wondefully diverse soundtrack

+Intelligent A.I of varying degrees

+Incredibly satisfying online mode

Cons

-None

In a nutshell, The Last of Us is going to be in the top 3 for candidates for Game of the Year in 2013. There are no superlatives to describe this game that would do it justice. Naughty Dog have created another sensational, emotive masterpiece that should be played by everyone. It’s so befitting that we come to the end of this generation of gaming and we’re treated to a game that maximises the PS3’s capabilities. Graphics, audio, gameplay, story etc, The Last of Us ticks every box and gets an A+++++.

- Andy

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AndyHighton_YNWA On October - 14 - 2013

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