Naughty Dog have a track record of success with the Uncharted series, and thus it should come as no surprise that The Last of Us was great. What was surprising, however, was just how great it was.
A story that primarily focussed on the relationship between Joel and Ellie proved to be key to the game’s success. This was, in fact, the first zombie game where I had no interest in discovering what started the outbreak, or how to cure it (other than the slight emphasis the game places on the latter). I just wanted Joel and Ellie to survive. I became incredibly connected to these two characters, thanks in part to the superb acting and mo-cap, to the extent that in the latter portions of the game I played as if I were Joel, rather than letting my own personal morals prevail. Everything from the upsetting opening scene to the equally depressing ending made you understand and empathise with Joel, and everything in between formed a developing relationship between Ellie that tackled previously uncharted waters in gaming.
The superb gameplay complemented this. The level design was spot on, full of little details and claustrophobic corridors, and the feeling of tension sustained throughout was horrible (in a good way). Slowly creeping past Clickers, throwing bottles to distract them, running for your life when a horde came after you…the gameplay was every bit as terrifying as you’d expect, and Naughty Dog’s unique approach to mechanics made the stealth and zombie genres work perfectly in tandem.
The Last of Us
On top of this were the survival mechanics, forcing you to constantly scavenge resources and craft tools. The scarcity of ammo and other useful items helped to reinforce the fact that you were really struggling to survive, as well as forcing you down a path of rationing your bullets and knives. At no point was this more clear than in the wonderful, poignant and woeful loneliness of the Winter section, a chapter I don’t think I’ll ever forget. The Last of Us made you question every action and its potential ramifications, in true survival-horror style.
Full of memorable moments, a gorgeous world and a cast of believable characters, The Last of Us was post-apocalyptic gaming done right. It wasn’t perfect, and at times became a little game-y, but it did its part in pushing game story lines forward, marrying story and gameplay together masterfully in the process. The only reason this wouldn’t be one of your games of the year is if you haven’t played it yet: now might be a good time to rectify that.