“Once upon a time, I had somebody that I cared about. And in this world, that sort of shit’s good for one thing – getting you killed.”
Back in 2007, game developers Naughty Dog (of Crash Bandicoot and Jack & Daxter fame) released the first instalment in one of the most memorable video game trilogies of all time, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune for the Playstation 3.
Straight from the playbook of an Indiana Jones in his prime, this adventure game was one of the closest attempts we had seen of a video game playing like an action movie. Great humour, amazing action set-pieces and memorable characters and (voice) acting as well as beautiful graphics (that still hold up seven years later). All of this made sure that the sequels were inevitable, and the series just got better and better.
With the release of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009) and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (2011), this only served to assure Naughty Dog’s ascent as one of the most talented development teams on the planet.
Now, at the end of the current generation of video game consoles, and with the Playstation 4 and Xbox One on the horizon, Naughty Dog have once again raised the standard, with the release of one of the most incredible video gaming and general entertainment experiences of all time, The Last of Us on the aging but still kicking PS3.
Shown at last year’s E3 conference in Los Angeles, this game tells the story of a post-apocalyptic United States, where the world has succumbed to a virus that infected the masses and turned the majority into flesh-eating monsters. Sound familiar? Well it is, but that’s not a bad thing at all, as this only acts as the back-drop to the real story at hand, the relationship between our protagonist Joel (Troy Baker), and his companion, the awesome Ellie (Ashley Johnson).
Joel, a smuggler of weapons, ration cards (all those good things) in and out of quarantine zones, is forced to take his toughest job yet, smuggling a 14 year-old girl out of the city and taking to the revolutionary Fireflies group. Why? *SPOILER ALERT* Because Ellie is immune.
Joel’s reluctance to get close to anyone (thanks in no small part to the extremely powerful and emotional prologue piece at the beginning of the game) make the journey from Boston to Salt Lake City all that more amazing as you see his relationship with Ellie develop into something more than just that of a smuggler and his package. And this is where the acting truly shines through, which is something you rarely get to say about a video game.
"Point this, at that, and pull that trigger."
Ashley Johnson’s Ellie is simply one of the most memorable companion characters in a video game, ever. She even has BioShock: Infinite’s Elizabeth beat for just how funny and tough and actually very useful she is as you traverse this American wasteland. Troy Baker’s Joel rarely shows any signs of emotion, at least not until the latter half of the game, but it’s how he struggles, or even refuses to engage with the likes of Ellie or Tess to a lesser extent that are a credit to Baker’s pedigree as a voice actor.
The amazing characters don’t end there however. Joel’s long-time smuggling partner (and probably former lover) Tess, the often hilarious and always crazy Bill who reluctantly helps you source a car, Joel’s brother Tommy or even the creepy David all serve to improve the narrative and keep the story ticking along at such a glorious pace.
But as we know, a video game is only as good as its gameplay, and this “game” has this formula down to a tee. The name of the game is stealth here, as while gunplay is brilliantly crafted and works wonderfully, you’ll struggle often for the luxury of ammo and will instead resort to sneaking up on any ‘Infected’ or human enemies, either strangling them or silencing them permanently with a make-shift shiv or that solitary arrow you’ve been hanging onto for the last hour.
Throughout the game world you’ll stumble upon obscure items from cloth to alcohol to blades to sugar to binding that combine to create everything from health packs, to Molotov cocktails, to shivs and smoke bombs. Finding a broken scissors of a packet of salt or those two or three bullets is one of the more satisfactory aspects of this game. This is because you become well and truly engulfed in this world struggling for its own existence, and struggling for something to fight on for.
Graphically, this game is astonishing. Had this game been held back until November and debuted on the super-powered Playstation 4 there probably wouldn’t have been many qualms. However, those talented bunch of boys and girls at Naughty Dog have managed to eek every single last morsel of memory and space on the now limited PS3, and produced such an outstanding end product.
Back to story at hand, and we won’t spoil anything for those of you still unfortunate to have not yet finished this masterpiece. Literally every single act in this adventure throws a curve-ball at you, and not very nice ones. There’s a real feeling that everything you’re doing in this game will just serve to take away all hope just as quickly as it gives it to you. As while you’re constantly fighting the often terrifying Infected, it’s the human enemies that are the most frightening and vicious at times, as Chapter 9 will attest to. That’s where the hope diminishes. Humans are turning on humans, and Joel and Ellie can really only trust each other in earnest.
Like the previously mentioned BioShock: Infinite, this game’s ending has and will continue to have people talking for a while to come, and with good reason. It’s something we rarely see in a video game, and when experienced, really makes you question a lot of things.
All in all, this gaming experience is simply put one of not only the greatest Playstation 3 games ever, but one of the best on any console ever, and certainly Sony’s best exclusive PS3 game.
+ Amazing characters, finest voice acting in a game I can remember
+ Brilliant gameplay and character building
+ Intense, engrossing and unforgettable story
+ The wonderful and evolving dynamic between Joel and Ellie
+ A fully upgraded bow with arrows
+ Bill and Ellie's often hilarious dialogue
+ Shivving a 'clicker' in the neck
- Ellie not managing to learn to swim during the entire in-game year
- When Joel pops on his gas mask and you know there's a horde of Infected ahead
- Hearing that 'empty clip sound' as an army of 'hunters' approach
- Some dodgy enemy AI