The PlayStation 3 might be entering its twilight months but the highly anticipated The Last of Us is out to prove that Sony’s current console can still wow. Created by Uncharted developers Naughty Dog, The Last of Us serves up another zombie apocalypse, but instead of a bioweapon or voodoo curse the culprit this time around is a nasty fungal infection inspired by the real-life Cordyceps fungi, which turns insects into zombies.
The lucky survivors shelter in quarantine zones under oppressive military rule, the rest eke out an existence in the wilderness and abandoned settlements where the infected roam free.
Joel and Ellie
Naughty Dog promised that The Last of Us’s story would be special, and they’ve delivered on that and then some. The story, which is told with a flair rarely seen in a game, puts players into the shoes of Joel, a smuggler who finds himself taking 14-year-old Ellie on a perilous journey across the US.
It owes a significant debt to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but the way that Joel and Ellie’s father-daughter relationship develops is no less captivating for that and the tale never sags despite lasting around 20 hours. Even the occasional predictable moment can’t undermine the desire to see how the journey ends.
Joel and Ellie’s adventure is backed by luscious gameplay that blends stealth, cover-based shooting, climbing, item crafting and lightweight puzzle solving to create something that is a huge step forward from Uncharted’s repeating rhythm of puzzle, then climbing, then shooting.
Almost every encounter can be handled in multiple ways. Maybe you’ll distract zombies by throwing a bottle, maybe you’ll use nail bombs as traps, maybe you’ll silently take out each enemy in turn or maybe you’ll go in all guns blazing. It’s a play-it-your-way game that makes switching between approaches effortless.
It’s not often that we see a new twist on the marauding zombie, but with the clicker The Last of Us has delivered a fresh and unsettling take on the rotters. These blind fungus-faced monstrosities home in on their prey using echolocation, scanning the area with subhuman clicking sounds.
Getting noticed by these fearsome zombies is a sure way to become a dinner. Their deadliness makes clickers unnerving foes, not least when creeping around pitch-black rooms packed with the nasty bleeders. There are also spore-lobbing giants and speedy 28 Days Later types, too, but it’s the clickers that really chill.
Much of the time, though, zombies are the least of Joel and Ellie’s worries, for the human survivors are just as terrifying. The game conjures up a world where the strong exploit the weak and morality seems like a luxury of another time. From paranoid soldiers to psychotic gangs that see passers-by as their next meal ticket (or indeed meal), The Last of Us paints a sinister portrait of a fallen civilisation where sometimes the more predictable behaviour of the infected is more comforting than a face off with its more intelligent human aggressors.
The Last of Us also packs in two multiplayer modes: Supply Raid and Survivors. Supply Raid limits the number of respawns while Survivors gives each player a single life. Both focus on survival with players having to gather materials in order to craft the items they need to secure victory. It’s an interesting proposition, backed up by a good range of customisation and loadout options, and suggests a more stealthy and tense multiplayer experience than usual, but a lack of players prerelease means we’ve not been able to test it for ourselves just yet.
We expected great things from The Last of Us but the result tops even our lofty expectations. The game ticks box after box - compelling story, great acting, varied gameplay, creepy zombies, moody audio and a fantastic attention to detail that shines through in everything from the environments to the perfectly judged controller vibrations.
It’s a game that makes Uncharted look like yesterday’s news. In short, The Last of Us is a high-water mark of current-generation gaming.