With the revival of the zombie survival genre, developing a game based on an apocalyptic pandemic event full of crazed infected humans was a reasonably safe bet to draw in the gamers. The Last of Us centres on Joel and Ellie and is set two decades after the outbreak where a Cordyceps fungus has all but wiped out mankind, turning those infected into still humanoid creatures at different stages of the fungus where ultimately it explodes sending spores into the air to infect more people.
The military have managed to loosely secure quarantine zones but this has been largely ineffective. Many civilians have become disgruntled at the totalitarian rule and have formed a group known as the ‘Fireflies’ who wish to re-establish a democratic society and give freedom back to the people. To make matters worse other survivors have chosen to create marauding gangs who do whatever it takes to survive including intimidation and murder to recover scarce resources.
Naughty Dog who are famous for their Uncharted series have developed a game heavy on story in a world where only the strong survive, full of brutal hardened men and women where death waits at every corner. Joel is the epitome of a true survivor, a no nonsense hard man who has no wish to create emotional ties that he believes would not only cost him his life but his sanity. Ellie is a 14 year old girl who has only known the world in its dilapidated state, an orphan who is yet to experience the even harsher reality of the outside world, still full of hope and a little naïve. Together these two make unlikely allies who to survive must learn to trust and even depend on each other to make this epic journey across the US.
The game environments are simply superb; every detail has been captured to represent a world gone to hell yet at the same time one that has a beauty where nature is reclaiming its own (looking like something straight out of I am Legend). As with the Uncharted series you can expect to do a bit of exploring in an effort to uncover much needed supplies. The Last of Us plays homage to the survival genre where you must collect all manner of items if you wish to survive to create equipment and items such as shivs (homemade dagger), bandages and first aid kits wherever and whenever in real time. Your melee weapons will degrade when used time with their own durability bar on display so will need to be carefully managed. Your firearms can be upgraded at a workbench (similar to the Dead Rising series) but are again reliant on resources (cogs) you have found during your journey. Joel too can be improved with medicine/pills he finds where you can choose to upgrade abilities such as improving his use of firearms, adding health bars or speeding up the time it takes to create items.
Stealth and close combat play a key role in the game, Joel can go into a special mode that allows him to ‘see’ enemies by listening. As he intensely concentrates the colour will fade from your view and any movement will highlight enemies in white which and can be seen through walls or behind obstacles. This will allow you to carefully plan your strategy for taking out or avoiding those who stand in your way. He can also perform takedowns if he catches anyone unaware, these can either be silent by using a skiv (limited use knife) or simply strangling them, however if you choose not to waste resources on a silent kill you run the risk of someone hearing your struggling opponents last efforts to survive. The close combat is brutal; the game plays out in 3rd person but zooms into the action whenever fists or melee weapons are at the fore. This brings out a more dramatic sense of desperation and feels more intense as your vision of the surroundings becomes limited and you are never sure who might be coming up to attack you from any direction.
The story, acting, and voiceovers are outstanding where it is easy to bond with the characters. You can understand why they have done things that would be considered criminal and immoral pre-apocalypse. Joel has no wish to acknowledge the losses he has suffered and instead chooses to accept that to survive he must do whatever it takes. I found it hard not to fall to temptation and race through the game just to find out what happens next. If you choose to explore every nook and cranny you will not only be rewarded with vital resources but get a lot more game time. I finished in around 18 hours on normal but did attempt to search everywhere and made multiple attempts to try different techniques of stealth and combat to avoid or kill everyone in my way. I would guess that you could do in 12-14 if you spent less time in stealth but you may die a few more times finding your way.
There is just so much to the game it’s hard to capture without writing a novel, let alone giving out any spoilers. Naughty Dog adds variety to the game which is seamlessly split into chapters much like a book. The cut-scenes keep the dialogue flowing yet that intensity to survive always remains. Although the game is predominantly linear you can find yourself getting lost or disorientated as some of the environments are large. I did notice the occasional bug but nothing that detracts from the flow of the game and I am sure will be cleaned up with an update or two. The multiplayer element I will cover separately but I can tell you the emphasis is on building your clans and surviving campaign type scenarios such as capturing or defending resources. The Last of Us is a sure fire contender for Game of the Year and deserves a perfect score because action-adventure gaming just doesn’t get any better than this. 
Platform: PlayStation 3
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog