Developer: Naughty Dog Publisher: Sony Platform(s): Playstation 3 UK Price: £39.00 US Price: $59.99
The Last Of Us is a game about desperation, about surviving at all costs, about having to always choose the least worst option, about having to tell yourself “it was either him or me”. And it is utterly compelling because of it.
Set in a world where a plant-borne infection has turned most of the population into feral monsters, and where those who survive either live under complete scrutiny in dystopian cities choked by checkpoints and armed guards, or they brave the wilds under threat from scavengers.
You’re Joel, a man who has seen the worst this new world can offer. Even though he’s made it through thus far he doesn’t ever seem like he’s better for it. He’s tasked with escorting a young girl named Ellie out of the city to safety. It’s a simple aim, but difficult to achieve. That plot structure helps make The Last Of Us special. It’s ultimately a small thing you’re trying to do in the face of the entire world around you going to hell. It’s a story about people more than one about the obstacle.
Combat is built around the idea of scarcity. You have guns, but you aren’t provided with much ammunition. You’ll scavenge materials which can be crafted into helpful items, but even then you’re making a choice which might not work out. You could tape some scissors to a bit of pipe to kill an enemy instantly in a fight, or fashion a shiv which can kill them right away if unsuspecting, turn a rag and alcohol into a molotov or use it to heal your wounds. Each have severely limited uses and it’s up to you to make your choices count.
Moreover, killing another human here is difficult, not just because you’re so often under-equipped and out-numbered, but because the moral dilemma of doing so is totally grounded in reality. You’re going to watch them struggle against you as you choke them with the crook of your elbow or jam a jagged piece of metal into their throat. It's harrowing stuff: it's desperation. And, as the game progresses your characters' personalities are altered by these very moments, by the decisions they've had to make... and they did have to.
In gameplay terms, the result is that you’ll concern yourself less with immediately killing every enemy in your path and more with ensuring they lose sight of you. Often ignoring combat entirely is the best move. All you’re going to do is expend resources you’re going to need when fighting is absolutely necessary. That sense of scarcity brings out points where the game offers some of the most terrifying survival horror available, being so overwhelmed and under equipped that you can’t help but fear for what might happen. The Last Of Us is about set pieces, moments on moments that stand out one after the other.