Off the charts
A fungal plague has devastated humanity, reducing the infected to brutal, mis-shapen wrecks. Two decades on from the outbreak, you play Joel, an emotionally haunted survivor as he guides the young Ellie to a safehouse on the other side of wasteland America. On the surface, the set-up could be pitched as ‘Ico meets The Walking Dead’ but the execution makes it so much more than that.
The world you’ll be travelling is fraught with danger – more often from other humans than from the Infected – but is unerringly beautiful. Nature has reclaimed urban spaces, and the results are stunning. Colour and lighting change with the seasons as the story progresses, and characters’ appearances become worn and tired with time. This is easily the best-looking game on PS3.
The gameplay itself could easily have been a disappointment – broadly a mix of stealth and action, with innumerable sections of waist-high cover shooting, it doesn’t immediately offer anything new. Played with a shooter mindset, it doesn’t, in fact. However, it’s in avoiding combat when possible, incapacitating foes and only killing when absolutely, unavoidably necessary that the game stands apart. You’ll pause, consider options, listen, always aware that a mis-timed charge into action will prove fatal. You’re not playing a superhero, or even anyone as tough as Nathan Drake from Naughty Dog’s earlier Uncharted games – you’re playing a human, as fragile and vulnerable as any of us. When you are forced to fight, it’s short, sharp, shocking, and the game treats violence with almost disgust – necessary evils.
At the heart of the game is the almost parental relationship between Joel and his charge, one brought to life through the best vocal performances yet heard in a video game. The production quality of the game is spectacular but the actors are working at another level. The score, the first Brokeback Mountain’s Gustavo Santolalla has composed for games, is also superb, ratcheting up the tension and underscoring the solitude of the world through use of silence as much as bold orchestral moments. There are many cinematic influences at work throughout the game, but it avoids feeling like an interactive movie.
The Last Of Us is not just the finest game that Naughty Dog has yet crafted and an easy contender for the best game of this console generation, it may also prove to be gaming’s Citizen Kane moment – a masterpiece that will be looked back upon favourably for decades.