The Last Of Us review SPOILER FREE – Naughty Dog’s latest masterpiece is apocalypse wow

The Last Of Us review

Damn. The Last Of Us is going to be super tough to write without dropping all the swear bombs. I really should start in beard-scratching style telling you how Naughty Dog has done it again, of the developer setting a high watermark for virtual storytelling and why its apocalyptic adventure is PS3’s best-looking game. But all I actually want to do is type strings of four-letter cusses, followed by happy superlatives, before wrapping up with ‘ZOMG! Sell your kidneys to buy this game!’.

The Last Of Us review

The Last Of Us is incredible. In its way, I’d argue that this is a better game than any of the Uncharted titles – no mean feat considering the reverence we hold for Drake’s second outing in particular. An amazing exercise in flawless world-building and wonderful characterisation, Naughty Dog has created a peerlessly tense hide-and-seek sim crafted around thoughtful stealth and devastating gunplay.

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It’s a road movie for the end of the world, told by PlayStation’s premier studio. You travel along 28 Days Later Boulevard, hang a right on Omega Man Drive, then take that long exit on to I Am Legend Highway. It may be a tale constructed from familiar beats, but Team Nate’s scripting is so well judged you’re constantly kept guessing throughout the game’s 15 riveting hours.

The Last Of Us is not Drake
in an apocalyptic
onesie

A word (alright, a few sentences) of warning, though: this isn’t Uncharted. The engine may be similarly drool-courting, but The Last Of Us is not Drake in an apocalyptic onesie. It doesn’t handle like Uncharted, it doesn’t pace itself like Uncharted, and it’s certainly a damn sight scarier than your favourite fortune-hunter’s feral yetis. Closer to survival horror than cover shooter, the game is weighty, with a turning circle more indebted to Dead Space than Vanquish.

There’s no cover button, either. Instead of hurling Joel behind fractured walls with a stab of Circle, your grizzled survivor automatically positions himself once you crouch next to an obstacle – similar to this year’s Tomb Raider reboot. Not a syllable of any of that is a complaint, either. Naughty Dog may buck recent third-person trends in terms of control, but every gun that bucks wildly when fired or instance of stiff strafing is a conscious design decision to make you feel vulnerable during a consistently chilling, often terrifying, experience.

Before the frightening games of peek-a-boo with tumour-stuffed monsters comes a genuinely astonishing intro. I’ve been playing games for 23 years. Up until now, exactly one of them has made me cry (that’d be Read Dead Redemption’s fateful finale). Well, I can now add another tearjerker to the red-faced list: The Last Of Us had me sobbing before its opening titles. Strong men also blub. No spoilers: just know it’s the most effective scene-setter and boldest statement of intent I’ve ever played. And that includes Uncharted 2’s perilous suspended train prologue.

The Last Of Us reviewA strong start would mean little if the game that follows couldn’t maintain that level of excitement and, in this case, emotional attachment. Why am I trying to drum up suspense, though? You already know how talented Naughty Dog is when it comes to creating dialogue. As much as I love listening to Drake and Sully cracking up about that time the moustachioed mentor “took a whore to church”, the level of scripting here is beyond anything you’ve seen from the studio. Where Uncharted captured the spirit of Indiana Jones-style matinees with a breezy charm, The Last Of Us dazzles with a tender maturity that boils the apocalypse down to the touching cross-country journey of a surrogate father/daughter pairing. Best of all, the majority of the plot is delivered with you squarely in control. Rather than Metal Gear your ears off, marathon cutscenes are wisely rationed, with the majority of dialogue delivered in ambient conversations as you wander through levels.

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