VINE VOICEon 16 June 2013
Short version: It's not just Uncharted With Zombies, but it does have great graphics, amazing sound design, wonderful story, brilliantly sedate gameplay that explodes in bursts of fighting, and at least twice during it I was wondering why I need to upgrade to the next generation of console at all.
If you have a PS3, buy it immediately. If you own an Xbox and only came here to write a hatchet review to drag down the average score of a PS3 exclusive, then by all means batter the keys with your fists as quickly as possible and get it out of your system so you can sleep at night again - and then BUY A PS3 JUST TO PLAY IT, because it is so good it redeems both the aging 3d platformer game, and the utterly tired zombie genre.
Long version: The Last of Us initially looks like an old VHS copy of a 1980s post-apocalyptic movie shot in Italy and dubbed badly with ludicrous Noo Yawk accents, especially if you turn the contrast and colour on your tv way up while playing, but some of the scenery is impressively inventive in recasting streets as flooded water puzzles and offices as waterfalls. It's off the beaten track, too, as it's typically New York or Washington that gets the post-apocalyptic treatment in these kinds of games, but here we see the desolate and haunting remains of Boston, Pennsylvania and Salt Lake City - it's an oddly downbeat travelogue that avoids the tourist attractions of the US and eventually you cotton on as to why as the story unfolds, at which point in the review it is probably worth mentioning that the storyline is exceptional, and it is from this element that many are drawing their final conclusions about the game in reviews that are causing some people to become confused and even angry at the game because they expect the usual "kill everything between point A and B and escort NPC to safety" gameplay and instead get a gaming experience raised above admittedly pretty solid gaming mechanics by the mix of storyline and game to the point one doesn't really exist without the other. Ahead of time I'm telling you: don't skip the cut scenes, it's an experience more than it is a game.
Without spoilering anything specifically, at some point the game becomes a single extended thematic exploration of survivor's guilt felt by the protagonists, victory ultimately laying not in beating a huge boss but in moving on with their lives and trying to be happy with what they have. The Last of Us of the title is thus quite ambiguous: does it mean the cities and their dangerous inhabitants as being the last remnants of our civilisation, or does it mean all that Joel and Elle have left come the end when their earlier, gruff and adversarial characters are abandoned when they discard their co-dependent patterns of destructive behavior?
As to the actual mechanics of it because, oh yeah this is actually a game and not a novel, The Last of Us plays a long game with combat, with a slow build-up of gathering or building supplies in preparation for your next encounter before combat breaking out in frantic, desperate bursts, but don't be fooled - despite appearances, you aren't mashing buttons, the final outcome of combat is always in your hands as long as you decide where you initiate open fisticuffs and gunplay by being patient beforehand and setting traps, misdirecting enemies and so on. Patience and strategy are rewarded, whereas the gung-ho may find themselves at a loose end pretty quickly.
The enemy AI is pretty good, though it can often be turned against them, with a couple of my favorite tactics including throwing a brick or bottle into an open area so enemies go to investigate it and when they're all grouped tightly around the spot where it landed, I throw a nailbomb or Molotov Cocktail and it'll land in more or less the perfect spot to knacker the lot of them, or switching to an empty gun during a gunfight and firing it so when the enemies hear the click they laugh and shout that you're out of ammo and rush at your position, so you switch to a gun that does have ammo and blow their head off while they're out in the open. Making noise by walking over broken glass is also a good tactic as enemies come to investigate and you can slip behind them and stab them in the neck, and if any of this sounds complicated, it really isn't, as the controls are great. It's a genius idea taking the control system from an action game and putting it in a survival horror, as one of my bugbears with aging survival horror series like Resident Evil and Silent Hill has been their anachronistic control layouts, but here things couldn't simpler or more intuitive.
I honestly can't praise this title enough, it's fantastic. This far into the PS3's shelf life (by which I mean the end of it), it seems insane to deliver a killer app like this instead of holding it back to be a launch title for the next generation of consoles - but if there's an updated version coming for the PS4, I'll probably buy the machine just to play it all over again.