When Naughty Dog told Gamereactor that the studio was going to own survival horror, we believed them. Did we think they were going to make one of the greatest games ever made? Of that, we weren't so sure, but that's exactly what the studio did with The Last of Us, a survival-horror action-adventure set in a post-apocalyptic future where most of humanity has succumbed to an ultra-aggressive fungal infection that turns people into mindless husks.
Yet for all their disgusting mutations, the real monsters in Naughty Dog's horrific opus weren't the zombie allegories, nor was it the haunting shell of society in the years after the event - the real monsters were the bandits and murderers that you regularly encountered as you journey through the apocalypse with Joel and Ellie, the game's now-iconic duo.
If the story pulled us along, and the gameplay entertained us on the way, it was the relationship between Joel and Ellie that really pulled us in and made us care. From the gut-punch of an opener through to the brain-melting finale, we were drawn into the world of these two characters. Watching their relationship blossom into something unspoken was made possible by some truly masterful storytelling by Naughty Dog, a genuine and nuanced relationship forming during the pair's journey to potential salvation.
It's a rollercoaster of emotions, with some truly memorable scenes along the way, and characters that we still remember years after putting down the controller for the last time. Naughty Dog has proven itself to be one of the very best studios when it comes to painting believable, grounded characters, and The Last of Us is its finest work in this respect.
Impactful cutscenes and enduring characters aside, you still don't make an impression like the one made by The Last of Us without razor-sharp gameplay, and that was another area where the game was strong. Stealth drives the experience, but the players are armed with enough tools to outsmart and exploit the AI, a blend that creates its fair share of dynamic moments as the various systems interact with one another.
We spent so many hours creeping through crumbling buildings, listening out for the ominous "tick tick tick" of the aptly names clickers nearby. The Last of Us is at its best, at least from a gameplay perspective, when you're sneaking past deadly threats, using takedowns to remove as many threats as possible. It's intense stuff, and a far cry from the more tongue-in-cheek adventuring of Nathan Drake in the studio's other series, Uncharted. Tonally the two series are poles apart, but at least they're unified when it comes their underlying quality.
Solid stealth mechanics will only get you so far and, when subtlety stops working it's usually time for direct action. The third-person combat might not stand out as the game's strength, but once again the studio delivered a rich and engaging experience that had enough flexibility to facilitate a number of individual tactics. Using the toolkit provided, players were encouraged to express themselves on any given scenario, and that authorship made for a memorable overall experience.
At the time it was released The Last of Us looked incredible, and Naughty Dog did a decent job of updating it for the PS4 in due course. With excellent cutscenes, realistic character animations, and harrowing world design, the studio created a rich and believable world that we were desperate to discover. The atmosphere was solidified by an excellent soundtrack, but few would argue against the fact that a huge part of bringing this story to life was the excellent performances from Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson. The whole cast did an incredible job, with the likes of Nolan North providing support, but the chemistry between Baker and Johnson as Joel and Ellie made the game.
The Last of Us does nearly everything right, and with the exception of a couple of lacklustre puzzles, it stands as one of the crowning achievements of the PS3 era. With Part 2 set to follow soon on PlayStation 4, Sony will be hoping that lightning strikes twice and that Naughty Dog can deliver another game to capture the hearts and minds of another generation of gamers.
Loading next content