If you like a good story, The Last of Us is one of those games that will captivate you right from the start and that you’ll keep in mind for a very long time. Yep, it’s just that good.
I’ve been dreading the moment I’d post my review of TLOU. I’m in love with the franchise, and I genuinely hope that you’ll find my review relevant or helpful in any way if you haven’t played it yet.
Well, here we go. Here’s my late review of The Last of Us and why you need to go and buy it right now.
The Last of Us is an action survival horror game developed by Naughty Dog. It was initially released as a PlayStation 3 exclusive in June 2013 and, following the success of the PS3 version, Naughty Dog released The Last of Us Remastered for the PlayStation 4 a year later, in July 2014.
I did complete my first run(s) on the PS3, many years ago, but this review is based on my most recent experiences on the PlayStation 4.
It’s (yet again) the end of the world.
Naughty Dog did a fantastic job with the opening of The Last of Us.
We’re in the United States, the year is 2013, and a mysterious fungal disease is turning people into aggressive monsters. And, just like in any other zombie-like game or movie, the infection spreads through bites.
The game opens as Joel (the main protagonist), his daughter, and Tommy (his brother) try to flee the city to run away as the situation just went from bad to absolute mayhem.
This memorable opening sequence sets the mood for the title; it will be dark, it will be cruel, and it will be violent.
20 years later
The actual title takes place 20 years after the opening, and after the disease took the world by storm. Humanity is on its knees; there’s no cure, and most people are either dead or barely surviving in camps of fortune around the country.
Now, while people are, of course, fighting the infected, they are also fighting each other, consumed by fear and hatred.
The Last of Us isn’t soft and doesn’t shy away from horror and how much we, humans, can do to each other to stay alive.
The Last of Us is a captivating story.
While the scenery is rather classic, it serves as a background story for something much bigger: The story of Joel and Ellie.
Joel is a broken man. When all hell broke loose, he also lost everything, and he’s lost a lot of himself in the process. He’s become a survivor and one can easily perceive that he’s done terrible things to stay alive all these years.
Ellie, on the other hand, is a 14-year-old girl who’s never known anything else but a broken world. Yet, she could be the solution to everything 🙊.
Discover the game for yourself and watch the first hour of gameplay, with no commentary.
A credible devastated world
The Last of Us depicts a credible view of what the world could look like two decades after humanity went from hero to zero. Everywhere you’ll go, you’ll witness how nature grew back on what used to be cities and small towns. Places in which you’ll find traces of what people left behind.
Side characters and other NPCs with depth
The Last of Us succeeds where The Walking Dead failed. With TLOU, Naughty Dog tells a ton of great stories about people.
Too often in games, side characters only exist to serve the main story, have very little going on for themselves, and lack depth altogether. Well, not in TLOU. You will meet a couple of very well-written characters throughout the story—people with a past, people with stories to tell.
If you take the time to look around as you play through the game, you will cross paths with random NPCs who will chat about their problems with other NPCs. Those conversations contribute to creating the world of The Last of Us, and you could miss them altogether if you were to rush your way through.
Take the time to explore the world of The Last of Us
The Last of Us is a generous title with fascinating lore that gives the story more substance.
For instance, as you advance through the game, you will find notes that people left behind. Those notes might sometimes give you access codes to open safes, but they primarily tell tragic stories about people trying to do their best to survive. People who wanted to leave something behind as all hope was lost.
If you pay attention, you will have the possibility to start extra conversations with Ellie; conversations are indicated by a speech icon above Ellie’s head.
Those conversations will often be unlocked when approaching special places; Ellie walking by an Ice Cream truck or Joel wishing out loud for a cup of coffee when entering an abandoned and moldy coffee shop. While not necessary to understand what the story is all about and where it’s going, those conversations will tell the player more about Joel and Ellie’s respective pasts.
As you advance in the game, you will notice how their relationship evolves —, and I can’t give you much more without sharing spoilers, I think.
For all those reasons, if you are to play The Last of Us and are looking for the most immersive gaming experience, take the time to explore.
Rare moments of beauty and innocence
You will see, do and feel terrible things as you play through the horror of The Last of Us. However, on rare occasions, it will give you generous moments of beauty and innocence, mainly through the eyes of Ellie, who’s never seen much of the world after she’s spent her entire life in a quarantine zone.
She’ll be fascinated when walking through quiet woods for the first time or seeing fireflies surrounding her. She won’t miss an occasion to ask Joel about the world before it all went down when walking into a record store or passing by an old arcade machine.
In the end, Ellie is just a curious and lively fourteen years old kid, and she won’t miss a chance to remind you about it.
A realistic physical AND psychological violence
TLOU is not a game you’d want your kids to play.
Naughty Dog got us used to goofy games with Uncharted and Jak and Daxter before that. But TLOU is not a game for sensitive minds, and it’s not a game for teens either. While you might get a laugh or two during the game, The Last of Us is a dark, graphic, and brutal journey.
What’s more, if we forget about people turning into mindless monsters, The Last of Us gives a cold and realistic approach to survival, and what could be, without being as superficial as The Division, or as extravagant as a Resident Evil, for instance.
A flawless sound design, a beautiful soundtrack, and a premium voice cast
Naughty Dog collaborated with musician and composer Gustavo Santaolalla for their game’s soundtrack, and the result is stunning. Gustavo is a fantastic guitar player, and his riffs perfectly match the post-apocalyptic ambiance of The Last of Us.
Give it a listen on Spotify:
The soundtrack alone is a reason to play The Last of Us.
A premium voice cast
Another element that makes The Last of Us a masterpiece is the voice cast. Naughty Dog worked together with Troy Baker (Joel) and Ashley Johnson (Ellie).
Both actors gave their voices and also contributed to animate the characters with motion capture.
There was, however, a little bit of a scandal regarding Ellie’s appearance. She looks a lot like Elliot Page (previously known as Ellen Page).
The problem? Elliot Page was never part of the project. She did work on Beyond: Two Souls, but not on The Last of Us.
A limited yet efficient bestiary
In The Last of Us, you will face 2 types of enemies.
- Infected humans
Humans will carry weapons, talk to each other, and call for backup if and when needed.
On the other hand, infected folks will act spontaneously and rush towards you in numbers if and when they see you. Now, not all infected are equally dangerous. There are three forms of infected:
- People who were recently infected: Those still look like people and are quite easy to get rid of. One important detail is that infected aren’t sensitive to light and won’t see your flashlight — when actual people will obviously spot you if they see your flashlight.
- Clickers: Clickers are people who’ve been infected for a longer time, and you’ll hear them from afar as they make a terrifying ‘clicking’ sound that you’ll learn to hate. While they are stronger than regular infected, they are rendered completely blinded by a fungus that’s grown all over their head. The counterpart is that they have a strong sense of hearing. Beware of clickers for they are very dangerous enemies.
- Bloaters: Bloaters are the largest enemies you’ll face in TLOU. They have been infected for many years and you will need a lot of firepower to dispose of them.
You can anticipate the presence of stronger enemies by the presence of spores in the air. The longer someone’s been infected, the more spores they will release.
Long story short, if you see spores, expect trouble.
A well-oiled gameplay.
The Last of Us doesn’t reinvent the wheel.
If you’re used to playing action and infiltration games, you’ll recognize many known gameplay mechanics. What Naughty Dog managed to do, however, is to create a smooth experience where it simply works (with a couple of flaws, still)
Better sneak around
In TLOU Remastered, a frontal approach will almost always result in wasting many resources and increasing your chances of failing. Infiltration is often the best way to go.
Talking about known gameplay mechanics, when sneaking your way through, you will be able to grab enemies to dispose of them quietly, without alerting anyone (or anything) else around.
This is probably the most repetitive gameplay mechanic in TLOU. Yet, I find it immensely rewarding as you need to analyze your enemies’ patterns and find the right moment to get rid of them.
Note that you can only grab regular-sized enemies. Bigger opponents, like bloaters, require heavy firepower.
The game actually supports infiltration and helps you with a couple of mechanics.
‘Wave sound’ warning
You’ll hear an increasing sound warning as someone is about to spot you. When you hear it, go back to hiding. If you don’t, you’ll get spotted, and all surrounding enemies will converge towards your last known location.
Focus your hearing
You can also focus on Joel’s hearing and see enemies through walls, based on how loud they are. If enemies don’t move or hide from you, you won’t be able to see them.
A diverse set of weapons
From handguns to shotguns, bows, and flamethrowers, Joel will be able to rely on an extensive arsenal (and store it all in his backpack).
While infiltration is key to surviving in TLOU, you can rely on a diverse set of weapons to defend yourself if and when things go south.
The not-so-realistic detail here is that Joel will be able to carry all weapons at once. Just like in Metal Gear Solid 3, you will need to pause what you’re doing for a couple of seconds to switch weapons from your backpack. However, the difference with Metal Gear Solid 3 is that the game won’t pause as you switch your weapons.
In short, plan your next actions well ahead of a fight!
You can also throw bricks and glass bottles to lure enemies out of their path or weaken their defenses for a short time if you hit them with it.
A fruitful collaboration with Ellie
An essential part of the game relies on Joel’s collaboration with Ellie. Being shorter and lighter than Joel, Ellie will reach high places or even fit into air ducts to help the duo move forward.
Some might find it a tad repetitive, and they will be correct. But I also find that those forced interactions between Joel and Ellie contribute to understanding how their relationship evolves over time. In the beginning, they will be both very distant. And, as time passes, they’ll start acting as a well-functioning team.
Additionally, Ellie can’t swim. So, every time you’ll approach deep waters, Ellie will remind you that she can’t swim, and you’ll have to find a piece of wood for her to stand on while you help her across whatever it is you’re crossing.
This will happen 4 to 5 times throughout the entire adventure, and it shouldn’t be too much of a pain. Besides, Ellie and Joel will always talk through the process, making it more interesting.
Limited (and repetitive) interactions with the environment
On other occasions, you will need to find and use ladders, planks and move rolling bins to access specific zones and move forward in the adventure.
Here again, one might call Naughty Dog out for lack of originality…but it works pretty well. And it’s rare enough not to be too redundant.
Upgrade your material and skills
Another interesting dimension of TLOU is its (mild) role-playing.
As you explore the world of The Last of Us, you’ll find parts to upgrade your weapons, pills to upgrade your skills, tools to improve your crafting skills, and materials to craft medkits, shivs (or knives), and throwable weapons such as Molotov cocktails, nail, and smoke bombs.
Find pills to upgrade Joel’s skills and senses.
Interestingly enough, shivs have multiple purposes. You can use them to eliminate stronger enemies—like clickers—quietly, to escape deadly enemies’ grab, or to open locked doors and recover precious loot.
Shivs are a very precious item! Don’t waste them!
Use workbenches to upgrade your weapons.
To upgrade your weapons, you will need to find and use workbenches and use the weapons parts you’ve collected so far.
To fully upgrade your weapons, you will need to find five sets of tools.
Is The Last of Us Difficult?
It really depends on two key factors: the difficulty level you select from the start (Easy, Normal, Hard, Survivor, or Grounded), and your game style. If you’re clumsy and try your luck with direct confrontations with the enemies (humans or infected), you will find the game extremely difficult. If you take your time and dispose of enemies strategically, The Last of Us shouldn’t be too much of a challenge — at least in normal mode.
On another note, if you take the time to loot and carefully manage your resources, you should be able to see the end of the adventure without too much trouble.
With fewer resources and stronger enemies, the Hard, Survivor and Grounded modes are a lot more challenging. For instance, I recently completed the game in Normal and Survivor modes, and I can say that the difference between the two is striking.
How long to beat The Last of Us
Count 15 to 20 hours to complete the main adventure, depending on how you play, and how much you explore.
A DLC that’s worth it: Left behind
Sold as downloadable content (DLC) on the PlayStation 3 version, Left Behind is entirely part of the Remastered version (free of charge).
This DLC is an occasion to better understand Ellie and her past before crossing paths with Joel, and it should take you an additional 3 to 5 hours to complete.
It is essential that you don’t play Left Behind before completing the actual game, or you will see massive spoilers. Naughty Dog even warns you from the menu as you’re about to start the DLC. You’re warned.
Interesting replayability…for completionists
I’ve already completed The Last of Us many times over the year, and I still discover new details during my playthroughs. May it be a note that I haven’t read before, or a brief conversation I missed altogether, I always enjoy getting back to the world of TLOU.
In addition to that, the game offers interesting replayability, especially for players looking to challenge themselves.
New game plus
After completing the game a first time, you’ll have the possibility to restart the adventure and keep Joel’s abilities and weapon upgrades (not the weapons themselves, nor your loot). And you won’t be able to craft all items from the beginning either.
Note that you can only continue a new game plus in the highest difficulty level you’ve already completed the game in previously. So, if you’ve completed the game in Normal mode the first time, you will only be able to start a new game plus in Easy or Normal.
Trophy hunters, be warned; The Last of Us is not an easy prize to conquer. To this day, only 0.4 % of players have unlocked the Platinum trophy.
One reason for this is that you’ll need to complete the game in Survivor mode twice. In this mode, enemies are more powerful, the listen mode is disabled, and resources are even more scarce.
Now, if you’re up for the ultimate TLOU challenge, you can try and complete the game in Grounded mode.
In this mode, enemies deal x3 damages, and resources are almost nonexistent. Good luck.
Like you could in Uncharted games before TLOU, you can purchase skins, concept art, and render modes (with game money, not real money).
Here’s an example of Ellie wearing a Naughty Dog T-Shirt and glasses right from Jak and Daxter.
Those among you with a strong art fiber will appreciate the presence of a photo mode (exclusive to the Remaster) to immortalize specific moments of your epic adventure.
The photo mode isn’t too impressive, but it’s still nice to have it.
A multiplayer mode to try: Factions MP
I used to play online a lot. But this isn’t something I do anymore, for lack of time. I did try Faction for a couple of hours, and I have to admit that, while I found the concept interesting, I wasn’t transcended by it.
The purpose of Faction is to fight multiplayer games to scrap resources and grow a (fictional) colony.
There are three modes in Faction:
- Supply raid: A classical deathmatch mode in which you need to eliminate the enemy team to win.
- Survivors: A deathmatch mode with permadeath. If you die, you need to wait until the end of the round to respawn.
- Interrogation: A special mode in which you need to down enemies to proceed to an interrogation. The team that manages to interrogate the most enemies wins the round.
I’m not a fan, but it could also come from my lack of interest in multiplayer experiences.
By the way, what’s new in the Remaster?
With a 1080p resolution, increased resolution for character models, overall improvements on shadows and lighting effects, as well as a higher frame rate (60 FPS vs. 30 FPS on the PS3) display, The Last of Us Remastered offers a sharper experience.
It’s worth mentioning that TLOU Remastered also corrects a couple of glitches from the original game and dramatically shortens loading times.
In short, if you only own a PlayStation 3, you will truly enjoy The Last of Us. However, for the best experience, I recommend playing on PS4 (or PS4 Pro / PS5). Besides, the Remastered version includes the DLC when the PS3 version doesn’t.
Verdict: Good buy or Goodbye?
Very. Good. Buy.
If you like single-player experiences, immersive atmospheres, and a good story, TLOU is a game for you. There’s only one exception to this: if you don’t like violent games, I’m afraid TLOU is not what you should play next.
But if you ask me, The Last of Us series is one of Naughty Dog’s most significant accomplishments. Period.