Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hills 2, Grand Theft Auto III, Halo, Half-Life 2, Bioshock, Uncharted 2. There's a clear cut difference between being a great game, and an incredible game. A game that suffices and earns its 9 for the year and circumstance and a game that others are going to try measuring up to even as gaming technology grows more advanced by the second. There are quality games, and there are benchmarks to the medium. While those examples were within some of the same console generations, The Last of Us is unique in how it defies them all in singling out its entire generation in being the 7th generations proudest achievement, the one to have broken the mold of making an incredible story without Hollywood's validation along with fluid and outstanding gameplay, all while its creators know its pedigree. No pun intended.
Zombie stories have been done their cliche's graves and back (and back) again, but Naughty Dog has managed to find a way to make it refreshing enough and, something most zombie games have completely failed to do, ultimately terrifying. Based on the real life Cordyceps fungi, a mutant strain of the virus has infected humans and thrown the world into complete turmoil 20 years prior to the start of the game. The game puts you in the shoes of Joel, a common Texas man who loses his daughter in the violence and learns to adjust to the turmoil around him. Meeting with a resistance group rebelling against the authoritative remnants of the US governments known as the Fireflies, the game introduces you to Ellie, a young teenager who grows up within the violent world and only holds pockets of knowledge to the past. The performances and dynamic of Joel and Ellie, respectively played by voice acting MVP Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, is the best on screen dynamic of partnership of any video game ever created. They carry themselves as real people through their dialogue and delivery, and they always feed off one another as if the player is right along for the ride throughout near them. Joel and Ellie have their tropes and shed each and every one of them as the game goes on to truly let these individuals shine in their own right. Joel can short tempered, stoic and downright ruthless and brutal, but is all the more protective, understanding and aware of the world around him from seeing the horrors of the Infected and the worst mankind has to offer. Ellie is pugnacious, sarcastic, and easily tough enough to handle herself and keep her wits about her, but is still too naive to the dangers of the world around her. Growing up in the world the game is set in doesn't leave her with much in the way of understanding how people conduct themselves and that may leave Ellie thinking and doing things that are all the more dangerous. Each of the supporting cast that Joel encounters is also just as well developed and performed, to even unsettling and memorizing degrees. The infected are monstrosities, but it's truly mankind that is always the more frightening.
Gameplay will make others think of a Walking Dead-esque version of Uncharted on first look, but this game will have more in common with Resident Evil and many of the best survival horror games out there. In Uncharted, you could pick yourself up a few magazines, though no oustanding number since Nathan Drake who was constantly on the move. In this game, players will praise the heavens be that the managed to find two bullets for their revolver. Shotguns, handguns, bows, rifles and old melee weapons can be all found to make use of, but only for so long. Prolonged fights are dangerous and the game will punish players severely if one doesn't take their surroundings and inventory into consideration before acting. A Molotov cocktail uses the same ingredients as a health kit; a shiv can be used for killing this Clicker (Infected who's superhuman strength and hearing are stifled by the fact they are blind) that you sneak up on, or be used to open a door to access hidden upgrades and much needed resources. All crafting of improvised weapons and upgrades, as well as switching weapons take place in real time and requires putting down a backpack and looking through it, so don't even think of trying to swap out a bow for a rifle in the open. Combat is brutal and fluid, and can have Joel smash his opponents face in to the point that it makes a person wince after seeing it. It doesn't sensationalize the gore and violence and that's what makes it all the more unsettling. For all the ways one can dispatch enemies however, it's the true hallmark of its gameplay in how there are situations that don't call for conflict at all, either in how it would save resources or in regards to how it's suicidal to do so. Stealth is key, and if the stars align, the situation doesn't even need to have combat involved. A brick can be used to either smash a guys face in, or thrown to lure him away to breeze past him without any cost. For all the ways you can dispatch and outsmart the enemies, the enemy's AI is no slouch either. They will take note of the situation they are in and call for help or take cover, and even outmaneuver the player at times. Enemies can attack while the player is engaged with another, or rush in for the kill when ammunition is depleted. Thankfully, Ellie and other AI partners are made useful in how they can assist and attack any enemies that have you in their grasp. There's a sort of Batman Arkham like Detective Vision ability called "Listen Mode" where you can hear your enemies and make out the best method of action, combat or escape, in a situation. Unlike that mode, Listen does not highlight everything at everytime and can be turned off altogether, not even being availible for use on the game's highest difficulties. The name of the game is survival, and it's more than just knowing when to pull the trigger.
Technically, this is the hands down best looking game on the most powerful console of the 7th generation, and manages to outshine some of the next generation on nearly 9 year old hardware. The animations are fluid and realistic, textures on characters look fantastic, the environments that range from bombed out craters in Boston to neighborhood overrun with moss looks incredible. The stereotypical brown palette of a game this serious looks vibrant and the game runs even better at 60 frames per second, though the 30 FPS version never hurt anyone. The game's score by Academy Award winner Gustavo Santaolalla is phenomenally done, bringing in that desperate and haunting feeling of near total isolation. Every hit, every gunshot, every scream, every line of dialogue sounds visceral and perfectly well designed. Ellie sees the streams of a river, lush greens of the mountains and reacts in as much awe as the player does, the raw nature of beauty returning as civilization has crumbled into chaos. Naughty Dog have shown they know how to bring out the best of whatever hardware they develop for, and this seems to be another shining example of technical and artistic geniuses at the top of their game.
Throughout the 17 hour storyline, they will bring out the emotions any quality story will be able to elicit out of its audience by the end of it, and the Remastered version brings in another great addition to the game's universe in Left Behind. Taking control of Ellie before the events of the game follows her and her friend Riley, a character who leaves a significant impact on Ellie's character, as well as show the strength Ellie conjured up throughout the storyline as to what made her a better survivor in the end. Letting other stranded and Infected slaughter each other gives you a creeping satisfaction out of not being involved and watching the carnage unfold, but it's a solid mechanic that makes you wish you saw more of in the original game. When both stories wind down, multiplayer is there to hold down the other half of the game with a challenging and brutal competitive experience. Taking the role of a survivor or the Fireflies, you use many of the same mechanics found in the single player to craft and dispatch of enemies to complete objectives. Supply Raid and Survivors are both team deathmatch variations, with Survivors removing the ability to respawn in a round. Interrogation has an investigative angle to Capture the Flag. It's just as tense and violent as the story, and the players will fight tooth and nail from the second a match begins. Resources are just as limited and health is not something to waste so every confrontation takes time and strategy to win.
Throughout the journey and seeing what The Last of Us has to offer, this is the only logical conclusion: this is an entire generation's magnum opus, the crowning achievement of a veteran, acclaimed studio at the top of their game. Truly in a class of its own, The Last of Us is a remarkable experience the moment the game begins and shows the difference between a placeholder and a legacy. Never one to rest on its laurels, The Last of Us game goes above and beyond what is expected of a video game that will take an entire few more generations to fully comprehend. It's where one hardware generation brilliantly ends and where a new era of gaming as a whole truly begins.