Endure and Survive; whatever you need to to get a PS3 and play this game.

User Rating: 9.5 | The Last of Us PS3
The tension is palpable. Four of us are huddled, hiding from three armed hunters who are inbound to search our area. Something goes wrong and they'll call that armored humvee back down on us. I move forward with a determination that gives me an aura of bravery; my real motivation are my companions though. Not only do I have Ellie to look out for but our new companion, Sam, also has Henry, a boy near Ellie's age. I don't have much to work with: no arrows, a handful of bullets but I don't want to risk gunfire and call that .50 cal back down on us. Hunter number one is easy; I blindside him with a punch and then choke him out... it takes time. The others are near my companion. In a bigger hurry I hurl a brick at Hunter 2 and then shiv him in the carotid, but I've been careless. Hunter 3 grabs me in a chokehold. He's got me dead-to-rights, no doubt about that, but I've got a wildcard: Ellie climbs up his back and wraps her arms around his neck. He released me and I turn the full fury of a lead pipe on him till he's still.

Endure and Survive.

- Such is life in The Last of Us. You survive from moment to moment, encounter to encounter. I am playing on Hard at @katzenbalger 's suggestion and I think it's a good idea. Trying to figure out how to get through a flooded basement filled with infected and carrying only 7 shotgun shells and a brick is surely a challenge, especially when you need to start a loud-ass gas generator to get out of the area! But make no mistake: at least the infected don't shoot at you.

- What's left of humanity is, by far, more dangerous than the various degrees of the infected. The latter are predictable: Runners run, Stalkers wait, Clickers, well, click but are also relatively easy to sneak by. Hunters, on the other hand, patrol, investigate and, if you're spotted, flank your position. I nearly screamed out loud in one situation where I thought the floor below me was clear so when a Hunter seized me from behind while I engaged a bottleneck of enemies I nearly pooped my pants. Needless to say this action led to my hasty demise. And demise is certainly at hand in nearly every situation you encounter. Just remember: Feeling like Batman will get your silly ass killed in The Last of Us.

- The Last of Us already holds a distinction for me. There have been several games that have been tear-jerkers at the end but this game gets you right at the beginning. Despite a review to the contrary, I identified with Joel quickly and it's easy to see how he descended to what he became. I can see a parallel between this game and Red Dead Redemption; Ellie is clearly Joel's ticket to redemption. As for the girl herself she is spunky, clever, and instantly likeable. Thus far the supporting cast of characters have all been pretty likable (or despicable as the situation calls for) and I am especially pleased with Joel's Texas drawl; it gives him an air of realism in a genre dominated by a handful of recurring lead voice actors... least that's what I thought! I didn't recognize Troy Baker as the same voice of Red Faction's Alec Mason or Persona 4's Kanji Tatsumi. (That last one just makes me like him more!) The accent is subtle but real; probably because Baker is from Texas. At any rate Joel comes off as a geniune character, a man who has had some bad sh*t happen to him and whose dreams of the future end with tomorrow morning.

- A LOT of praise has been heaped on Ashley Johnson's portrayal of 14 year old Ellie, and for good reason. Despite the fact that she has never voiced a 'serious' video game character before the 29 year old actress nailed Ellie; breathing life into the character such as to make her strong yet vulnerable, likeable yet fiery... she's a realistic blend of an all-to-mature teenage girl trying to be both brave and, at the same time, just be a girl who is full of wonder and curiosity at the world she never knew; almost like an orphan yearning to know about the parents who died before she had a chance to know them. I found it particularly touching how Joel tries to shield her from the corruption around her yet, before long, must accede to the fact that she has to learn how to protect herself... and him as well.

- A lot has also been said about the brutal level of violence in this game. Is it visceral? Yes. It's it vulgar? Not really. Is it necessary? Absolutely. We live in a post-Mortal Kombat age; accustomed to violence-as-comedy. Is this level of violence funny? Not at all, but it actually shies away from what I was expecting. (Although there was a scene with a morbidly facinating arterial spray.) It is definately the most violent sounding game I think I've played. Sound design is excellent and every brick you smash into an enemy's face just sounds like hurt, but I guess I was expecting a horror-of-war type of experience with guts blasted out with every shotgun blast. You'll be spared that, but otherwise The Last of Us pulls no punches. Most of all no regenerating health here. Every drop of alcohol, every scrap of bandage is all very precious... like Gollum precious, because you need it for creating health kits. You need it MORE for health kits than for infected-destroying molotovs, despite how effective those really are.

- Admittedly the AI of your companions can get a little ridiculous. They are effectively invisible to the enemy, which can be immersion-breaking. They can also act as roadblocks if you decide you're not quite done with the area and turn around to investigate more, but they do try to get out of your way. I haven't noticed any clipping, such as others have mentioned, but I will offer a warning: while you can save at any time I recommend you do it after you clear an area. On several occasions I have been bum-rushed immediately after loading a game if I stopped in mid-combat. True to Naughty Dog's word Ellie will never be a concern in an encounter, but that's also a little disappointing. It kind of takes you out of your role as her protector because you literally never have to worry about her or any of your other companions. The encounter I mentioned at the beginning of this piece; my companions we never in any danger. I could have taken my time and used stealth to kill all three hunters but, for me, that is immersion breaking. I prefer, instead, to still act as though they are in my care. It means waiting for all of my companions to get up a ladder before me while waiting nervously in a zombie-filled room when I could just scoot to safety myself and not give them a second thought. It means me taking huge risks when a Hunter gets too close to Ellie instead of slipping quietly away and conserving ammo. Such moments are less immersion-destroying than if I just worry about Joel. I respect what ND was trying to do but, honestly, I would prefer a little more concern for the 14 year old girl I'm supposed to be protecting.

- Overall believe the hype. The Last of Us is not only a powerful and moving experience, it is clearly Game of the Generation material. While Bioshock Infinite may take local GOTY awards due to its multi-platform nature, The Last of Us deserves to win the crown. Naughty Dog has created a beautiful swan song for the 7th generation and you'd be remiss to let it pass you by. Beg, borrow, steal, or just work your ass off to get a PS3... this is one of those ICO-like games that people will be talking about for many years to come.

The Last of Us - 9.5