A superb survival horror that’s high on narrative and character development, writes John Walshe.

The hype surrounding The Last Of Us is enough to make you believe that it’s The Road, Citizen Kane and Ulysses all rolled into one big zombie killing franchise. It’s not.

What it is, however, is a hugely enjoyable combination of survival horror, shooter and action adventure which proves that good old-fashioned concepts like plot and character development are just as applicable to video games as to any other medium. Naughty Dog, the development team behind the Uncharted series and the Jak & Daxter games, have grown up and come of age with this post-apocalyptic chiller.

A mysterious plague has wiped out most of the world as we know it, turning those it infects into ultra-violent zombie-like killing machines, while the survivors fight it out for food and resources, widespread pandemonium only barely held in check by a heavily armed military presence. Into this maelstrom comes Joel, a hard-nosed survivor with a heart-breaking back story, and Tess, his tough-as-nails gun-toting girlfriend with a heart of gold.

When they inadvertently get mixed up with political revolutionaries, the Fireflies, our intrepid duo have to earn their weapons stash back by delivering a package for the anarchists. What they don’t realise, however, is that their delivery is a foul-mouthed teenager called Ellie, who just might hold the secret to developing a vaccination for the infection that has decimated humanity.

Wait, you’re thinking, I’ve heard all this before in games like Resident Evil, Resistance and a host of other survival horrors. And you’d be right. What sets The Last Of Us apart, however, is the emphasis on the lead characters, who are far more than the caricatures we’re used to in video games. Normally, when characters die in games, there’s barely a virtual tear shed, and it’s only used as a tool to progress the action. Here, however, the player is actually allowed and encouraged to develop empathy with these flawed heroes, as they undertake an impossible journey across a ravaged America.

This all sounds very worthy, but it would count for little were the action not up to scratch. Thankfully, it is. There are plenty of bad guys to kill, both human and infected, with some very interesting variations on the latter. Our favourite are the ‘Clickers’, beings so mutated that they have lost their ability to see, instead relying on sonar-like clicks to detect movement. Trust me, these guys are better avoided than taken on, with stealthy skirting very much the order of the day.

The graphics throughout are remarkable, particularly the hugely expressive character models, and the sounds and voice acting are top notch. What really lifts The Last Of Us to the top of the class, however, is the way you get sucked into the story and its believable cast of characters. Like the recently released BioShock Infinite, it resets the standard for stories you can really immerse yourself in. A fantastic game.

Platform: PS3
Publisher: SCEE
Age Rating: 18
Score: 4.5/5

John Walshe