Let’s talk about the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis for a minute. It is a real life fungus found in Tropical forests of Brazil, Africa and Thailand that acts like a parasite. This parasitic fungus alters the Ant’s behaviors in a way that would technically make them zombies, it makes the ant climb a tree and latch itself to a tree, the ant then dies and the fungus breaks out of the ant and releases spores to move to the next colony. This fungus has been known to wipe out entire ant colonies.
While it’s scary to think that there is something like this on the Earth, it’s good to know that it only affects ants. Well, for now anyways. Sickness and diseases have been carried over to humans as part of an trait in it’s evolution, science can trace back diseases like HIV and AIDS back from monkeys while the Black Plague was originally transferred from rats and fleas, lets not forget H1N1 and other types of Influenza. If these diseases can transfer from animals to human, what would stop the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis from evolving to the point that it can infect humans?
This is the setting that we’ve been given in The Last of Us, a new game from Naughty Dog who brought you the Award-winning Uncharted Series. Set 20 years from now after the infection of the human race by the spore base disease, with a large amount of the world population dead or an infected. The entire world is under martial law, people are doing whatever it takes to survive.
Here we meet Joel, a smuggler who is doing everything it takes to survive this new world. He is given a task to bring a young 14 year old girl named Elle across of what remains of the US. Along the way, they have to deal with the deadly infected, environmental dangers and other people that are fighting to survive.
At it’s core, The Last of Us is a Survival Horror game with a Zombie Apocalypse background. Gameplay is heavily focused on stealth tactics and searching for gear to help survive the situation your in, whether it’s ammo for your firearms or alcohol and rags to make a Molotov Cocktail. Melee combat comes into play while playing stealthy, allowing Joel to equip a Pipe, Machete, or Bat to allow for a quick powerful hits, or allowing him to choke out or shiv his prey, when all else fails he can also use his fists to beat down the opponent. Stealth works best on human enemies and the first type of infected, as it’s suicide to get close to the others.
This brings us to the Infected, humans who been infected by the Cordyceps. The Infection is spread different ways, either by bites or the spores that grow out of the corps. With each type of Infected, the evidence of fungus’ growth becomes increasingly disturbing. The Runners is the first type, think the “28 Days Later” Rage Zombie who is able to run at high speeds, on one on one battles, you can fight these guys fairly easily as they just come straight at you. The second type are the Stalkers, while still easily killed by hand to hand combat, they are more skilled at dodging and are much stronger.
The final type I want to talk about is the Clicker. These are the real challenge of the Infected as they have a one hit kill, most of the time they can be avoided by walking by them quietly as they can’t see due to the massive amount of fungus cover their eyes. What they can do however listen for any sort of sound and chance you down, if your without a shiv or a melee weapon at these times, your as good as dead. These fights become difficult when there are several Clickers among a group of Runners and Stalkers as the slightest sound of combat will bring them right to you. Most of the deaths that you’ll experience in this game will be because of these creatures.
In times when Combat is fully necessary, Joel does have an arsenal of weapons to use. From distraction weapons such as bricks and bottles, to one handed weapons like a revolver or saw-off shotgun, heavy weapons like a hunting rifle and shotgun, or bombs and Molotovs. Joel has access to all the weapons he find throughout the game, which helps which would normally make a game like this easier, except he can only fast equip one of each type, in order to grab another weapon he requires to search for it in his backpack, which could mean the difference between life and death. Every gun feels different and can be upgraded to do more damage, hold more ammo or more. Joel himself can be upgraded to have better aim, health and skills.
Joel and Ellie are wonderful and well written, it becomes easy to like and attach yourself to them. Joel (played by Troy Baker who recently played Booker in Bioshock Infinite and Joker in the upcoming Batman Arkham Orgins) is a gruff badass father figure who plays the reluctant hero of the story. Ellie (played by Ashley Johnson)is a foul-mouth teen who didn’t know anything of the world pre-infection, at first Joel attempts to protect her from killing or getting in trouble, but it becomes more difficult as the game progresses. The interaction between the characters and voice acting is by far the best in this gaming generation.
The game is best played with high quality headphone for one reason, the sound design is flawless and adds to everything this game is. From the sounds of animals to broken glass, to people talking in the distance to the terrifying sound of the clickers, The Last of Us is a study in sound design done right. Graphically, the game is beautiful and the attention to detail is just amazing.
It wasn’t enough for Naughty Dog to deliver a strong single-player, they included an amazing multiplayer with the game. Multiplayer focuses on two factions, the Fireflies and Hunters. The uniqueness of this mode though is in the fact that once you choose your faction, you are locked in to the bitter end. After selecting a Faction, you are prompted to connect the game to Facebook, this takes your friend list and creates a community for you to take care of, in order to do that you need to go out and win some matches to keep everyone healthy and fed. This is done by the games two modes, Supply Raid and Last Man Standing.
Supply Raid give your team of 4 a limit of 20 lives, in which you must eliminate your opponents using the combat tactics you’ve learned in single player including Stealth, Crafting and weapon combat. Last Man Standing is another team deathmatch mode where you are given 3 rounds to be the team with the last man alive. Each mode is intense, scary and absolutely amazing.
During my time with the game, I kept comparing it to the film “Children of Men.” It is an intense, unique look at the end of mankind that doesn’t pull any punches. Naughty Dog didn’t just raise the bar here, they completely obliterated it with it’s intense story, great graphics, and absolutely amazing sound design.