Now that the hype has faded, does The Last of Us keep us playing several months after release?
A positive start.
In June, 2013, Naughty Dog took the brave step of launching an entirely new IP onto the Playstation 3. With the hugely successful Uncharted franchise already under their belts, expectations were astronomically high for the last great release for the PS3.
As it turned out, Naughty Dog delivered again. The Last of Us was a stunningly complex and beautiful game with a diverse cast of characters (accompanied be superb voice acting), an enthralling storyline, and a glorious ending full of the kind of ambiguity that will keep people talking and debating the ‘real’ meaning for a long time to come. The game also boasted an original and exceptional multiplayer experience, which encouraged teamwork and stealth whilst simultaneously capturing the desolation and desperation of the main game.
The originality and bravery of Naughty Dog’s new franchise was not lost on the critics either, who unanimously loved it. It was heralded as the greatest PS3 game at the recent VGX awards and was very narrowly beaten out for overall game of the year by (the arguably over-rated) Grand Theft Auto V.
What about now?
Six months have passed since I first purchased the game. The Last of Us strikes an undeniably positive first impression, but what does it represent in terms of longevity and replayability after the hype has dwindled? With a moderate amount of exploration, the game will take 14-16 hours to complete. Knowing how the plot pans out and how and when the twists will come automatically changes any game’s appeal. So are there reasons to revisit? Well, simply put, yes.
The cornucopia of hidden gems to unearth in the main game are varied in type and necessity. There are things like finding all of the instructions to upgrade your weapons which, while useful on any playthrough, are arguably best used on your first play through. Next there are the firefly pendants and comic books for Ellie. These have trophies attached to them (as does simply listening to all of Ellie’s awful jokes) but are essentially just collection for collection’s sake. What I did like is these things are often hidden in plain sight and esthere are just as many fruitless searches as there are successful ones.
Many games make you force your way through hidden areas, battle unexpected foes, then place your collectible prize in a draw or cupboard at the end, repeating the same formula for each hidden item you find. The Last of Us eschews this in favour of encouragin exploration, while not guaranteeing results. So when you do find something hidden, it actually feels like an achievement.
The chances of you finding all of these on your first go are small, so for completionists there’s plenty to do. One hidden gem was hidden in an unmarked loft space at the top of a house you don’t need to go in, for instance.
The rest of the collectibles feed into the greatest reason to replay the game. You can jump back into the game to find all the letters, diaries, annotated maps and audio logs spread liberally throughout the quest. These artifacts flesh out the history, backstory and plot of The Last of Us. It’s this poignant story-plumping that got me playing through the single player time and again.
Every Christmas I’ll watch ‘Its a Wonderul Life’ and ‘Muppets’ Christmas Carol’, and can’t go more than a year without rewatching the Batman trilogy and The Princess Bride. The Last of Us is a game with a strong and interesting narrative, filled with truly unique moments in videogaming (like hunting at the very start of the Winter chapter or the brave and ambiguous ending), that it joins my canon of creations that I will want to enjoy again and again. I’ve played through The Last of Us story three times so far, and counting.
All you novice mathematicians out there may be thinking- ‘ok, three times through a fifteen-hour game, plus ten hours for meticulous exploration, that’s still only 55 hours of gaming!?’ and you’d be right. So how else has The Last of Us kept itself in rotation with this writer all these months?
‘Factions’ is a unique multiplayer experience housed within The Last of Us. The premise is simple enough and governed by the meta-game within the multiplayer. You choose your faction (either Hunters or Fireflies) and then have to survive for 12 weeks. As long as there is at least 1 clan member, your clan endures. One multiplayer match is equal to one ‘day’ in game. Supplies for your clan come from the experience you gain in each game, so experience points count for more than just unlocking gear or showing off. They actually have survival value.
If you’re having a bad run of form in Factions, you’re aware that your primary objective is to keep your clan alive, so as long as you can get enough resources together to keep a handful of survivors going, you always feel like you’re making progress. This original take on multiplayer stops you feeling like you’ve stalled in your personal progress, even when up against superior opponents. Offering just as much reward for ‘reviving and healing’ or ‘crafting and gifting’ as you get for ‘downing and executing’ keeps all play-styles well supported. The ‘run and gun’ gameplay of nearly every other MP experience out there is rarely an option.
Tension is created by carrying over crucial elements of the single player game. Resources are limited (your starting ammo is usually around seven bullets) meaning that you have to make every bullet count, and that you have to get out into the map to find more resources. Camping will only get you stranded, without teammates and without ammo.
Improving on excellence.
At the end of August Naughty Dog introduced the free ‘Interrogation mode’ into the Factions universe, which is possibly the greatest multiplayer mode available.
Split into two teams of four, the objective is to find the location and combination of the enemy team’s lock box. In order to do so you have to find players on the opposing team, take them down, then interrogate them. Interrogations take time, leaving you vulnerable to being downed.
The reason this mode works so well is that it’s very hard to outright dominate a game. You can start off brilliantly, racking up the five interrogations in no time at all, and revealing the location of the enemy’s lock box. Except now the enemy know exactly where you are headed and can fortify the position. If you’re opening the lock box, you can’t shoot or defend yourself at all, leaving you ripe for downing and being interrogated yourself.
It’s rare for a game of interrogation mode to finish without both teams amassing the five interrogations (until Naughty Dog tweaked the rules, it was rare for the game to finish in anything but a tie). Even when you’re up against a team of level 300+ guys with headsets and more experience, it’s still possible to turn the tide and win. Despite their experience, they’re not armed or supported by anything extra compared to you and your team, so it’s possible to defend your lockbox and interrogate stragglers until you’ve levelled the playing field. Now the highly experienced players have to worry just as much about defending their own lock box too, or risk losing to a swift and decisive counter-strike.
The ‘Abandoned Territories’ map pack was launched back in September (along with a patch to tweak and further balance gameplay), adding four new maps that are as diverse and addictive as the original selection.
The single-player DLC, ‘Left Behind’, is due out early next year and will further extend the mystery and delight the game presents. The internet has been abuzz with theories for what this story could include. We know it involves playing as fan-favourite Ellie, but that’s about it. Exactly what she’ll be doing and what questions will be asked or answered, only time will tell.
The Bottom Line.
After a six month span that has involved the launch of a new Grand Theft Auto and next-generation consoles, The Last of Us still has pride of place in my videogaming life.
The Last of Us has seen off greater competition than Rockstar’s latest outing. On November 29th in the UK, I was fortunate enough to become the proud owner of the Playstation 4. I unboxed it, updated it, downloaded new games and upgraded old games. The machine impressed me. It was slick, stylish and graphically superior to anything I’d ever played on a home console.
And yet, my very first evening with this cutting edge piece of super-powered hardware was not spent shooting down Helghast in Killzone, nor racking up a hi-score in retro-inspired Resogun. Instead, the pull of The Last of Us remained too great and I spent the twilight hours playing nail-biting games of ‘Interrogation’ with a buddy or two.
My PS4 went on eBay the next day.
There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s an awesome machine. I just realised that I don’t need it right now. It doesn’t offer me anything superior to The Last of Us and will simply be added to the collection of gaming hardware and software collecting dust and patiently waiting for me to get bored of The Last of Us. With single player DLC imminent and another multiplayer DLC pack in the pipeline, my return to the next-gen may be some time away.
I’ll get on the next-gen bandwagon eventually…
… probably when The Last of Us 2 is announced.