by Michael Wense

 Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us is a third-person adventure that walks a fine line between survival-horror and action. If Naughty Dog sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve played (or at least heard of) the Uncharted series which, like this game, is a PlayStation exclusive.

There’s a lot this game shares with its gun-toting, treasure-hunting cousins. Naughty Dog, over the past several years, has been honing its craft of creating expansive, immersive worlds filled with breathtaking visuals, smart dialogue, and an engaging story. All of that carries over to The Last of Us, resulting in a game that (mostly) shines from its opening moments to the closing credits.

What makes the game so great? Well, where do I begin?

To me, one of the most important aspects of a game is story. The Last of Us tells the story of Joel, a middle-aged smuggler living in a world ravaged by a devastating outbreak of infectious fungus, and the AI-controlled Ellie, a fourteen-year-old girl whom Joel is tasked with delivering to a band of anti-military freedom fighters.

The game is decidedly dark, tackling some of the depths that humanity can sink to in the face of catastrophe. But, the real maturity of the storytelling means that shocking events and turns are never there just for shock’s sake. The Last of Us has an adult story to tell, and although it can be occasionally horrifying to watch as characters rob and kill one another for scraps of food and supplies, everything happens to set up how desperate this world is.

Like Uncharted, there’s a very cinematic feel here. But, The Last of Us also happens to be a game, and it succeeds there, too.

Combat is handled very well. One of the things that I appreciated the most was how limited supplies were. This isn’t a run-and-gun game. In fact, for most of the game, I was checking to see just how much ammo I had for my entire inventory of weapons. The game forces you to make smart decisions about how you approach combat.

 To make up for the limited ammo, Joel is able to concoct a variety of offensive and defensive tools, including smoke bombs, Molotov cocktails, nail bombs, and shivs. Take those and combine them with Joel’s uncanny ability to listen to his environment to spot enemies (almost like sonar) and you have a recipe for some intense stealth combat.

In their travels, Joel and Ellie come across both human enemies as well as “the infected,” those humans who have caught the fungal infection and have been reduced either to savage “runners” (who charge and attempt to do horrendous things to you) and “clickers” (people who have been infected longer and have fungus growing over their heads). The clickers are where the horror elements really amp up. Because they’re blind, clickers rely on a really unsettling clicking noise and amplified hearing to spot you. If you move too quickly around a clicker, prepare to have your throat chewed out in a particularly gory cut scene.

Although the enemy AI could be a little wonky at times, for the most part bad guys made for a fun challenge when in combat. Also, your various companions in the game handle themselves well. Ellie in particular joins the growing rankings of great AI sidekicks, staying out of the way when necessary and lending a helping hand when possible.

Honestly, there’s a whole lot that could be said about The Last of Us, but here there simply isn’t enough room. If you’re a fan of action, stealth, or horror, you should not let this game sneak past you.

Look for a copy at your local Slackers store.