Developer Naughty Dog has added "The Last of Us" to its pristine resume, which has become one of the more prestigious in all of video games. The PlayStation 3 game, which arrives in stores Friday, tells the heartfelt story of Joel and Ellie trying to survive in a world filled with death and woe. It's 20 years in the future, and the human race has been overrun by a parasitic infection that turns people into zombie-like husks that hunt other humans. There is no cure, and the goal for the few remaining humans is to survive.
4 stars = Outstanding
PS3, $59.99 for standard edition, $79.99 survival edition.
M for mature.
Joel is an experienced smuggler, an occupation that is strictly forbidden by his quarantine zone's military rule. He is employed by the Fireflies, an organization that fights against the military, to smuggle Ellie across the country. Joel isn't interested in what the Fireflies want with Ellie until details come to light that make this job the most important he's ever taken. The story of "The Last of Us" follows these central characters for a year, as their bond grows during their cross-country journey. This opens opportunities to not only explore the depth of these characters, but also show off post-apocalyptic versions of American locales. The trek begins in Boston and lands in Colorado and Salt Lake City, as well as a lengthy stay in Pittsburgh.
Recognizable Steel City landmarks include the U.S. Steel Tower and the BNY Mellon Center Downtown, along with nods to the Strip District and Fort Pitt Bridge, but the breathtaking art is just background for the human elements on display.
Joel and Ellie's storylines change throughout the game's 13- to 15-hour tenure. In a world overrun with horrific zombie-like creatures, the focus is almost always on the humans. The characters -- not the infected -- drive the plot. Much like "The Walking Dead" game and television show, the writers of "The Last of Us" realized that humans are much more intriguing than the mindless zombies around them. The gameplay keeps up with the presentation and narrative. Whether Joel is up against the infected or humans, stealth is key because ammunition is scarce. Quietly taking down foes is a key to success. When that fails, guns are needed, and Joel comes to acquire plenty of them. Being low on ammunition provides an added challenge to the game's combat, but that makes progressing all the more satisfying.
Naughty Dog has created a console-defining masterpiece in "The Last of Us." It achieves the perfect balance between thrilling action and emotional storytelling. It arrived as one of the most hyped games of the year, and it delivers conclusively.
Max Parker is The Game Guy at communityvoices.sites.post-gazette.com and on Twitter at @GameGuyPGH. First Published June 12, 2013 4:00 AM