Naughty Dog’s hotly anticipated step away from Nathan Drake is finally here. On board the hype train from the very beginning. Can one of the most eagerly awaited titles of this generation, be the PS3 swan-song that we have all be craving? Or will it fall victim to being over enthusiastically praised by every corner of the industry?
I’ll get started with the obvious question; does it live up to all the hype, praise and ten out of tens? To put it simply, yes. And then some. This is hands down the best game I have played in the last few years. Maybe even the best of this generation. A technical marvel that portrays a dismal and quite frankly horrifying look into a future that is highly believable. The atmosphere that this game holds is breath-taking and the sheer attention to detail the California based studio have put into every room, corridor and street is a joy to behold.
Set some twenty years in the future, the world’s population has fallen due to a cordyceps type fungus. Spores enter the host via the air or through being attacked, and then take over the nervous system, blocking signals to the brain and essentially ‘possessing’ the host. This causes those unfortunates to attack the sane and kill them, the fungi then grows out of its new home (a corpse) and spores, repeating the process. Survivors are forced to live in shanty town quarantine zones and what’s left of the military (run by a few questionable politicians) patrol the streets trying their best to contain infected and keep order among the rest.
You take on the role of Joel, a hardened man of the old world and jack of all trades. Joel takes on many jobs and his latest is smuggling a ‘special’ cargo out of town. And that cargo is Ellie, a teenage girl who has known nothing else apart from the world as it is now. The pair give you two very different perspectives of the end of days, this often leads to some truly warming exchanges, which you would expect from the writers behind the Uncharted trilogy. The father/daughter bond between the two grows as their platonic love story unfolds throughout their grim adventure.
For the most part you will be clambering through derelict buildings, scraping everything together from duct tape to lighter fluid to ammunition. You really have to search everywhere, especially on the harder difficulties, to gain necessary items to survive. The game has a well thought out crafting system in which you can make modification to your weapons, or create your own, to deal with both the infected and other hostile survivors.
Most of your time, especially in the early stages, is spent scaling the stunning remains of America in an attempt to get to your destination. If you can’t get to somewhere you’re encouraged to build your own platforms and move objects around, opening up new pathways and potentially new dangers. The infected can be hidden anywhere, this builds on the tension of the game brilliantly.
For the most part they act like hyperactive psychos. Think 28 days later, they sprint at you and lash out. This makes for much better experience than the typical ‘zombie’ you find in almost everything today. They also come in different flavours. Early on you’ll meet clickers, deformed fungal faced humans that cannot see, but use a bat type sonar system to locate you if you’re not well hidden. As the game furthers the infected get weirder and more dangerous but I won’t spoil it for you as the scenes where they are introduced are fantastic.
However these are the least of your worries when it comes to enemies. Its other survivors that are your main threat. Almost everybody in this adventure is out for your neck, the way to survive in this harshest of environments is take other people’s possessions and supplies, by any means necessary. It’s kill or be killed, and they will try every trick in the book. It’s great watching Ellie help you distract and take out a whole gang when they attack you. Each are is almost like a sandbox in its self and it leaves you many options to plan how you will survive. Use your ammo and go in blazing, silent assassinations, maybe make a nail bomb? Even luring an infected over too them. Or avoid the situation completely. You can pretty much tackle it how you like.
If I had to pick a fault, and believe me there are next to none, it would be that the loading time on start-up is pretty long. Other than that this is near perfection. A game that ticks every single box. It tells a wonderfully moving story that won’t leave you any time soon and entwines this with some of the best characters I’ve ever encountered. The most important this is it knows that it’s still a video game at heart and not a movie. A brilliant mix of writing and game design, this is Naughty Dogs finest hour.