Beware of Cordyceps: The Last of Us Review


Oh boy, here comes yet another re-release on next-gen consoles. This time, it’s a Playstation exclusive known to the world as The Last Of Us Remastered. Now that its here, what should you do? If you’ve never played the game before, is it worth jumping in now? If you’ve already played the game on PS3, should you buy it again on PS4? Will my leg ever stop twitching? Let us find out!

joel cityPresentation: This. Game. Is. Gorgeous. There, I said it. It’s difficult to imagine how this game could have been a more visually appealing experience than the PS3 release last july, but the added horsepower behind the PS4 really makes a difference. The game runs at 1080p, and mostly 60 frames per second, but you can occasionally notice some frame rate drops. Due to the new frame rate however, it not only looks different, it feels different. Colors are sharp and vibrant, animations are silky smooth (most of the time), and the UI is just as non-obstructive as before. The PS4 hardware is miles ahead of the PS3, and the art direction stands out even further as a direct result. The world around you pops with a sense of immersion and life (or death) but part of that immersion is also due to the superb sound design.

I could feel my heart racing as I slowly paced myself, (playing ps4 version on grounded) listening in for audio queues as to the location of my enemies. With the cordycep infected enemies (more on that), I could hear the sick and twisted remains of their human side emerging from beneath the fungus infected facade as they moaned and groaned whilst sporadically navigating through the environments. It was unnerving, even for someone like myself who has already played through the game on PS3. Environmental sound effects and the way your character interacts with the environment feels grounded in realism to the point where it feels like a possible scenario. Sneaking in bushes, walking in puddles, and punching an enemy square in the face sounds oh-so-satisfying.

Voice acting is also perfect, as it’s easy to find yourself quite attached to the characters (even the ones who don’t stick around for too long). Joel is voiced by none other than Troy Baker, and Ellie is voiced by Ashley Johnson, but the amazing voice talent isn’t only limited to the two primary characters of this tale. Bill, Henry, Tess- All of these characters are voiced by phenomenal voice actors that made these characters not only feel interesting and distinct, but alive.

Music is often moody, but non obtrusive. Throughout the game, you will hear several musical scores, each with differing levels of intensity depending on whether or not you’re in the heat of battle, exploring, or trying to sneak up on unsuspecting opponents. The acoustic guitar is a very common theme throughout the game, and it even ties into one of the main characters. It feels appropriate in that it’s beautifully played, but has a somewhat dark undertone. That speaks to volumes to the world in which The Last of Us takes place in.


joel hotel

Gameplay: Most of the control scheme is fairly standard, with circle being to crouch and sneak around, right trigger to shoot, left trigger to aim, etc. Reloading is mapped to the R2 (right trigger) as well, so to activate that you need to not be holding L2 (left trigger). Square activates your melee attacks, which are contextual based on surrounding elements and which enemy you are going against. Triangle grants you the power to interact with elements in the environment, like pressing buttons, picking things up, and speaking with your AI companions (contextual). R1 brings you into listening mode, which gives you a visual of where enemies are based on the sounds they’re making, essentially making it a radar. The d-pad gives you access to your quick select options, such as weapons and a health pack. Interestingly (and exclusive to the PS4 version) you use the touch pad to bring up the full inventory, including collectibles and a look at all of the things you can craft and the materials you need for them.

Speaking of crafting, crafting is another layer of depth behind The Last of Us. In the game, you collect materials that you can combine together to create items, such as smoke bombs, makeshift grenades (also mines), molotov cocktails, health kits, and shivs. You can also modify melee weapons you find in the environment to make them a one-hit-kill melee item, which also carries into multiplayer (more on that shortly).

This game has arguably some of the best game design in the business. Speaking in terms of pacing, the game never feels like it’s thrusting you into a situation you can’t handle, based on everything you’ve learned throughout the journey (except on grounded mode… nothing can prepare you for that.) Level design is also really interesting; the game is linear in that it guides you through a variety of locations and scenarios, but how you chose to navigate through those areas and tackle the puzzles is all up to you.

I very specifically used the word “puzzles” here, because in an essence, each encounter is a puzzle (especially on the harder difficulties). Sometimes you’re trying to figure out how to navigate through the level, as certain circumstances can sometimes prevent you from taking a direct route to your next destination. Other times however, enemies are your obstacle, and you have to decide how to approach the situation. Do you go in guns-a-blazing, or do you take the more calculated and stealthy approach? The decision is yours to make, but you’ll likely find yourself gravitating to the stealthy approach, as ammo and resources aren’t as plentiful as they are in some other titles. That, in itself, is something that sets itself apart from other 3rd person action games. Resource management is really the name of the game here, and certain parts of the game will really challenge you to be as resourceful as possible.

In addition to a stellar single player experience, the game also includes a highly sophisticated and refined multiplayer experience. It is an experience that demands players’ full attention and proper coordination to consistently be successful. This isn’t a twitch shooter similar to “Call of Duty”. If you try to be a lone wolf without learning the fundamentals of the mechanics, you will die. The action is deliberate, and encourages teamwork, a concept that many gamers still don’t quite understand. Despite the typically solid online experience on the PS3 however, PS4 players have been given the shaft, in that online matches are often laggy and riddled with bugs. During launch week, it often took 15+ minutes to actually get into a match, and when you did, people often left or got kicked out, a problem that persistis still today.

The other thing about multiplayer, was that although several gameplay elements transitioned from the single player to the multiplayer well, one that shouldn’t have transitioned was the speed in which your camera moves, and of the aiming reticle. On both generations, I often found myself unable to properly react to situations because the camera was moving too slow, and there is no way to change that. You can increase the aiming sensitivity, but still only to a certain extent. It’s not game-breaking, as this is just my preference for mobility, but it’s definitely frustrating!

One thing that really tipped the balance on the negative side for this game, was the shady business practices for the multiplayer experience. Initially, Naughty Dog made a public statement about their online multiplayer maps, stating that they didn’t want to segment the gaming community on PS4, and so all multiplayer maps would be free. Months later, they announced a paid DLC map pack, and then retracted that statement once the complaints from online users flooded in about the online issues. To Naughty Dog’s credit, it’s great that they made it free in the end, but it shouldn’t have been up for debate in the first place given their initial statement. In addition to that, weapons are being implemented as paid-for DLC as well, which fundamentally changes the  way the game is balanced. In game voice chat is horrendous on PS4 unless you’re using party chat. Other players’ voices constantly distort and cut out, and the in game voice chat quality is usually worse than the native voice chat on the PS4. For a game that is so reliant on communication and teamwork, this is a huge detriment to the online experience, so hopefully this gets fixed ASAP.


Story: It’s difficult to discuss the story without potentially ruining anything, so here’s my best shot. S**t happens. Okay, a LOT of s**t happens actually, and even at it’s “worse”, it’s miles ahead of movies, books, or other games in terms of story investment. It is a gripping and highly impactful story- one you will likely never forget. You will feel a variety of emotions in this game, similar to Journey, in that fear, excitement, sadness, and shock all coexist in one package, and you’re usually left wanting even more. The world of The Last of Us is deep, with meta stories through the form of notes and journals scattered around the game. It takes place in modern time, 20 years after the prologue (again, I won’t ruin anything, but wow, what a way to pull at the heartstrings!!)

If you’re new to the concept of the game, there are these fungi that exist in real life called Cordyceps, that only effect certain genus of insects (typically arthropods). This fungus essentially turns these insects into mind-controlled zombies, burrowing deep into their nervous system and altering the chemical balances, making them act sporadically and out of control. They then find areas that make it easier for the fungus to spread, by either going to higher grounds or into the nests, and release spores to further infect colonies of insects. Neat, but terrifying. Well imagine that concept applied to humans, and you have The Last Of Us’s premise.

Speaking specifically to the narrative, the story follows a Texas native named Joel, who over the course of the outbreak, finds himself in Boston (my hometown, woot woot!). In the interest of time and spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. It’s an incredible journey, and the way the story unravels the details in between events, and subtle nuances about each character and their pasts are really just masterfully implemented. Even people who don’t play video games are drawn to The Last of Us due to the story alone.

There are moments scattered throughout the game that showcase beauty amongst the hopelessness, and other moments that show sides of humanity you wouldn’t even think was possible (for better or worse.) It is a constant reminder of how, in some ways, the earth would be a lot better without humans. It manages to touch on several social commentaries, and really asks its players “How far would you go to survive?”

Lasting Appeal: The Last of Us is a long journey, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It feels just right, in that it provides you the details about the characters you need to know in order to be invested in the experience. It’s fun, challenging, and truly one of the best games of all time. The PS4 version also comes with the single player DLC included, as well as several online maps and goodies. Online multiplayer has three modes, which are admittedly very sparse, but enough to keep many coming back for more. It’s worth noting however, how much of a huge missed opportunity it was that there was no horde-style survival mode; the single player literally sets itself up for it on one occasion, bringing about that classic feel of zombies mode from COD World at War.

It is also worth noting, that this game literally just came out last year on the PS3, with Naughty Dog calling this the “Swan Song” of the PS3. Naughty Dog also noted that they had “no plans” to bring this experience to the PS4, but here we are, a year later on the PS4… Here is an interview about that done 3 months after the PS3 release. It was revealed later that the PS4 version was being worked on as they were wrapping up work on the PS3, so the shady DLC practices mixed with lack of transparency and blatant lying makes me want to tell gamers not to reward Naughty Dog’s bad ethics. But the truth is- the game is incredible. You’d be missing out on a true masterpiece if you didn’t pick this game up. With fixes to the online components, I can see people playing this another year from now.

If you already bought the game on PS3 and got your mileage out of it, I’d suggest waiting for this to go on deep discount. I picked mine up because of a gamestop (yes, I did just say gamestop… They of all companies offered the only reasonable deal) had a promotion to trade in your PS3 version for $25 towards TLOU remastered, and I just traded in another title to make up the difference. For anyone who has missed this game for whatever reason, this is an absolute must buy.

BOTTOM LINE rating_must buy

The Good:  

  • Breathtaking visuals, art direction, & production values
  • Story is easy to understand with several layers of depth for those who pay attention
  • Addictive gameplay, utilizing several elements from other genres

The Bad:

  • Online multiplayer still experiences several bugs and lagging
  • Shady DLC, business practices, and relationship with consumers
  • Lack of online modes

You can buy The Last of Us here.
All The Last of Us Images copyright Naughty Dog