At the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2013, we witnessed new consoles and unbelievably next-level games. The downside is that most (almost all, really) of the cool titles won't be in our homes until this fall and next year.
E3 is such a big deal new games are rarely released that same week. But Nintendo debuted their latest iteration of Animal Crossing for the 3DS the day before, and Naughty Dog did them one better. The makers of the highly acclaimed Uncharted series released The Last of Us the day after the big convention. Rave reviews were pouring as a playable demo hit Sony's booth.
Our take: Anyone with a PS3 should pick up this masterful adventure now.
The story is a patchwork of end-of-the-world tropes: A world-weary man, Joel, treks across the wasteland of America after an infection has turned most of the population into monstrous (but not technically undead) loons. The remaining non-infected humans struggle for scraps of food, ammunition and supplies. Joel is tasked with delivering a package to the Fireflies, an underground resistance group fighting the dystopian police-patrolled U.S. government. The package turns out to be a young teen named Ellie, who might be the savior for mankind. Think The Road meets Children of Men and any other story where the main characters barely change clothes, much less bathe. As a narrative piece of interactive entertainment, this is about way more than just killing brain-hungry zombies. As with this year's Bioshock Infinite, what works immensely is the relationship between Joel, a guy hardened by the collapse, and the more foul-mouthed yet optimistic Ellie. Watching her learn to whistle while Joel shrugs is grin-inducing.
With the PS4 coming out later this year, The Last of Us just might be the last great game ever to grace the PS3. Here's five good reasons why:
1. The Setting Impresses. Naughty Dog crafted the most jaw-droppingly real visuals with Uncharted 2. Anyone who played Nathan Drake's adventure remembers the snowy Himalayan mountains. Joel's journey starts in Pittsburgh, where nature has taken back the destroyed city one bright green leaf at a time. A wonderfully out-of-place giraffe will give gamers pause.
2. Ellie. Since civilization pretty much ended twenty years ago, 14-year-old Ellie never knew the world that was. Many times on their journey she'll stop and ask Joel about what things where like. Be sure to pay attention to these exchanges: Joel sure misses coffee. Ellie is baffled by the fashion industry. Voiced by Ashley Johnson—who was that waitress Captain America saved in The Avengers—she's the most sympathetic video-game character ever.
3. The Baddies: Clever and Crazed. The surviving humans track down their prey by working as a team. Great. The infected are literally batty for human flesh. Known as clickers, these fungus-faced terrors use a creepy clickety-clack rattle to track movement. With the humans never having enough bullets, sneak attacks are a tense, brutal necessity.
4. More Than Just Revolution: The Game. While The Last of Us does share some similarities to the world-without-electricity series—no main power, no more cell phones or Internet connection—the key difference is its reliance on only two principal characters. Joel and Ellie do meet an array of interesting supporting players along the way, but they're hardly cast regulars. The focus on the duo keeps us invested.
5. Worth A Second Play-Through. There are plenty of games that deserve to be played again. (Ones with different outcomes and old-fashioned leveling come to mind.) While there are collectibles, like finding all issues of sci-fi comic Savage Starlight, the best reason to play again is simply to spend more time with Joel and Ellie. Even if it leaves you thoroughly bummed out, their journey won't be easily forgotten. Endure and survive.
NOTE: 360 owners should check out State of Decay: a $20 download available on Xbox LIVE. No, it's not at The Last of Us levels of epicness, but the corny dialogue is funny, like in the original Resident Evil. And there's zombies, obviously.