Trying to talk about this game without talking about the entire game and delving into spoiler territory is difficult. The immersion breaking flaws have been hammered to death by the likes of the webcomic community, so I'm going to focus on its positives and, to keep myself from gushing all day long, I'm going to state the five items that made me love this game.
1. The Cat and Mouse Combat: Taking place in a post-apocalyptic world, supplies are rather limited, and this includes bullets, medicine, and everything else. Situations are never ideal for combat. There is no diving behind cover to regenerate health, there is no abundance of health packs, and there is no looting bullets off of every enemy corpse. Because of this, every tool—and I mean every—has to be used. There is no playing favorites to a certain gun or a beloved melee weapon. Every combat is a puzzle to determine what available tools will best solve the problem. To further this end, The Last of Us includes a crafting and weapon upgrade system. Weapons can be upgraded at work benches found fairly rarely in the game, and the ability to slap some alcohol and cloth together to make a Molotov cocktail or a med kit is useful and nervewracking when you have to pick between the most valuable items to have on hand at the moment. Every piece of duct tape or packet of sugar could save your life.
Fighting in The Last of Us is deadly; there are opportunities where avoiding it is wise. I'm not usually much for stealth, but I found myself hiding and waiting patiently to take out enemies at the perfect moment. The bad guys are not dumb either; the enemy A.I. impressed me throughout the game. The Infected all act erratically but with certain actions that can be predicted, but humans are cunning and able to adapt on the fly. Enemy hunters will circle around and try to flank you or will pick up on the fact that their buddy who just went around the corner hasn't come back in a while. When the game presents a true military threat. I was astonished by how well the group worked together and how challenging those encounters were. The Last of Us is not a game where the enemies are lined up ready to be riddled with holes.
My favorite example of how combat can go in The Last of Us is in the waning stages of a particularly big fight. I was down to one bullet for my rifle, no other ammunition, no supplies, and barely any health. I knew there was at least one more enemy in the area. If I saw him before he saw me. I had one shot to take him down and had to make it count. I started moving quietly through the area looking for any supplies to help me in a fight or to try and patch me up. One building had a set of stairs, so I followed it up to get a better eye on the area in the hopes of locating that last enemy only to find the remaining hunter was taking up a perch to do exactly the same thing to me!
2. Ellie: Joel may be the protagonist of The Last of Us, but Ellie is there nearly every step of the way and is such a powerful character. The Last of Us has a long list of strong female characters: Tess, Marlene, Maria, but Ellie impressed me most of all. Ellie's fascination with pre-apocalypse culture is endearing as are her little distractions like her trying to teach herself how to whistle. Unlike children who suffered through the apocalypse, Ellie is already hardened, unafraid of killing if it means her survival and perfectly able to go without when supplies are low. Motion capture and voice actress Ashley Johnston nailed her movements and portrayed a real depth to her character. And, this is all without going into later events in the game where Ellie truly proves herself and grows as a character.
3. Pain and Loss: The Last of Us is not a happy, cheery game. Bad stuff happens. A lot. From the opening moments of heartbreak to the finale, this is a world where people have to struggle for the most basic pleasures and it comes through. But, the pain the characters go through is part of what forces them to grow and change. Likewise, this game has well earned its M rating. Combat is brutal and messy. Beating a man to death with a two-by-four is by no means pretty, and bodies do not mysteriously vanish. It's a lived-in world where actions have consequences and consequences have meaning.
4. What's Left Behind: With supplies at a premium, Joel and Ellie have to scavenge for all they're worth, and The Last of Us provides plenty of these breathers. The setting is gorgeous, filled with color and details of the former lives of the world's inhabitants. I took great joy in exploring an empty house, taking note of what the family was like or a hunter base and seeing the stark contrast from those who are only concerned with survival and little pleasures. The Last of Us includes several series of collectibles such as notes and other writing, comics, and dog tags left behind with excruciating detail. Every detail and touch has a story to it, and I immensely enjoyed pouring over these artifacts.
5. The Ending: Once again, I won't go into details, but there were many ways The Last of Us could have ended, but the path it took was surprising, delightful, and that last hour or so was incredibly powerful: every action, every word, all said a lot and provided the perfect capstone on an excellent experience.
In summation, is The Last of Us a must-play game? Absolutely.
Story: 10.0, Presentation: 10.0, Gameplay: 10.0, Overall: 10.0
I'll add one bonus point and the one thing I didn't like in the game, which is the multiplayer. The Last of Us has a tacked on multiplayer system. There is the conceit that players are controlling different factions of fireflies (the revolutionaries of The Last of Us world) and hunters fighting for control, but, as of the time of this writing, The Last of Us only includes two modes of multiplayer which each boils down to “kill the other team before they kill you.” Add to that a lack of character customization (at least at start) and a messy, class-based system, and I found myself frustrated. The one saving grace on the experience is the limited supplies and in-the-field crafting systems from the single player game are present, turning multiplayer from a chaotic mess into a calm series of maneuvers and actions and something as simple as the right angle can lead to victory.