It isn’t often we get original gameplay nowadays, and while Naughty Dog may have borrowed a bit from other games, they have put it together masterfully to create something that feels unique, challenging and very engaging. We can divide gameplay into a few distinct components; exploration, crafting, and two forms of combat.
The first type of combat would be against other humans. Most of the time, you’ll approach human enemies who are unaware of you and patrol a certain area in a predictable pattern. The game world in these areas usually allows for you to sneak around the enemy in a variety of ways, and you can choose whether to take them out silently, engage them in a shootout, or avoid them completely. You’ll often be low on ammunition, so shootouts are generally something to avoid; especially because bullets do a lot of damage in this game.
When dispatching an enemy silently, you can sneak up behind them and take them hostage by holding your gun to their head. At this point you can move around with them for a short amount of time. If you want to be stealthy, you usually take them to a secluded area and either shiv them or strangle them. If you prefer to be more aggressive, you can move them into the open. The other enemies will react to the fact that you have a hostage and will be reluctant to engage you, giving you the opportunity to take a critical first shot. Once the action begins however, you’ll have to be quick on your feet as the baddies are likely to work in teams and flank you. If you go into hiding, they’ll comb the area for you, and they do so rather intelligently – they’ll often move so that they have a good eye on each other, and if you knock over some bottles or otherwise draw attention to yourself, they’ll come looking. If you run out of ammo during one of these engagements, there are a number of melee weapons you can use to beat the enemy down, or throw at them to momentarily stun them. If that’s not an option, you can also throw said objects to cause a distraction elsewhere.
Taking a hostage is usually a solid tactic
Ellie is usually helpful in these situations. While she may sometimes fire a gun and cause an otherwise quiet situation to get loud, there are plenty of situations in which she is an asset. If the enemy gets the upper hand, she will stab them in the back (literally), giving you the chance to take them out. She’ll toss you ammo occasionally as well, or warn you of the location of other enemies – her warnings have saved me more than once.
The other kind of combat involves fighting the infected, and while the mechanics remain similar to human combat, the infected behave very differently, forcing you to change your approach. You will commonly encounter two types of enemy infected: runners and clickers. Clickers are the more dangerous of the two; they are completely blind and hunt you via echolocation. You’ll be able to tell they’re close from the distinctive clicking sound they make. If you get too close, they kill you immediately, and they can only be dispatched via melee weapons or firearms (other enemies can be taken out with your fists).
Runners still have their sight and behave like the typical “fast zombie” – they wander around an area and if you’re spotted, they come running at you and will likely bring other infected with it, including a few clickers. In other words, it’s best to take them out quietly.
If a clicker gets you, you’re toast
To help you gain the upper hand in combat, The Last of Us features a crafting system. You can use materials you find in the game world to craft health kits, shivs, melee weapon mods and bombs, among others. Some items use the same materials, so you’ll have to decide if it’s more useful to make a medkit or a Molotov cocktail. Materials are scarce, so you likely won’t be able to make both. Once in a while, you’ll encounter a crafting bench that allows you to create holsters and modifications to your firearms as well. Crafting items doesn’t pause the game, so you’ll have to make sure you’re safe before you start crafting something. Ellie will also remind you of this and tell you to hurry up if you’re taking too long. Most on-the-fly crafting will take place out of your backpack, which Joel swings off his shoulder whenever you need to make something. Until you’ve created a holster for your various weapons, you’ll also need to swing your backpack off the shoulder to switch weapons. In the heat of combat, this is something you likely won’t have time to do.
Finally, the game has a good portion of combat-free exploration. These sections of The Last of Us have light item scavenging and environmental puzzles, but are usually not more complicated than finding a ladder and placing it against a high wall you want to scale. The focus on this part of the game is to slow the pace down and break apart the combat while offering you an opportunity to look at some beautiful and somber scenes and watch Ellie and Joel’s relationship develop. Due to the intensity of the combat in The Last of Us, these sections are very welcome and while they never truly feel safe, they do lighten the mood a bit.