Critics: ‘The Last of Us’ is post-apocalyptic perfection

The Last of Us (Credit: Sony)The end of the world is near! Especially if you’re into pop culture.

A parade of apocalypses is storming theaters this year in an effort to turn the end of humanity into the beginning of lucrative franchises. Tom Cruise (“Oblivion”), Will Smith (“After Earth”), Brad Pitt (“World War Z”) and Matt Damon (“Elysium”) are in on the act, as are jokesters Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen (“This is the End”) and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (“The World’s End”). Optimism isn’t exactly hot in Hollywood right now.

But while moviegoers can spend their last days with good-looking celebs, gamers will be spending theirs with one of the best-looking video games ever created.

Developed by Uncharted developer Naughty Dog, post-apocalyptic survival game The Last of Us (due out June 14) has been on “must-watch” lists since its tremendous debut at the 2011 Spike Video Game Awards. Already the winner of numerous pre-release honors from countless outlets (us included), the PlayStation 3 exclusive is about as hyped as games come. Should we really be this excited about our final days?

According to critics, absolutely. With over two dozen perfect scores and an overall 95 current rating on Metacritic, it’s already among the best-reviewed games in the PS3’s seven-year history and a shoo-in for Game of the Year contention.

[See screenshots from The Last of Us]

Set in the near future following a global epidemic that’s turned much of the population into zombie-like ‘infected’ or equally horrifying bands of ruthless human survivors, The Last of Us puts gamers in the rugged boots of Joel, a Texan arms smuggler who’s been tasked with escorting 14-year-old Ellie through the dangerous wastelands. Their relationship is the beating heart of The Last of Us (it’s more “The Road” than “Armageddon”) -- and it’s immensely effective.

“Though Joel and Ellie's journey is grim, it remains rooted in one of the most poignant, well-drawn relationships I've seen in video games,” writes Matt Helgeson from Game Informer, adding that it’s a “high mark for interactive storytelling.” He gives it a 9.5/10.

“The interplay between Joel and Ellie, as well as the other characters you meet on your adventure, is one of the great highlights in The Last of Us,” concurs IGN’s Colin Moriarty in a rare 10/10 review. “Voice acting is not only consistently superb, but the game’s graphical beauty makes the events of The Last of Us overflow with realism.”

The Last of Us (Credit: Sony)

That’s to be expected, to a degree; Naughty Dog has already earned a reputation for delivering jaw-dropping graphics. But The Last of Us sets a new bar.

“The broad strokes are spectacular, but the finer details impress the most, the environment telling its own stories as Joel and Ellie explore,” says The Telegraph's Tom Hoggins, who awards it a 5/5.

“A Playstation 3 game has never looked better,” writes Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek in another perfect 5/5.

While you can’t understate exactly how impressive The Last of Us looks and sounds, it’s the game’s feel that has gamers rejoicing. This is a mean, brutal world, unflinching in its violence and unnerving in its frights.

“With a judicious dose of theatricality in the set-ups - a terrifying encounter with infected in a pitch-black basement, say, or a suspenseful advance on a sniper down a village main street - the designers make the absolute most of the broad palette of action at their disposal,” says Eurogamer's Oli Welsh. “It's scary, exciting and ferociously gripping stuff - and refreshingly reluctant to pull out a novelty set-piece.” He awards it a 10/10.

The Last of Us (Credit: Sony)

Games Radar, Joystiq, Destructoid, The Guardian, Digital Spy, Machinima -- perfect scores abound for The Last of Us, but as is usually the case when dealing with a bleak, hopeless world, it’s not all rosy out there. Take Polygon’s Philip Kollar, who has incited the rage of Sony fanboys by daring to give it a 7.5/10 -- currently the lowest score on Metacritic.

His main gripe? That’s it’s simply not much fun to play.

“The Last of Us actively fought any enjoyment I might have gained from it — from its oppressive world to its inconsistent mechanics,” Kollar writes, calling the gun-based combat segments “especially frustrating,” though like everyone else, he digs the game’s look and feel.

A handful of other sites (most notably Gamespot) share some of those complaints, but the vast majority of critics are as in love with The Last of Us as any game released this year. Here’s hoping the world doesn’t end before the game’s official release on June 14.

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