As far as games go, The Last of Us was the swansong of the PlayStation 3, from the studio that had arguably created some of the best games already on the platform. It was no shock that the expectations for the title were sky-high, and justifiably so. For the first time since the dawn of this console generation Naughty Dog had gone back to the drawing board and birthed a new franchise from scratch, which is no small feat to say the very least. In a curious move, the development team veered the project from the action exploration that had been their strong suit, onto more of a traditional survival horror track. Luckily, this genre of game plays directly into the hands of strategy guide readers. Ammo sparseness and lurking clickers be damned when a player is armed with BradyGames’ newest tome, The Last of Us strategy guide. Can it help curb the tide of jugular feasting mutants, or is does it lose the fight against the game’s ever inclining difficulty curve?
It somewhat goes without saying that The Last of Us is far deeper, in terms of game mechanics, that it would initially let on. Perfect evidence of this is the guide’s massive forty page Survival Guide, used to introduce the player to all aspects of the title’s universe. Important aspects of the gameplay including things like crafting items, listening mode, different types of explosives and how to use cover effectively are all very important pieces of the puzzle that are detailed extremely effectively. Alongside these highlights are detailed rundowns of each weapon, its strengths and weaknesses, and the different perks that can be unlocked through the in-game upgrade system. And what would any introduction be without a breakdown of the assorted enemies? Lastly, this area outlines of where each faction appears, as well as provides generic commentary on how they can be effectively dispatched.
With the silly formalities out of the way, the authors rolled up their sleeves and dove headfirst into the walkthrough. Each of the game’s twelve chapters have been broken out into its own dedication section. Complete with overhead views of the map, in-game art footage, and background information not readily apparent to the player, it proves to be the perfect companion to any playthrough. Each step in the walkthrough itself is laid out brilliantly in the text and is accompanied by several thumbnail images to effectively call out other important points of interest such as collectables or upcoming set pieces that shouldn’t be missed. In another neat touch, as new characters are introduced in the story, they are given a brief breakout section where details about how they fit into the overall The Last of Us universe. Sure, it isn’t necessarily anything groundbreaking, but it is a nice touch that helps augment the cohesiveness of the campaign.
Winding hallways and same-ish looking rooms are something that have existed as tropes of game design since the medium’s creation. The Last of Us is not immune to this universal folly. Thankfully the overhead maps are at the reader’s disposal while working through the commentary. Especially in areas like the museum or winding through office buildings, knowing important upcoming landmarks, which are effectively called out in both image and textual form, greatly reduce the risk of inadvertently being turned around. Also helpful are the map’s call-outs where craftable items and ammo can be found. Later in the campaign, it is critical to pay attention to these key details, as they become increasingly scarce as the plot progresses.
Despite being an exceptionally comprehensive walkthrough, even this component is not without its own specific faults. Though every encounter may be covered to the nth degree, the placement of collectible call-outs are occasionally misplaced in the overall layout of the book. Completionists will need to either manually save frequently or read ahead in the text in order to make sure they don’t miss any items behind a cruelly placed auto-save location or the far-too-frequently-occurring door that locks behind the player. Normally this occurs when the highlighted artifact was a page or so behind the overall commentary, resulting in the need to revert to a manual save to get said item. It is suffice to say that these occurrences are irritating. The other, albeit extremely minor criticism, is the fluctuating level of detail that is invested in the strategy aspect of the explanations. Certain areas will give a checklist of steps to complete in order to conquer a tricky encounter, while others will simply call out the number of enemies that can be found wandering in a room, and send the player off blindly into the fog of battle. Yes, the latter is usually the exception to the rule, but when it does happen, it results in quite a bit of head scratching confusion and far more unnecessary carnage.
One last tip of the hat to the authors’ approach to this guide is the fact that they managed to find a way to enhance the game’s overall experience, without feeling the need to inundate the reader with unnecessary plot spoilers. If a stranger were to turn to any page of the walkthrough, other than obviously being at a loss as to the context of the action, they would have relatively little idea what is going on in the story. This is a lost art form that many strategy guide writers have lost sight of in the last couple of console generations and should be applauded.
Next up in the flow of the book is the obligatory collectibles rehash. Sure, if the reader followed the previous one hundred and fifty pages religiously this section may seem a bit redundant, but it is the formatting that makes this a valuable addition. Most collectibles are only allotted small thumbnail images in the walkthrough, so it would only make sense for these items to get much larger shots. If nothing else, these blowups are useful in finding artifacts, pendants, training manuals and comics that are difficult to locate using the aforementioned single, tiny, completely out of context freeze-frame. Another neat touch that stands as evidence of the collaboration between Naughty Dog and BradyGames on this work is a rundown of all of Ellie’s jokes that are hidden in the campaign. These interactions are certainly obscure enough that most likely the player would never encounter them on their own, so it is cute to see these moments highlighted, despite their frivolity in the big picture.
In most modern guides there is one area that falls criminally short: multiplayer. Fortunately, this doesn’t look to be the case this time around. The Last of Us’ Faction mode breakdown is complete enough to make even the greenest of players feel like a battle tested veteran…well, at least that is the case until they get their ass handed to them in a brown paper sack by the legitimate experts eagerly waiting on the other side of the lobby. Everything from clans to proper gear and loadout selection are spelled out, along with key combat techniques that would usually be learned through the ever-embarrassing trial and error process. But let’s be honest, the real stars of this twenty page segment are the multiplayer maps. Along with top-down looks at each area, there is a theoretical analysis of how the battlefields will be played. Might this change over time and patching? Most likely. But it never hurts to have a good idea what to expect, even if it ends up being slightly out of date.
Drawing the guide to a close is a brief call-out to the amount of in-game currency that can be unlocked by achieving certain tasks over the course of playing the campaign. These tags carry over to additional rounds through the game, if the player is glutton for punishment. There is also a list of all items and character skins that can be purchased by these poor delusional individuals. It isn’t exactly going out with a bang, but it will be plenty helpful to those wanting to deck Ellie out in a killer Naughty Dog T-shirt or Jak goggles.
BradyGames’ new The Last of Us strategy guide proves to be a perfect mirror of the game as a whole. It succeeds in areas that have proven to be stumbling blocks for many in the past, while itself still being an imperfect work in its own regard. The most tragic part is that issues like the problematic layout of collectible asides are most likely not the fault of the author, but rather a reflection on the editor. Minor missteps begin to compound over time, especially when the same issue pops up consistently. When these repetitive incidents result in inconveniencing the reader/player, the effect is amplified tenfold. Even with this blatant flub, the guide still manages to deliver a solid overall product that will result in a more enjoyable experience for all parties involved. “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.”