Review – The Last of Us

Naughty Dog, the developers of the Uncharted series, has made what many have come to believe to be their magnum opus in a new game called The Last of Us. This PS3 exclusive has been teased for quite awhile with a viral video we had some fun with back when it was released. There were some fairly big ambitions going for this game as Naughty Dog promised some sort of survival horror-esque gameplay with a strong focus on story, a story that heavily resembled Cormac McCarthy award-winning novel The Road. When the review embargo on the game was terminated, the internet was flooded with a series of incredibly glowing reviews. Garnering 36 perfect scores from various sites and publications, The Last of Us has one of the highest Metacritic scores in years. This has, as usual, led to some gamers accusing Naughty Dog of paying off reviewers, and many gamers going in with expectations of a perfect game. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t buy into “paid review” accusations, primarily because there is rarely any evidence at all to back up such an egregious accusation, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. It’s review time today, and one thing I can tell you is that The Last of Us is a good game, a very good game.

There’s a reason that the title of the game takes second billing to the characters.
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The Last of Us is set in a post-apocaliptic future where a fungus has infected a large number of the population, turning them into what amounts to zombies. It is standard zombie-apocalypse fare with the military going mad, scavengers harvesting unweary travellers, and a fairly good social commentary as we see the breakdown of society. That last point is something that is missing in almost every zombie game ever made, and it’s something that The Last of Us handles with great care. The setting is hardly something we’ve never seen before and much of the world looks like a reproduction of other games, principally Ninja Theory’s Enslaved. However, the game deals with the setting with a sombre and real tone that is not often present, which helps to obscure the point that we’ve seen all of this many times.

Remove the characters and I could be easily fooled into thinking this was The Last of Us.
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The story revolves around the exploits of a haggard, world-weary Joel and his young and energetic companion Ellie as they travel across the wrecked world. This is how everyone describes this game, when, in truth, Ellie doesn’t come into the story until a good couple of hours. It is more surprising, in light of this, that Joel fully shares the spotlight with his young companion. There are loads of character development for both, and Naughty Dog should be commended for making two characters who seem real. In the video game industry, it is rare to find real characters, with even some of the best being nothing more than fantastical caricatures. We tend to praise that in video games, as many games are nothing more than a fun escape. Having real characters is what really sets this game apart from the crowd. What isn’t real is the character AI, who will often flounder around the battlefield. They’re all invisible to the enemy when in stealth, and it is a little strange to see some hunter trying to find Joel, only to miss Ellie who is crouching right in front of him. This rarely takes away from the game, but it is a problem.

This game has a love affair with choking people, an animation you’ll see a hundred times before the end.
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The game takes place over four seasons, which function as four separate acts in the game, starting in summer and ending in spring for obvious thematic reasons. Each individual act is dealt with effectively, but not all are created equal. Truthfully, I was unsure of the game during summer, its first act, not really understanding why the game received so much praise. This lack of understanding disappeared as I proceeded through the remaining seasons and saw exactly how Naughty Dog was handling the characters and their development. This is particularly true of winter, which is one of the standout game segments in this generation. I’m not going to give out any spoilers, so I suppose you’ll just have to trust me here.

Winter’s like this, only with more fungus-infected cannibals.
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I have mixed feelings on The Last of Us’ gameplay especially early on. There are three principal gameplay segments: fights against humans, fights against infected, and looting intermissions. There are almost always two ways of fighting enemies. 1 – You can use stealth, either by sneaking past enemies or taking them out via stealth kills; or 2 – You can take out your guns and blast your enemies to pieces. The second one is usually the way that most games, even those with a stealth focus, play most efficiently. The Last of Us curtails this by making ammunition rare. So rare in fact that a firefight is not something you want to get into, especially as enemies are not guaranteed to drop any items even if they have a gun. This breaks realism a bit, but it is necessary for balance as having too much ammunition would result in the game being too easy.

If you love crouching, this is the game for you.
Also, for owners of the game, marvel at the old interface.
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The fights against humans in this game play out more or less the same way as they do in any third person shooter with a couple of exceptions. Firstly, you can use your hearing to spot enemies, human or otherwise, through walls. Humans, especially later on, can avoid this sense by hiding, which is something that can catch you off guard if you’ve been relying on this detective vision-style mechanic. Humans are also kind of dumb and you can lose them really easily by running away and hiding. This isn’t a bad thing though, as it lets you re-engage stealth mode, which is necessary as you might not ever have the ammunition to wipe out a whole platoon of enemies. Fights against the infected are a bit different. There are three types of infected, but you’ll mostly be encountering two of them: runners and clickers. Runners are exactly what you’d expect: they’ll run at you. Clickers are the stereotypical blind enemy that you have to be quiet around as you try to make your way through areas. Clickers also have a one-hit-kill bite and will instantly kill you if you try to engage them in melee. The clicker segments are also some of the more tedious parts of the game, where you spend far too long tiptoeing around hordes of blind enemies with a single mistake ushering death. They wouldn’t be too bad if they weren’t lumped together especially near the beginning, leading to fatigue early on.

Not the prettiest face.
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Crafting is a big part of the game, as is scavenging for crafting parts. By finding various items you can make tools such as health packs, molotov cocktails, or smoke bombs. All of the items in this game are incredibly useful and scavenging is more than worth it. What isn’t really worth it are the levelling mechanics in this game. Finding pills will let you upgrade a skill like expanding your health bar or being able to hear further when in listen mode. These are the only two I really remember because the bulk of them are uninteresting or useless and there are only about half a dozen. Weapon upgrades are similarly boring. All you do is increase reload speed, or capacity, etc. There are very few interesting upgrades and none of them make your gun feel anymore powerful. I get that they didn’t want you to feel like a superhero, but they could have tried to make the upgrade system a bit more engaging. As it is, I would call it more of a waste of time than a helpful tool.

The only thing that health kit can’t cure is Joel’s crippling emotional pain, mostly because he doesn’t have enough sugar.
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The multiplayer is fun, if not unnecessary. After all of the heat that Bioshock Infinite got over their exclusion of multiplayer, it seems like singleplayer games are going to increasingly have tacked-on multiplayer modes. Fortunately, The Last of Us has fairly salvageable multiplayer with two modes. One is a basic team death match, while the other is a team death match where there are no respawns and various rounds. It’s nothing different, but it works. During the match, you can find salvage, upgrade weapons and craft items. Like in the main game, this is all done during real-time, meaning that you’d better be safe when you do it. The third person shooting mechanics of The Last of Us aren’t perfect, something that isn’t a big deal during singleplayer, but can be an issue during multiplayer as there is no engaging story to back it up. There are little challenges to complete and you’re supposed to feel like the leader of a group of survivors, but this minigame exists only at the most rudimentary level. All you’re really getting is a couple of death match modes.

It’s fun, but you’ve probably played it before under a different name.
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I wouldn’t call The Last of Us the best game of the whole generation, which many have. It isn’t because of little mistakes here and there, but because Naughty Dog played it far too safe with most of their systems, the setting, and the story. There is very little new here. We’ve seen everything that was presented in this game before. It is not often done as well, but there are still pangs of nostalgia as you travel across the US with Joel and Ellie. However, I wouldn’t dismiss the overly positive reviews. The whole of the game is overwhelmingly good, and I understand when some people state that this is their favourite game of the entire seventh generation of consoles even if I don’t agree. To me, what stands out here are the characters and they make The Last of Us shine even at the worst of times. Joel and Ellie are enough for me to thoroughly recommend this game, and they are enough to make me purchase any future titles in this potential series. It’s high praise, but Naughty Dog deserves it.

Score – 9.0

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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