The Last of Us review: A bright moment in gaming, shining through a dark world


The last Of Us

It is obvious right from the start that The Last of Us is not your typical game. Naughty Dog has earned a reputation for creating transcendent experiences that are simply presented as games. With the Uncharted series, the developer created an interactive adventure, designed to keep your heart pumping. Those games are high octane, playable versions of Indiana Jones, with all the tropes that come with that style, including the death-defying escapes and the underlying romance. The Last of Us shares some of the same storytelling mechanics, but offers a very different experience.

Where Uncharted wanted you to believe in the adventure, The Last of Us wants you to believe in the relationship between the gruff and weathered Joel, and the young and still relatively innocent Ellie. That might seem like a predictable formula for storytelling, and in some ways it is, but adding the playable component elevates it to a level that has rarely been seen before in gaming, and makes for one of the most emotionally charged stories ever seen in video games.

Don’t Call Them Zombies

It all stars with a fungus known as ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a parasitic fungus from the Cordyceps family. The fungus is parasitic, and can take control of the host’s nervous system in order to move it in a direction that will ensure further dissemination of more spores. Basically it can take over a host and force it to attack others. And the pant-soiling truth is that it is real thing, found in insects, generally in South and Central America.

The last Of Us

The game takes that concept just a single, terrifyingly believable step further. In the game, the fungus evolves to the point that in can infect human hosts. Those hosts then become mindless carriers, hell-bent on passing the infection on through any means possible, most commonly through a bite. This may sound like a zombie outbreak, but there is one key difference between the enemies in the game and zombies: the game’s enemies are called “Infected.” Beyond that, they are pretty much zombies.

The story begins 20 years after humanity has been forced into small quarantine zones, and scattered communities fighting to survive. Civilization is a memory, and survival is almost all there is. There is a war brewing as well, although to call it a war with scant few survivors left to fight it may be giving it too much weight. On one side are the forces controlling the quarantine zones, a militaristic faction that believes in order at all costs. On the other hand are the Fireflies, a militant group dedicated to bringing back an elected government. Stated ideals aside, there are no good or bad guys in the new world, just shades of despair.

The last Of Us

It is in this gray world we meet Joel, a smuggler and a survivor. After a botched weapons shipment, Joel takes a job to smuggle a 14-year old girl named Ellie out of the Boston quarantine zone to the Firefly camp outside the city. That plan falls apart quickly, and the pair are forced into a cross country journey across the ruins of an America quickly being swallowed back by nature.

Trust No One

What sets The Last of Us apart from other post-apocalyptic games is the emphasis on the high quality of the writing. It is not just the driving force of the game, it is very, very well done.

Joel is not a good man. Thanks to some cleaver writing and the unavoidable connection you typically form between yourself and any playable avatar, you find yourself rooting for him. But he can be unlikable, and every time you think he will redeem himself, Joel will surprise you. Ellie, on the other hand, is just innocent enough that you can’t help but feel protective of her. From her inability to whistle to her fiery nature to her optimism, the writing for Ellie is so deep and layered that you will forget that she is basically just an occasionally helpful AI NPC. Thankfully, as an AI she never becomes a hindrance.

The last Of Us

Ellie’s story arc in particular is endearing and even moving. She is a child of the new world, and the simple pleasures of the old, things like watching movies and sleeping a night in perfect safety are so foreign to her that can be heartbreaking.

There are deep themes at work here, and dark story threads that really cast a pessimistic, but not unrealistic picture of humanity as a whole, many of which center around Ellie. You will want to see her safe, although Joel’s intentions are often more complicated.

Even when you think you’ve seen the story laid bare, it can surprise you and drag out a surprising emotional response. From humor to shock to an incredible conclusion that you probably won’t see coming, the story is not just good for a video game, it is good for any medium.

A Minor, but Familiar Complaint

The story is so strong and powerful that it is easy to overlook some of the more flawed pieces. The Last of Us is a fantastic game, with moments that border on brilliant. The combat, however, is not one of them.

This is a complaint Naughty Dog has heard before, and it is apt here as well. The combat isn’t bad by any means, it is just wholly unremarkable.

The last Of Us

You face two enemy types throughout the game: humans and infected. Both have their own AI systems that are typically very good and can even react on the fly to you. This helps to alleviate the sense of repetition that would otherwise certainly set in. The game introduces a stealth element that helps with this, but unless you plan to restart repeatedly until you memorize locations and patterns, opening fire is generally easier, and is almost always a faster solution.

The gameplay also lacks some of the moments that made the Uncharted series so memorable – those “big” moments, like when a ship would suddenly begin to sink, a train derails, or an attack helicopter chases you across rooftops. The gameplay just becomes a funciton of the story, and one you’ll typically race through to discover the next plot point.

That Old, Familiar Feeling

The multiplayer component offers an interesting twist, but it is very much a secondary feature to the campaign – and a limited one at that.

The last Of Us

After choosing one of two nearly identical factions, Hunter or Firefly, you begin a 12 week mini-game. While playing in one of the two 4v4 modes offered -Supply Raid which has limited respawns, or Survivors, with no respawn – you attract survivors to your personal clan (who are represented as numbers only). The bigger your clan, the more supply parts you will need to find lying around in the game, or by looting enemy bodies. Do well and everyone is happy; fail to find the parts and people become sick and infected. After a 12 week cycle (12 weeks in the game, not real time), the more clan members you have, the better your reward. You then “prestige” and start over.

As for the gameplay, you are limited in resources, from your bullets, to the pieces you collect to craft items like medicine or Molotov Cocktails – a mechanic the campaign shares. Because of the limits, a run-and-gun approach is impractical, leading to a more tension filled hunt.

The last Of Us

It is a fun addition, but an ancillary one. And with just two modes, it isn’t likely to carry a crowd for too long.

Conclusion

Minor quibbles with the combat aside, Naughty Dog proves once again that it is among the best in the business. It also once again pushes the envelope of what a video game can be. The writing and the story of The Last of Us are not just good by gaming standards, but good by the standards of any medium. It is a dark and mature tale, and while the obvious comparison is to Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, the better comparison might be The Walking Dead. It is a brutal story that will continue to push your conception of what a video game story can be, and it is easily among the year’s best releases thus far.

 

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Critical Consensus: The Last Of Us


Naughty Dog’s apocalyptic adventure slays the critics

The Last Of Us

It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally something comes along that is so brilliant that critics have no choice but to swallow their cynicism, choke back their snark and write about why something is just so goddamned awesome. The Last Of Us, Naughty Dog’s newest IP that focuses on human relationships through the prism of a deadly fungal infection, seems to be one of those times.

Official PlayStation Magazine UK’s David Meikleham was certainly not shy in declaring his love for the game, suggested readers sell their kidneys to get a copy of the ten out of ten, “peerlessly tense hide-and-seek sim crafted around thoughtful stealth and devastating gunplay.”

The Last of Us

Of course until now Naughty Dog’s flagship franchise has been the macho, Indiana Jones style adventures of Nathan Drake in Uncharted, but Meikleham reported that The Last Of Us is a Drake beater, and a new high for the studio.

“A better game than any of the Uncharted titles,” he wrote, but added later that “it doesn’t handle like Uncharted, it doesn’t pace itself like Uncharted, and it’s certainly a damn sight scarier than your favourite fortune-hunter’s feral yetis.”

While he praises strong combat, well balanced AI and ability to use different tactics, enemy design and behaviour, it’s the emotions that are the star here. Reducing your reviewer to tears is usually a sign you’ve missed a game breaking bug in hour 17 of your game, here it’s a testament to “a tender maturity that boils the apocalypse down to the touching cross-country journey of a surrogate father/daughter pairing.”

The more cynical among you might dismiss this as a PlayStation publication cheering for the home team, but it should only take a glance at the rest of the scores to see that’s not the case. Veteran reviewer Oli Welsh at Eurogamer handed out the same score, and made a lot the same points to back up the double digits, clearly in love with the death of a nation theme he saw in The Last Of Us’ narrative.

“This melancholy twist is just one of several things that lifts The Last of Us far above its clichéd basis. The others are the outstanding engineering and art and sound design, the fine direction and performances, the touching relationship of the two leads and the tough, tense action gameplay.”

“Empire went as far as to call it ‘gaming’s Citizen Kane moment'”

Pacing was praised, with the puzzle sections offering the player a chance to drink in the “peaceful desolation” punctuated sparingly by a score from Brokeback Mountain composer Gustavo Santaolalla.

And it’s not just the industry sites that have gone giddy over The Last Of Us. One of the most complimentary reviews (and one that broke the embargo earlier this week for a few awkward hours) was from film site Empire, which went as far as to call it “gaming’s Citizen Kane moment.”

Reviewer Matt Kamen gave the game five out of five and the sort of quotes a PR can only usually dream of, “a masterpiece that will be looked back on favourably for decades.”

“The gameplay itself could easily have been a disappointment – broadly a mix of stealth and action, with innumerable sections of waist-high cover shooting, it doesn’t immediately offer anything new. Played with a shooter mindset, it doesn’t, in fact. However, it’s in avoiding combat when possible, incapacitating foes and only killing when absolutely, unavoidably necessary that the game stands apart.”

Of course even Citizen Kane had its haters, and here it’s Polygon that drags the metascore down, with Phil Kollar bestowing a lacklustre 7.5 on the game. For comparison, that’s the same score he recently gave to Resident Evil: Revelations, and a full point lower than his score for Metro: Last Light.

While others saw the game’s emotional storytelling and at times depressing world as signs of greatness, Kollar was clearly hoping the apocalypse would be a bit more, well, fun.

The Last of Us

“It’s not a fun place to be, and likewise, the game isn’t really a fun thing to play.”

He still praised the characterisation of Ellie, something other reviewers had mentioned, and the relationship she has with the other lead character, Joel, but was less happy when the AI of other characters failed.

“AI partners often attempt to follow you and stay behind cover nearby, but sometimes they screw up and get stuck out in the open. These moments don’t result in detection by enemy AI, which is a wise concession to the stealth gameplay. But it looks ridiculous and shatters the atmosphere Naughty Dog works so hard to build.”

And while others had praised the deliberately difficult gunplay as a clever design move, Kollar finds it’s “messy” and “frustrating” at first, and then finds killing the game’s non-zombie foes morally uncomfortable. Ultimately, the storytelling and design that dazzled other reviewers seems to have left Kollar unmoved.

But the low score is, in these post-embargo hours, in the minority. Overall it seems that not only is The Last Of Us proof that the PlayStation 3 is still a force to be reckoned with, even as its little brother steps into the limelight, but that Sony still knows how to work with a AAA studio to make sure it can produce top quality titles that make its console shine.

 

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The Last of Us Gets New Female Character


Naughty Dog sure does love teasing us with The Last of Us information. After the mind-blowing E3 demo for the game, we were told that we’ll have to wait until the VGA’s on December 7th for another world exclusive trailer, complete with brand new gameplay footage.

Now, in the latest issue of Game Informer, this image has surfaced of Ellie, Joel, and a mysterious woman:

We don’t know who she is or what she has to do with the story, but this quote was featured within the issue:

“It looks as though Joel and Ellie are joined by this mysterious woman… Who is she? Can she be trusted? Stay tuned.”

With just under a month before the VGA’s we have that much time to speculate just who this woman is, so let us know your wildest theories in the comments section below.

The Last of Us will launch exclusively for the PlayStation 3 at some point in 2013.

[Source/Via]