Release Date: June 14, 2013
Metacrtic Score: 95
When I saw that you could get a used copy of “The Last of Us” on amazon for under $30, effectively putting it firmly in review range, I had mixed feelings. With how recent the game is, surely no one needs another review giving them their opinion on it. With how much praise has been heaped on it, is there really anything else to say? And to be honest, I played the game three times, back to back, after getting it, so could I go through the game for a fourth and be as objective as possible in rating the games quality? Honestly, I have no idea. In the end, I choose to do this review simply to give myself an excuse to play through the game again. That right there should really be all you need to know.
To understand the appeal of “The Last of Us”, you have to understand the difference between “The Writing” and “The Story”. I’ve seen a lot of people praise the games story, but in reality the story, in terms of plot, is as bear bones as they come. You, as Joel, must safely escort Ellie across the country in hopes of finding a vaccine for the zombie like pledge that has swept the nation.
What elevates the story is the writing. The human drama here actually feels human. This is executed so well by the fact that there really isn’t a main antagonist or even any characters you can call objectively bad. This is a world where everyone is simply trying to survive. Some peoples actions are more brutal and more cruel than others, but it never really feels that people are simply out to get you. You are as much a treat to the survive of your enemies as they are to yours. Each character feels fleshed out, even those you spend very little time with.
This kind of story telling, where the often weak plot is held up by strong characters and world building, is something that Naughty Dog seems to have specialized in with each of their PS3 outings. Each of the “Uncharted” games pretty much had the same story, but Nathan Drake and crew were so likeable it made you either forget or ignore that fact. While I can see this not being everyone’s favorite form of story telling, for me it has consistently worked well, not just for Naughty Dog, but in most fiction of late (honestly, try and tell me what the plot of Game of Thrones is. It’s the cast that makes the show and books so great, not the plot line).
The moral complexity and well written cast also help to make this one of the most mature games i’ve ever played. Very rarely do I feel like M rated games that are as violent as this have the right to call themselves “mature”, as they tend to come off as more childish and pandering to the “mature” audience who feel that anything less gritty than sandpaper is “kid stuff”. But here, it is obvious that the developers knew what they were doing and wanted to create a game that was truly mature. This is accomplished by including the parts of life that “mature” games often leave out; Love, happiness, levity. The game never pulls it’s punches when it comes to it’s darker material, but it is smart enough to know that nihilism in and of itself doesn’t make a game “grown up”.
Another little factoid that i’ve surprisingly not seen brought up is the diversity in the games cast. In the main cast there are four African Americans, four Women and three gay characters, all of whom are well written, well motivated and well realized. They are people, and they are treated like people. The Video game industry has a notoriously bad history when it comes to portraying any of these groups, so for a game to go this far trying to be more inclusive, and for it to have worked so well is in
itself an achievement.
Yahtzee, of Zero Punctuation, said in hie review that the game came off as “Oscar bait” for video games, and I can definitely see why he would have that impression, but for me, it’s much more “12 years a Slave” than “The English Patient”. Sure, the goal for both might have been to win best picture, but one at lest tried to be a good movie as well. The game has a few issues, but none of them are from a storytelling perspective.
If you haven’t played “The Last of Us”, my description of the games story might have you worried that the game is nothing but an extended escort mission (those awful, awful damned things from the pits of gaming hell). Rest assured, that isn’t the case. The game plays like a more grounded, survival horror version of the “Uncharted” games. Stealth is most often your best chance for survival, against both human enemy’s as well as the zombie like Infected. As it is with most survival horror games, ammunition is is short supply, so all out attacks usually aren’t viable to begin with, but even when they are, if your not a good shot you’ll just wast more bullets than opponents. To make up for this, you have the ability to create certain items. Things like shivs, health kits and Molotov cocktails can be crafted once you gather enough material. However, these materials are not only also in short supply, but multiple items are made with the same stuff, so you have to choose what to make at any give time. Once or twice I found myself able to make more than one type of item at a time, but this is not something you should expect, more so on the harder difficulties.
To farther the game play from an escort mission, Ellie isn’t helpless. In my first play through, she took down almost as many opponents as I did, and saved me from getting killed more times than I care to admit. However, there were a few times, when I was trying to stealth my way through a section where she’d run right in view of a guard who would simply ignore her. Sure, that helped me, as it prevented me from getting caught, but it did pull me out of the experience.
With that said, the only major(-ish) issue with the game play though: the puzzles. In keeping with the “more grounded
‘Uncharted’” line of thought, it wouldn’t make since for this to have puzzles on the scale of the “Uncharted” games but that doesn’t excuse the lack of verity here. There are only two types of puzzles: find a ladder/platform or find a way to get Ellie across the water (she can’t swim). These sections are spread out enough to never get truly bothersome, but it did stick out. With the expert level of attention to detail shown in the rest of the game, it is kind of odd that this would be were the team decided to slack off. The only other issue that I, personally, had is the load times. Mostly when loading the game for the first time per session, but it happened almost every time. I don’t remember anyone else bringing up this issue, so it may just be my faulty teck, but it is something I felt the need to point out.
Game Play: 4/5
Dear god, the voice acting in this is great. In fact, it’s simply perfect. Every character is well written and well acted. Even characters who only have one line are well done. I’ve played games where the main cast wasn’t done as well as the minor characters here. But good acting is nothing without a good script, right? We’ve all seen good actors saying moronic lines and just know that there was nothing they could do to make it sound better, right? Luckily, the script here is just as well done as the rest of the game.
In four play throughs, there was time the sound cut out, and that was while I was powering up a generator, so really not a huge loss. When the “clickers” (the more advanced form of infected) started clicking to tell the player “take this section slow”, I always heard it (a shuddered). When humans started talking to warn the player of their presents known, I laways heard, and laughed with them, cringed at them or smirked as they fretted over my actions unaware that I was only a few feet away. Music/Sound: 5/5
Overall Score: 4.6
Who’s this game for:
Everyone. Guys, i’m not joking, this is one of the games that will be used in the “are games art” argument in the near future. This is one of the games that, by virtue of it’s shear existence makes gaming look better. The fact that this got made and took off as well as it did shows everyone who looks down on gaming as a hobby and art form just how wrong they can be. This is the PS3 “Half-life 2”, it’s “Ocarina of Time”. You may not like it as much as I do, but this is one of those games that I implore you to at lest give a chance.