You know what’s weird? The fact that this is the first game I beat on a Sony system. Yeah, been playing games since I was six back in 2000, but I never played much of, let alone owned, a Playstation of any sort. What better way to introduce myself to this lineage of systems with GOTY contender The Last of Us. Shame it makes me feel like I’m terrible!
The Last of Us Review
Release Date: 14/6/2013
Platform: Playstation 3
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
For those who missed the influx of praise towards the game in the form of early reviews, The Last of Us is the story of humanity torn asunder after an apocalypse twenty years ago that left society in the bucket due to an influx of zombies. The base premise sounds a bit generic when looking it that way, doesn’t it? Well, The Last of Us is certainly a game filled with cliches about zombie outbreaks, a military run government, cities in shambles, a resistance fighting the morally questionable powers. And the game ultimately not being all that much about “zombies”. With the justification for that word being in quotes how they’re actually just people who’ve gone crazy due to a mind controlling fungus that grew inside of their head.
As someone who borrowed the title and system from a friend due to how said friend needed someone to talk about it, I was naturally curious as to what the game does to make it so keen. Perhaps the relationship with the two main characters of Joel and Ellie, an old man and young girl living through a world that cares not for them, regardless of their goals. Or the lack of morality found within said world, somewhat justifying the very bad things done by Joel and Ellie. Well, after going through the game in an excitement dominated three days, I don’t know.
Now, the story, characterization, writing, and performances from the main characters are all things that I can’t necessarily call bad. Hell, at times the game is worth noting solely for the many subtleties held by the main characters. In many ways I’d agree with Max Scoville that The Last of Us is the Dark Knight Returns of video games. They do a great job at detailing the world, and it does feel very realized, especially in the beginning where you walked through the isolated slums of people who abandoned all hope. Or the fact that if I bumped into a guard twice, they’d put a bullet in Joel’s forehead. With the artifacts hidden about the destroyed landmass being the icing on the cake as they detail what happened between 2013 and 2033.
My general problem comes from how I don’t think I quite “get” The Last of Us. After having a three hour long mostly on-topic conversation about the title with my previously mentioned friend, reading several reviews, and watching a round table discussion, The Last of Us is one of those anomalies that I just can’t quite see what other see. I had similar feeling in my “review” for Spec Ops: The Line. Where I played the game, enjoyed it for the most part, but am not sure what makes it special, what makes it click. Although, I may have an answer this time, I missed some of the best parts.
The Last of Us is divided into seasons, starting in Summer and ending in Spring. Near the beginning and the end of the final season, there are two scenes that either did not work for me, or I was unaware existed. There is also supposedly a plethora of ambient dialog that the characters supposedly engage in or say without warning. I missed a lot of it, because I spent most of the game scavenging and looking at the ground, trying to find all the goodies possible. Yet only getting about half of them.
Unfortunately, even beyond what I missed while playing the game, numerous beats of the story and the introduction of several characters all seemed very predictable and even a bit bland to me. Quite simply, if you show me a character who was not detailed much in the demoed footage, or mentioned alongside the two main characters, they will likely bite the dust. The deaths that can be impactful, at least in theory, but I couldn’t help but laughing my ass off following a minor characters’ suicide.
Comparing this to something like The Walking Dead, either Telltale’s version or the comic. Where there is no clear way to determine whether or not a character will die, with a brutal nature that gives not a single care to characters getting a send off. Knowing that the story had to be very carefully constructed around the two main characters being alone for most of the game, my reaction to every new face was, “How’s this schmuck gonna die?” Not helped by how there are not really any good, moral, justified, or noble people. There are just survivors, and you’re one too.
Something that is very much so reflected in the gameplay, or at least I think it is suppose to be. Let me explain something about my playstyle, when going through a game, If I max something out, I put it away. I try to get all the goodies possible. I store up upgrade points and will likely never use them. I never use Elixirs when I have healing spells, missiles when I have a charge beam, or tranquilizer darts when I can sneak up and knock someone out. I’m currently trying to 100% Sonic Generations despite how getting one S rank may take me two hours. In a game where I am told to scavenge about, maintain my limited resources, and fight like a wounded animal, I reload the last encounter until I can get by without using too much ammo.
Part third person shooter, part stealth, and part item management, The Last of Us is a game where I died a good 150 times in my seventeen hours. Whether it be intentional, by my own hand selecting the restart option, I fell over and over again. All because I didn’t want to waste a bullet, molotov, nail bomb, shiv, or health pack. I wanted my crafting materials of my non bullet weapons to be maxed out for as much time as possible. And I never wanted to use them on someone who I could just avoid. Just think about how that would affect the atmosphere for a moment.
Whether it be infected individuals, humans who automatically go after me and set the place in full alert whenever I’m around, at least in my playthrough, The Last of Us was a game where I did not have fun when I had to engage in most combat scenarios. In part due to the unfamiliar control interface, but mostly because when I know I can do a dozen different things, I have no idea which one will be right, and I have half a second to decide. When confronted with several options in a very tense scenario, I can’t make a choice. I almost adore the brutality that The Last of Us forces on me, but at the same time, I’m not always sure if I need to be so rash.
With characters occasionally telling me to be sneaky or quiet in a situation where everybody must die. Along with, after trying desperately to get through the hordes of foes and make way to the next point, realizing that I had to pop out eyes and place bullets within flesh to carry forth. I eventually memorized the patterns, developed strategies over half an hour, and removed myself from any sort of tension brought on the otherwise stellar atmosphere around me by regressing the game into nothing but a mathematical equation. All because I didn’t want to go through mindless men who thought only for my death, and couldn’t think of ways to counter these killing machines, let alone know that I could, say, use them as human shields or hold them up. But as I continued down my, moronic devotion to pursuing a useless and detrimental goal, all it did was make the world less endearing.
An utter shame, because of how much I am fond of this title’s version of the apocalypse. Taking a visual direction of a ruined modern city overrun with vegetation that lived on long after most humans, I am tempted to compare it to the similarly designed Enslaved. Which is unsurprising seeing a show the game was headed by that title’s lead designer. However, where enslaved took a very vibrant and gorgeous world that was more often abstract than it was reminiscent of modern America, The Last of Us goes in the opposite direction.
With visual fidelity that almost certainly signifies the peak of what can be done with the seventh generation of video game hardware, The Last of Us is very, very pretty. Often in dark or urban areas, the amount of detail placed in gives the world copious amounts of life as the two main characters rummage through it. At the same time, I couldn’t help but look down, trying desperately to see Joel’s feet, and simultaneously see where the generation was lacking. Plant foliage is two dimensional, knocking into boxes sends them flying with no weight, and rarely your AI partner will teleport about, possibly running right next to a foe who doesn’t register them.
The AI partners were mostly passive as I played through, in contrast to what I heard from many others boast. Ellie mostly stayed back unless I was clobbering something in the face, or had no choice but to fight it out. If anything, she was more or less a nonentity when playing, which is far better than being a nuisance, and I suppose it did raise up the game’s applaud worthy tension. And despite how I died like someone who did not understand how a controller was suppose to work, I actually did enjoy the atmosphere. With the bizarre animations of the infected, dim lighting in some locals, and occasional, but not totally noticeable breaks where music starts to pour on in.
After going through the game in my head and seeing many talk about it, I feel like I’m the sole person to blame for not having the intellect to properly enjoy this title. While I do see the semblance of what makes the game such a blast for countless individuals, the fact of the matter is that games are experiences at the end of the day, and most offer different stories to tell. It’s just a shame that mine was missing some of the key moments, so I guess fuck me for being the one guy who missed that adorable animal and viewed the game as a series of formulas. Fuck me indeed for playing the game wrong.
An impressive product, but won’t always astound due to a fair number of flaws that are difficult to ignore. Still worth your cash and a few hours of your time.