[Video Game Review]: The Last of Us

Last of Us

Developer – Naughty Dog

Publisher –Sony Computer Entertainment

Platforms – PS3, PS4

Back in 2013 the internet exploded with praise for The Last of Us. It received multiple 10/10 scores and Game of the Year awards, and I’ve been looking forward to finally playing it for a long time. When that much praise comes behind a title there’s a degree of resistance that comes along with it, a challenge to decide whether the game truly deserves the labels it has received. While I’m not quite ready to give it a perfect score, The Last of Us earns a great deal of the hype it has garnered, providing remarkable characterization and storytelling as well as attempting a mildly different take on the often-explored zombie apocalypse scenario.

When the infection began, no one escaped unscathed, and in the twenty years that followed civilization as it was known had all but disappeared. Forced into quarantine zones to avoid the mutant fungus turning people into cannibalistic horrors, Joel Miller is just one of many trying to get by. Despite acting as a smuggler, Joel is surprised to be asked to get a lone teenage girl out of the city and is vehemently opposed to the idea, though circumstances force him to take on the responsibility. The girl, Ellie, is valuable to a resistance group known as the fireflies, being the only known human to have survived being bitten, and may be the world’s only hope for a vaccine. She and Joel must cross the bandit- and infected-ridden remains of the US to reach their goal. It might be easier if she didn’t remind Joel of the daughter he lost back at the end of the world.

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The Last of Us may seem a little unique to begin with, given its use of fungal spores that spread infection and various developmental stages of infected such as Clickers, which have no sight and use echolocation to find survivors. Make no mistake, though, this is a zombie game and more or less plays like any other one for its first few hours. In fact, other than those two features I’ve mentioned, it doesn’t bring anything new to the table at all. We’ve seen that humanity is often more dangerous than zombies, we’ve seen the struggle to protect the one individual with immunity and we’ve seen ruin-crawling, supply-scavenging and undead-blasting games before. So what makes it all special?

The answer to that has a number of aspects to it that all come together to reveal that The Last of Us’ quality of storytelling and character interactions transform an overpopulated genre into something enjoyable and fresh. All of the characters you come across, not just the main ones, have a level of believability that allows them to bring something important to the experience. It’s not that there are any incredibly entertaining personalities that stand out and drag the game into the spotlight, so much as the normality of their reactions to the events of the story that captures you. I was especially impressed by Ellie, who has the maturity you might expect in someone who had grown up during that time but also shows the inexperience and childishness of a person of her age. Joel may be a little generic but his gruff voice and development from disinterest to tentative caring play the perfect partners to just about everyone else involved.

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The story plays as an episodic experience, with each new season presenting a new tale that serves to introduce new characters as well as deepen the connection between old ones. There are notes and letters scattered around that fill the role of world-building but I wouldn’t say they make a massive contribution to enjoyment.  Without spoiling anything, the various plotlines don’t do anything that hasn’t been done before but do their job incredibly well and are enjoyable to play through once you’ve made it past the beginning of the game. The ending is tasteful and satisfying without being something that will really get you going; by the end of it all I missed the characters a little but didn’t have that deep feeling of loss that the absolute best stories give you. Having said that, there’s some DLC available that I would have been keen to play if it weren’t so expensive for what it was.

Gameplay consists of alternating between sneaking past zombies/baddies and shooting the hell out of both with a variety of weapons. It takes a little while to get used to what you can and cannot do, with certain enemies having the ability to insta-kill you, but plays as well as any other third person shooter out there. It’s worth mentioning that I was impressed by the use of environmental features in melee takedowns though, so there’s that. I do have to complain about the AI here, however, as well as some design choices. While you’re sneaking about your companions will often run directly in front of enemies and mysteriously not be seen. Similarly, there were multiple occasions where strangling a guy to death directly in front of his buddy didn’t seem to raises any sort of alarm, presumably because I was just out of their detection range despite the fact that I was in plain sight. When sneaking, if you move a teeny bit too fast you can alert nearby Clickers, but having a vicious firefight just upstairs won’t worry them at all because you’re technically out of their zone. While they may have been small problems with little effect on the gameplay, it was all a little jarring considering how realistic the story and characters try to be.

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Other issues I had include the fact the exploring never felt particularly rewarding. I mean, yes, there were supplies you could use for the crafting system but they were pretty plentiful without going searching. Often I would find nothing at all in areas that screamed “explore me”, making the whole process of searching somewhat tedious. Additionally, there were several occasions where I accidentally picked the “right” path and was locked out of areas I had planned to go back to. You can also find materials for upgrading both Joel and his equipment. The gun modifications are standard fare but the character improvements weren’t very impressive, adding little to the gameplay experience. As a final note, the game does tend to get a little repetitive in places; you might go through a sewer with zombies that has a water puzzle, some ruins with bandits and then another sewer with zombies in it that has a water puzzle. Rinse, repeat.

On the flip-side, there are also some fantastic scenes that do a stellar job of showing just how far gone civilization is. Herds of giraffes that have flourished after being released from the zoo, sunset vistas overlooking the ruins of a city. Good stuff. The visual design of the game is top-notch even if dilapidated buildings and sewers don’t exactly make for appealing scenery. The characters especially look wonderful and more so in their pre-rendered cutscenes; my only regret in this area is that I did not play the remastered edition. The voice acting is of as high a quality as you will find in a game for each and every character, so major kudos there. As for the soundtrack…well, it’s a soundtrack for a zombie game.

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Summary – The Last of Us may not do anything new but what it does do is done well enough that it deserves a great deal of the praise it has received. It takes many of the zombie apocalypse ideas we’ve seen before and adds believable characters with incredibly well written relationships and experiences. The plot takes a while to warm up but is well worth the time it takes to do so due to the quality episodic storytelling it exhibits. Despite some complaints regarding its gameplay, the majority of The Last of Us’ features in that department are solid and, coupled with great technical aspects and aforementioned story and characters, earn it a definite recommendation.

Score: 8.5/10 – Good

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About Silvachief

I'm a Gamer that dabbles in a little bit of everything. I'm big on Video Games, Visual Novels, Anime, Books and TV Series, but there's more to me than just those!
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19 Responses to [Video Game Review]: The Last of Us

  1. fire says:

    Looks interesting.

    On a side note, have you tried Dragon Age? Inquisition came out last October, but Origins is probably still the best. While Skyrim might boast the most comprehensive open-world, Origin’s characterization and plot and general thematic grittiness makes it the better story.

    • Silvachief says:

      I’ve played Origins and Two but not Inquisition yet. Skyrim is open-world but has nothing to tie it all together story-wise, so i’d agree that Origins was better. Two reused its assets far too much and the combat was just button-spamming, even if it did achieve a good, visceral feel.

      Origins left a bitter taste in my mouth due to its last boss, though. My party members died immediately so I was forced to solo the whole darned thing.

      • fire says:

        Heh. I was using my laptop to play Origin, and a pretty shitty and old laptop at that. The Archdemon fight was completely horrible – I would issue commands (e.g. cast an inferno) but the damage ticks would appear perhaps 10 seconds later. On top of that, my laptop simply overheated and died twice – just as I was about to kill the damn dragon.

        You seem to have completed Yume Miru Kusuri? Your VNDB rating of it is pretty low – I think it was great, but I’m probably biased, since it was the 2nd VN I ever played.

        On hindsight, do you think you would still rate the VNs you read early on as highly as you did, if you were reading them now, with the benefit of experiencing many other stories?

        • Silvachief says:

          My laptop overheats too, so I feel your pain!

          I found YMK to be much like Tanaka’s other work in the ideas are sound but the delivery is lacking. For me at least, his writing style leaves much to be desired. I still plan on trying out Cross Channel at some point, though, so watch this space. YMK review is on the way, too.

          I’m not entirely sure on that point, as I feel a connection to many of my earlier VNs that I find hard to quantify. For instance, Kira Kira was probably pretty average, but I feel like I care about the characters enough that I would enjoy a second playthrough regardless. There are some, like G-Senjou no Maou that I would probably still love and wouldn’t change my opinion of, though I think I would lower many of my earlier scores if I played through those VNs again. I do plan on replaying Kira Kira/Deadrops/Dengeki Stryker because they all have new content out now, so we’ll see how that goes.

          • fire says:

            Heh. You should definitely replay GSM when you can.

            Cross+Channel is very good, but the translation’s limitations are plainly obvious.

            Out of curiosity, if and when SubaHibi (or Dies Irae, any other VN with a good claim of being a master piece) finally comes out in English, would you read it? Or would you prefer to read it in Japanese? The issue seems to be an unfortunate dilemma: necessarily flawed translations (for VNs as complex as SubaHibi) versus our n00bish Japanese skills.

            • Silvachief says:

              If there is a high quality English translation out I will choose English every time. It’s just easier to take in the information, not to mention faster. There’s the issue of missing out on kanji antics but chances are I wouldn’t understand those anyway. In fact, with any visual novel I expect to be good I would probably wait until I had exhausted all English options before moving on to reading in Japanese.

              Of course, this comes from a viewpoint of someone who spent a few hours trying to get through a single scene in a Japanese VN, so we’ll see what happens when I get better XD

              What about you?

              • fire says:

                I’m torn. For SubaHibi, I really not sure, but I’m leaning towards “waiting however long I need to” and read it in Japanese. The problem as many have pointed out is that SubaHibi is probably one of the hardest-to-translate VNs out there – you don’t just need to be good in Japanese, but you’ll also need to understand the philosophical concepts SCA-JI uses (Wittgenstein anyone?), and then be good enough a writer in English to express them in a way that captured SCA-JI’s very unique writing. Of course there are people out there who can do one of those (translate form Japanese), but are they philosophically knowledgeable on top of that – and on top of THAT, good writers to boot? Exceedingly unlikely.

                It really depends I think, on how much the VN depends on good writing, as opposed to the strength of the plot. GSM works well in English, apparently, because looseboy relies less on his writing and more on his ideas. Stuff like SubaHibi, Dies Irae, and Oretachi above all, rely on the former far far more.

                Your thoughts?

                • Silvachief says:

                  (Start a new comment if you reply to this…Wordpress does weird things with longer comment chains)

                  I’m not very informed when it comes to the writing styles of Japanese authors, unfortunately, so it’s hard to comment on particular examples. What I -can- say is that it would take a very, very long time to get to a level where I could comfortably enjoy reading in Japanese. Much longer than it would take to reach a point where I could read a VN at a normal speed, simply because Japanese isn’t my native tongue and learning the intricacies of a language – that is, what makes writing good and bad – would take huge amounts of exposure. What I may do with SubaHibi is play it in English and then in Japanese to determine whether the differences are significant and make a decision on future works from there.

                  tl;dr Reading in English means a better experience overall for me right now.

  2. I’ve heard so much about this game, dammit.
    Unrewarded exploring is the worst though. Sounds awful. I guess I wanted to play it but now it sounds even harder to me; shooters aren’t really my department. I prefer turn based games 😛

    I mean, I’m sure The Last of Us is a great game, especially this story I’ve already been spoiled a lot of, and I’m sure I’d enjoy it. I just literally cannot aim. Hah. Also zombies scare me to death.

    • Silvachief says:

      Yeah, while it’s fun to play it has definitely been overhyped. Naughty Dog played its advertising cards well. If you’re not good at aiming then you won’t like TLoU’s system anyway; even I took a while to get used to it because of how unforgiving it is.

      If you’re interested in the story, though, a friend of mine recently finished watching a youtube playthrough and enjoyed it, so that’s an option you might be interested in.

  3. Lazarinth says:

    As someone who watched it as a movie rather than play it as a game I would probably give it an 8, so I guess the .5 makes up for the immersion of being involved. Still, would make a pretty good movie.

    • Silvachief says:

      My issue with The Last of Us as a movie is that it does practically nothing new. Instead of treading new ground it stomps all over old stuff and that quality is what makes it successful in a gaming setting. I think Naughty Dog would be hard-pressed to fit all of that into a movie form that doesn’t seem stale or generic. Of course, they’d have a rabid fan base to purchase all the tickets, so…

      • Lazarinth says:

        But you posited the same argument for games which you countered with it being done well through its writing. Maybe in the premise, sure, but it’d be hard to point me to a film that follows exactly that plot. To be honest it wouldn’t be very hard to turn the game itself into an animated film or series simply by creating non-game transitions between the cutscenes. it pretty much flows like that already.

        • Silvachief says:

          For some reason I feel like the movie scene would be a lot more critical of the zombie setting than the game industry was. Whereas The Last of Us as it is has fantastic visual quality and feeling of involvement to spice up its concept, those features wouldn’t cross over into movie territory (I mean, zombie movies with great CG are reasonably common). It would lose even more of the novelty that made it stand out on console. Making it into a movie wouldn’t be too difficult…making it into a good and unique movie? I dunno.

  4. Kai says:

    I had heard how good Last of Us is, mostly with the characters and the story, and what you said in the review seems to be evidence of the praise. I still need to find a good deal for the PS3 copy, but one of these days, I hope I can find some time for this.

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