The Last of Us
I thought long and hard as to whether I wanted to write up a review of The Last of Us. I had purchased the game on release day and finished it within a week. Invested a lot of time in the game, and felt a bit uneasy writing about it. Maybe it’s because there’s already been so much written about the game that I wouldn’t have anything more to add, but to be fair I can’t say that a lot of reviews have reflected my thoughts accurately. The Last of Us has been adorned with near universal praise. Some people have already declared it game of the year for 2013, with some going as far as calling it the best game of this console generation. Personally, I find that to be preposterous. It may make my top 5 of 2013 list, but there’s still 5 months left to play games, and two new consoles that have yet to be released this year.
I guess you could say I’m not as impressed with the game as everyone else. I haven’t been caught in the frenzy whipped up by various gaming sites. To me, the Last of Us isn’t even Naughty Dog’s best game. I reserve that for Uncharted 2. But don’t let me skepticism detract from the game. It’s still a decent game, and a lot better than many games released before it. For me, and I’m the one writing this thing, it’s just a decent game. An overhyped decent game.
The Last Of Us isn’t your typical zombie game. Id’ go as far as to say that it’s not a game about zombies at all. It’s a survival horror game about infected people. The game starts off on the eve of a massive infection ripping through the United States. A mysterious contagion, which turns out to be a fungus found in nature, has begun to turn humans into rabid monstrous killers. The story quickly moves from a serene household to a fast paced race to escape town. This leads to Joel, one of the games main characters, to experience a traumatic event. The loss of his daughter, something that will haunt him for years to come.
In the twenty years that follow, much of civilization is destroyed by the infection, with pockets of survivors living in either heavily-policed quarantine zones, independent settlements, or nomadic groups. Joel, now older and looking a bit gruff, lives in a quarantine zone in Boston. He works as a smuggler alongside his friend Tess. Unfortunately for the survivors there’s not much to live for. The quarantine zones are dilapidated and offer little luxury. To make matters worse the military is in control and rule with an iron fist, limiting freedoms, food and supplies. This leads Joel and Tess to go on a mission to recover a stolen weapons cache, but instead it turned into something much greater. Something that would impact their lives forever.
After a mission that’s gone wrong, Tess and Joel are entrusted with the safety of Ellen, err I mean Ellie, a smart-mouthed 14-year-old girl who’s immune to the infection and a possible host for a cure. It just so happens that Ellie looks a lot like Ellen Page (and it’s something that didn’t escape her either, apparently she was none too pleased by this). The two friends are asked to escort her by Marlene to a research facility run by the Fireflies, a rebel group fighting against the authorities governing the quarantine zones, with hopes of creating a cure that could bring some semblance of normalcy back to the world. Marlene is the local leader of the Fireflies group located in and around Boston.
The trio fight their way out of the quarantine zone to the drop-off point, but find that the Fireflies they were supposed to rendezvous with there have been killed. Tess reveals she was bitten during an encounter with the infected, and chooses to sacrifice herself against approaching military soldiers to give the pair a chance to escape, believing in Ellie’s importance as a cure. Now it’s just Joel and Ellie, and it’s clear that Ellie reminds Joel of his long lost daughter. There’s a bit of friction between the two, but it’s also evident that Joel will do almost anything to protect her as they make their way cross-country to the Fireflies hospital camp in Colorado.
Joel and Ellie trek westwards across the country, stopping in places like Pittsburgh and other small towns, all the while battling infected and violent bandits. In Pittsburgh they come across two brothers, Sam and Henry, who were supposed to meet up with some other people. Unfortunately for them their friends were killed by the local bandits, so the four them team up to make it out of Pittsburgh to a suburb that has a powerful antenna, where they will try to contact other people and hopefully the Fireflies. Right off the bat the brothers reminded me of Morgan and Duane from the Walking Dead. Instead of a father and son, we had an older brother and his much younger sibling. Sadly, the young Sam became infected, forcing Henry to shoot his little brother. This was something that was too much to bear, so Henry turned the gun on himself. What was four now was two. So queue cut scene and fast forward a couple months.
By this time you’ve invested hours into the game, and I do mean hours. Just when you feel that you’ve made progress you realize that there’s a lot more to do. It was rather deflating for me realizing that the past 10 hours I put into the game wasn’t even the half way point. To make matters worse, a lot of it was repetitive. Sneak around, kill the bad guys and infected, solve a puzzle and move to the next point where you do the exact same thing. The enemies didn’t try anything new after the first time I encountered them, it was the same old attack plans. This was my biggest gripe with the game.
Now, moving on… Joel and Ellie managed to make it across half the country to Wyoming, where Joel’s brother Tommy was living. Tommy, who happened to be an ex-Firefly, has assembled a fortified settlement near a hydroelectric dam. Joel contemplates leaving Ellie with Tommy, but after repelling bandits and Ellie finally learning the truth behind his gruffness, he ultimately decides to continue on with her. Tommy directs them to a Firefly encampment at the University of Eastern Colorado. The two find the place abandoned, but learn that the Fireflies had moved to a hospital in Salt Lake City (just when you think you’re out they pull you back in). While there they’re attacked by local bandits as they leave and Joel is severely wounded during the escape.
Now it’s winter time and Joel is still recuperating, with Ellie having found shelter in the mountains of Colorado. Joel is on the brink of death and relies on Ellie to care for him. After killing a large deer while hunting, Ellie encounters David and James, a pair of scavengers willing to trade medicine in exchange for the meat. While James goes to recover the medicine, Ellie and David are attacked by a horde of infected, but manage to fend them off. Afterwards, David reveals that the bandits Ellie and Joel killed at the university were part of his group; he allows Ellie to leave with the medicine, but he makes sure that she’s fo
llowed. This causes a sequence of Ellie leading the posse away from Joel, and in turn causes her to get caught by David and his group. Ellie learns that David and his men are cannibals and escapes after refusing to join them, but David eventually corners her in a burning restaurant. Meanwhile, Joel recovers from his fever and sets out to find Ellie, fighting through David’s gang to the restaurant. He reaches Ellie as she violently kills David in self-defense; Joel consoles her before they flee together.
Now we fast forward to spring, where Joel and Ellie arrive in Salt Lake City. They make their way through the flooded highway tunnels but are caught in the rapids, with Joel barely rescuing Ellie from drowning. A patrol of Fireflies capture them and Joel awakens in the hospital and is greeted by Marlene. She informs him that Ellie is being prepped for surgery, unbeknownst to Joel the cure requires them remove and examine Ellie’s infected brain, killing her in the process. Joel is not happy about this and finds it totally unacceptable so he decides that he must free Ellie. He battles his way to the surgery room, killing a lot of Fireflies and a few doctors along the way. When he makes it to the surgery room he finds an unconscious Ellie and he carries her to the basement parking garage. There he confronts and kills Marlene to prevent the Fireflies from pursuing them.
On the drive out of the city Ellie awakens, Joel lies to her about what happened, telling her that the Fireflies had tried and failed to produce a cure with other immune candidates and had given up trying. The pair arrive on the outskirts of Tommy’s settlement in Wyoming. Ellie expresses her survivor’s guilt and asks Joel to swear that his story about the Fireflies is true; he does without any remorse. Cue credits. Yes, that’s how it ends. I suppose one could make the assumption that they live out their days in Tommy’s settlement in Wyoming, or you could go the opposite route and assume that the settlement was overran by infected and Joel and Ellie continue life on the run. The ending allows you to come up with your own ideas, and personally I went with the life on the run ending. With the hope that Ellie gets shot in the head. Hey, what can I say.
Now you must be saying, why does this game sound bad. It sounds like an emotional tale that will pull at your heart strings and make you really care for the characters. Well maybe I’m cold hearted, or I’m emotionally devoid. Or it could just be that I found it to be just your average story. I know the story has received heaps of praise, but in all honesty there’s nothing new to the story. It’s all be done before, it’s clichéd and rather dull at parts. And like the gameplay, it’s repetitive at parts. There are four main parts of the story, the death of Joel’s daughter, the death of Henry and Sam, the capture of Ellie by the raiders and the ending. In between these parts it was filled with scenes we’ve seen told elsewhere, and in some cases much better. To me the story was a blend of the Walking Dead, Alone in the Dark, and various comic books. I didn’t cry or sob like others have mentioned, nothing made me feel bad for the characters. I just don’t understand all the hype.
Another reason I didn’t enjoy the game as much as I hoped was the extreme repetitiveness. Sneak around, kill, repeat. Whether it’s humans or the infected, you’re doing the same exact thing. And to make matters worse the enemy a.i. is mediocre. The movements of the humans and infected become extremely predictable, to the point of taking the fun out of the game. Couple that with the terrible companion a.i. and you’re left wondering if Naughty Dog put any effort into the game besides the story and visuals.
Terrible companion a.i. you might be asking? Absolutely! Far too often Ellie would wander off or run out of hiding exposing herself to the infected or other humans, only problem was that it didn’t effect the game. You’d have Ellie run into an infected and it would be as if it never happened, it would never trigger alertness from the enemy. It’s as if she remained in hiding. And far too often the companion a.i. would never help when you’d actually need it. At a few points I was being attacked by numerous soldiers and Ellie literally ran circles around Joel while he was fighting, never helping out, simply running around in circles. Frustrating to say the least.
The design of the various puzzles through out the game also leaves much to be desired. They’re basic exercises in moving objects and activating switches, generators and doors to advance. They’re rudimentary at best. To make matters worse on the levels containing water, where Joel would have to swim, you’re faced with the fact that Ellie can’t swim to save her life so she’s dependent on Joel to get across water obstacles. Fear not though since apparently there are numerous wooden pallets that have survived the 20 years since the infection took over. The pallets are all conveniently located near all the water puzzles. Repetitiveness does not begin to describe how tediously annoying it got.
The other thing that bothered me, but I should have expected since it’s a Naughty Dog game is the aiming system. It’s just as bad as the first Uncharted was. Couple all these things together and you’re left feeling frustrated after endless hours.
Still, despite my complaints there are things I actually like about the game. The art design in The Last Of Us is probably the best I’ve seen in a video game to date. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, the characters are well developed and look great. Naughty Dog has always been able to get a lot out of the PS3 system, but this game seems to take the cake. From the run down Boston, and the abandoned Pittsburgh to the beautiful lush forests, with colorful sunsets. Sometimes you just need to stop and take a look around, it was that gorgeous.
One thing I particularly enjoyed was the fact that Joel can’t take much damage before dying and his health doesn’t regenerate. Resources require judicious use as it could be a while before you come across some more health packs or ammunition. Buying time to heal doesn’t work in The Last of Us. Joel can’t regenerate health by simply staying out of trouble, he need a health pack or some food in order to do so. This can create some instances of frustrating trial-and-error but they don’t feel insurmountable or game-breaking. And this is from playing the game on normal.
I also like how Joel is equipped with a listening mode which looks like sonar vision straight out of the Splinter Cell series. It has a limited, upgrade-able range, and will slow Joel down to a crawl when used, but it’s feature is a welcome one. Especially when you’re trying to sneak around l
arge parts of the game, and avoid contact with enemies. The tool becomes indispensable later on as set pieces routinely open Joel up for blind spots.
If there’s one thing Naughty Dog excels at is getting good voice actors, and this time it’s no different. Troy Baker voiced and performed the motion captured for Joel, while Ashley Johnson performed the same for Ellie. Both did an excellent job bringing their characters to life. You could hear Joel’s self-pity come through, hear his regrets and his frustrations. Ellie’s naivety came across in Johnson’s performance. It’s nice to see Naughty Dog continue their good track in this regard.
There is an online multiplayer mode to The Last of Us, but I’ll be honest I didn’t play it. I just traded the game in when it was over.
Overall, as you can probably imagine I wasn’t all that impressed with The Last of Us. I don’t rank it as best game of the year, which to me is absurd considering we have a long way to go until the end of the year, and I absolutely wouldn’t rank it as the best game of this console generation. Heck, I wouldn’t even rank this as Naughty Dogs best game ever, that I reserve for Uncharted 2. Yet despite my negativity for the game I wouldn’t say that this game is trash, or even bad. Perhaps a bit of my disdain is spurned by the unrelenting praise for this game. The over the top hyperbole that’s been leveled at this game from day one. Maybe I’m just forming a bit of backlash against it. I enjoyed it for what it was, and it was a good game. I’d recommend it to people, but I’d put the caveat of don’t fall for the hype with it.
The Last of Us is a good game. It’s not the best game of this generation, and it’s not the game of the year. But that shouldn’t stop you from playing it. Simply enjoy it for what it is.