This post assumes you have played The Last of Us and may contain some spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Like previous Naughty Dog titles The Last of Us suffers from predictable gameplay and progression. Unlike Uncharted, however, it also suffers from the reuse of the same two puzzle mechanics over and over and over again. I'm not going to try to deny that The Last of Us has some of the most exceptional acting I've ever seen in a video game. It does. It also has some of the best graphics, sound design, animation, characters, and combat I have ever experienced. I think we can all agree that it is above and beyond what most games are and it has set the bar so incredibly high for production values that nobody will be vaulting over it for years to come.
Therein lies the problem. Sort of. The game itself isn't really all there. It feels sort of empty to me like something is just... missing. In between every beautiful cut scene there is a very visible formula at work, and I find that more often than not it takes away some of the games edge and tension. I always know what is coming. I do not fear death. I do not fear the enemies. This is where The Last of Us falls short. This is what I'd like to talk about.
Death is the single most important thing to a survival horror game. I wouldn't call The Last of Us "survival horror" but Wikipedia does, and so do a lot of gaming sites and reviews. Survival implies that death carries some weight. That you are trying your damnedest to survive in a harsh world. Though this may be the theme of the story, its far from the feeling conveyed when playing.
The problem here is checkpoints and autosaves. Should you fuck up and die you start over just before the conflict that wasted you, effectively losing... 5 minutes of gameplay? Maybe 10? There is no tension here. There is no reason to ever FEAR death. Worst case scenario you just start over no harm done. You don't lose anything except a couple of minutes.
Since death has no weight, it weakens the stealth aspect considerably. I am not scared of getting caught because I know I can just restart should anything go wrong. I am not scared of the stronger infected and their instant kills. I am not scared of being spotted by a group of bandits. This leaves only implied tension through characters comments, music, and your own belief in your ability to dispatch your would be dispatchers. Don't worry though. You can just try again.
I don't have any idea how this issue could be resolved but this game is no more survival than any other game in which you can be killed. I am fine with the checkpoints in general but I feel as though they are far too frequent.
I only have one problem with the combat and its that Joel is almost too much of a hard ass. Aside from early gun play (which is just incredible), Joel is a one man wrecking crew. He can get grabbed and hit with a pipe but for the most part you just beat the ever loving shit out of everyone by hammering on the square button. Combat requires very little finesse. Maybe this is not the case on higher difficulty but that is sort of a cop out in my opinion. At least you take a lot of damage when you get shot.
Everything else about the combat is stunningly perfect.
Notice that "puzzles" is in quotations. That is because "find a plank/ladder/floating palette" is not a puzzle and I don't know what else to call it. Less than half way through the game and I had already found 5+ planks/ladders and 3+ palettes. These always serve the same purpose and the characters always announce that you need one of them. Then, the object in question is never more than a few feet away so whats the point?
Aside from that you have generic push block puzzles where you move a dumpster or other large thing on wheels to a wall so you can climb over it. Now, I totally understand that this is NOT a puzzle game. We aren't running around ancient tombs trying to make fancy shadows on the wall to open a door of some kind. But there is a severe lack of variety and its rather annoying. Even Ellie complains about it at one point.
By far the worst part about the game is the overall predictability of the scenarios you encounter and the order in which you encounter them. If you just fought some infected your next encounter will be with humans and vice versa. If you just played through two combat sections, one with each enemy group, you will be given a little area of calm in which you are allowed to explore a bit. Generally these areas are ripe with materials and skill point pick ups. If you are being given a lot of materials you are being prepped for combat. Its just not very organic.
You can also safely assume when you are going to be dealing with humans soon based on the abundance of waist high objects in your immediate area. If its infected there are generally more choke points and no cover given that cover is useless when fighting infected. If you aren't sure if there is going to be a fight then you should take note of the number of bricks and bottles available. If there's a lot, shit is about to go down. Uncharted 3 is exactly the same way. Sneak into place, steal a thing, combat your way out. Repeat until the game is done.
The Last of Us is not a bad game in general but it has some pretty lame aspects. Is it a perfect game? Not at all. Does it deserve praise? Absolutely! But not necessarily the praise its currently getting. "The Citizen Kane of gaming" is pretty bold for something that would have been given 6-7/10 if it weren't from Naughty Dog and it didn't have outstanding production.
Its a game, and it should be reviewed as such. It has flaws in its gameplay, though nowhere else. Why 10/10 across the board? Couldn't tell you.