Now that The Last of Us is settling in and people are enjoying it, I thought I would share my thoughts on my experience with the game. So here is my review from the Murfreesboro Pulse that I get to share with you all in advance in agreement with my boss.
I am really torn about The Last of Us. On one hand, it combines the best elements of many other great games: Farcry 3, The Batman Arkham games, Uncharted, and even the recently released Bioshock Infinite come to mind. It is a fantastic character driven tale of survival with incredibly satisfying gameplay. On the other hand, it damn near throws it all away with one of the most anti-climactic, emotionally detached, and torn endings I have had to grapple with. However, let us back it up and start from the beginning.
The Last of Us tells the story of Joel, a hardened veteran of 20 years of post-apocalyptic warfare against both zombies and human hunters. Mankind is devastated, the world has basically gone to hell, and frankly, it cannot get much bleaker. Enter Ellie, a 14 year old girl with a certain, gift shall we say, that needs to be taken across the country. As the tale unfolds, the two become very close, and you will enjoy every minute of it. It really is a tale of two against the world, and you will feel like you have earned whatever brief respite you get. Ellie is a surprisingly honed character and you will not only find her banter great, but her aid in battle both needed and just downright awesome. She really is the highlight of this game.
The gameplay is where the game shows a lot of shine, but also has a few rust marks. The game takes the successful, if at times clunky, Uncharted format with regards to both its mechanics and platforming, but infuses a much more stealth based, and VERY violent, emphasis. The game mixes stealth based combat with simple, but grounded platforming. It actually gives you a number of options to tackle a level. I managed to just run past my foes and make it to the exit. Huzzah! However, the most common, and frankly best, option is to carefully sneak around your foes and take them down one by one, using a combination of silent takedowns/kills, distractions, such as throwing bricks or bottles, and a ‘listening’ mechanic that allows you to hear your enemies’ movements so you can see where they are going, which borrows directly from the Arkham games. You can also concoct a couple of types of bombs as well as molotovs to burn your foes. You can also craft one hit kill additions to your melee weapons you pick up lying around as well as shivs to help break out of certain enemies’ grasps, or open doors you otherwise could not. A final thing you can craft is first aid kits which believe me, keep a full stack of at all times whenever possible. You can craft these items, as well as pick up various types of guns and ammo, from around the levels, and the game seriously encourages you to make the best of what you get. You can actually try to gun it out against your enemies, but the scarce resources, and the absurd durability of your foes make stealth the preferred option. The latter is the only major complaint I have about the combat, and is an irritant carried over from the Uncharted games. One blast of a revolver or shot gun to the face should be MORE than enough to take a regular bandit down, but you will find that is, frustratingly, not the case most of the time. A more minor compliant is how the guns handle when aiming. There is some tedious weapons sway and recoil, but thankfully these can be amended with the game’s leveling system. Picking up various pills, gear parts and tools, you have the ability to upgrade various stats such as reduced weapons sway, higher health, or gameplay advantages. Like your other resources, you will not be able to upgrade everything, so you best figure out what you like best and stick to maxing out those.
All this leads to some of the most intense and downright terrifying gameplay I have ever experienced. The game does a fantastic job of making it almost downright torture playing through each section, but unbelievably satisfying when you manage to survive. Never have I been so careful, so paranoid, and so scared to even move for fear of being discovered. There is also a great variety of levels and sections that really make for a very well-paced game. There was hardly a moment I was bored, or felt like something was dragged out longer than it should have been, and the game is always coming up with new and terrifying moments, some of which are etched into my brain.
It helps that The Last of Us is a gorgeous game. Yeah, it does not have the bells and whistles of modern day advanced graphics, but it manages to deliver a very pleasing aesthetic and design that reinforces the post-apocalyptic nature of the game. The soundtrack is also hauntingly effective and really adds to the anxiety of the confrontations as well as the emotions of the game’s sadder and quieter moments. The voice cast is exceptional, and lends real humanity and depth to their characters.
Alas, now we come to the disappointing ending. Now let me be clear, I really, really liked The Last of Us all the way up until the end, and after having some time to think about it and browsing through the internet for a sense of clarification and explanation, I GET this ending, I do. I can see what the writers and the directors intended, and I understand the arguments for it. However, here is the thing: I was completely emotionally detached from it. It is ironic considering that within the first ten minutes of The Last of Us I was hooked, creeped out, and crying, for the last ten minutes I felt nothing but emptiness and a lack of satisfaction. The whole last level feels almost hack-nyed, and kind of forced, especially after the excellent pacing I had mentioned earlier. In a way, it feels like this ending was concocted up precisely to generate talk and conversation, rather than it actually being fitting, because frankly, this ending does not fit, at least not for me.
Moving on from the single player, is The Last of Us’ multiplayer. While certainly not the draw of the game, it is admirable that it is not an afterthought either. The whole premise involves participating in matches in order to gain supplies to build and maintain your village. Win or lose, based on your performance, you gain supplies that grow and sustain your town. Granted, your villagers are represented as nothing more than moving dots on a map, but it does give you a sense of progress and in a fun feature, you can integrate your Facebook friends as villagers. It is actually quite amusing. As for the gameplay itself, it takes what you do in the campaign, and just adjusts it for multiplayer use. You have a selection of classes you can choose from, or create your own. You can buy equipment, ammo, and new weapons. On the map are various boxes with supplies for you craft bombs, molotovs, shivs, and other equipment. What is remarkable is how the campaign’s emphasis on stealth based combat translates surprisingly well here. If you are going to win, you need to be tactical and stealthy. I am frankly in awe at just how tense these matches can be, and from the time I have spent, which is admittedly, only a couple of hours so far, I see myself continuing to play for quite a while.
Suffice it to say, I was gearing up to name The Last of Us my favorite game of 2013 so far. However, that title still remains with Bioshock Infinite, another game with a talked about ending. The difference though, is that ending had my engagement, and my attention till the credits rolled (and after for those who stayed). I was done with The Last of Us by the time the last level sunk in. I still highly recommend The Last of Us, I really do, and hell, you will probably like the ending. If that is the case, more power to you.
(Note: I did encounter at least one game-breaking bug that prevented me from triggering an event. Restarting the encounter fixed it, so if you have problems, that should do the trick.)