That said, the scarcity of ammo and the strength of the enemies, especially the infected Clickers, make for some wild sequences. Shivs become mandatory in not only stealth killing them but saving you from their insta-kill attacks. Runners are easier to deal with but are big trouble in packs and Bloaters need to be shot in specific areas to be killed efficiently. On Hard difficulty, I rarely had more than ten bullets for any gun at any given time and every missed shot was enough to make me wince. Even scavenging as much as I could there would be lengthy sequences in which I was missing a specific ingredient for a much needed shiv or med kit. Every combat situation seemed to dissolve into panic by the end of it. Only a couple of times was I able to successfully navigate a sequence without being spotted and it felt goddamn triumphant when it happened.
The game is broken up into seasons which take place during specific locations including my hometown of Pittsburgh (it looks pretty much like I left it, to be honest). Each section has it's own unique vibe to it, which keeps things from getting stale, and the games take care to break up the style of play, so you may find yourself on horseback or hunting deer to change things up. Much like the Uncharted games, though, when you see oddly placed cover, prepare to start shooting.
After a blockbuster sequence during winter, we move onto the real finale which feels oddly like anti-climax. And I'm fine with that. Actually, I was oddly tense and keyed up for the final section the game because I kept expecting the writers to go for the obvious and easy ending but they never did. After an occasionally frustrating fight against some armored enemies, everything gets wrapped up in an intriguing ambiguity. You don't have to worry about the game leaving an important questions unanswered but it does leave you with a final scene that allows you to draw your own conclusions.
As a game, Naughty Dog is still perfecting it's cinematic experience. They're still not quite there in terms of making everything perfectly seamless from a gameplay perspective but it is a very well told story, even if it hews very close to what we'd expect up until the end. It's certainly a step up from Uncharted 3, which fell a little bit too in love with it's own characters. As a capper for this generation of gaming, it's a fantastic send-off. It's uncompromisingly bleak and gorgeous to look at. If you're open to the experience, it will take an emotional toll on you. Here's to a new generation of games that hopefully follow suit.
SPOILER WARNING! Here's where I start talking specifics about what I thought of the story, so back out now if you haven't played yet!
Joel is a dick. He's the character you control through most of the game but, as I mentioned in the review, I never liked him. Understood him, but never liked him. The loss of his daughter, calcified by twenty years of murder and robbery, had made him into a hollow shell. It isn't until Utah that he feels comfortable enough with Ellie to joke with her (having the shared experience of killing people who want to eat them is a pretty good bonding experience, it turns out) but by then she's lost in a melancholy of her own.
What makes Joel's decision at the end, and our complicity in it, work is that we know that Ellie is more mature than just about every character in the game, so when the Fireflies decide to operate on her without her consent, they've essentially compromised themselves into being the villains. As much as Joel's decision is driven by selfishness, he's not wrong to do it.
The irony is that if Marlene had taken the time to talk to Ellie instead of treating her like a non-human, something she felt she likely had to do in order to make what she felt was the "right" decision, there's a good chance Ellie would have agreed to the surgery anyway.
Ellie's melancholy at the beginning of the Utah sequence, I thought, was originally just her coming to grips with the events in David's camp. Until she has that conversation with Joel about what he thinks the Fireflies need to do in order to get vaccine. Joel, re-energized and hopeful, dismisses it as just doing some tests and taking blood samples... but Ellie isn't convinced. I think she was preparing for the fact that she was going to have to sacrifice herself to save the world. And was trying to be okay with it.
Marlene isn't evil, she's just lost herself. She got the means and the ends all mixed up. She knew that there was no guarantee the surgery would provide a vaccine. She was willing to kill a child she was tasked to care for on the off chance it provided something useful. Ultimately, she was just using Ellie to her own ends. Joel is precisely the opposite. As much as he wants to save this child the way he couldn't save his own, he's also doing it for her benefit. That's what makes Joel's actions ultimately heroic to me.
I get the argument that he is essentially damning the world but I don't agree with that either. There's no supporting evidence for this, but I think Ellie isn't just a genetic aberration, she's the next stage in human evolution. There's no way of knowing how many kids born post-cordyceps have developed an immunity until they get bit. But the chances of surviving an attack with just a bite are slim let alone other people letting you stay alive long enough to prove you won't turn. And considering you have as much chance being killed by hunters or dying from starvation or disease, there's no telling how many kids being born are just like her. But that's all supposition.
Ellie is "The Last Of Us" because she represents everything that's still good about humanity. She's the only character who doesn't act from a place of selfishness. Joel is Joel. Tess is out for herself and only sees the light when it's too late. Marlene cares only for her mission. Bill is a solipsist. Sam puts everyone at risk by not telling anyone of his infection. Henry blames Joel and then kills himself because he can't take responsibility for himself. Ellie is the only character who remains true, even after her run in with David who is arguably the worst humanity has to offer.
Joel represents all the bad decisions, selfishness and shitty, violent impulses that were ingrained in Humanity Mark 1. Protecting Ellie from those who wanted to harm her, even if she was prepared to sacrifice herself had anyone bothered to ask, and then lying to her afterwards are proof of it. Joel is not a redeemable character but neither is he truly villainous, just sadly human.
The question at the last scene is, to me, can Ellie believe the lie? She says "okay" but there's nothing in her face that particularly sells it one way or the other. And if she can, what does that say about her? Has she had enough of being the Golden Child and wants to get on with what passes as a normal life? If so, is that okay given what she's capable of? (Personally, I don't think the lie is sustainable.) The fact that they switch Ellie to your control in the lead up is a nice touch too, making it more like Joel is lying directly to you. Not only do I like that they left it pretty ambiguous, I like that they had the balls to not go with the dramatic-strings-and-weepy-send-off ending. It's ultimately a very personal story.
Like I said in the review proper, I really liked the game despite some flaws. I just hope more people follow Naughty Dog's lead and make more story-driven games that don't revolve around easy, smug horseshit like Far Cry 3's whole "you're a terrible person for enjoying all this carnage we lovingly provided for you." This game is a great example of meaningful violence. I'm definitely interested in whatever Naughty Dog does next.