It has been a few years since I wrote a review, although never on these forums. Didn't realize there were already a couple posted, but guess it doesn't matter. So here it is.....
The Last of Us
The survival horror genre has been well-populated throughout the PlayStation life-time. Yet another title featuring zombies/infected wiping out the majority of the planet's population would typically only start a buzz among the most die-hard fans of the genus. That is, of course, unless the game is made by Naughty Dog. Then the hype becomes a near equivalent to J.J. Abrams announced as the director of a new Star Trek/Wars film. At least in the gaming world anyway. LIke Abrams, Naughty Dog's reputation precedes them and the survival horror genre is the benefactor in their latest creation.
We are introduced to Joel, a hard working contractor, and his daughter late at night on Joel's birthday. This brief introduction to their modest yet seemingly happy home is soon cut short as we are shown glimpses of the approaching apocalypse in its infancy from the eyes of the daughter, followed by a desperate attempt to escape from the mayhem, and, finally, a tragic ending to the prologue. The story continues twenty years later with a world consumed by infected humans with zombie-like desires for human flesh. We are reintroduced to Joel as an understandably hardened man working as a smuggler in what remains of one sect of civilization in a martially controlled city. The opening scenes and gameplay serve two purposes First, as a tutorial and, secondly, a vehicle for bringing Joel together with Ellie, a fourteen year old girl who has developed an immunity to the infection ravaging the world and possibly holds the key within her to a vaccine. Joel reluctantly becomes Ellie's guardian, along with his cohort Tess, and so their journey begins. Their relationship, in the beginning, is purely a business transaction. Joel makes it clear that he doesn't care about Ellie, he only wants to finish the job. Even after he learns her secret, he doubts his decision to escort her. Despite his reservations, Joel honors the agreement and he and Ellie are put on a path that is wrought with enemies in the form of the infected, military soldiers, and the occasional band of bandits.
Joel starts with a simple pistol for defense and the other weapons used throughout the game are, for the most part, simple variants of revolvers, shotguns, and the rare assault rifle. Complementing these are the rudimentary molotov and a make-shift frag bomb. In each encounter with enemies, a decision must be made to either employ these weapons or simply find a way to sneak past. Aiding Joel in sneaking is his, apparently, acute sense of hearing that reveals the positions and movements of enemies to the gamer. The effect is nearly a super-hero spidey-sense type of ability that is obviously implausible, but also effective in making the gameplay more enjoyable. It is possible to clear an entire level of enemies simply by cowering behind various obstacles in order to sneak up to an unsuspecting enemy and strangle them or shoving a shiv, a knife made from items scavenged along the way, into the foe's neck. The gamer who favors a gun-blazing approach will find that this is rarely practical as ammunition is often in short supply, but shooting is still a very large part of the game.
Scavenging is the life-blood of the gameplay in The Last of Us. Aside from ammo, supplies are needed to build medkits, the previously mentioned bombs and shivs, as well as items to upgrade weapons. The harder the difficulty setting of the game, the harder it is to find these items. The difficulty is at such a level that the designers felt necessary to award a trophy to those who reach full capacity. These items are sometimes found laying around in plain view but gamers will find themselves desperately searching lockers and drawers and often times finding nothing. This can be challenging but adds to the sense of realism in the game if not playing on the Easy setting.
The game is not solely fighting off enemies, however. Traveling through a city twisted by decay or a town with multiple barriers form a maze of sorts for the gamer to navigate. At times, an object must be found to cross a distance or climb to a higher level. Conveniently, ladders, movable dumpsters, or wooden planks are easily discovered with a little bit of searching. This obviously wasn't designed to be difficult and it is not displeasurable. These mechanics break up the action and provide some much-needed pacing to what would be an otherwise exhausting game. It also provides an opportunity to search and replenish supplies.
The story itself also provides a appropriate number of cutscenes to develop the characters. As with all Naughty Dog games, the animation is pure acting complimented with the very best voices. The emotions of the characters are clear and often a simple glance, pause, or gesture speaks more loudly than if they had uttered the words. Actual dialog is meaningful with a grand amount of restraint. With such professional attention to theatrics, we are able to see the conflict within Joel and his mind screaming to abandon Ellie while something keeps him with her. Ellie's face is full of worry and her shock in her first ventures outside the militarized city are apparent. Even the secondary characters reach an artistic level as if they had actually auditioned for the part. In The Last of Us, the game's creators have spawned virtual actors with talents rarely seen in gaming.
Ellie's story is as a reluctant messiah. Marked for death like all others bitten by the infected, she carries around a mere blemish on her arm. This frightens her and she hides it from others, but she is not a coward. She knows her purpose and means to see it to the end. Ellie occasionally reaches out to Joel to make an emotional connection, but his heart is stunted and her attempts are turned away. Joel would rather travel in silence and focus on the task. Ellie, being the stubborn teen, ignores his brooding. The interaction between them is progressive, however. Joel stays by Ellie's side longer and traveling much further than one would ever imagine based on his early protests. Joel changes. Ellie is consistent. Her persistence evokes emotions in Joel and connects with his instincts as a father even as he subconsciously tries to deny himself. The juxtaposition of Joel and Ellie provide a brilliant paring and what could be considered one of the best character duos in gaming.
Naughty Dog's The Last of Us does not depart from the cinematic formula that made Uncharted such an amazing series. It retains the same style of art direction, the same superb voice acting, phenomenal graphics, and many of the same gameplay mechanics. Naughty Dog delivers superior execution on these aspects, but they have become second hat for Naughty Dog and expected by their fans. These are not the stars of The Last of Us. The brilliance of the game lies in a shift from the norm in character, plot, and emotional effectivity. In short, it is the theatrical that towers over the cinematic and game play despite their lofty levels of excellence. Joel and Ellie's trek through apocalypse is an emotional quest as much as it is one of survival. Joel runs the gambit from father to unaffected smuggler to protector and finally, back to father. Joel's transformation comes to odds with Ellie's entire purpose and the game's primary goal of, essentially, saving the world. The story of The Last of Us will leave many a gamer thoughtful, possibly disturbed, but, somehow, not discontented. The power of the game's ending is not in what is said, but in what it is not said. The story is complete, but not resolved. The Last of Us is conflicting and powerful. Through subtle dialog, unparalleled animation, and wise restraint in storytelling, Naughty Dog has created a masterpiece that transcends itself as a game and makes its mark as a work of art.
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[Playstation 3] The Last of Us review (potential spoilers)
Last edited by Christopher; 09-02-2013 at 23:39.
StevenW likes this post
Woot woot! Love seeing fresh blood doing some writing! So thanks for that Lar...Christopher
And yeah...the more the merrier. This game is so worthy to not only play, but to review. I thought they did a good job with pacing in regards to cutscenes...there was a lot of emotion and dialogue without bogging down too many minutes to get there. So well crafted. Anyways, your review is now indexed!
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Awesome. Thanks, Sir_Scud!
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