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The Last of Us Review

Daniel Weissenberger's picture

At the Ragged Edge

The Last of Us Screenshot

HIGH Finally getting my hands on a weapon that can behead zombies. And then doing that.

LOW Spending twenty minutes trapped in an almost game-breaking bug.

WTF The whole ending. All of it.

A third-person shooter/stealth title, The Last of Us follows Joel and Ellie as they make their way through a post-apocalyptic America peppered with bandits, cannibals, and fungal zombies.

Interestingly, Naughty Dog combines stunning action setpieces with gorgeous art design, and then adds in one of the least likeable main characters in mainstream gaming history for good measure. It's a fascinating project that would have had the potential to be a generation highlight if it wasn't undermined by weak writing and questionable design decisions.

After an intense opening sequence set during the first hours of a zombpocalypse, The Last of Us settles into a slower pace as it attempts to depict what a terrible ordeal post-civilization cross-country travel would be. Once Joel (former bandit turned smuggler) meets Ellie (the only person immune to zombie infection) the game becomes entirely episodic, eliding over their journey for weeks and months at a time, only cutting back in just moments before gunplay starts.

This hyper-emphasis on action is one of the ways that the Last of Us hurts its own premise. The game never establishes a sense of the distance traveled, or how difficult survival would be. Gathering food isn't even an issue except for a brief (and intriguing) sequence that has the player foraging, but of course, things quickly turn prosaic as it's interrupted by yet another group of bandits.

Speaking of which, for a title set after a cataclysmic human die-off, there's no shortage of people running around. Every enemy the pair encounter has a few dozen friends in reserve, excited to leap into the breach and continue the fight after the first ten or fifteen guys have been brutally murdered.

The real tragedy of these decisions? The player never gets a chance to understand the world they've been tasked with helping save.

The Last of Us Screenshot

There are glimpses of people struggling in a militarized quarantine zone, and there's talk that a group called the 'fireflies' is opposed to the soldiers in charge. No information is ever offered about why the military's rule might not be an entirely positive one, or on what ideological grounds the fireflies oppose them. Other than a brief glimpse (from a great distance) at a small isolated city getting by just fine, nearly every person the player meets is a bloodthirsty murderer so committed to cruelty that they'll pursue it even against their own self-interest.

Did the developers not understand that players might be interested in how the world has reshaped itself? Or perhaps they wanted to keep the focus off of the implications of the player's actions. In any event, if Joel and Ellie had even a single vignette in which they solved a problem or met people without enemies turning up at the worst possible moment, it would have given players a much-needed look into the world they're exploring. It would have also made enemies showing up a little more surprising, rather than what they ended up with—setpieces that encourage players to tap their feet impatiently while waiting for the monsters which are inevitably going to come screaming out of the shadows.

Those monsters are quite an accomplishment of design, however. There's something inherently revolting about the fungal growths protruding from the heads and bodies of the game's zombies, and while the nature of the spore-based infection goes almost entirely unexplained, the devs make sure that they're so disgusting and threatening that players will have an instinctual fear of being near them.

This near-physical aversion makes the scenes of having to creep quietly through packs of them in abandoned buildings incredibly effective. The human foes are just as well-drawn. It's clear that an art team with an eye for detail did an exceptional job of making them look weathered and beaten down by their lives. Desperation drips from every pore of the human foes, easily selling the idea that they're as dangerous as any zombie.

Looking towards the mechanics, the shooting and physical combat that makes up the bulk of the running time is executed as beautifully as would be expected from the developers of Uncharted.

The stealth combat brings to mind an expertly-tuned modern version of Manhunt. Creeping around decrepit urban landscapes, distracting enemies with thrown bricks and then rushing up and slashing their throats is every bit as brutal as Rockstar's controversial PlayStation 2 masterpiece, and should satisfy gamers looking for visceral action at its most unpleasant.

Beyond choosing between sneaking up on enemies or engaging in all-out gunplay, the game offers a wealth of options to the player by way of a well-implemented crafting system.

The Last of Us Screenshot

Every area is peppered with a variety of components that can be collected to assemble a half-dozen different tools for use in combat. By keeping things simple and useful, they encourage players to use the appropriate tool when they stumble into a situation, rather than having a particularly neat tool that they have to contrive a situation to use.

Despite these accomplishments, there are a couple of major flaws in the game, one practical and the other aesthetic.

The practical one is patently ridiculous: human enemies can happily spend all day firing round after round at the player, yet almost never drop ammo when they die. It's an obvious attempt to generate pressure from ammo scarcity, but in the context of the game it makes no sense. This lack of ammo also creates a hilarious cognitive disconnect because in the many scenes where players kill hordes of zombies, it's rare to find a single infected without bullets, molotov cocktails, or a canister of flamethrower fuel (!!!) on their corpse.

The aesthetic issue is in regards to stealth, and is a more critical one from an immersion standpoint.

The problem here is that the developers were apparently unable to create smart partner AI that could take care of itself during sneaking sequences, and decided to "fix" the problem by turning off enemies' ability to see Joel's partner. Ellie can—and will—walk directly in front of and bump into enemies without them having the slightest reaction. If a fight starts they'll attack her, but so long as Joel doesn't trigger enemy awareness, they'll have no idea she exists, and it happens enough to suck the tension out of what should be the game's most nail-biting sequences.

The Last of Us is gorgeous and intermittently thrilling, but it's too bad that it doesn't have the courage to be the game that it could have been. Other than one single segment, the game never explores the possibilities of a post-human America, and the developers' need to constantly throw players into brutal fights leaves them without the chance to get to know the characters outside of cut-scenes.

This focus on action is a true shame—Naughty Dog made the daring decision to build a triple-A game around a genuine antihero, and then made everyone around him cartoonishly monstrous in the hopes that players would like him anyway. I'd say that the kind of story that The Last of Us wants to tell can't be done in a mainstream video game, but I Am Alive and the Metro series manage just fine. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that it can't be done in the kind of game that's expected to sell three million copies. Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the PS3. Exactly 16 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes, and the game was completed. Multiplayer modes were not sampled.

Parents: According to the ESRB this game contains blood and gore, sexual themes, strong language, intense violence. No. Just no. I wasn't kidding with the Manhunt comparisons above. This is one of the most violent games I've ever covered—and coming from the developers of the PG-rated Uncharted series, that's kind of a huge surprise. There's blood and body parts and actual onscreen cannibalism and more swearing than you'll hear in a GTA title. Weirdly there's no references to liquor or smoking, which seems a little strange, given the setting. The listed sexual themes are mild at best, and nothing to worry about—especially since the violence means you absolutely shouldn't be letting your kids play this anyways.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You're going to have some trouble here. Audio cues are vitally important for figuring out where your foes are—and while there's a "listen closely" mode that puts silhouettes onscreen representing nearby creatures making noise, you must slow your movement to a crawl in order to use it. On the upside, though, being hit will put an indicator onscreen letting you know where the attack is coming from, so that's a plus. All dialogue is subtitled.

Category Tags
Platform(s): PS3  
Developer(s): Naughty Dog  
Publisher: Sony  
Series: The Last of Us  
Genre(s): Stealth   Adventure/Explore   Horror  
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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***Disclaimer: The following

***Disclaimer: The following comment may contain spoilers***

Your 8/10 score seems at odds with the text review Dan, but other than that I concur with your points.

The gaping flaws that break any realistic atmosphere are varied in TLoU, from - as you said - enemies not dropping ammo (but dropping it for set-pieces), to ammo being conveniently placed before certain sections which subsequently alert you to impending danger (akin to waist-high cover populating a room). Tom Chick highlights another obvious absurdity: use of planks and ladders.

Of course, as with BioShock Infinite, or Mass Effect 2/3, reviewers' gushing for narrative overlook such things. In this case, at least, TLoU has a good narrative for my money. I agree with you that further context for the world would be better. I was extremely disappointed when we finally met the Fireflies, only to see yet more of the same mercenary grunts but with different armour. No humanity and no obvious political motivation; just more moving targets. And yes, like Uncharted 2/3, the sheer amount of enemies is a recurring flaw in Naughty Dog's works.

As a game TLoU is okay. As a story it is good. It would be preferable if most reviewers acknowledge both properly instead of only one (the latter, in most cases), but that is wishful thinking. Even Jim Sterling lost his credibility with this one, though he has also proclaimed similarly stupid things with Killzone 3.

For what it's worth, I would also give it an 8/10. Just.

Jim Sterling's Credibility?

Why is a reviewer liking a game; drained of credibility because it doesn't align with your opinion? Don't get me wrong, I haven't played Last Of Us, so I'll reserve my judgment till then, but why is a critic of any sort liking a game/film/movie and explaining the reasons for doing so whilst overlooking flaws that were otherwise outweighed by (hopefully) good articulation, less credible than someone who did not like the game and gave equally valid reasons to do so?

...

I couldn't disagree more with this review. I wouldn't care except that your erroneous opinions might dissuade people from experiencing this wonderful game.

1) "Bad writing." What bad writing? This is one of the most beautiful, touching stories I've seen in a video game. The writing, mixed with the voice acting and character animation, are some of the games strongest points.

2) "There's no evidence that the military presence isn't a positive one." Did you miss the part where people aren't getting their food rations, are eating rats to survive, and are violently rebelling in the military zones? Most of them across the country have been abandoned.

3) "Enemies don't drop ammo, even though they clearly have ammo." Much of what you said can be replied to with this: It's a video game! If you had too much ammo, the game wouldn't be fun.

4) "The enemies are unable to see your teammates." Again, it's a video game, dude. How many games are ruined because your friendly AI is a complete numbskull always being spotted by the enemy? Or constantly on the verge of dying, causing you frustrating game overs? I applaud Naughty Dog for leaving those elements out of the game- now I can focus on killing the enemies and I don't need to worry about shoddy AI.

5) "Developers constantly throw the player into brutal fights." What was the player supposed to do besides fight? Were you expecting an Oregon Trail, hunt for buffalo adventure? Even within the game the fighting makes sense, considering the dismal state of humanity following the zombie apocalypse.

It's easy to see how the world reshaped itself, but you need to look around. Glance at the abandoned cars, the vandalized houses, the grimy conditions in which people have been forced to live. Read the files detailing endless human suffering at all stages of the outbreak. The environment alone tells a rich story.

But the main narrative- the story of Elly and Joel, is the true bright spot of this game, something you hardly commented on. Joel is a conflicted, morally questionable character, but his story is not so black and white as to paint him an anti-hero. In his shoes, many people would do the same. And without spoiling anything, I found him to be quite noble once the ending credits rolled.

Because the whole process of

Because the whole process of being a critic is to be impartial and to review content based on high standards. Why would I give a crap what some average gamer fan thinks of a game (which is essentially what 90+% of gaming reviews are, by the way)? I can ask my friends for that. I want an intelligent and critical assessment of a game from an objective critic. Sterling (among others) does not evidence enough of these feats for his TLoU review. He is wearing rose-tinted glasses, and this is a common problem within gaming media.

If we are to accept this process - that a reviewer's opinion is valid even if they ignore flaws - then pretty much all games might as well be 10/10. Already, sites like Eurogamer have completely devalued a prestigious review and score by giving tripe like Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood* et al stupidly high praise and review scores. When a genuinely superb game gets a high score it is immediately devalued by the amount of mediocre games that are deemed as equal in quality. It is, quite frankly, absurd and embarrassing. I'm embarrassed to be a gamer when I consider how poor the gaming media is.

Basically, the comments section for Tom Chick's review typify everything you need to know about this debate.

*And if you can honestly accept that anyone can justify the merits outweighing the flaws in that game then I may as well throw myself off a very high cliff.

What difficulty were you

What difficulty were you playing on? Playing on hard from the start, I've noticed hardly any ammo drops by the infected, and supplies seem scarce even before the set piece battles. I partially agree with your comment about enemies not spotting the AI characters, but it didn't detract from the game for me. I'd rather that than have Ellie constantly ruining the game by getting spotted. Other then this quirk, which I think is probably the best compromise between realism and frustration when dealing with AI characters, I thought the AI characters handled themselves very well.

rose tinted? That's irony jim sterling is preaching.

"(which is essentially what 90+% of gaming reviews are, by the way)?" And therein lies the problem. The assumption that all critics bar a select few are shite. How is any part of of being impartial and reviewing content on high standards have anything to do with rating a game an arbitrary score higher or lower because it doesn't align with what you feel the game deserves?

Scores are meaningless if said critic does not have a good critical analysis to back it up. Also, there is no such thing as an objective critic (Moderator's Note: No insults please). Games are reviewed subjectively with different interpretations on different mechanics. We're not talking about cars or washing machines here. God forbid the day someone objectively reviews a game's aesthetics.

Also yes, critics ignore flaws. Every person in the world ignores flaws. No one game is perfect. If that was the case, all games would begin with a 0/10 until the reviewer feels the experience he has had with the game outweighs the negatives.*

Also complaining about Eurogamer giving high scores to games that you think are tripe is as about as pointless you thinking that destroys their 'prestige' or their 'credibility'. Obviously they don't feel the game is tripe if they've explained it well enough.
You bring up Tom Chick, but you fail to mention that this guy thought Kane and Lynch 2 was good, a game hated by many critics and loved by few. Why is he exempt from your criteria of prestige and credibility when he, for perfectly valid reasons dislikes Last of us when he like games like Kane and Lynch 2? Hell, he even liked Assassin's Creed Brotherhood and thought that game was excellent.

Comments section of a critical analysis of any game is bound to full of morons, that is universally known. Look at the comments section in 'Errant Signal's Half-life critical analysis' as well as the amount of dislikes he got for trying to break down a game critically and then ends up getting death threats for daring to insult that game. What that simply means is that the said game is popular and has angry fanboys ready to kill anyone if they dare have a dissenting opinion.

*So yes, I can justify that anyone can accept the merits of a game which can outweigh the flaws in the game, so you might as well jump off a cliff.

@ Anonymous Firstly, I am

@ Anonymous

Firstly, I am not of the opinion that reviewer's views on games need to fall inline with my own in order to deem them credible. In fact, I am happy to admit that I love some games which are quite clearly not superbly designed and respect the fair criticism directed towards them. A good example is Deadly Premonition. I love that game, but am fully aware that it is not a particularly well designed videogame in terms of gameplay or aesthetics. I can fully concur with a reviewer scoring it a 5/10 (based on those reasons), for example.

As you may be inferring, I'm not so easily categorised as one of 'those' guys who hates on all that is popular, and supports any negativity. I genuinely like good writing and good critiquing; that is what I look for. I know videogames well enough to know what is likely good or not for me, so I look to reviews for further insightful and informed views. I don't feel that the majority of websites and publications are achieving this (compared to, say, film critics).

Is it so wrong to want better from reviewers?

Secondly, the 'no game could score a 10 by your definition' argument is nothing new. To me, a 10/10 game is a game that achieves the highest standard in gaming design with minimal flaws. Is this not the acknowledged way to assess a top rated game? What is? In any case, The Last of Us, in this instance, does not meet this criteria. It consists of obvious and various moderate to large flaws; the game is good, but the good does not outweigh the bad. That much is clear. We can debate the topic of objectivity and preference all you like, but there are certain limits that must be acknowledged in order to understand what a game can achieve in terms of praise and scores (within gaming media, that is).

Essentially, what I want is a review from someone who appreciates and understands game design; not from a general gamer. The distinction between these two, in terms of gaming media, is not at all clear. In films, it is. Rotten Tomatoes uses a very handy 'top critics' filter which helps stifle such distinctions.

Thirdly, I was not aware of Chick's love for Kane & Lynch 2, but this does not affect my respect (note: 'respect'; not 'agreement') with his TLoU review. Knowing this information makes me lose some respect for him - as Sterling's TLoU review did for him - but he seems to remain consistent enough for me to still admire at this stage (I still admire Sterling, by the way). But again, I never insinuated that reviewers like Chick were 'exempt' from my criticism. I just admire his consistency and critiquing higher than that of most other gaming journalists. It's the same with GC's own Brad Gallaway - I think he's talking complete nonsense about Mass Effect 1 being superb, but he is consistent enough with his critiquing that I find him a very informative, intelligent and reliable gaming reviewer. One of the best, in fact. I cannot, in good faith, say that about any number of reviewers from IGN, Gamespot, Edge, Eurogamer et al.

That is the core problem here: not enough good gaming writers.

Fourthly, I did not cite the comments section to Chick's review purely to highlight the fanboys. There is also plenty of support for Chick and the way he reviews. This is an area that is becoming continually heated as gamers become more and more disillusioned with the 'big' reviewing magazines/websites throwing out 10/10 reviews with little to no credible and critical justification. Look at the whole debacle over that dreadful PC Gamer review of Dragon Age II! (Again, for what it's worth, I actually don't mind DAII, but am aware enough to accept that it's an extremely flawed piece of gaming design.)

Ultimately, this topic is something which needs to be discussed and debated properly. The comments section of this obscure website (sorry GC, but it's true! =[ ) is not exactly the best arena for such lengthy discussions. I do appreciate and acknowledge your comments though, even if you seemingly intended to insult me (it would appear?). ;p

@ Joe

Your counter-arguments against Dan's review are feasible to an extent, but points 3 and 4 devalue everything you say. Naughty Dog ignoring ammo drops (or lack thereof) and silly AI because it makes a 'better game' is absurd. There are more effective ways to design a game to remove such flaws (or, at the very least, mask them with more conviction). There are no feasible design excuses for such obvious and stupid design flaws.

Remove points 3 and 4 and I respect your opinion. Add 3 and 4 and I begin to suspect you're deluded.

I've yet to play a game

I've yet to play a game where the friendly AI was smart enough to avoid being seen, avoid being constantly near death, make wise decisions, not waste ammo, etc. Sheva from Resident Evil 5 comes to mind as a glaring example. Some games perform some of tasks correctly, but never all of them. the Last of Us would just become frustrating if your computer AI wasn't "invisible."

I understand that it's immersion breaking for some, but you can nitpick any game like that. In Resident Evil you get bit by zombies 100 times and never become infected. In Dark Souls your character can't jump. In Left 4 Dead you can revive a character that was slashed to death by a mutant zombie.

The point is, the developers are trying to create a positive, fun experience- and realism doesn't always accomplish that. Would it be realistic if the enemies could spot Elly? Would it be realistic if item drops matched what the enemy was carrying? Yes and yes. Would it be more fun? No, not in my opinion.

P.S.- I apologize to the reviewer for the tone of my initial comment. Though I still disagree with you, I could have maintained a more polite tone while disagreeing. However I think this is a masterful game- not perfect by any means, but very very good- and I think your review really painted an unfair negative picture of it.

@Joe

Er...I take it you haven't actually played Dark Souls then? Your character can indeed jump. Run and tap the B button.

Sorry to be "that guy." I actually agree with your post overall. ;)

The first negative review of

The first negative review of this game and it gets 8/10. Go figure. Anyway, I think this review is incredibly invalid. I just played through it for the 5th time and will be playing more. Survivor mode was definitely difficult without the hearing ability.
I don't think this reviewer understood the game at all. He wanted Uncharted apparently. Don't get me wrong....I love the Uncharted games, but this was a masterpiece. If you haven't played TLoU yet, buy it now. I promise you wont regret it.

haha- you can't jump unless

haha- you can't jump unless you're running, my mistake 0:) I've played the hellll out of Dark Souls actually, so don't know what I was thinking

Surprisingly Good Multiplayer

I personally loved the single player. Thought it was the best of this generation. Didn't really even notice any of your criticisms while playing (and wouldn't have cared about such minor things anyway).

But what really surprised me was how much fun the multiplayer is. I'm usually not very into online gaming, but The Last of Us has me hooked. So different from typical the FPS and even Uncharted multiplayer. Though I do admit it seems tacked on (only 2 modes), this is one of the few multiplayers I have ever liked and could see myself playing for more than just a few hours.

What an excellent response.

What an excellent response. Kudos!

The storyline of The Last of

The storyline of The Last of Us is somewhat similar to Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road which is more focused on the protagonists' story and doesn't clearly explain what caused the apocalypse.

The game has also flaws of course but it's excellent execution in terms of gameplay and story overshadow them but yeah, it could have been better if these flaws are not in the game.

Although I have no problem with enemies dropping ammo as it requires me to make every shot count, I would've love to see Ellie react like Elizabeth in BiosShock Infinite.

I must admit, I'm a gamer who look more into the story than the graphics and gameplay, the fact that the game was able to get me emotionally attached to the characters, I could say that the game also shows that the gaming industry can be a good medium for writers considering that TLoU was able to bring something new to gamers in a seemingly crowded genere.

I admire Daniel Weissenberger's review of this game though despite of some disagreeable points as it gives me an idea of his criteria of a perfect game.

The Last of Us is an excellent game overall and I got hooked to it in its first 5 minutes. The multiplayer is cool and lets you link your Facebook account to the game so that the names and pictures of real people you have on your Facebook account,more about that here: http://www.cheatmasters.com/blog/2013/08/11/the-last-of-us-multiplayer-guide-2/

Indeed

The conveniently placed set-piece/danger section ammo you refer to is a trademark design rehash of ND. It occurs in all three Uncharted games, over, and over, and over, and over, and over. If you walk into an open space or large area and see guns or ammo just sitting there, you know with 500% certainty that 540 enemies are going to mindlessly throw themselves at you.

Like you said, recurring flaw.

This could have been a good game but what we got was Uncharted with zombies and more cutscenes. Yet the Sony fanboys will claim this is the best game ever and ND is the best developer in history.

Oh the laughs, I can't deal with it.

Huh?

I don't believe you know what anti-hero means. The very essence of an anti-hero is that they aren't black and white, they display traits and behaviors that go against the archetype of a clear cut hero/villain.

Ehhhh...

I fully understand your endorsement for Tom chick in pointing out legitimate criticisms in games like Dragon Age 2. Just like I'm glad Jim sterling points out valid criticisms in plenty of games (such as the recent Zelda game) as well but you can't say they are terrible critics for arbitrarily liking a game that you don't because that's subjective. Frankly, if a critic likes a game and can explain clearly why, they are an anything but a terrible games writer. I feel like the discussion has started to approach 'what makes a good games writer?' And frankly, I think anyone who can has their own unique voice in game criticism counts as a good games writer. (Basically anyone on Critical Distance) I don't like the Last of us personally but I don't think that Leigh Alexander is a terrible writer for posting a wonderful critical analysis of the game.

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