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.

Daniel Weissenberger

Daniel Weissenberger

What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?

Nothing relevant to this conversation, that's for sure! Because we're here to talk about (sorry, write and read about, respectively) GC_Danny, who's updating this profile for the first time in thirteen years!

So let's take a gander back at that time and see what's happened! In addition to writing hundreds of video game reviews, Dan produced a book that can be legally purchased by almost anyone! He also wrote two short films, two episodes of television, and two movies! Although, sadly, and through much fault of his own, the movies have yet to be released.

In addition to general game reviewing, he's also dabbled in more long-form work, writing some of the longest and most comprehensive game reviews of all time. Then there's his non-GameCritics blogging, where he's famous as the world's foremost expert on the TV show Criminal Minds, as well as the co-host of a weekly podcast!

If all that wasn't enough, just a few months ago he rebranded himself as 'The Hidden Object Guru', hoping to stake another claim of ultimate expertise, this time over a genre of casual games! Will he be successful? Only time will tell, but you're free to join the thrilling ride at his YouTube channel!
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17 Comments on "The Last of Us Review"

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Anonymous
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Anonymous
2 years 10 months ago
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… Read more »
grenadeh
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grenadeh
3 years 18 days ago

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.

grenadeh
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grenadeh
3 years 18 days ago
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… Read more »
Julio Smith
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Julio Smith
3 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
3 years 1 month ago

What an excellent response. Kudos!

Michael
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3 years 2 months ago
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… Read more »
Joe
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Joe
3 years 2 months ago

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

Anonymous
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Anonymous
3 years 3 months ago

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.

Lambonius
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Lambonius
3 years 3 months ago

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. 😉

Joe
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Joe
3 years 3 months ago
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… Read more »
Crofto
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Crofto
3 years 3 months ago
@ 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.… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
3 years 3 months ago
“(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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
3 years 3 months ago

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.

Crofto
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Crofto
3 years 3 months ago
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… Read more »
Joe
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Joe
3 years 3 months ago
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… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
3 years 3 months ago

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?

Crofto
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Crofto
3 years 3 months ago
***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… Read more »
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