Review by DarkSymbiote

"The best Naughty Dog experience that struggles to break from the mould (Single Player review)"

For better or worse, zombies are very in right now. Whether it be comedy or horror, the zombie apocalypse genre has received a huge rise in popularity thanks to The Walking Dead. Now Naughty Dog has tackled on this recent craze to capitalise. Their other efforts of this generation may have been solid experiences but they did nothing to break the mould. After 5 years of development, Mark Davies, former lead designer of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, joining the team and massive hype, does The Last of Us defies genre telling the tale of two survivors' travels through the post-apocalyptic United States or does it fail to grow beyond the trappings of the style?

And get this, he's - a crazy man travelling with a little girl.

An infection is plaguing the world that turns humans to zombies. The majority of the population has turned, many have become bandits and others are restricted to quarantine zones designated by the military. Add to all of this, a certain group called The Fireflies have begun a rebellion of sorts against the army. It's standard post-apocalyptical zombie story that has already been told countless times. Your placed in the shoes of Joel, a man whose lost his family and his morals after 20 years in this abysmal state of a world. Coincidences lead him to escort a girl named Ellie across the country despite his reluctance.

The Last of Us is more about the characters and the bond between Joel and Ellie than the current problems with the world. As usual. The majority of the characters are expertly written and the dialogue is good, very good. Even though Joel and most of the others display uniqueness and thoughtful writing, Ellie doesn't generally go beyond the bratty teenager who curses all day long. She's intentionally obnoxious.

The world is a dangerous place and this game does it better than others. That said, it doesn't do anything to stand out from the multitude of others in the genre. The cause of the disaster is simply relegated to some random flyer in a truck that you can easily miss. It has more similarity to The Walking Dead than just the obvious. The pacing is done very well for such a long game but the resolution ends unsatisfactorily that makes the entire journey almost pointless. This kind of ending works well in movies and books but not so much in games.

Design and Gameplay

And second, they might still look like people, but that person is not there anymore.

Joel is your primary character. The game starts off with your typical linear, high-octane, AAA game entry and it's a slog for quite a while. Fear not as the game improves with eloquence slowly. The tutorials are fed well in the first few hours and at approximately 18 hours in length it's meaty experience. The game may feel like it's plodding along to some and that's really because of the classic "forced to walk slowly for no good reason". Indeed, this game is not for the younger audience or those who might want to get an immediate quick fix of action. A bit of patience and appreciation for the things around you is need to enjoy this expedition. Although the path to your objective is one way only, the environments are not totally linear. You can temporarily break off the path to scavenge for items and it's highly recommended to search as much as possible. Documents you'll find shed more light on the story and what makes these files better than other games is the character's sometimes comment on them. Other storytellers in games could learn a thing or two from this.

All of the gameplay is entirely in real time, even using your inventory through your backpack. You can, and basically have to, craft a fair number of different items including health kits and shivs. You have to scrounge around for the requirements though which is another reason why exploration is crucial. The way health is handled is a bit refreshing. It's neither regenerative nor instant. Joel can upgrade his health among other abilities through the use of pills of all things. You can't get callous with the way you use things though, it is a survival game after all. Maybe Capcom could take a hint. There is a lack of interactivity with the world though. Shoot at a TV and nothing happens. But the presence of varying context sensitive animations helps to engross you.

When it comes to taking down your enemies things are interesting. You can shoot your way through but if you're smart you'll focus on sneaking and conserve ammo till things become desperate. Foes are sometimes quick to flank your position. Equipping yourself properly gives you the edge but the hot buttons could have been better thought out. There's a certain feeling of tension when you're stealthily taking down enemies even in broad daylight. Unfortunately, this is the where the game suffers the most. The A.I., when not on alert, is downright stupid. Throw and brick or bottle to distract them and they'll gravitate towards the sound but they won't even bother to take note the of the direction the object was thrown from, even if it careens across in front of their face. Then we have their eyesight issues. Not only do they take a millennium to spot you down the hallway but they seem to be blind and deaf to your companions running around like morons and even touching them. It's as if they think "We aren't going to pay attention to them, no sir, only the bearded man with the stunning forehead deserves our attention." You might also loudly choke or stab someone to death while his friend next to you is busy staring at a wall. It would have helped if Ellie would stop saying "F***" every time an enemy falls. Turning on your flashlight nearby does nothing either unless the light directly falls on them. These problems are infuriatingly immersion breaking to say the least. When everything works though, it's immensely satisfying.

Added to traversal across the land is planks & ladders and ladders & planks. That's it. The game also could have used more enemy diversity and there is only pseudo-boss fight present. Without spoiling much, let's just say that the parts with Ellie are the more inferior portions of the game.

Something that should be mentioned is Naughty Dog's belief that we ae incapable of thought. The game tells you almost everything to do so it is highly encouraged to turn of hints and strategic tips from the options menu. Joel's superpower deserves a mention as well. The game says it's focusing on hearing but what kind of hearing let's you detect still enemies. Besides, the sound is actually distorted when you use this. You can turn in off but who would want to not take advantage? Finally, there is a good slew of unlockables post-game that you can buy through currency acquired by doing odd things. The rewards aren't that special though, they're skins not full fledged costumes. At least you get some neat filters for the appearance of the game.

Visulas

But, man... you can't deny that view.

The graphics are the highlights of The Last of Us. The best the generation has to offer. With actual darkness, not Hollywood darkness, deep facial features without overdoing it and some of them best shadows you'll ever see. Seriously, the shadows cast by moving foliage in the wind is striking and shows that Naughty Dog is a master when it comes to making a game look fantastic. Sometimes you just need to stand there, take it all in and look to the distance. It's awesome for the lack of a better term. The snow sticking to characters will surely impress. The game serves as a bridge to the next-generation as far as graphical fidelity is concerned.

But it's not perfect. The graphics can sometimes flicker, objects might pop in and some of the animals look abnormal. It seems the developers are a fan of the spotty lens effect, meaning the screen looks dirty and filled with spots for no reason. It's just poor to look at. The use of pre-rendered graphics for the majority of the cutscenes is questionable considering how fantastic the game looks on its own.

Audio

I need to talk to you.

The sound effects are fantastic and some of the best there is. The sound of raindrops, rivers and wind is beautiful but it's all ruined thanks to one simple but huge flaw: The firearms are too loud. So unless you want your eardrums blown out every time you shoot, you'll keep the SFX volume at 50%.

The score composed by two time Academy Award winner Gustavo Santaolalla is nothing impressive really. But some of the emotional moments get some good flavoured music and sneaking around with atmospheric music can feel energetic.

When it comes to voice acting, it's nearly perfect. Troy Baker's Joel is his best thus far and Nolan North's character is one of the best in the game thanks in part to the incredible emotion put forth by him. The direction for this voice should serve as a base for all voice directors regardless of the type of media.
Pros:

- Breathtaking visuals
- Brilliant voice acting
- The non-linearity

Cons:

- Atrocious immersion breaking A.I. design
- The story does nothing new and the ending tries too hard to be emotional
- Poor sound mixing

Final verdict

I just want some simple gear - enough to set me on my way.

The Last of Us is a game that is worth experiencing at least once. With its flaws it isn't really the best game ever, or even the best game of the generation and honestly, it lacks replay value. But what you will find here is not present in any other game.

Rating: 9.4


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/24/13

Game Release: The Last of Us (EU, 06/14/13)


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