Review by JerichoDarkstar
"Does This Look Infected?"
(The Last of Us Review)
Naughty Dog has taken a break from their best-selling Sony flagship series, Uncharted, to release a fantastic new IP that is sure to be worth your time. The Last of Us is a survival game that was designed around realism. From the combat all the way to the infected enemies, Naughty Dog tried to make everything as realistic as possible. Just because they took extra care to make it more lifelike does not mean they spared details for anything else. The whole game is a beautiful example of the prime talent at Naughty Dog. I am completely infected with an obsession for this game, and I just cannot bring myself to put it down.
-- STORY (10/10) --
I have to commend Naughty Dog for the exceptional plot. They could have taken the easy way out and wrote a Hollywood style tale. However, they took a risk and scripted a human experience that could become legend for PlayStation. In life, the hero does not always make the right decision and the villain is not so easily defined. While watching the tale unfold, you begin to question everyone's motives including your own. It is not a simple task to determine who is right and wrong because the definition of morality has all but vanished from a world ravaged for 20 years by an incurable disease.
Most characters are the product of years of pure surviving. They have been through a nightmare they cannot wake up from. The pandemic has changed their whole outlook on life, and the world does not function the way we see it today. No one really knows where their next meal will come from, if they will make it through the day, or if their closest friends will be the next victim of the monstrous curse.
Joel (voiced by Troy Baker) has merely existed for last 20 years. He has done what he must when he must to make it this far. The player can follow his entire story and feel they know what a true survivor is. He has lost friends from famine, war, the infection, and even betrayal. His progression is one of the more human experiences you will find in this generation's protagonists.
Ellie (voiced by Ashley Johnson) is only 14 years old. Obviously, she was born after the pandemic swept across the nation. She grew up in a quarantine zone and has virtually no idea of the outside world, let alone what life used to be like. However, she is one of the strongest willed characters throughout the game, second only to Joel (this can cause quite the tension between the two at times). Do not let Ellie's size and age fool you, she can take care of herself and sometimes even Joel. Whenever the two of you can take a break from fighting for your lives, Ellie will often question how life used to be. This offers up some interesting insight from Joel on the past and how it has changed the present. The dynamic progression of Joel, Ellie, and their relationship will entertain and enthrall the player throughout the game.
-- GRAPHICS (10/10) --
Only a few games of this generation have looked this intense, and even fewer can keep the realistic graphics similar when changing from CGI to in-game. CGI is always the better of the two, but Naughty Dog did a wonderful job keeping the in-game graphics on par with the CGI. It can be easy to lose focus with the gameplay to just admire the scenery. Every detail of the environment has been accounted for, and every drop of blood stained on Joel's face and clothes pierces the screen with realism. There are several little bonuses such as when Joel swims, his clothes change to a convincing wet texture and drip water. Every fiber of the game was taken into account, making the entire world look thoroughly enchanting. Because of the detail to graphics, the gore can be very fierce (which can be both good and bad depending on how you look at it). Thankfully, if you do not want all the bloody details, you can turn off the gore in the Options menu.
(This is something I truly do appreciate with developers. Just because it is a Mature game does not necessarily mean that all audiences will not be affected by the bloody carnage. I only wish they had a language censor as well for the audiences that prefer to avoid the cursing).
-- GAMEPLAY (9/10) --
It is understandable to assume The Last of Us is a third-person shooter, but I assure you it is nothing like Naughty Dog's Uncharted. If you have master skills with the Uncharted series, it will not help you here. Unlike Nathan Drake (protagonist of Uncharted), Joel cannot solve his dilemmas with a firefight. There just is not enough ammunition to do so. Your gun is simply another survival tool you use only when necessary. Joel must use whatever resources he can scrounge up. The Last of Us is the only game I have played where I could honestly say, Yes! I found a brick! Score! It is also the only game that after finding a pair of scissors or 3 bullets for my revolver I heard the Hallelujah chorus. The core of the gameplay is structured the same as the story, pure survival. Do not expect the easy way out of anything.
Crafting is one of the most engulfing aspects of the gameplay. Joel can employ what used to be common household items to make life-saving tools. Unfortunately for the player, a few of these tools require the some of the same materials to craft. For example, with a rag and alcohol, you can craft a Molotov (which is a fire bomb very effective at burning anything that breathes). On the other hand, a rag and alcohol can also craft a Med Kit to heal you. Suppose you are low on health with enemies surrounding you. You only have enough materials to make one of the two. Which do you craft? Making one over the other can be a hard decision. Do you fashion a Molotov and burn most of them away, or use a med kit to bring your health up for hand-to-hand combat? It all depends on how you play the game or what hand the game has dealt you.
A true survivor knows you have to keep as fit as possible if you want to keep breathing. Supplements (which come in the form of medicine bottles or plants) give you points to upgrade Joel's skills. A few include health bonuses, reduced gun sway, and faster crafting speed. While it is not necessary to upgrade your skills, it can make a problematic situation more bearable.
A good warrior does not just use his sight. He relies on all his senses, especially his hearing. Joel can focus his listening to hear enemies around the corner or behind cover. For the player, this means highlighted silhouettes of any nearby enemy on your screen. This silhouette can be seen even through walls and objects just as Joel could hear them at those locations. This way, you will never be afraid of what is around the corner if you focus your listening. If you feel that makes the game too easy, you can turn it off in the Options Menu. However, if you play the game on the hardest difficulty, you do not have that option at all. Listen Mode is taken away from you and you cannot rely on it to help you out of a tight situation.
This brings me to the difference in difficulty. Each time you increase your difficulty, the fewer supplies you have for crafting, the less ammo you find along the way, and the more enemies you run into. It's like turning the knob on the feeling of desperation. The harder the difficulty you choose, the more desperation you feel through every bone-chilling level you stumble through trying find the smallest amount of materials.
If you ever see an abandoned house, you better check it out. You never know what supplies were left behind when the family evacuated . . . or were infected. Every supply you find can be used to benefit you in some way. Whether it is a material used in crafting, a gun part used to upgrade your guns, or a supplement to increase Joel's skills, every last remnant of civilization you find will increase your chances of surviving this apocalypse. However, you should use caution. The people that were infected may still be in there, or you could run into a group of survivors that had the same idea and they don't like sharing.
Each encounter with a group of enemies is as unique as the person playing it. I've played through the game twice, once on Hard and once on Survivor. I never played through any encounter the same way. I also picked up new tricks from each encounter and play-through. So, while the story may be scripted, your approach to each situation is not.
Let's get to the types of enemies you are up against. You have human enemies and infected enemies. Humans break down into survivors and military. Both are basically the same in terms of how you approach killing them or sneaking away. You can strangle or subdue any human enemy. If you choose not to strangle your captive once you grab him, you can use him as a shield and a threat. His body will protect yours from bullets, or you can threaten to kill him and his friend might back off. I always use this situation to shoot his friend once he ceases fire, then turn around and kill my captive. It may sound cruel, but you do what you must to survive. This technique also reduces the chances of wasting a bullet by missing, which is equivalent to the feeling of losing a part of your soul. Should you want or need to sneak away, remember humans rely on sight more than sound. Concentrate on not being seen, but do not neglect to keep quite.
Now we get to the infected. There are 4 types of infected, each worse than the last. The longer a victim is exposed to the fungus, the greater affect the fungus has on the victim's body. I won't give away much because part of The Last of Us experience is not knowing exactly what to do with a new type of infected. I will talk just a little about the difference in Runners and Clickers since they are the most common type of infected. Partly due to their recent infection, Runners are a lot like humans . . . except for their unquenchable desire to bit into your flesh. However, you can sneak up behind a Runner and strangle him because he still retains most of his human-like attributes. However, Runners don't particularly care about one another, so using a body as a threat does not work here. Another thing to definitely keep in mind is that Runners can still see you. The infection has not taken away their eye-sight, so be careful. Should one see you, it's not the end. Runners can be fought in hand-to-hand combat, although it can be more challenging than a normal person.
Clickers have been infected for so long that the fungus is growing out of their face, making them completely blind. Don't think that you can just walk right past them, though. That will get you killed. You will have to crouch down and sneak by the best you can. Clickers have echolocation very similar to bats. If they are making a vocal/ clicking sound, they can easily find you if you are too close. If they are not clicking, your chance of sneaking by increases a lot. Definitely be sure not to make too much noise. Years of no sight has heightened their hearing to dangerous levels. This can be used to your advantage, though. Throwing a brick or bottle to another place in the room will attract their attention there, hopefully giving you enough time to avoid them altogether. (Remember, this technique also works with all types of infected and humans). If you have to take them out, Clickers are very tough due to the protection of the hardened fungus. I made the mistake of trying to sneak up and strangle one. It did not turn out well for Joel at all. If you have a shiv (a make-shift knife you can craft with a blade and bindings), you can stealth kill one by stabbing it in the throat. Other than that, it's either with bullets or a crafted weapon because hand-to-hand combat never works with Clickers. Not every enemy is handled the same way. Two types of infected can be taken by hand, two cannot, and all four are approached differently. I'll let the game surprise you with those details when you play it.
There are some technical issues with the gameplay. Clickers are supposed to be able to detect you with echolocation, but Joel can sneak right in front of them so long as he does not make any noise. This did bother me somewhat, although I did not notice it until my second time around. When you and your party are sneaking past a group of enemies, Joel has very limited space not within the line of sight of the enemies. However, his party can walk in front of and even bump into them without causing any commotion. Now, it's not that I'm upset that I did not get caught thanks to my party, but I wish Naughty Dog would have made the party's AI intelligent enough to stay out of enemy sight. Occasionally, a few other glitches will bug the player, but certainly nothing game-breaking or even really disruptive. Just be aware that glitches are here.
-- PLAYTIME/ REPLAYABILITY (9/10) --
The game has a tasteful average of 20 hours of gameplay. Not so little that you feel you wasted sixty bucks, and not so long you feel as though you will never finish. Just the right amount of time to experience the game, and just enough time withheld from the player to be left wanting more (either with DLC or a sequel).
If you are a Trophy Hog like me, you will have to beat the game a minimum of 3 times to get all the trophies. There is a trophy for completing the game on each difficulty, but these trophies stack. This means beating the game on Hard earns you the Easy, Normal, and Hard trophies. After beating it on Hard, you unlock the Survivor difficulty. Completing the game on any difficulty unlocks the plus version of that difficulty and any lower ones. With a New Game +, you get to start a new game with any weapon upgrades, skills, and collectibles you managed to round up from your last save file. This means 4 more difficulty trophies for the plus versions of the original. Remember, since the difficulty trophies stack, completing Survivor + will earn you all of the other plus difficulty trophies. (So, if you beat Hard, Survivor, and Survivor +, you will have cleared all of the difficulty trophies). Hopefully, you can pick up the other trophies for optional conversations and collectibles within two or three of these plays, but it could take more than that. Aside from the trophy earning, the story is so enthralling and the style of surviving each level can change so much, you won't have any disappointments if you want to pick up the game and play it again. Most likely, it won't be like your last play-through at all. Don't forget, no sense in staring a new game without carrying over your hard work from the last save. (Remember, though, this only applies to a New Game +)
-- BONUS POINTS (+0.5) --
This is where bonus points are directly added to the overall score after it is averaged.
Naughty Dog did not just make this story up. The infected are based off of a real fungus. Don't be alarmed, it does not affect humans. It's a fungus that (currently) takes control of ants. To my knowledge, this fungus isn't even in North America, but Naughty Dog got an expert on the disease and built the infected around the real-life fungus. The expert even said that it is not beyond the realm of reason that this fungus could spread to humans. There have been cases when a disease confined to a particular animal species has jumped to humans. This is just another one of those times when Naughty Dog makes this game even more realistic.
One of the absolute best parts of this game . . . no load times in gameplay! When you first start the game, it seems like it will take forever to get past the initial loading. Once that's over, however, you won't experience any load times as you play. The whole experience is seamless and smooth as you progress from map to map and level to level. Once again, Naughty Dog shows their consideration for the players.
--OVERALL SCORE (10/10) --
Now, I very rarely give a game a perfect 10 score no matter how much I love it. Even though it may be a 10 experience to me, I try to rate the game based on how everyone's overall experience with the game will be. If you play The Last of Us, you won't be disappointed. Naughty Dog put a lot of love, time, effort, and skill into making this game and it clearly shows. Its average score from my review was 9.5, but thanks to the bonus points, it bumps it up evenly to 10.
There are flaws with The Last of Us, but this is true of any game. Like Tetsuya Nomura (director of Final Fantasy XV and the Kingdom Hearts series) says, a game is first and foremost a game. It is not meant to play exactly like it would in real life. It would be pretty dull if a game was limited to the laws of reality. So when Joel can craft a Molotov out of a rag and alcohol, but no bottle to put them in, I am thankful and don't complain. I hope no one lets the little flaws of The Last of Us take away from the outstanding experience.
After careful contemplation, I have decided that it does look like I'm infected. In a time where games follow the current, Naughty Dog takes the risk and fills their game with only the best, innovating elements. Their game has infected me completely, and thankfully, there is no cure. Naughty Dog truly saved the best for last in this generation. If you take the time to enjoy their masterpiece, they won't let you down.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 06/24/13
Game Release: The Last of Us (US, 06/14/13)
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