Review by Archmonk Iga

"Naughty Dog's capitalizing on the zombie trend proves memorable, though it seems many gamers' expectations have clouded their vision."

Even before its release, The Last of Us was destined to be hailed as one of the greatest games of all time. Developed by Naughty Dog, one of the most highly reputed game developers in existence, our experiences with Crash, Jak and Daxter, and Nathan Drake lifted our expectations to the clouds.

Yet maybe I was the only one who was not sold on it before its release. I knew a lot about The Last of Us. I read previews, watched gameplay trailers, visited message boards, and more. But I was in the minority in this vast group of zombie-loving gamers, and I have been holding my tongue this entire time. The Last of Us is indeed a wonderful, beautiful and emotional action-adventure journey… But perhaps your expectations have clouded your vision—if you believe The Last of Us to be a revolutionary videogame that will forever change the medium, then you really need to play more videogames.

STORY:
Sometimes, it is not the concept but how you choose to use it. Naughty Dog present us with a backstory that we have all seen many times before. There is a surprise viral outbreak that affects most of the human population. Victims of the virus are deemed “infected,” which is funny to me because they don't just call them “zombies.” Maybe that word doesn't exist in this version of the world. The few who have escaped the infection are either struggling to survive or have adopted the “dog-eat-dog” mentality. If you read Cormac McCarthy's “The Road,” Richard Matheson's “I Am Legend,” Max Brooks' “World War Z,” or Stephen King's “The Stand” or “Cell,” then this may all look familiar to you. If you have ever read or watched “The Walking Dead,” then this will look familiar to you. If you are a George A. Romero fan, then this will look familiar to you. Do you see where I'm going with this?

Yes, you follow the lives of a select few survivors in this new United States just like all of those stories mentioned above. It is typical, and often times it is predictable. The conclusion of the very first section of the game could be seen within seconds of starting the game up. You can foresee that certain characters are doomed solely on their introductions into the game. There is also, of course, the “humanity's only hope” trope in one of the characters. Yes, we have surprise and sadness at the most sudden of moments, but again that is a well-worn trend in the zombie and/or post-apocalyptic genre.

Thankfully, we have Ellie. Tough as nails, yet more innocent than you can imagine, this young girl is what holds your interest in The Last of Us. She knows of nothing other than an infected world. She keeps you, Joel, continuing on. Like it or not, there is no way you can put yourself in Ellie's shoes. We have no idea where she is coming from, what she could be feeling, or how she can have more courage than anyone else in the entire game. And although you play as the lonely and despicable Joel, it is Ellie's companionship that makes this story stand its ground.

There are other little things that maintain this sad setting in our hearts and minds than Ellie alone. The Fireflies are our hope and our endgame, yet we know almost nothing about them. Notes left by survivors like Ish give us other perspectives on what the world has come to. Mother Earth has begun reclaiming the planet after humanity's centuries of takeover with the mere twenty years that have gone by since the outbreak. While The Last of Us is capitalizing on a stale trend that is stagnating the entertainment world, it throws in extraordinary ideas of its own to keep us interested.
STORY: 7/10

GRAPHICS:
Perhaps the one thing that The Last of Us makes me most sad about is that it represents just how powerful the PS3 is, yet it reminds us that the system is on its last legs. I believe that the PS3 could have lasted another few years if games that look this amazing keep coming out. But people want a new generation of games, and so Sony must comply.

The Last of Us is hands down the best looking game the PS3 has ever seen and will ever see. The attention to detail is insane. Inside, outside, it doesn't matter. The only thing that looks more real than The Last of Us is reality. The people look just as real as the environments. If Joel is attacked his face clearly shows how much pain he is experiencing. If Ellie is angry, you can tell even before she begins speaking. Pairing all this realism up with a world that we can only fantasize about (for now…) truly grants the design team applause.
GRAPHICS: 10/10

SOUNDS:
Musically, The Last of Us brings us into this decrepit world appropriately with lonely acoustic guitar twangs. Now and then this weeping guitar will erupt in a fortissimo of rage, fitting in with the action onscreen.

Voice acting is also fitting. Joel has that southern gentleman's twang, while Ellie and others from her neck of the woods have the sharp, precise accent of the north. Above all, the voice acting makes these characters feel more like real people.

And then there are the sound effects. I believe I am not alone when I say the star of the sound effects department comes from the “Clicker” enemy. And although I won't give anything else away, the name “Clicker” should give you some idea of what I'm talking about. Other effects are brilliant as well. Gunshots sound different based on your location, and the snap of the bow and arrow is extremely satisfying. Leaves crunch beneath your feet as you walk through a colorful autumn, while entering long-vacant buildings gives you a sense of danger and abandon with their eerie creaks and moans. The Last of Us takes advantage of its setting by making it sound as real as possible.
SOUNDS: 9.5/10

GAMEPLAY:
Since The Last of Us is a game created by the folks behind Uncharted, it is no surprise that it adopts many of the trilogy's mechanics, albeit in a very different manner. The platforming sections we see so often in Uncharted take a backseat to the action and survival-horror aspect of The Last of Us, yet it is obvious that this game was developed by the same people.

You play as Joel, a man who has experienced both the before and the after of this game's concept. You can tell just by playing as him that he was once an ordinary man who had no choice but to change the way he leads his life. He must now use stealth, firearms and the environment to keep himself and his companions alive.

As a big Splinter Cell fan, I was completely taken aback by the brilliance of each section's allowing you to use stealth to move forward. That is not an exaggeration—if you want to sneak through this entire game, then that is a possibility. It won't be easy—far from it, in fact. But with a lot of patience you can quietly complete The Last of Us without taking out a single weapon.

If you choose to fight, then the game is not much easier. Ammunition is in short supply, and you will often have to resort to slamming someone's face in with a brick or a baseball bat. Gunplay is nearly identical to the Uncharted series, though with a lot less gung-ho action.

Enemy AI is among the best you will ever experience. Human enemies will give each other commands, yell out insults to Joel and Ellie, and maybe even retreat momentarily to gather their senses. And while it is not perfect – hearing an enemy shout “he's got a gun!” when you shoot someone with your bow and arrow will make you chuckle – The Last of Us's enemies' intelligence are second only to the human players'. In addition, Joel companions are quite an aid in these trying encounters—similar to Sully and Elena from the Uncharted series.

Speaking of enemies, almost everyone you encounter is an enemy. You don't just fight off zomb—er, “infected.” You will be fighting armed soldiers, clever hunters, and much worse as you work your way to your goal. That said, the infected enemies take the spotlight. They are freaky and more unpredictable than you would assume. As a gamer who hasn't thoroughly played through a survival-horror game in quite some time, I was genuinely freaked out at some parts of the game.

I must tell you, then, that The Last of Us is not for everyone. You need a lot of patience and some pretty strong nerves to get through the entire game. This is not a fast-paced action-romp like Uncharted. It requires planning ahead and intense observation skills for every encounter.

For all my praise, I also need to issue some serious criticism for The Last of Us's gameplay. The controls are usually great, but at times will feel sluggish and may even result in a death. Joel's companions will often get in your way, especially when there is limited cover. The game is also extremely stressful throughout its entirety—killing or hiding from infected and survivor alike (both types being people who were once just like you) isn't the most gratifying feeling in the world. Now and then Ellie will say something to try and lighten the mood, but it just isn't enough to take your mind out of this depressing world. Going along with that, poor Joel and Ellie just can't seem to catch a break. We think we have cause for a momentary celebration, but a cruel twist will come into play and totally ruin any temporary joy we feel. Lastly, there are several swimming sections that work well at first but become tiresome and tedious.

The biggest flaw in The Last of Us is none of those things. It is that it claims to be a genre-defining experience while in actuality it is not doing too much in that respect. It looks and sounds amazing, it has unique enemies, and it controls well, but we've played games like this before. Stealth, action, survival… it certainly combines the three sufficiently, but it isn't doing anything particularly new or innovative. The one mechanic that is truly unique is Listen Mode, where Joel crouches down and uses his survival skills to hear hidden or far away enemies to gain an advantage over them.

There is an interesting multiplayer mode that will keep many fans playing past their Platinum trophies, but it feels completely divergent from the point the game is trying to make. The Last of Us would have been just as well-received had it ditched this multiplayer mode. It works great, but it just wasn't necessary. By the end of the credits, you will come to understand that you weren't even playing The Last of Us because you thought it was fun; you were playing it to see what would happen to Joel and Ellie.
GAMEPLAY: 6/10

REPLAY VALUE:
The Last of Us is a very long action-adventure title that may take many players up to twenty hours their first time through. One thing that I truly respect in Naughty Dog's work was their unique approach to acquiring trophies. Avoiding the “do this action this many times” role that most trophies hold, The Last of Us requires you to use all your efforts to explore every nook and cranny of the game, and thus become that much more attached to it. Then again, repeatedly playing a game full of stress and bad luck just to get a Platinum trophy will be out of the question for many players. It will take longer to get this Platinum trophy than it would for all the Uncharted games, not to mention many other big-name PS3 titles. Then there is the multiplayer for those who do not find it too discordant with the memorable single-player experience, which could also keep people playing for months.
REPLAY VALUE: 7/10

OVERALL:
The Last of Us is a well-told story that raises our understanding of human nature while simultaneously reconsidering our species' purpose. We have seen this scenario and played with similar mechanics a hundred times before, but the two main characters, especially Ellie, are what people are talking about. Is The Last of Us a masterpiece of a game with a story unlike anything we've ever seen before? Well, to most people it is, yes. But to the folks who have read countless great novels, seen countless great movies, or played countless great videogames… The Last of Us is just that—another great videogame.
OVERALL: 7.4/10


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/28/13

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


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