Review by bladegash666

"When in darkness , look for the light."

Beautiful. Clever. Bold. Awe inspiring. Depressing. Charming.

These are just a few words that I would use to describe Naughty Dog's latest masterpiece , The Last Of Us.

From the initial VGA and E3 trailers , I expected TLoU to be fantastic , but I didn't expect such an incredible , immersive , polished experience. The game connected with me on every level ; it invoked a wide range of emotions in me that I don't usually feel ; especially in regards to video games. If you consider story and characters to be only moderately important to you , the TLoU is a must play.


STORY:
The opening cinematic of TLoU puts protagonist Joel , and his daughter Sarah , on display in their everyday , normal lives. This part is a prequel of sorts , and showcases the world before the outbreak of Cordyceps Unilateris. I found this part refreshing and bold , mostly because the majority of post apocalyptic games do not show pre apocalypse life and society. It's mostly a tutorial , but the conceptual design for gaming was pretty great. I'm trying to keep this review spoiler free , so I won't go into incredible detail about the end of the prologue. I'll just summarize: The end of the prologue was one of the most moving and emotional scenes in modern gaming.


The meat of the game takes place two decades after the Cordyceps Unilateris outbreak. Joel has transformed into a grizzled long-in-the-tooth survivor , and with his partner Tess , he's just trying to survive by any means necessary. The framework for this adventure isn't wholly original or inventive , but it's executed very well. There is a daily fight for survival and many have lost. Their lives , their loved ones , and most importantly , their humanity.

The post apocalyptic chapter of the game starts off with Joel and Tess looking for a man named Robert , a smuggler and weapons dealer in Boston. They made a deal for some guns in exchange for other various supplies , but they deal goes south. Joel and Tess come to find out that Marlene ,(the scrupulous militia of The Fireflies ; one of the factions in the game) has commissioned them for a smuggler's run of sorts. The job? Smuggle something out of Boston. The cargo? Hot tempered , potty mouth fourteen-year old Ellie.

Again , in keeping with a spoiler free review , I won't detail the plot any further. However , if there is only one thing I could take away from the narrative is that ; the interactions and character development between Joel and Ellie is hands down the most emotionally captivating , beautiful , and heartbreaking I've ever seen in any game ever(Lee and Clementine from TellTale's The Walking Dead comes close).



GRAPHICS AND PRESENTATION

TLoU is another game from Naughty Dog that showcases their "Uncharted Engine" . For the most part , it keeps the visual fidelity bar really high. Minor framerate issues and low res textures aside , the game is an absolute visual marvel.

It's clear after playing Uncharted for an extensive amount of time that , Naughty Dog has raised the bar up from Uncharted. In regards to sound design specifically. In Uncharted , the gun sounds were fairly weak and mostly cartoony. A flaw that TLoU doesn't share and it's all the better for it.

Revolver shots have a loud THUMP now , and shotguns blasts reach a near disturbing effect. In all honesty , I think the sounds from the firearms scared me more than anything else! An impressive technical feat through and through.


GAMEPLAY

As per usual , I'm going to separate this part into two sub-sections: Single Player and Multiplayer.

SINGLE PLAYER:

At it's core , TLoU is an action hybrid game. The survival horror elements and the 3rd person shooter elements sport equal care and polish. Joel has a wide arsenal of tools available for use , at any time. With a press of the SELECT button , Joel crouches down and opens up his backpack , your central hub for all things gameplay related. There's a fairly brilliant crafting and weapon swap system , and both of these systems work on the fly , to add an extra level of tension to the gameplay.

Scattered around each level are materials that Joel uses to craft weapons , health packs , and supplements to give him an edge in combat.What I found most intriguing and clever about this system is that it offers up a modicum of choice. The same materials needed to make a health pack are the same materials needed to make a molotov cocktail for example. I found balancing out resources to be quite enthralling especially in the later chapters where resource management is essential.

The shooter elements of the game are just as balanced(and challenging) as the more survival horror oriented elements , and that's ultimately why TLoU is indisputably Naughty Dog's crowning achievement ; the supreme annals of action adventure game design.

In direct combat , every shot counts , an ideal that's tied directly into the narrative. When Joel gets shot , he falls back like a real human being would. It is imperative that you plan out your attack , for each wrong step you take, lowers your chances of survival. There's no regenerative health , no swathes of ammo available at any time. This is a focused , brutal , bloody , and most importantly, methodical game.

Despite it's depth , TLoU is linear experience. It isn't detrimental to the game because the combat areas for the most part , lend themselves to some degree of iterative experimentation. Think along the lines of Tomb Raider(the 2013 reboot) , but fairly wider stages , and better coupling of environmental hazards , and stealth and melee gameplay.

I'm quite excited to see how Naughty Dog can add to the combat for TLoU 2 , because this game's combat is contextually perfect.



MULTIPLAYER

On a surface level , TLoU doesn't break the mold.There's two modes available; Survivors(a variation of supply raid with no same round respawns) and Supply Raid (deathmatch Gears Of War Style with executions) respectively.

However , after playing a few matches , it feels and most importantly , plays like a unique multiplayer experience. In addition to the aforementioned industry standards , TLoU's multiplayer keeps all of the single player's game mechanics and actually adds some of it's own. Basically , you kill and execute other players for scavenged items and supplies. These items and supplies keep your people(your "survivor clan". More on that in a minute) alive and healthy. The better you do , the better you and your clan's chances of survival are.

The clan survival aspect is a new multiplayer concept in TLoU , and the more you play MP , more survivors will want to join your clan. You still have to keep all those people healthy and fed, right?

There's also a time aspect to the multiplayer. Each match is essentially a day in your survivor clan's timeline , and after seven days , you complete a week. It is here where you will get a large portion of your unlockables ; such as skins for your avatar , more weapons , better options in combat etc. After your first handful of matches , the game introduces a list of challenges called missions. They're mandatory , and they can spell certain death for your survivors if they aren't completed efficiently(usually encompassed by a time or status bar). They're usually pretty simple , but I can see how some might get frustrated with this particular mechanic.


This is by no means a perfect game , so I'll list some flaws and niggling issues throughout my time with the game:


-Some low res textures and other odd visual glitches
-I felt that the early chapters had checkpoints that were far too forgiving at times , and frustrating at other times.
-Listen Mode(a mechanic similar to the Batman Arkham series Detective Mode) was inconsistent at times.
-The game relied on tried and true TPS setpieces/mechanics at times that were at odds with the narrative
-I would have liked more melee weapons.


Despite those flaws , TLoU is a majestic game. It ticks all the right check boxes for me on an emotion, mechanical , and technical level. It is truly remarkable. If you enjoy post apocalyptic survival horror and action adventure games , then this one is absolute must buy.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/01/13

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


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