Citizen Kane My Ass…
The Last of Us is the latest title from renowned developer Naughty Dog who you’ll remember for bringing us the original Crash Bandicoot series. They’re also the team behind the platformer turned shooter in Jak & Daxter and everyone’s favourite set piece adventure, the Uncharted series. The Last of Us however represents a giant leap forward for Naughty Dog, what it lacks in gameplay it makes up for up it in story and delivers one of the most compelling experiences I’ve played in recent years.
The story found within the Last of Us is something quite well done by gaming standards, rarely do developers ever take the time needed in order to tell the stories they want to tell. It’s always a case of “oh s**t, the player is probably bored by now, quick add in some shooting sections“. The Last of Us thankfully isn’t that game, it’s not going out of it’s way to engage you but instead builds on a strong premise than naturally keeps you hooked throughout. Even when I’m not firing a gun, the world featured in The Last of Us is so atmospheric and so full of detail that the last thing on my mind is wondering where my next headshot will come from.
If there’s one thing that the Uncharted series COMPLETELY failed upon it would be the reasoning behind all that killing, three games later and I still have NO idea why Nathan Drake is a mass murderer. The Last of Us however makes it clear that killing isn’t a good thing , fact The Last of Us is the type of game that would rather have you sneak past potential threats rather than pick them out with your pistol. Notice how I used the word threat instead of enemy?
The Last of Us is set in a post apocalyptic world, resources are extremely low and vegetation now covers industrial areas which have long since been abandoned. It’s a very bleak setting but that’s part of what makes it so interesting, I found myself walking around environments just wondering what life must of been like before things went to hell. As mentioned the game is FULL OF DETAIL and I no doubt greatly increased my playtime because of my desire to explore and read all the different signs in the game. There’s no reward for doing so but I was completely drawn to the world and felt like I’d be giving Naughty Dog’s environmental artists the middle finger if I just blazed through the game.
The attention to detail isn’t just featured in the environments but in the story as well, The Last of Us is full of identifiable characters along the way. These aren’t’ “videogame” characters but instead feel like real people, they behave and act like an actual human beings would. Joel is the character you’ll be playing and whilst he is a completely likeable character, it’s Ellie who steals the show. This isn’t some kind of escort mission, Ellie is more than capable of looking after herself and you get a sense than Joel needs Ellie just as much as she does him. Joel is a middle aged man and fights like one too, if Ellie sees you’re in trouble than you can be damn sure that she’s going to help in whatever way she can despite her size.
I should probably take a moment to get something out of the way, it’s pretty important stuff.
Joel & Ellie COMPLETELY S**T on Booker & Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite.
I’m not here to turn this review into some of kind versus article but The Last of Us has managed to succeed in an area that Bioshock Infinite could only ever dream of. The relationship between Joel and Ellie will no doubt be a landmark moment in gaming whereas Elizabeth will be an example of how NOT to do it. Ellie isn’t your free “get out of jail” character, she’s not a walking ammo/health box. Having little Ellie throw a measly brick at someone just to help me out is a much more meaningful and powerful display of character than whatever gun turrets Elizabeth feels like bringing in for another dimension.
That’s what I love about The Last of Us, it’s not about big awesome moments that look cool in trailers, it’s about the little things that ultimately leave a lasting impression. There are things that Ellie said along the way that will stick with me more than the massive falling buildings in Battlefield 4 ever could. It’s a bit of a risky move on the part of Naughty Dog to go for the subtle route in today’s Michael Bay infested sea of big budget “triple A” titles but the payoff is tremendous. It’s amazingly seeing a game like Bioshock Infinite “sellout” and not even have the balls to put a female on the cover whilst The Last of Us proudly highlights Ellie in it’s cover, THANK YOU NAUGHTY DOG! You guys just f**king GET IT!
As I’ve already said The Last of Us isn’t about killing, if you do kill someone in the game then it’s the result of being put in a difficult situation. I spent a good majority of the time crouching around in order to avoid detection because unlike most games these days, you can’t “Rambo” your way through it all. Pretty much everyone in the game is more than capable of killing you if you don’t approach things with a plan, shooting in The Last of Us should always be a last resort. Also whatever you do, DON’T start a melee fight in the middle of a gunfight as it will NOT end well for you.
Naughty Dog have described The Last of Us as a “survival action” title and after working my way through the game I agree. The base game mechanically speaking does feel similar to Uncharted but Joel isn’t Drake, he isn’t going to be making giant leaps of faith nor does he catch weapons in mid air during the middle of a fight. Joel isn’t particularly skilled in any area, he’s just an average everyday man who does what he has to do in order to survive. He’s not a bullet sponge nor does he pack much of a punch, in fact he takes about six punches in order to knock someone out.
Because the world featured in The Last of Us is so run down by now, you’ll find plenty of objects lying around that can be used as offensive attacks. Punching gets the job done but a rusty lead pipe is a far more feasible option, throw a bottle at someone and run in with a melee attack and that’s your threat down in one shot without making a mess of things. It’s not clean nor is it pretty but it yields results and by now the game has driven home the point that it’s either you or them.
The melee attacks in The Last of Us are surprisingly impressive, there’s a real visceral (I hate that word) feel to the fighting and many of Joel’s attacks are extremely brutal. This isn’t Mortal Kombat but smashing someone’s head off a table looks and sounds as just as devastating as it should be. Even more impressive is how dynamic it all is, if you’re fighting near a wall then Joel’s finishing attack will see him make use of that wall to bash someone’s head into it. If you’re besides a table that looks like a background object then you’ll be surprised to see Joel make use of it. Even the cover based system features none of that crappy “stick to the object” rubbish, it’s all done dynamically meaning Joel will place his hands on the around the object as he hides. It’s all one seamless animation and there is no “transition” between the two, it’s incredibly well done and more games need to do this.
Crafting is something that has been mentioned in the past but never elaborated upon too much and now that I’ve cleared the game I can see why. The Last of Us doesn’t have that rubbish “regenerating health” system nor does it drop ammo in generous amounts. Instead The Last of Us invites you to THINK before you act, is it really worth wasting a couple of bullets on someone when you can sneak up on them and take them out quietly without alerting anyone whilst conserving your ammo? Don’t treat The Last of Us like a game and what you’ve come to expect from them, instead handle situations like how you would if there were all happening to you in real life.
Throughout the game you’ll be investigating the environments to see what what items can be of use to you. Pressing “select” brings up the crafting menu (in real time) and allows Joel to combine items to craft new ones. There’s a set of different items that can be crafted such as small bombs but I always prefered to go with small shivs and health kits whenever possible. Again it’s all done in real time therefore The Last of Us encourages players to run away and regroup whenever s**t hits the fan, there’s no shame in doing that here. It’s very similar to how old school Resident Evil used to be, the tense feeling of knowing you’re not the most powerful character around. Every battle in The Last of Us feels like a small victory followed by a real sense of relief, it’s these kinds of emotions that gaming no longer brings out in players because the protagonist is too damn overpowered. By taking a step back, The Last of Us has taken two steps forward.
Visually the game definitely features some real eye candy with the environments being the main highlight. The post apocalyptic setting is perfectly realized by Naughty Dog’s fine artists and I’d hate to imagine how much work went into them. It’s the type of game where beauty comes from an early morning sunshine and not from how many particle effects that shotgun is generation. Something small such as Joel shielding Ellie as they both take cover does much more for me than whatever crazy physica that boat from Uncharted 3 had. Sure there’s some nasty aliasing at times but beyond that, there’s not much to complain about in The Last of Us, just be sure to take the time to appreciate all the details.
Despite what the stupid games media would have you believe, The Last of Us isn’t perfect nor is it all that close to perfection. To all the sites out there giving the game perfect 10′s, congratulations, you’re doing your readers a disservice. You’re clearly someone who values narrative experiences and that’s great but you should probably be reviewing films instead. The good news is that nothing in The Last of Us is “terrible” by any means, this is a perfectly playable piece of software but when the rest of the game is this well done, anything not terribly impressive tends to stick out and in The Last of Us it’s the gameplay that fails to impress.
The Last of Us is somewhat similar to Uncharted mechanically speaking which is a fantastic base to build your game upon but unlike the story, Naughty Dog doesn’t try anything new or interesting with it’s gameplay. Fundamentally speaking it’s a linear “go from point A to point B” journey with some fighting in between. Now there’s nothing wrong with a linear adventure, in fact it’s encouraged from the type of game The Last of Us is but you can’t help get the feeling that it’s a little TOO linear for it’s own good.
You’re no doubt quickly scrolling up to bring up the part where I mentioned the exploration aspect but let me stop you. Yes, there is exploration within The Last of Us but it’s all done within the confides of small environments, you’ll never get the sense of wonder and discovery which could of added greatly to the game. The opportunity to employee some puzzle elements to the game is also overlooked, you’ll re-locate a plank of wood so you and Ellie can cross over it but that’s more or less it. For as much as I enjoyed The Last of Us, the game is pretty brain dead and you’ll never get stuck or anything so from a gameplay point of view, it’s not very rewarding.
When it’s all said and done, The Last of Us is a fantastic effort from Naughty Dog that shows some real progress taking place within the studio. It’s pretty awesome to know that we’ve gone all the way from Crash Bandicoot to something like The Last of Us. From my point of view it seems that Naughty Dog has been toying around with stories for a while know, Jak 3 was their first game that caused me to raise an eyebrow. The Uncharted series took things further but also left some questionable gaps but with The Last of Us, Naughty Dog has totally nailed storytelling in games, hell they’ve nailed storytelling across any medium.
I wish the gameplay were as much of a priority as the rest of the game, it plays like a third person shooter with the shooting aspects obviously turned down. The aiming controls are somewhat clunky but then again it fits with the whole theme of the game, are we to believe Joel is an expert in handling firearms anyway? The AI in the game also isn’t fantastic either, the “enemies” are more than happy to ignore Ellie right in front of them but only react when once you the player are discovered so helps keep frustration due to a minimum but does break the immersion.
For this review I was given a list of things I could and couldn’t discuss in my review, not only have I happily abided by them but I’ve also gone the extra mile to ensure NOTHING is spoiled for you. Sometimes reviewers get a little too excited and feel the need to point out all the details but a review isn’t an instruction manual with a score thrown in. I’m a firm believer that discovery is a major part of one’s enjoyment towards a game and with The Last of Us, that statement is amplified.
I’m not necessarily here to tell you why The Last of Us is awesome, I’m just here to tell that is IS awesome. Don’t go into The Last of Us expecting the next Resident Evil 4, a game seemingly flawless at everything it did. The Last of Us’ strengths lie within it’s well written story whilst it’s weaknesses center around it not doing anything particularly new or interesting with it’s gameplay. The Last of Us will be remembered as a strong narrative experience but unlike a lot of other s**t big budget releases, this one has heart and you’ll actually look back at it fondly for years to come.