Giant Bomb Review

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The Last of Us Review

5
  • PS3

Naughty Dog throws out its own rule book and challenges players to survive a harrowing but thrilling journey through a world forever changed by death and destruction.

Drained. Tired. Ready for a drink. These were my feelings as the credits rolled on Naughty Dog's latest. The Last of Us is a story about hope in a hopeless world, and the lengths we'll go to for those we love. Who is good? Who is bad? Do such distinctions matter in a world gone crazy? The Last of Us is a bold work, especially for a developer recently known for strapping us into cinematic roller coasters. The Last of Us is not fun, at least not in the traditional sense, and that's exactly why it's so interesting.

Some infected can't detect light, giving you a tiny advantage.

The Last of Us is Naughty Dog's take on the zombie apocalypse. Here, the disease is fungal. Breathe in nearby spores, and you'll turn. If you're bitten or scratched by an infected? Same fate. It's not clear where the infection came from, but like The Walking Dead and Metro 2033 before it, The Last of Us isn't concerned with exploring why the apocalypse came to be, but what happens in the days after. Humanity followed a familiar playbook when the crisis broke out. Sections of society have holed themselves up in military cities where citizens deal in ration tickets. The infection is still present, and there's no prospect of change. We're quickly introduced to Joel, who led a stressful but normal life with his daughter and brother before all hell broke loose. Twenty years later, Joel's changed. He's survived, but it's taken a toll on him. Joel's partnered with Tess, a firecracker who'll just as quickly bust your lip as help you across the street. The two have similar values, so they get along. A series of events put them in charge of Ellie, a young girl that needs to be transported to the Fireflies, a militia group trying to establish order.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves remains one of this generation's most celebrated games. Bombastic, sarcastic, over-the-top, fun. It was Naughty Dog's legacy of technological prowess with a character of matched ambition. Uncharted also popularized the term ludonarrative dissonance, wherein the character portrayed in cutscenes doesn't match the one players control. Nathan Drake is an aloof everyman that's easy to relate to, a man one suspects doesn't take killing a man for granted. Yet, over the course of three games, Drake leaves thousands of bodies in his wake, and never bats an eye. We know why this disconnect exists: in service of fun. The gunplay in Uncharted was enjoyable, and fighting off waves of enemies was, besides platforming, the core gameplay. The series was also famous for its setpieces, orchestrations of madness and destruction on an unparalleled scale. You were often in control of these moments, and if you happened to mess up a simple jump, the sequence started over. A crumbling bridge is tense and exciting the first or second time around, not not nearly as much when playing it a tenth time.

The Last of Us rejects all of this. The Last of Us plays like Naughty Dog internalized the biggest design criticisms leveled against its last franchise and set out to make the anti-Uncharted. While The Last of Us retains Naughty Dog's signature ability to push hardware further than anyone else--a PlayStation 3 game has never looked better--it gives the player far more agency during the game's biggest moments, ratchets down the overall body count by a significant degree, and tries to make each kill worth a damn.

The developers achieve this by attaching weight and consequence to your actions. Early on, it's a brutal, difficult game. The more powerful infected have one-hit kills that aren't counterable until later, and a single pistol shot will lop off one-third of your health. Health does not regenerate in The Last of Us, and one must craft or collect new medical packs that are slowly applied in real-time before regaining any vigor. It's possible to clear sections of every threat, but that's a great way to wind up with no ammunition, little health, and not much else to show for it. In many situations, the best option is to run away. (It's possible to simply restart encounters, but I found this to quickly diminish the threat of being caught and having to improvise.) The Last of Us asks players to fight their usual compulsions when it comes to playing a video game focused on enemy confrontation, and make on-the-fly judgement calls that don't have clear risks or rewards when you initially take them. If you worry about checking every room and looking around every corner, have fun dying over and over again. Then again, some of the game's best crafting pieces, ammo, and other collectibles are hidden in those places. Is it worth the risk? Your call.

Ellie and Joel aren't friends when The Last of Us begins, and their relationship only grows more complex.

By holding down L2, Joel crouches to the floor and uses sound to gain a sense of what's around him, highlighted in black-and-white. It's not a supernatural ability, but a visual extension of Joel's 20 years of hardened experience. Joel's perception changes as the enemies move, and if an enemy hasn't yet made a sound, you'll have to place them in sight or prod them. Bricks and bottles are scattered around, and you'll use them often, as the infected and humans react to sound (sometimes to an exaggerated, unbelievable effect). Joel can and must use distractions to make quiet killing easier--players choose between a loud choke-out or shivving--or to sneak along. The same objects are useful on the offensive, as well. In one sequence, a building with six or seven enemies was too much for me to take on without using up most of my available pistol ammunition. One false move during a stealth kill later and everyone was alerted. Noticing the exit to my left, I ran. The exit itself was guarded by a beefy dude with a shotgun, though, and I tossed a brick at his face to stun him. This allowed me to run by, head around the corner, and avoid unnecessary combat with a whole room full of bad guys. Did I miss an opportunity to loot a safe or collect extra materials to upgrade my bat or build a bomb? Probably. But I also came out alive.

Staying alive is a balancing act that requires more than a steady aim and calculated movement. Crafting plays a huge role, one that comes with its own checks and balances. Players have a small amount of craftable items that unlock over the course of the game--molotov cocktails, health kits, smoke bombs, melee upgrades, others--but each requires multiple materials, and making one item will inevitably mean you cannot build another. Are you confident you'll make it through the next section without a scratch? Is it more important to kill the four infected blocking the way with a molotov cocktail? Like healing, crafting takes time, which is precious in The Last of Us. Once the bullets start flying or the infected start chasing, there are rarely moments to sit down, open your backpack, and wait for a bar to fill, signifying the creation of a new item. Crafting speed, healing speed, and other techniques can be upgraded by collecting medicine during the game, but nothing will make you all-powerful. Death is always around the corner.

Ellie is a key component during much of the game, as well. She's not just a character you talk to, but someone who takes part in the action. This would raise red flags in most games. Thankfully, it works fine--she's helpful. In addition to Ellie, there will be other characters following you around, shooting enemies, and hiding behind desks. They won't get in your way, and while it's a little weird when enemies don't notice these characters walking right in front of them, that's preferable to having them constantly messing up your approach. The characters are not in your control, but they're also useful and resourceful.

At times, The Last of Us feels like a classic survival horror game, and it prompted certain personal instincts to kick in. In games like this, I'll hoard everything, use very little, and find myself at the end of the game with a glut of items, weapons, and other stuff that the game never forced me into a position of using, so I never did. If the game isn't going to back me into a wall and force the use of precious cargo, I'm going to be cautious and make sure I'm stocked up. The Last of Us deeply constrains the player in the early hours, but if you're like me, that no longer becomes an issue in the latter half of the game. Joel is capable of holding more than half-a-dozen weapons at once, and while the game does an admirable job of ammo limiting certain weapons for long stretches of the game, I eventually hit a point where I wasn't thinking about the weapon I was wielding. The game's early hours are the most harrowing, and it's why I'd recommend players interested in a rougher experience consider dialing up the difficulty before diving in.

Maybe it's the nature of a lengthy video game, but despite its restraint, the bodies start to stack up in The Last of Us. Eventually, the violence is no longer appalling, the kills no longer shocking. It's partly due to Naughty Dog indulging in Uncharted-like setpieces that transform enemies into shooting galleries. One has dozens of guys swarming a sniper spot, and you're forced to kill them in a clinical and detached fashion at odds with what's come before it. And you have unlimited ammo. It's a moment engineered to feel indulgent, as the player has been slowly sneaking through a town to eliminate a sniper that's been a total jerk, but it doesn't work. When the last enemy had hit the ground, I was rolling my eyes instead of being relieved. But players may react to these moments differently, largely fueled by the agency Naughty Dog gives them in determining the kind of survivalist Joel is.

Born into a chaotic world, Ellie's learned to act above her age.

The emotions are heightened by the believable acting happening in-game and out. The performance capture techniques that made Drake, Sully, and friends come alive in Uncharted are put to terrific use in here, with Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson both fully committing to their roles as Joel and Ellie. Contrary to most games, Joel is not the player surrogate--Ellie is. You empathize with her, and she says what the player is thinking. When she tells Joel to fuck off, you want to give her a high-five. (At one point, you actually can press triangle and give Ellie a high-five!) Ellie can hold her own. Joel's perspective has been warped, and yet this is the guy you play as--the asshole. You don't choose how Joel acts. Naturally, there's much more to Joel that's explored as the story goes along--the man has his reasons for being bitter--and some of the best moments don't even happen in the cut-scenes. Every once and a while, Ellie (or another character) will have an icon appear above their head, suggesting an optional piece of dialogue. Often, these moments occur while Ellie is staring at a painting, poster, or another piece of scenery. Joel lived for years before the world imploded, while Ellie only knows chaos. These moments inform the larger fiction of The Last of Us, and bond Joel, Elile, and the player. If you choose to ignore these moments, Ellie comments on your decision to ignore her. It's a nice touch, and the interactions evolve as the game goes on. Early in the game, Ellie is learning how to whistle. By the end, she's gotten pretty good.

On top of all of this, Naughty Dog has built on the surprising success of Uncharted's multiplayer with factions mode in The Last of Us. You want to know the crazy thing, especially coming from a guy who usually can't give a crap about a game's multiplayer modes? It's great. The methodical, slow-paced gameplay from the single-player translates well to multiplayer. In both game modes, players are split into small teams, and working with one another is not only essential to survival match-to-match, but it plays into the larger metagame. In Factions, you're the leader of a small set of survivors just barely getting by. In order to unlock more perks and customization options, that group needs to get bigger, and as the days and weeks roll on, random incidents will occur to test your group's ability to cope. For players, this means trying to accomplish certain subgoals within matches, such as "x" number of melee kills. As the group gets bigger, it demands more resources. You only find those resources during matches, and you receive more of them if you're doing more than killing--healing others, gifting items, etc. There's even an interesting, non-spammy option for Facebook that names survivors after friends and family. One thing that kept with me, though, was multiplayer's focus on rewarding gruesome execution kills. When a player is almost dead, they go into a hunched state where a teammate can rescue them--or an enemy can end their life in a terrible way. Unlike single-player, there's no terrifying us-versus-them mentality contextualizing these alarming acts. Here, it's more points and a bothersome use of extreme violence.

The Last of Us is not simply Uncharted with zombies, but it couldn't exist without Naughty Dog having made Uncharted first, either. It's a dark adventure, one rarely filled with laughs or joy. There are bitter pills to swallow along the way, and nothing is taken for granted, not even characters. People live, people die. Sometimes it's fair, sometimes it's not. It's still a zombie game, but a sobering one. Take a deep breath.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
288 Comments
Posted by FoolishChaos

Was not expecting 5 stars! awesome

Edited by BeachThunder

Good to know, even though I will never play this.

Edited by THEBIGZED

5/5 as expected. I was still holding out hope for MP co-op but seems like there really isn't any. Shame.

Posted by RonGalaxy

Sweet! Gonna preorder now

Edited by jayjonesjunior

Did not disappoint.

Posted by spankingaddict

You know a game's good , if Patrick hands out a 5-star rating .

Thanks Patrick . Can't wait for Spookin' With Scoops !

Online
Posted by ILikePopCans

... is this breaking an embargo?

Edited by mlarrabee

I wasn't as hot on the Uncharted series as most people seemed to be, so I still have reservations about TLOU, but I'm pretty confident about it nevertheless.

Edited by PrintedCrayon

Damn. I need to get a new PS3, my original has been broken for about a year.

TLoU might just force my hand.

Edited by MrGtD

... is this breaking an embargo?

Naughty Dog tends to set their embargo dates way out ahead of release if they're very confident in the game. Uncharted 3's embargo date was a full week before the game came out, now this one's a week and a half before it's out. They know how good this game is, and they want the press to be raving about it for a while so people keep hearing about it and have to get it.

Edited by Jaykay3354

Great review Patrick. Looking forward to this!

Edited by KiddoMac

GotG?

Sorry if my first "first"-post was against the rules? Only posts with actual contents allowed now?

Edited by JamesJeux007

YES ! Super stoked that Patrick reviewed it, as he's the duder whose tastes are the most similar to mine. So if he likes it, I think I'll like it as well :'D Unfortunately, I won't read the review because I've been trying to avoid any information about this game, not necessarily because of story spoilers but more because it's been a while since I played a game without prior knowledge of how it actually plays and I enjoy surprises.

So yeah, Naughty Dog doing what Naughty Dog does best: awesome games !

Edited by dropabombonit

I knew this game would be great but this sounds even better than I expected, glad I have it pre ordered

Posted by geirr

Naughty Dog does it again! Really looking forward to play this.

Edited by AllanIceman

Glad this turned out well. On my list of must play now.

Edited by DharmaBum

The antithesis of Uncharted, eh? Sounds good.

Posted by Benny

@patrickklepek Typo in the last line of the 3rd paragraph,"not not."

Appreciated the comparison between this and uncharted and I hope there's more tension in the gameplay because of it. I'll probably play it on hard first time round for that reason.

Edited by Yurtigo

Nice

Edited by ChernobylCow

Hopefully it shows up at Sonyrewards, so I'll have something to finally use my points on.

Posted by StoffInator

@foolishchaos: Same here. I thought Giantbomb would give it a 3 out of 5.

Posted by Bocam

Troy Baker's in this too? I'm ready for Kanji fighting Zombies.

Posted by Yummylee

Really well written review, Patrick, and it looks to be pretty much what I was expecting -- which is a good thing, of course! The similarities to classic survival horror games was one such comparison that had me really excited for this game when I was reading up about it, and while it's unfortunate to hear that it will inevitably devolve into more action-orientated set-piece stuff, I'm happy it's at least got some of that hardcore survivalist gameplay in there somewhere.

Is the relationship between Joel and Ellie similar to Booker and Elizabeth at all do you know? Besides the obvious similarity with Booker/Joel being voiced by Troy Baker, the idea that Ellie is actually the more relatable lead character, and that this is perhaps more her game than it is Joel's, instantly made me think back to a lot comments regarding Elizabeth to be BioShock's true protagonist.

I should also note that I still haven't actually played Infinite yet... Just going by stuff I've read in reviews and such. I guess it doesn't matter either way, but this and Infinite are certainly the two games that I'm sure a lot of GOTY discussions are going to have go head-to-head, and I'm wondering if the Booker/Elizabeth vs Joel/Ellie pairing will be an especially important discussion.

Edited by gerrid

Shame they couldn't help themselves with the shooty set-pieces.

Edited by ILikePopCans

@mrgtd said:

@ilikepopcans said:

... is this breaking an embargo?

Naughty Dog tends to set their embargo dates way out ahead of release if they're very confident in the game. Uncharted 3's embargo date was a full week before the game came out, now this one's a week and a half before it's out. They know how good this game is, and they want the press to be raving about it for a while so people keep hearing about it and have to get it.

No, I'm asking because I dont see any of the other big game websites have their review up.

EDIT: I see them popping up now. Nevermind.

Edited by Slax
Edited by DG991

Great review... Wish this was on PC though. I'll never get to play it.

Edited by gregoryc

@beachthunder: How come you'll never play it? Just not your cup of tea? Or you don't enjoy Naughty Dog's games?

Posted by takeshikitano3

Woo-hoo! Great review Patrick. Really excited to grab my preorder next week.

Posted by Ravelle

Oh man, Last of Us and Animal Crossing next week. Can't wait!

Posted by g6065
Edited by Y2Ken

Interesting. Definitely looking forward to getting my hands on it. I don't normally go for the slightly darker-tone games such as this, but I've loved almost everything Naughty Dog have put their hands to and I'm really intrigued to see how they've handled the survival horror thing. This review is very promising.

Posted by mikey87144

5/5 as expected. Naughty Dog really know how to make great games. I'll buy it but I might have to wait till I'm in the mood to get my guts ripped out to play it.

Edited by Steven

Great review. I appreciate the thoughtfulness brought to the game's presentation of violence. I really like that it's doing something different but it's still disappointing that it still has some moments that appear...is pandering too harsh? Either way, great work Patrick.

Edited by tallTuck94

This and Remember Me are gonna make my next couple of weeks awesome.

Edited by golguin

It sounds like the game has been getting max scores all over the place. Now I only need to borrow a PS3 from someone and I'll be set to pop.

Posted by reelife

5/5 from giantbomb? pre-order right now.

Edited by LordLOC

I truly wish I had a PS3 to play this game. This looks like an stunning accomplishment by Naughty Dog. A real singular, superlative experience that evokes emotion and all that good stuff we expect from the "games as art" dialog. I just wish, and I know it'll be one that never comes true - that this also was on PC. I'd even take a shitty Dark Souls-like port of the game. But I digress. It'll never happen. Unless Valve buys Naughty Dog. Get on that Newell!

Edited by triviaman09

Looks like some people at Naughty Dog read The Road and decided to make a game like that. This will be one of many reasons I pick up a PS3 before either a PS4 or Xbox One.

Posted by Yummylee

Also, I'm really happy to see that the multiplayer has been getting its due across so many reviews as well. For what most would assume to be a throwaway piece of fluff, it's apparently meant to be a really great addition that translates the mechanics and the pacing of the single-player into a multiplayer environment and make it work.

Posted by MEATBALL

5 Stars from Patrick Klepek? That's huge. Patrick never gives 5 stars!

Edited by Bell_End

sounds great.

seems to be getting 10/10 5/5 everywhere. apart from gamespot who gave it an 8/10... if i was Tom id be expecting death threads from the crazy mentals on the GS forums like the System Wars.

Posted by stunik101

Fantastic review Patrick!!

This is why i love the videogame medium...cant wait to play !

Posted by Yummylee

Huh, an 8.0 on gamespot... I look forward to the inevitable Feedbackula Last of Us episode!

Posted by TooWalrus

Naughty Dogs's next game was already a must buy for me, so I'm not even going to read any reviews, I'm just glad to see it's meeting or surpassing expectations- can't wait

Posted by danlongman

Great review, can't wait to play this. Patrick you are truly a great wordsmith.

Edited by Nekroskop

Probably worth a watch.

Posted by Pudge

This game isn't fun eh? Thanks for the heads up Patrick, I'll read no further!

I miss when they used to make Crash Bandicoot games.

Edited by THEBIGZED

@yummylee said:

Huh, an 8.0 on gamespot... I look forward to the inevitable Feedbackula Last of Us episode!

Let's keep in mind the same reviewer gave Fable: The Journey the same score 8.0. He has weird standards if you ask me.