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
Edited by iAmJohn

Reading this couldn't make me happier. So glad to hear this came together after Uncharted 3 left me incredibly cold.

Posted by Krakn3Dfx

Citizen Kane!

Edited by Lava

I preordered this a while ago and I'm especially glad I did now. Great review, Scoops! Very much looking forward to experiencing this game.

Edited by BeachThunder

@gregoryc said:

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

No PS3, and I don't see myself getting one. But it's good to see a 5-star game come out.

Posted by peritus

Can not wait! Can. Not. Wait.

Posted by Humanity

@meatball said:

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

He also almost never reviews anything.

Edited by csl316

Awesome. But what happened to Three Star Summer??

Posted by DarkbeatDK

It's getting full marks everywhere. I'm excited about it!

Edited by Enai

Eagerly awaiting the 14th!

Posted by JesterPC238

Great review. Very excited for this game, it was the only one I was planning on getting day one this year.

Posted by Fobwashed

Last time I moved, I sold a bunch of my gaming stuff including my PS3. This game was the only game I thought I'd feel bad about missing out on and with PS4 not having and back compat, I'm gonna have to find a way to check this one out =\

Edited by ShaolinSpade

I just realized that the cartoon portraits associated with review scores are gone! And this being Patrick's first 5 star review means that we'll never see his 5 star portrait! Lame!

Posted by jasonefmonk

I'm stoked. Time to end regenerating health.

Edited by featurepreacher

@thebigzed: Oh yes there is.

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 Strife777

Good god I wanna play this game.

Edited by Spitznock

This game has multiplayer?
Weird.

Posted by honkyjesus

The demo for it was kind of awkward. I have played this game before.

Posted by D_Man_Taylor

Awesome! Cannot wait to play this!

Posted by TheManWithNoPlan

Fantastic! I'm so glad this game turned out to be good. I plan on getting it off the Psn store. I can't wait to play this.

Posted by Brenderous

I didn't realize this game had zombies in it.... damn.. Still sounds good though.

Posted by jimmyfenix

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

3 star summer will rage on someday !

Posted by Stimpack

"anti-Uncharted" Yes, please. This is what I want to hear.

Edited by Hewitt

@mrgtd:

I'm sure that the release date being, literally, just after E3 played a part in the embargo being lifted this early, too.

I love the fact that this game seems to be very well received. A new IP at the end of a generation has it's risks, and I hope this game sells well. If Sony wants to keep making games that are a bit different then I may have to choose the PS4 over the Xbox One...I really don't care about Forza/Call of Duty etc and I'm sure that the new Remedy game will be released on Steam after 6 months or so.

Posted by kennybaese

I've been holding off on buying games day one for a while now to save some cash, but I intend on buying this the day it comes out. Then again, it comes out a couple of days before my birthday, so maybe I'll get someone else to pick it up for me.

Posted by reelife

Just pre-ordered the Ellie edition ^_^

Edited by Jaytow

@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.

Yeah! He must be wrong about this game that you don't even own! Stick it to that guy!

How dare he not give a game the score you wanted him to give!!

Edited by Yodasdarkside

Great review, Patrick, and I'm sure the game is just as fine as you say. My gut is telling me I won't enjoy it though, survival horror not being my thing at all. And I'm weirdly freaked out by the design of the Infected, they're really disturbing.

Edited by amlabella

Great review Patrick! I personally love the Uncharted series (the second is one of my favorite games), but it's good to hear that Naughty Dog went in the opposite direction with this one. At this point it feels like a change of pace was needed.

Posted by Stimpack

@jaytow: Ugh. Why do you have to act like that? The guy just said he has weird standards, he wasn't being hostile. No need for unwarranted passive-aggressiveness. Also Fable: The Journey was garbage.

Edited by TrafalgarLaw

@bell_end said:

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.

It actually was Tom Mcshea. I expect a murder at e3.

Edited by MildMolasses

@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.

And that's the type of logic leaps that lead to Gamespot comments, so by all means feel free to post over there instead

Posted by cbarnes86

You broke three star summer... but glad you did. Glad to see this game is living up to its hype. Can't wait to play it!

Posted by flasaltine

Good game or hype?

Posted by Colourful_Hippie

After finishing Metro: Last Light I sure could go for some more post-apocalypse.

Edited by wchue

Stealth

naughty dog

ps3

sold!

Posted by TPoppaPuff

Some of you are really dumb people, you honestly expect this game be GOTY. It was apparent since January Brad Shoemaker's (or whatever the fuck hes name is) DMC: Devil May Cry journey that it will be best game that ever come out 2013.PERIOD!. Got it? GOOD. Now stop babbling about how this is better than best game of 2013 DMC: Devil May Cry. Some people I swear.

Brad Shoemaker TM.

Well when it comes to GOTY voting, Brad only gets one vote. Of course, his obstinance gets three more votes, but we'll see how it plays out.

Posted by patrickklepek

After finishing Metro: Last Light I sure could go for some more post-apocalypse.

I need something sunny after this. God damn.

Edited by patrickklepek

Good game or hype?

That was a really interesting part of playing this game--I had zero hype. I'd somehow avoided anything about the game, except what's been shown at press conferences the past few years. I went into The Last of Us cold, and it definitely aided the experience. Kudos to Naughty Dog and Sony for avoiding the exploitation tactics so many other games wallow in.

Edited by patrickklepek

@meatball said:

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

I simultaneously think giving a a game 5/5 is a big deal (I haven't done it yet, and I don't expect I'll do it very often) and not a big deal (it doesn't mean the game is perfect, and the metric is fetishized by enthusiasts).

Posted by Aelric

@patrickklepek: I've been replaying Wind Waker. That might do the trick.

Edited by Bulby33

Really looking forward to this.

Edited by PoisonDonut

Thanks Patrick, you just sold me this game!

Edited by Colourful_Hippie

@colourful_hippie said:

After finishing Metro: Last Light I sure could go for some more post-apocalypse.

I need something sunny after this. God damn.

Just don't tell Jeff if you end up having a good time.

Edited by DrSwank

@thebigzed said:

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

I'm willing to bet it will come in DLC.

Edited by Tober

Great review. You're seriously good at writing Patrick! You have my respect. Also... I preordered the crap out of this game and the statue as well.

Posted by thevigilanteoflove

Jesus Murphy Christ, I am so excited for this.

Posted by Lavos

Great review Patrick! I passed on Walking Dead cause I didn't want to put myself through the clearly pain-filled experience. I may have to do the same with this one.

Posted by Mrsignerman44

@patrickklepek: Nice, going into any game cold is what makes it a great experience. Hype is what produces a lot of disappointment and creates topics that say "Yeah, it's not that good, guys." It'd be nice if we could all dial down the hype, good to see that it's shaping up to be a good game however.

Edited by happypup70

@cbarnes86 said:

You broke three star summer... but glad you did. Glad to see this game is living up to its hype. Can't wait to play it!

It would be hilarious if they did a three star summer by changing the max value of the stars. Last of us got three out of three stars, some awful game got 3 out of 15 stars etc.