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.

288 Comments
Edited by Chtasm

I totally only pre-ordered this to get free super saver shipping for something else on Amazon. I was going to cancel it, but now I'm not so sure...

Posted by SlashDance

This is exactly what I need after that last Game of Thrones episode. More human tragedies !

(Great read btw)

Posted by Jaytow

@stimpack said:

@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.

I haven't played Fable: The Journey so I'm not going to comment on that but I don't like this attitude that many seem to have towards reviewers that don't agree with them about a video game. Gamespot and Giantbomb are not the same website for a reason, it is a good thing that we have many different opinions to help us make an educated decision before buying a video game. Reviews are, in my opinion, being devalued by this hostile attitude towards the minority that disagree with the majority.

Edited by rawilliam

Can someone at Giant Bomb please go over to GS and slap Tom Mc Shea's face?

Posted by PoToSkull

I like how we can all be civil in the comments. Unlike Polygon where the community manger is trying to do damage control.

Edited by Linkster7

Great review Patrick.

Posted by patrickklepek

Can someone at Giant Bomb please go over to GS and slap Tom Mc Shea's face?

Don't be that guy.

Edited by Ohvee

I like how we can all be civil in the comments. Unlike Polygon where the community manger is trying to do damage control.

It is a shame. I really like the Polygon comments section. The moderators are super active in the community and most of the comments stay civil over there. But, I suppose that people are always going to get upset about the review score that doesn't match up with all of the others. No matter how many times that you tell them that it won't change your own opinion of the game when you actually get to play it, it still happens.

Edited by Robopengy

Three star summer is ruined!

Posted by JDillinger

Game of the Generation.

Edited by MachoFantastico

The Uncharted games are some of my favourite games of this gen, so I was all for this anyway. Been staying away from any news/footage because I know I'm getting it. The reviews have been impressively high though.

Bravo to ND. Still wants me some more Uncharted though.

Posted by waecho

Can someone at Giant Bomb please go over to GS and slap Tom Mc Shea's face?

I like how we can all be civil in the comments. Unlike Polygon where the community manger is trying to do damage control.

Delightfully back-to-back.

Shame I don't have a PS3, this looks like a great game.

Posted by Pixeldemon

To the people talking about review scores, remember that a 5-star system is more holistic than a 10-point or 100-point system. People expect a 5-star game to be "overall" extremely good, but not flawless. It might translate from anything from 80-100, if you wanted to go that route. However, in the more granular review scales, it's expected that the score reflect those flaws, hence 8/10 or 85/100 etc.

But what really matters is what the reviewer says, and I really enjoyed getting Patrick's impressions. I only wish there was more detail on the multiplayer mode and whether it will have any staying power.

Guess it doesn't matter, I'll still be buying this game. And I didn't/won't pre-order! Yay!

Edited by SadisticWOlf

Sounds like a cool game that I will never, ever play!

Posted by development

@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.

I know it's not a really relevant comparison, but I can't help think of Killzone 2's month-early review release and how it totally killed all momentum for its release. Hi-larious.

Posted by ronsaddler1
Posted by RamboJordan

Great review Patrick!

Posted by IshimuraD

I'm even more excited for this now! I just don't get why it comes out on the 14th instead of on the regular Tuesday, because now I can't play it until almost the end of June!

Edited by civid

@robopengy said:

Three star summer is ruined!

Yeah, fuck Klepek, he ruins everything!

...On a more serious note, I really need to start getting some money. Between this, Remember Me, Metro and Bioshock Infinte this has been one hell of year so far.

Posted by JDillinger
Posted by probablytuna

Good review, but it would be better if you didn't mention some of the things that were in the game and let us experience them first hand (like Ellie's whistle getting better as the game progresses). I know it's nitpicking, but it bothers me a bit.

Edited by THEBIGZED
@drewmaw said:

@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.

That'd be an okay alternative. I'd be excited yet kinda bummed as to why it wasn't included in the package to begin with. Not that one can really complain the game not being a 'full deal' as it is.

Edited by Batalskar

Normally I love Patrick's write ups, but is this a review about The Last of Us or Uncharted? I know Uncharted deserves credit for Naughty Dogs success, but maybe give that credit once and not during the entire review article It really takes away from the message that The Last of Us is an epic game that deserves our attention.

Posted by DrSwank

@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.

HAHA are you serious!??? Their should be a way to vote down reviewer authority/weight based on past incredulous reviews on Metacritic.

Posted by iceman228433

Game of the Year it would seem for sure.

Edited by JimmyPancakes

I've got bad nerves, i'm not going to play this game

Edited by PhilipDuck

Can't wait to play this!

Edited by Live_Free_or_Die

Wonder if there will be a quicklook?

Posted by zFUBARz

Guess I'll be picking up one last PS3 game after all. granted that'll only be like my 4th game for the system...

Edited by aquacadet

I'm so torn.. I want to read the whole review, but I don't wait to now anything more than "it's worth buying on day one for full price".

Posted by THEBIGZED

@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.

I don't see what you see. The trailer just shows PvP stuff (of the two modes that have been confirmed). ND also promised some big news to come, guess that could be something else than the reviews.

Posted by Warihay

Good review. So excited for this.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

@potoskull said:

I like how we can all be civil in the comments. Unlike Polygon where the community manger is trying to do damage control.

The gamespot comments are pretty nuts too. I can see a good episode of feedbackula resulting from it.

Edited by Stimpack

@jaytow: but devalued by who? Do you think that what they say has any real bearing on the review itself? What impact do you think it has?

Also my point was that the person was simply saying that he believes the reviewer has weird standards. I see what you're saying, and I agree that there is most certainly a vocal and hostile minority out there, but this guy wasn't doing that.

At some point, the honest answer for both reviewers and their critics is that everyone is entitled to their own opinions. The only wrong answer is to be a dick.

Posted by 49th

5 stars is all I need to know. I'm not reading or watching anything about this.

Posted by mrcraggle

This is totally a 7.5 you guys

Posted by Disaya

@49th said:

5 stars is all I need to know. I'm not reading or watching anything about this.

Same here, I'm really looking forward to playing this as soon as possible.

Edited by Jayzilla

anti-uncharted? so jeff has to love this game, right?

Edited by LucidDreams117

It's too bad this game went down the zombies path. It sounds amazing otherwise and the emotional highs the characters convey is amazing but I can't help but wonder when games won't need the gunplay in every game and always have an enemy, especially zombies. Why not embraces the loneliness of these two characters and how they survive in this world. But then again, there's that issue of fun game play, and how fun is it if you're not shooting or fighting someone? It's a question more and more games need to tackle.

great review, Patrick. I expected you'd like it given your love for games like these and also how much you like Zombie U and so on.

For me, I won't play this sadly. I just don't have it in me to play another zombie game.

Telltales The Walking Dead is the extent of actually game play Im willing to go for. This game, from what I've read elsewhere as well, just isn't a fun game to actually "play".

Edited by mrsmiley

Such a shame this is only coming to PS3. I would love to see a PC version. This game would make a ton more money if it were to go that route. Oh well. :(

Posted by Jedted

@patrickklepek: Great review! I think this game might be what finally gets me to buy a PS3.

Edited by Luck702

Too bad I don't own a PS3, this looks interesting as hell.

Posted by Milkman

This is the Citizen Kane of video game reviews, Patrick. Good work.

Edited by Wilshere

Too much detail on the character development and interaction.

I think that everyone that is bothered to read the review would already know what are the good and bad points of Uncharted.

Posted by Snail

It seems Patrick is always ready for a drink.

Seems like a good review, even though I avoided most of the text after the point when I felt I knew enough that I'd want to pick up this game. Now to avoid most of the coverage about this game until I play it. Wish me luck!

Posted by Flappy

Fuck! Now I really wish I had a PS3.

Edited by Hilts

This is f**king awesome news professor K! I was hoping this game would exceed expectations. I don't envy you GOTY deliberations and we are only in June!

Posted by Deviation59

Normally I love Patrick's write ups, but is this a review about The Last of Us or Uncharted? I know Uncharted deserves credit for Naughty Dogs success, but maybe give that credit once and not during the entire review article It really takes away from the message that The Last of Us is an epic game that deserves our attention.

I'm actually quite thankful he went over the Uncharted comparisons. As much as Uncharted 2 was one of the very best games I've played this generation, Uncharted 3 was such an excruciating experience due to the endless waves of bullet sponge enemies and disconnected set pieces that I quit playing it and only came back and finished it over a year after.

Patrick's quote about Naughty Dog internalizing the criticism of the Uncharted games and making the anti-Uncharted is one of the best things I've heard about this game.

Posted by maskedarcstrike

#TeamPatrick ftw

Posted by cfilipec

its games like this that show why the ps3 store should migrate to ps4