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 sam1am7000

@patrickklepek: Nice review!

A few improvements.

"The more powerful infected have one-hit kills that aren't counterable until later"
Not a real word.

"Joel can and must use distractions to make quiet killing easier--players choose between a loud choke-out or shivving--or to sneak along."

Last bit does not make sense.

Every once and a while, Ellie (or another character) will have an icon appear above their head

Once in a while

Here, it's more points and a bothersome use of extreme violence.

"it points more at" or "it more points at"

Posted by Fire_Marshall_Bill

Must have Quick Look!

Edited by patrickklepek
Staff
Posted by HerbieBug

Excellent! Looking forward to release day. :)

Posted by Jaytow

@jaytow said:

@stimpack said:

@jaytow: So a person's previous work has no bearing on their future work? If you've hated every Uwe Boll movie, would you then be eager and trusting that his next movie will be any good?

If the game, in his opinion, sucked, then that's his opinion. If I see someone do something that I disagree with, it has an effect on whatever else they do in my opinion. Nothing is set in stone, and it doesn't invalidate his review, but it is reason to take pause.

I feel like mentioning the reviewer's previous work is important. I think you're mistaking this for "whining" about the score he's given, when he's simply stating that the guy's tastes might be different than what you or I are looking for.

I think the bigger issue is the reliance on some random number to give us the information we need. Numbers are useless, look at the actual work.

Anyway, that's just my opinion. I really just don't think he did anything wrong to warrant your reaction.

First of all lets stop acting asif I went to his house and shot him. Nothing terrible has happened here.

Mentioning the previous work of a journalist is fine, that's not my problem. My problem is with the shit storm this guy will receive for not sharing the opinions of 99% of the other journalists that have reviewed this game.

If somebody posts a review that you disagree with (lets put aside the fact that this guy hasn't played the game yet) then it's fine to disagree with it and let us know why you do so but what's annoying me is the fable review being used as an attempt to write off the last of us review, this is made even more annoying by the fact that none of us have actually played the finished game yet.

Okay, now if I saw some reviewer give The Godfather an 8 and then went through his reviews and saw that he gave Twilight a similar score I'd probably conclude that perhaps his opinions are different from mine, or at least come from a different perspective. That's not to say they are necessarily wrong, but simply differ from mine and perhaps the majority of others.

True, I have not played the game, not even the demo, so there is a small chance of me maybe agreeing with everything that reviewer said. The fact that his review score differs from the vast majority (same could be said of the Fable review) simply shows that his opinions may not be the same as 99% of others. Nothing wrong with that though. It's worth noting, however, that in the end reviews from publications that cater to the masses should basically tell the reader whether the game is worth buying or not. If you differ too much from what most of others are saying then you may be misleading most of your readers. That's assuming the common consensus is somewhere near the truth.

It is not misleading to have an opinion that differs to the majority, the day that all journalists agree with each other is the day the review process becomes useless.

Posted by AURON570

Iduno I'm still skeptical... Sounds kind of like Demon's Souls. You start off thinking everything is hard, like "oh I can't go around spamming attack" but once you get the hang of it, it's actually easy.

Well I was skeptical about Uncharted 2 as well, but then I bought that and went ahead to platinum it. Couldn't really complain with Uncharted 3 *shrug*.

Edited by Jaytow

@stimpack said:

@jaytow: I never said you did anything terrible to him, but I am saying that you're severely exaggerating the situation. It feels like you wanted to complain about something that had nothing to do with him. You obviously have very certain perceptions, and you've rolled him into them. There's no reason to walk around with a hair trigger in-case someone comes along and points out a positive review of what many believe is a crappy game.

He didn't "write off" the guy's review. He just said that the guy has weird taste "if you ask him". There was absolutely nothing unfair with what he said, and that's why I addressed you in the first place. Not to argue the critiques of journalism or anything of the sort. My point was that you are calling out the wrong person, and that's not cool.

*edit* but, with that said, I think the discussion has gone on long enough. I just wanted to get my point across, and I feel I've done the best I can in attempting to accomplish that. At any rate, I hope the game is good. I'll more than likely pick it up when it's released.

I very rarely post on these boards, I am not going around looking for something to complain about.

I will be buying the game and I hope it's great! PS3 has become my primary console due to the great exclusives that sony have pumped out over the last few years.

Personality is important in journalism and I don't consider it weird, at all, to have one.

Edited by THEBIGZED

@jaytow: Of course everyone has to be honest with themselves and just write what they think about it. No other way to do it I guess. But at some point, would you not call someone perhaps not suited for reviewing (not for a blog or other mainly personal outlet) if that person constantly went straight against what was the general opinion on a product? Reviewer like that could offer great and useful criticism for developers but for the consumer someone like that may not be the most useful tool in choosing what to buy.

Edited by Stimpack

@jaytow: Agreed. Of course I'm of the opinion that weird can be pretty alright. Yeah, Sony's exclusives have definitely been among the best in my opinion. With their willingness to approach wide varieties of games, including many indie devs, I'm hoping that the PS4 will have a lot to offer.

I've always been both a console and PC gamer, even if there are a lot of people out there saying the difference is now negligible.

Edited by GermanBomber

This is the first time (seriously) where I'd like to kick my own ass for buying a Xbox 360 instead of a PS3....I WANT TO PLAY THIS GAME!

Posted by Carlos1408

Awesome review Patrick. I had a feeling this game would be good, I've never played any of the Uncharted games. However, I was never too curious about them, this seems to be more down my street. My brother has a PS3 so hopefully he'll get it and I'll be able to play it when I see him. :D

Posted by Vegetable_Side_Dish

Gonna pick this up on 360

I'm holding out on the game boy advance version myself

Posted by Cold_Wolven

Good to see that this game doesn't disappoint and is another reason why I think Naughty Dog is one of the best game studios going around.

Edited by ScreamingGhost
@pudge said:

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.

While I appreciate the new direction Naughty Dog has taken and the advancements they've made in video game storytelling, I can't help but long for the old Naughty Dog as well. It'd be fantastic to see Naughty Dog go back to there roots with a more animated art direction and develop a new plat former.

As for The Last of Us, I feel like I'm the only one who can't get excited about this game. I usually dig these kind of dark survival tales but zombies and survival gameplay only turn me in the other direction. I'm on zombie/apocalyptic overload, good god enough is enough every where I turn its something zombie/apocalyptic related. It doesn't help I think zombies are just stupid, now I know they mainly server as a backdrop for human drama but the trope feels beyond overplayed. Maybe down the road I'll come back to this game, hell I didn't play Bioshock until about a year or two ago, for different yet similar reasons. I do wonder if this will lead to a sequel though. I hope not, from the outlook it seems like it should be one and done, so as to not compromise its storytelling. Depending on the ending though it could demand a sequel. Whatever Naughty Dog does next though I'm sure it'll be great.

Back to the matter at hand, excellent review Patrick, hope the GB community that were or are now on board with the Last of Us enjoy the experience.

Posted by Dan_CiTi

@mofaz: Huh? Violence is a key part of BioShock Infinite's story. The actually gameplay is basically a cartoon-y version of what the story tells.

Posted by JoeyRavn

I'm seriously considering buying a PS3 to play this game. I'll try to hold off until the embargo is over to see some real feedback about it.

Edited by Brad3000

@jaytow: But using a reviewers other reviews to give context to their opinion is part of that "educated decision" making. He wasn't advocating firing the reviewer, or slapping him (as someone else has) or calling him an asshole. He was merely using one of the reviewer's other scores to illustrate why he doesn't place much value in the his opinion. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and we need a wide range of opinions out there in game reviews, because all gamers are different and the range of opinion is broad. But that doesn't mean we can't disagree with those opinions.

Posted by hbkdx12

so all the multiplayer is competitive? That's a bit of a bummer. Was hoping for some kind of bit sized, side adventure co-op missions or something

Posted by GnaTSoL

.....But is it the citizen kane of gaming Patrick?

Edited by TheElliotBee

I kinda wish Brad had done this review, I think he's a stronger writer. Though, Patrick being the go to horror guy, I can see why the decision was made. Or maybe Brad was just too busy playing DOTA.

Edited by ViciousReiven

There's no such thing as bothersome extreme violence.

Posted by Brad3000

@thebigzed: Heck no! We need reviewers whose opinions are counter to the consensus because there are many consumers out there who have opinions that do the same. The point of having many reviewers out there is to have different opinions expressed, not just to form a unanimous decision. If you can look at a reviewer's track record and decide for yourself whether you usually agree with them or disagree with them, that is still usefull. The number of people out there who think Last of Us is a 7 or an 8 might be small but they are out there and they need people whose opinions they agree with speaking to them as well. cc @jaytow

Posted by Gimbal_Lock

Sounds interesting enough. It's a shame that it's PS3 only though. I probably would have given it a roll if it came out on Steam... And I actually own a PS3!

Posted by ArcLyte

Looking at my 360 Slim right now and seriously thinking about trading it in for a PS3.

Edited by YOU_DIED

Wouldn't the anti-uncharted have zero deaths?

Posted by Angouri

@you_died: the anti-uncharted is flower. Or flOw.

Edited by Deckard42

Great review Patrick.

Edited by SkullcrusherMountain
Edited by YummyTreeSap

The paragraphs about this being the anti-Uncharted sold me.

I don't agree that Uncharted is the perfect example of ludonarrative dissonance, though: Drake is a vaguely psychopathic self-centered fuckface in the cutscenes and narrative, and he's a (more than) vaguely psychopathic self-centered fuckface in the gameplay.

Edited by singing_pigs

@homeslice said:

My goodness. If you ever wanted to see a realtime, seemingly unending stream of hate, head on over to Gamespot's 8.0 review. And it's a certainty that none of those people have played it!

I suspect, rightly or wrongly, that the 95 on Metacritic offsets any "damage" that Gamespot's review could elicit.

It can't be any worse than Phil Kollar's 7.5 over at Polygon. I'm all for reviewers having their opinions but Phil's biggest complaints were the atmosphere made him feel bad and that a third person shooter from Naughty Dog is still a third person shooter from Naughty Dog. I have a hard time seeing those as legitimate complaints. That is kind of the point of this game and Naughty Dog has not mislead and set it up to be anything but.

There are almost 1000 comments on Phil Kollar's review and not a single human there has played it. It's nucking futs.

Edited by avidwriter

Crossed the game?

Posted by bhlaab

Can someone confirm if the zombies in this game are epic win or full of fail??

Edited by Gimbal_Lock
Edited by TangoUp

The written review sounded like the game should have got 3/4 stars. You sound downbeat too. Hmm, regardless the "... Last of Us is not fun, at least in the traditional sense ..." doesn't bode well for the game.

I love the Uncharted games, but I'm sick of the epidemic of zombie games and this 'grim-dark' and 'grittiness' plague on all modes of entertainment today. I'm disappointed ND decided to develop a zombie game of all genres. Not my idea of fun, so I will probably think about this title when it gets to the bargain bin.

Posted by Brake

I need to bust out my PS3 for this. I haven't played anything on it since Uncharted 3.

Posted by bybeach

I'm impressed.. I know The Last of Us is a weird game, and there may be some personal valuation going on. From what I have seen of so many reviews/reviewers in the past, this little bothers me. I either find often it's right up my alley, or something I need to grow into. For my own personal growth.

And if it is bunk, that may could be a personal problem. We will see, because this game is on my list

Edited by Cyanid

Interested, mayhaps this will finally make me play the Uncharted games!

Posted by juice8367

I just Preordered

Posted by EuanDewar

should i get a force feedback controller for this cause im literally still using the controllers without feedback that i got when i bought my PS3 back in 2007

Posted by GS_Dan

@euandewar: Oh sweet Jesus, do that ASAP. Those controllers are TERRIBLE.

Posted by Stonyman65

Oh shit I forgot this was coming out so soon!

Posted by Dawgs4Life

Looks like the summer of reviewing only 3 star games is over. You had a good run bomb boys

Edited by HS_Alpha_Wolf

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

Kollar's review brings up good points, and I can see why he gave the game the score he did. Despite MetaCritic making it seem like review scores are a concrete metric to judge games, everything is in the eye of the beholder. That being said, when the review for the TLoU is 7.5 and pops up next to the review for Remember Me, which got an 8, I also had to do a double take as I scratched my head. The bottom line is this game is pretty much up Patrick's alley, and sadly there are probably going to be Uncharted fans who think this game is crap and ND should have just made Uncharted 4: Yes, We Really Did.

Posted by Kohe321

Great review as usual Patrick! Can't wait to play this, looks fantastic!

Posted by Brighty

Brad "5 stars" Shoemaker strikes again

Edited by WolfmanJenkins

Looks like it's gonna Bioshock Infinite vs The Last of Us for GotY. Maybe GTAV if all goes well.

Posted by DragonBomb

There are almost 1000 comments on Phil Kollar's review and not a single human there has played it. It's nucking futs.

That's not necessarily true. There has been a PAX East demo as well as a demo that came with buying God of War: Ascension. People have played the game. It's a bit different playing a 40 minute demo versus playing a 16 hour game though for sure.

I think Polygon has something to prove with their recent history and it's right to question them because really Kollar's review seems to be criticizing The Last of Us for its premise rather than how it implements that premise. The 7.5/10? Who cares about that, but the actual content of his review will be questioned once us gamers get a full playthrough going.

Posted by Brackynews

@brighty said:

Brad "5 stars" Shoemaker strikes again

You're poking fun, right? O_o

Posted by FoxMulder

One of the few games I plan on buying on day one fo $60 this year, cannot wait. Uncharted 3 was fun, but I definately didn't love it as much as I did 2. Glad to see ND changing it up and doing something different than a non stop action game.