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 ei8htbit

Thorough and unflinching, great review.

Edited by Miketorreza

RIP in peace 3 Star Summer :(

Edited by timewarp

@mrgtd: If only more publishers followed this example. Focus your resources on creating a good game. Cut back on bullshit marketing, and let the game/players market for you.

Edited by guiseppe

Makes me regret selling my PS3 :(.

Posted by Turkalurch

Good read. I'm excited to give this a shot when it comes out. After the demo though, I'm wondering how linear the game's playable sections are. Any input on this would be nice.

Posted by Daniel94

Wow 5 stars!

So sad it won't come out in PC then ;(

Edited by Krathoon

Weeeeeellll. I guess I will be getting this.

Edit: Getting really tired of people buying up collector's editions.

Edited by Devil240Z

I had no idea that this game had zombies. that kind of ruins it for me, I thought it would be more than that.

and honestly 5 stars from patrick means nothing to me. He seems to like really punishing games that are no fun to me.

Posted by armaan8014

@lordloc said:

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!

T_T same story here. It makes me sad in a way that the game sounds so good. Doubt i'll ever get to play it.

But there's hope for a better game on PC! Witcher 3! :D

Posted by thatlad

5 stars, naughty dog, living upto the hype...this game screams at me to put my hand in my pocket....but I just can't. I'm fed up of zombies and really couldn't get myself motivated to play another zombie game

Edited by ginroth

In the third to last paragraph, the one about Ellie, it should be "every once IN a while" not "every once AND a while."

Posted by flasaltine

How did this not get 10/10 stars? Fuck you Giant Bomb.

Edited by itsVASH

Don't want to shit on Patricks review because its his opinion... but having listened to him on the podcast for months and reading his other reviews you can expect him to give additional praise to games that intentionally go out of their way to be different... I guess I'll just have to wait until next week to find out on my own

Posted by Sursh

i'm probably missing out on something epic, but i just could not be compelled to pick this game up. sorry naughty dog, i have supported you for years but this time i have failed!

maybe i'll pick it up in a bargain bin a few years from now and absolutely adore it, but right now, MEH.

Posted by Ujio

@ginroth: Like when people say "could of been" instead of "could HAVE been."

That's so fucking annoying.

Edited by RainbowRaccoon

How did this not get 10/10 stars? Fuck you Giant Bomb.

.........Wow

Posted by Tesla

This comes out on Friday? Cool. I'm glad to see it getting good reviews, can't wait to check it out for myself.

Edited by Mucklefluga

Can't wait to play this game.

Posted by Storms

@lordloc: If you had a PC that could even play The Last of Us, you could afford 5 PS3s.

Edited by coachl23

Great review, no real spoilers, and great to hear that we get some real quality games to play at the end of the generation. Like Bioshock infinite we are getting single player games that take you places in your gaming. Just watched 5 mins of gameplay too I'm in!!

Edited by Fleckle

When does this game start getting good?

Edited by bondfish

just a correction on the review, you hold down R2 to listen not L2

Edited by scorpio_gamer

Great review btw its R2 for listening not L2 :P

Posted by Protonguy

By holding down L2, Joel crouches to the floor and uses sound to gain a sense of what's around him

believe it's R2... i'm sure this has been pointed out already but just in case :)

Posted by HKZ

This game does not have zombies in the way zombie games have been recently. Hell, most of the conflict in the game has absolutely nothing to do with their interpretation of the undead, it's mostly conflict with the groups of people around you, the moral questions of your character, and why you're doing what you're doing. If you see the word "zombie" and decide that "I'm out" you're doing yourself a disservice and being INCREDIBLY immature. The game has a interpretation of the undead as a almost ignored background character. Forget the word zombie was ever attached to this game and go out and buy it. Character development, clever and extremely well written dialogue and good old fashioned right storyline is what this game is about.

Posted by ripelivejam

@storms: that is a gross overestimization if i've ever seen one

Posted by MightyMayorMike

@storms: I doubt you'd need a rig that powerful/expensive to play Last Of Us.

Edited by backtalk

Save the movies for the film makers, I want to be directly immersed in a game and from what I gather this is uncharted with zombies. The graphics are incredible for sure but as much as this gets loved it will collect dust before players know it because its the most non replayable video game in a good while. You can dazzle critics with your cinematic charm but the last of us is what I consider a bad game...this is one gamer you can disagree with but I just have to say it. Its an astounding narrative with polish and quality but its just intensely on rails with cutscenes. Its great for its genre "movie-action?" but its unoriginal and as an avid gamer who can only tolerate a cutscene that has a real bearing on gameplay "me3", I won't buy Uncharted I am Legend any time soon, even for that first time-fuzziness.

Posted by backtalk

Dark Souls is way ahead of the curve in terms of multiplayer/singleplayer integration, maybe its apples and oranges but this games incredibly shallow in my experience.

Posted by uriel_wang

This game has become a reason for a PC gamer like me to grab a cheap PS3 after PS4's release...

Posted by Bishop113

@backtalk: I don't think this game has a great narrative nor do I think it's quite the uncharted with zombies you say it is and I certainly think you are very wrong on the "movie action" criticism. Whether this game's narrative is good or not, having games like this that at least try to be mature and have an interesting story are important, moreover games like this have a level of specific detail to the world you're walking in a straight line through that completely trumps something like Skyrim which you may consider a good game considering it's massive amount of replayability, with a game like that it's all about quantity whereas a game like this is about very narrow quality. I think Heavy Rain fits more into the "movie action" genre you speak of, it tried very hard to be as movie-like as possible, so much so that it was no longer a game in my opinion, but this is still very much a game.

The important thing to note is that you don't have to play every game that comes out, but it's still another important step in a great direction for games and I think Bioshock infinite was another(bigger) step in maybe bringing games into a more mature narrative focused part of entertainment and maybe get them recognized by more people as more than just kiddie vidja games.

Posted by jynxdaddy

Most overrated game this year.

This review is really forgiving, and has made me doubt Patrick as a reliable reviewer for my tastes.

Try reading Patrick's review of Dishonored and then this. What happened to all the complaints about tired stealth mechanics?

He gets it right in the first paragraph;

The Last of Us is not fun, at least not in the traditional sense, and that's exactly why it's so interesting.

Patrick Klepek (The Last Of Us - Review)

Story trumps all.

Quite frankly the story isn't that great or original, if the actual game can be surpassed by the story, where are the near perfect scores for Spec Ops: The Line? Sure, it's a lot rougher than The Last Of Us, but that game deserved my forgiveness for its shortcomings. I can't say I forgive The Last Of Us.

~ End of bitter rant.

Posted by GroupX

You don't have unlimited ammo at any point in the game on Survival mode. Not even when hanging upside down in the trap.

Posted by BurgerTrench

I'm waiting for the anti-anti Last of Us sentiment to come back around.

Finished it. It is indeed a masterpiece. Brave choices being the key phrase.

Most of the hate towards this game goes to the gameplay. I can't say I see an issue. The kill boxes never feel small, you're allowed to approach combat in a variety of ways, and the AI will try a clever thing every now and then by flanking. It's not breaking new paradigms but it's certainly serviceable, and at times, even fun.

The stealth mechanics are on par with a game like Deux Ex: Human Revolution. You can approach combat quietly, or engage in skirmishes if you wish. I found no dire situation in regards to resources, at least on normal, but the game did force me to use different weapons due to ammo restrictions. I enjoyed that element. There is no dominant weapon or approach to use. Stealth is certainly safer, but takes slightly longer.

Swimming is clumsy, but there are only a handful of set pieces that require you to use it. And it certainly isn't game breaking. I never had an issue completing swimming objectives on the first try, save for one instance, which was done on the second try.

Other than that, where does the "overrated" tag come from?

Graphically, it's, arguably, the most impressive looking game on all consoles.

Set pieces are meticulously designed and almost never feel like "here's another room". All areas feel lived in more so than maybe any other game I've played. Given the sheer number of them, it's exponentially impressive.

The score is minimalist and masterful.

It's pretty much agreed that the voice acting is among the best this medium has ever had. Even among detractors.

So what's left? The story? I can see how it wouldn't necessarily be for everyone. If you play games for escapism and aren't interested in exploring deeper, and (ugh) darker, narratives, that's fine. You probably already know this game isn't in that vein. I suspect a number of people who feel that way, and played the game anyway, came out more enriched for it.

Given this medium, few, if any, games travel this sort of road and tell this kind of narrative. Sure, you can see a lot of the turns coming. And there isn't anything here that hasn't, in some way, been used in other media (though you can say that about ALL "art", not to mention it's a crappy form of criticism). But what IS done, is done in such a fresh and (again) brave way, it will catch you by surprise.

Masterpiece? I think so. Good work Patrick. And in 5-10 years, we'll be looking at this game in the same way we look at Shadow of the Colossus and BioShock now. A monument to story telling for the medium and a, brave, step forward.

Posted by GabrielZyx

Very fair Rated, This game will still memorable,