(Spoiler free) The Last of Us In-Depth Review: Surviving This Generation's Swan Song - Dima110 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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(Spoiler free) The Last of Us In-Depth Review: Surviving This Generation's Swan Song

Introduction

Hello, GIO, thanks for clicking. You're reading my review of The Last of Us. I have beaten the game twice since the release and have played the multiplayer extensively. As stated, this review is entirely spoiler free (apart from general story details) and I try to go as in-depth as possible. I hope you enjoy. I appreciate any comments, criticisms, or compliments you can offer in the comments.

Review

Story

Naughty Dog has proven to the world that they are masters of storytelling. The Uncharted series, while campy, featured excellent story elements and fantastic character development. With The Last of Us, however, they focused all of their learned talents into some of the best and grittiest storytelling I have yet to see in the medium. While it retains the polish and precision that made the Uncharted games great, this is not a happy tale. The game takes massive strides in how stories can be told in video games and leads into a conclusion that will leave you stunned.

The story is entirely linear but not to a fault. Similarly to Uncharted, this game is to be treated as a blockbuster film. Naughty Dog has a story to tell and the way it is told is where the splendor is. There are no branching paths, no important story decisions that decide if and who die. And for a game like The Last of Us, it shouldn't be any other way.

Joel and Ellie

The story focuses on Joel and Ellie, a grizzled survivor and a teenage girl. Bitter opposites, it would seem, except that they have one thing in common: they have both lost everything. The plot centers around Ellie being immune to the fungus that has decimated humanity and Joel being her escort to those who might be able to extract a cure from her. The story itself, at its core, doesn't sound particularly memorable or impressive. The story serves merely as a backdrop for the incredible character relationships and experiences that befall Joel and Ellie during their journey.

That being said, The Last of Us isn't the only game to be released this year that focuses on a relationship between a strong male figure and an innocent young female. In my BioShock Infinite review, I talked about how incredible the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth was. I can't stress enough how much more deep and natural the relationship between Joel and Ellie is. What these two characters experience and are forced to endure, as opposed to Booker and Elizabeth, feels more real and sympathetic than anything I have seen in a video game yet.

One thing to keep in mind, though - Joel is no hero. He is certainly not Nathan Drake, Commander Shepard, or Master Chief. Twenty years of surviving and doing the unspeakable to do so have turned him into the very people he is forced to kill - a monster. One thing that the writers wanted to emphasize was the moral ambiguity of all of your actions. Many of the things that Joel does won't sit well in your stomach - as well they shouldn't. In many cases, Joel isn't much different from the countless other survivors you are forced to kill to get Ellie to safety.

Don't Get Attached

The journey that Joel and Ellie go on is heart-wrenching, powerful, and unpredictable. I've played the Uncharted games dozens of times and set piece moments are Naughty Dog's specialty. While you won't crash any trains or discover any lost cities, the twists and turns that The Last of Us takes to enrich the story will leave you astounded. It will go places that you won't expect a video game to go. 

As past Naughty Dog games have shown, a huge part of the experience comes from the characters. Joel, Ellie, and the plethora of characters that they meet along the way are some of the best parts of the game. Each character has their own story and their own journey. Just as with Joel and Ellie, they had to make their own sacrifices and go through their own hardships in order to get to where they were. Nobody who lives in such a world has survived without doing things that they wouldn't imagine they would do otherwise.

Not For Kids

This game is not for the faint of heart. It is very difficult and very violent. I personally enjoy realistic violence in my media. If someone is being shot in the face, I don't want a cut to black. I want to see the blood splatter on the wall and then the character's reaction to what they've done. The Last of Us does not skimp on that regard. Strangling an unsuspecting guard or stabbing a shiv in the neck of a clicker is brutal and satisfying each time it's done.

Violence in video games is a very controversial subject. I personally feel that sensitizing a game like The Last of Us, which focuses on the realism and brutality of the end of the world, would detract from the experience greatly. But I digress.

A strong stomach is definitely required to get past certain moments, though. As previously stated, the twenty years since the infection hit have not shaped Joel into a moral man. He will kill anyone in his way and Naughty Dog has not spared any expense in giving Joel many ways to kill his enemies. At only fourteen, Ellie knows naught but the grimness of the world she lives in. She is forced to do things you couldn't imagine a fourteen year old girl to have the capacity to commit.

Visuals

I have played a lot of video games. I am primarily a console gamer as my PC isn't capable of running the newest and best games at full graphics. With that said, I can easily say that The Last of Us is the best looking game I personally have played. Every environment you enter is detailed and beautiful. The character animations are simply incredible. Every detail, from wrinkles, hair and eyes are all accounted for and animated masterfully. Naughty Dog has once again proven that they are the leaders in creating beautiful visuals on console.

A Gorgeous End

Twenty years have passed since the initial outbreak. The majority of humanity is either dead or infected. Millions of homes, skyscrapers, cars, roads, and cities are left uninhabited. Nature has retaken its hold on the world. Skyscrapers begin collapse before your eyes. Buildings, torn to shreds by bombings or looters, are exhilarating to enter. It's terrifying, given the current way of life for most of us playing the game, yet strangely serene. 

From the leaves falling from the trees as you walk by to the pond scum moving around you as you swim, the detail that is placed in the world of The Last of Us is unparalleled in modern gaming. The world of the Last of Us is appropriately ravished with every detail met with impeccable accuracy.

Technologically, the visuals are fantastic. Most of the time, anyway. There are some moments that slightly hamper the beauty of this game. Throughout the thirteen hour campaign, I noticed the occasional pop-up texture, hair glitch, or draw distance issue. The fact that I am even griping over this should suffice to show just how amazing the graphics are at their best. I feel, however, with a little bit of extra time, that these slight visual inconsistencies could have been ironed out. 

Gameplay

The Last of Us features many different gameplay components that congregate to create a fantastic single player experience from start to finish. Since the game takes place twenty years after the infection hit, resources have become scarce. Nobody is making bullets. There are no more factories manufacturing canned goods. Joel and Ellie, along with the rest of humanity, are forced to get by with what's left. 

Surviving the End of the World

Survival plays a very important role in The Last of Us. One of the core gameplay components is item crafting. It certainly isn't the most robust or complicated of crafting systems, but, given the scarcity of resources, is appropriately simplistic. With the crafting system, you can upgrade your melee weapons, create shivs, health kits, and explosive devices. 

The game will rarely hand you items. On the occasions that you do find a full shiv or a health kit, you will let loose a relieved sigh. The majority of items are crafted through materials that you find around the world. Simple tools like duct tape, scissors, and rags can be used to make items. In addition, you can find pills that can be used to upgrade Joel's character. Reduced gun sway, additional shiv strikes, and faster healing are a few that will help along the way.

Special workstations are also available every few chapters that allow certain weapon upgrades. Increased clip size, reduced recoil, and increased range on certain weapons can be added. This isn't a game you can just run through. To survive efficiently, scrounging is a necessity.

An important feature that you will use extensively is the Listen Mode. Pressing R2 will force you to crouch and focus your hearing, allowing you to pick up certain sounds and noises in the surrounding area. If you are hiding behind a wall and you use the Listen Mode, an enemy making noise will be highlighted for you so that you know their exact location relative to you. Keep in mind, though, that this isn't a solve-all system. If an enemy is not moving or making noise, they will not appear in the Listen Mode. It is an important tool to use, but if you rely on it too often, you will get yourself killed.

Combat

One of the major gripes, I've noticed, with other reviews is the combat system. The Last of Us, in its attempts at maximizing realism, has a natural sway of the arm when holding a gun. Timing becomes key when trying to land a headshot on a faraaway enemy. Compared to other games in the genre, this is something almost entirely new to most gamers. For me, I had no major issues with the system. I felt that it was executed precisely as required. Long range shots will be harder to land. A sprinting enemy will be harder to hit. The Last of Us is a game focused on the gritty realism of life. Life, especially in a world overrun by infected monsters and bloodthirsty survivors, is not easy. If the combat system didn't match the difficulty of the world, I would feel starved of an important component. That isn't to say that I didn't find difficulty in the gun system, but I molded my playstyle around the system, rather than attempt to force the system to mold to my playstyle.

A selling point for the game is the emphasis on choice in gameplay. It boils down to three playstyles: kill everyone loudly, kill everyone silently, or sneak past everyone. One style will not suffice for the entire game. Depending on how many resources you have left (ammo, health kits, etc.) you may have to try a different method. 

The infected you fight and the people you fight both require generally different playstyles as well. They both have a certain level of predictability to them and both have a level of randomness. For example, it is safe to say that an infected runner or a clicker will always charge at you head first. It is not smart to run in guns blazing into a group of four or five of the beasts because they have no fear of you, your guns, or for their own lives. On the other hand, if you shoot into a group of four or five people, they will scatter and duck behind cover. Their awareness of their own mortality is evident when you corner one. You kill all of his companions, beat him senseless, and what does he have left but to beg for his life?

The companion AI is, for the most part, adequate. If in combat, they will fight, shoot, and kill infected alongside you. If you're grabbed by a scavenger, Ellie will run up and stab him in the neck repeatedly with her knife to save you. If you're low on health or ammo, Ellie will search for supplies and give them to you. Some level of suspension of disbelief must be administered, however, since your companions won't be seen by infected or other humans when you are hidden. For a game so focused in realism in its gameplay, it may irk some gamers to see Ellie run directly in front of an enemy and the enemy reacting in any way. For me, though, I find that this was a necessary sacrifice in order to keep the game from being too frustrating. If a companion risked being seen every time they moved from cover, then you would be found out too many times by enemies based on actions that you had no fault in.

Multiplayer

The Last of Us could have been an entirely single player experience. I am a gamer who is on the fence on whether or not story-focused games should include multiplayer experiences, as they often feel tacked on. Looking at games like BioShock 2, Doom 3, and, dare I say it, Duke Nukem Forever, I feel as though if less time was spent creating a multiplayer experience that would inevitably be beaten by multiplayer heavy games like Call of Duty, Halo, or Battlefield, then the core single player experiences could have been much stronger. BioShock Infinite skipped out on multiplayer and, in my opinion, is probably better because of it. 

That being said, the multiplayer for The Last of Us is very fun. The sense of fear and tension translates well from the campaign into the multiplayer. Instead of fighting AI survivors, you are fighting survivors who are your equals. They have the same skillset as you, complete with crafting and the Listen Mode. 

The multiplayer, called Factions in the game, is split in two modes, both requiring you to kill all of your opponents. In Supply Raid, you respawn in waves and are limited to twenty "reinforcements". In Survivors, you don't respawn until your team kills the entirety of the other team or your team is killed off. 

There are more specific details on the multiplayer that I won't go into so I will leave the details at that. It is worth saying that the multiplayer is definitely fun and addicting. Would I have accepted the game sans multiplayer? Definitely. Fun or not, it will end up with only a small cult following in the coming months and be lost to the upcoming Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4. I would have gladly accepted more campaign content in place of the multiplayer. Regardless, the multiplayer is fun and worth checking out if you own the game.

Replay Value

At its core, The Last of Us is an extremely fun game to play, both in single player and multiplayer. Years down the road, however, I certainly won't be popping this game in to play the multiplayer. In terms of replay value, I would treat this as an incredible movie. It isn't possible to play this game every day without it getting stale, as some would with a game like Call of Duty. As an amazing film or book, it is an experience that you will always play every once in a while until you stop playing video games.

And for me, at least, that is where the replay value lies. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves came out in 2009 and featured a fun and interesting multiplayer mode. I have played and beaten the game at least a half dozen times since the release, but I haven't touched the multiplayer since 2009. The real value of the Last of Us, as with Uncharted, lies within the incredible campaign experience and rightfully so. 

Conclusion

The Last of Us is an emotional thrill ride that will leave your jaw dropped. The effect that it will have on you will leave an impression on you that will not soon end. This is the best game of the year so far and is now one of the best games that I have ever played. A masterpiece in every sense of the word and a definite must own.

10/10

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