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The Last Of Us
"Naughty Dog creates the Greatest Post-Apocalyptic adventure of this generation"
The Last Of Us was something I have waited for every since its announcement as the ant teaser way back in December of 2011, a game that I have strongly anticipated up until its release date just 3 short days ago. The near 20 month wait for this game has been agonizing, but after just finishing this game only about an hour ago, I must say, this was an experience well worth waiting for.
The Last Of Us takes the most unexpected thing of nature (Fungus) and turns it into something clever. Particularly Cordyceps Fungus, which by itself, is a very disturbing part of nature, but when in the hands of Naughty Dog, it stands as a enemy concept that I could never think of in my life, and the basis for the world of The Last Of Us. Naughty Dog utilizes the concept and traits of the Fungus to its fullest potential, applying it to the structure of the in-game world, the enemies and the sense of impending danger and the unsettling self response of what the world has become. When I first researched Cordyceps Fungus, I was immediately disturbed, it was one of the most horrific things I have layed eyes on, even though I was only looking at insects. In The Last Of Us, Naughty Dog's imagination allows us to witness, encounter and fight what this Fungus has done to mankind. The enemy design is some of the best I seen in gaming, enemies (specifically the clickers) take on an appearance so beautifully horrifying, that it could be viewed as art.
Same goes for the environments. The Last Of Us features a stunning variety of dead-living vistas of landscapes. From beautiful forests, to snow capped mountains that can be seen from a lake side resort, to a city of dilapidated sky scrappers, to abandoned towns that feel almost picture perfect, there is no denying that this is one of the most-immersive gaming experiences of this generation. Along with the immensely detailed world and the threats that lie with them, you have the basis of a typical post-apocalyptic title, the main goal of survival, which is represented so beautifully in The Last Of Us. Within this world, man kind no longer has control of its self, instead the landscape is dominated by the infected, forcing those left of the world to survive either solo, run around in groups of bandits, and attempt at civilization as factions such as The Fireflies which are prominently featured in the story of The Last Of Us. In The Last Of Us, you can choose to either fight, or die, with running also as an option, but one that only works for so long.
The Last Of Us controls like a heavier version of Uncharted, another game by Naughty Dog. Controlling Joel feels much distinct from controlling Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series. Whereas Nathan Drake was much more aerodynamic and could run, jump and climb with a more fluid response, Joel feels like his age, older. And the game benefits in that right as it being a survival game. Joel is not as flexible in movement as Nate. While playing him, he felt more grounded (heavier). Its a distinct feel that I appreciate, and feels perfect for this game. Same goes for combat, Joel hits slower, but his hits feel harder, and controlling a gun feels like how a man his age in real life should hold a gun, with allot of swaying.
Joel can also swim and climb, but his skills are limited to just simple actions. He can't leap off edges and climb sky scrappers, but he can climb up on a car or use a ladder to reach a higher point in the environment or get over an obstacle. Its ideal for this game and when in combat scenarios, the restrictions in fluid movements allow for the intensity of combat to reach its highest peaks.
The Last Of Us is actually a lengthy campaign, spanning across four seasons and over 15 hours of gameplay (depending on which difficulty you select) and there are many collectibles to gather along the way. This is actually one of the best linear games I have played, and that's probably a result of the unparalleled quality and authenticity of the content present. Its not a huge open world, but levels feel open enough for you to move all over them, and they have many other optional areas and rooms to discover to collect important items such as parts for crafting weapons or pills that you can use to improve the attributes of Joel, such as extra health, or more control over gun sway. The story took me three 5 plus hour sessions to complete, and never once did it feel like its was dragging on along the way. The number of weapons available to you are well balanced, you don't have so many types of weapons that you are overwhelmed, and you don't have so little where your wishing for more veriety. You have your well trusted weapons such as your handguns and your shotgun, and later on you will gets special weapons like the one handed shotgun called the "shorty" and a flamethrower. And the game also offers New Game Plus, which you will want to do because the game is so damn good.
Also, along with The Last Of Us, comes multiplayer, which I have no comment on, because I have not played it yet. With the Last Of Us package, you get a Triple-A quality story spanning over 15 plus hours, new game plus (which is worth playing through again at least once) and a multiplayer component (which I haven't played but heard is pretty solid). For a linear game, this is one of the better ones in terms of content amount.
The story is the biggest strength of The Last Of Us. The Last Of Us takes you on a journey through a world beautifully depicted as something violent, meeting new characters along the way with as much as depth and personality as the main stars of the game. Naughty Dog once again crafts a legendary cast of characters as good as the ones in their previous games. Ellie is without a doubt, the greatest female child-teen character created on screen. Her character reminds me allot of the character "Juno" portrayed by Ellen Page in the film Juno (which was a really good movie, if you liked the character of Ellie presented in this game, go and see that movie and awe at the similarities between the two). Ellie, to me, IS the first main star of the game next to Joel. She is a character crafted with the highest level authenticity and attention. Through the game, while she follows behind Joel, she will make comments on things that are part of the world, such as movie posters or an old retro video game machine. After combat she will recite lines from comics, and while walking around when Joel is searching for stuff, she will make noises like imaginary guitar riffs to help break the silence and ambience in the atmosphere. Ellie feels like a real life person, that I can go somewhere and meet up with, carry a conversation and say goodbye with a resonating feeling of sadness inside myself, because Ellie is a great person to be around, and every second of her onscreen time is a second that I devoted my fullest attention to.
The other characters of the story, such as Joel, Tess and Bill all have this same amount of depth and personality to them, making them all distinct in their own way and memorable to the experience. Besides Ellie, Joel is the second most likable character in the cast. After the shocking introduction of the story, I could not help but to feel the layer of past pain holding on to Joel, and smile with an enlightened sense in my heart as he interacts with Ellie in those moments where he admires Ellie as a daughter, these moments, while not many in The Last Of Us, are the ones that give the story depth and create charisma that resonates with you as you grow to know these characters more and more, and by the games conclusion, there is an emotional attachment so strong, that you cannot help to wish there was more.
All I can say is the story is great, but not perfect. And the reason why is the excessive amount of combat scenarios Joel and Ellie are thrown into. Yes, I understand that this an apocalyptic world, where danger is constant, but the game only gives limited breathing time, not so little where the game feels like its just one constant shooting gallery, but not enough to fully let the story shine fully in the spot light, as at times it is put to the side for fairly long periods of time due to the constant fighting you will have to endure. While the combat never fully gets dull, it does get irritable when at times you cant go 15 minutes without fighting a wave of enemies. There is also one moment in the game where I was actually pissed off because of this, and it was further into the story. There was this one point (No Spoilers) in the story, a cut scene, where Joel and Ellie have a fight. This moment right here to me was an important one and marked a significant event in Joel and Ellie's relationship, but before I could let the emotional feeling of this moment resonate, I was pulled right into an immediate combat situation, after going through many before this moment.
However that's not to say the game doesn't give you times to breath, there are many times in the game where it does let you breath, moments where you are just running around searching for supplies, using the environment to get over obstacles and just having on-the-side conversations with Ellie. This is where the gameplay really shines as a story experience. But one thing I could ask from Naughty Dog is to focus on the story more. The majority of the game is combat. I felt there were never enough character interactions between Joel and Ellie, counting only around six that I could remember as standing out to me in the game. This is where the experience is lacking. The Last Of Us focuses so much on the violent side of the apocalypse, but not enough on the human side.
At many times, I thought to my self of how much story they could have filled in these parts where its just constant combat and violence, fighting, fighting, fighting. Its not that I have a problem with violence, but it does get tiring when you just want to enjoy the story. Even with so much combat though, the story is told well enough and the characters are crafted so good that you forget all about the combat, but this only reminded me of my occasional disappointment with how much potential Naughty Dog had wasted on repetitive combat situations.
Before I conclude with this section of the review, I want to point out that the Winter section of the game was my personal favorite. While this section was dominated with constant combat, this section also features the most memorial and tense moments of the game, especially the ending, which left an impact on me that I will remember as one of the most unsettling moments of this gaming generation.
The story presented here in The Last Of Us is crafted with constant quality and has many stand out moments, ones that shock and ones that are beautiful (such as the "Giraffe" scene) accompanied by a perfectly-fitting soundtrack created by Gustavo Santaoalla, that makes these moments even stronger. However, The Last Of Us is a great story that fails to reach masterpiece heights due to the much of the game being obscured by consistent combat situations. Naughty Dog (and all games) can benefit from reducing the action present in their games (this problem is also present in their Uncharted games) and increasing the number of story moments present. But all in all, The Last Of Us is the definition of a damn good game, and at the end of the day, it does meet my expectations, just not surpassing them.
Gameplay Features and Variety:
Now, one thing that could be said for the combat is that Naughty Dog did put immense amount of work into it, which made it much less of a pain later on. In the initial moments of the game, with the difficulty set on hard, the combat is presented at peak intensity and horror, whether your fighting the infected or humans. Melee quality has an impact that is brutal. When you first take a lead pipe, and dash out at an enemy swinging at it as hard and fast as you can, you can literally feel each hit (another thing to point out is the superb sound design, which makes each blow, each hit, each gun shot come to life). And the environmental kills Joel can perform are a nice touch, such as smashing an enemies face into a wall. The guns all feel good to, each one has its own weight and feel to it, and the reticule in nice. When you cap off a head shot, it delivers a very satisfying feeling, especially since ammo is rare.
One thing I like to point out is how well Naughty Dog manages the amount of ammo and supplies you have available to you. You never have too much at your disposal. There were times at the start of the game, where I would miss a few shots, and I would feel uneasy because I knew I had wasted precious bullets. Also, every weapon in the game has their own distinct feeling, and they are all enjoyable to use. Through out the course of the game, I found myself using every weapon in the game, from the Molotov cocktails, to the revolver, to the bow, to the rifle, etc. And the combat is all complimented by the superb level design. Within each combat situation, there are many paths to take, many tactics to use. You can go in using only stealth, and for those times when things get hectic or you decide to go in shooting things up, you can successfully do it, although you will probably deplete your supply going that route. Because of such a strong combat system, the combat never feels as much as a chore as it could have been, at times its rather enjoyable, but during those moments where the games throw in those spurs and waves of enemies it does get a little irritable.
There is not much to break up the monotony of the combat. I mean, some of the parts have you complete a few simple minded puzzles which are all structurally identical: Get a ladder and place it somewhere. Find a raft for Ellie to ride on because she can't swim. The game could have had more clever puzzles, but I'm not complaining, the puzzles present in this game are better then nothing.
The highlight of this game is the relationship between Joel and Ellie, which is one of the best character relationships created on screen. And it doesn't hurt that every other aspect of The Last Of Us is crafted with with excellent also. Over the course of the story, as you get to know the the characters of Joel and Ellie, follow along with their journey, and by the time you say goodbye, you just wish for more.
The Last Of Us is a beautiful game. At first glance, it is breathtaking. Character models look stunning, environments are exquisite and the music couldn't fit the tone better. The game draws you in and keeps you in a whole new world for the duration of the journey, its a very immersive game, one that pushes the PS3's hardware to its bare limits. Animations are fluid and bring the enemy AI to life. They will flail their arms in desperation as Joel chokes them from behind, enemy AI itself is very solid, offering a very decent challenge on hard difficulty. I would also like to point out that through my whole entire playtime with the game, I never encountered a single glitch, never, not even the slightest glitches where enemey limbs would clip through textures, none of that. However that may vary with your experience.
The Last Of Us marks the best game of this this year next to Bioshock Infinite. I will say my time with The Last Of Us left me unsettled, this isn't a happy game, and the end leaves many questions to be desired. After completing the story, I had to sit down and think about what could happen next. If Naughty Dog has a sequel in mind, then there is no doubt I will be anticipating it till' the day it comes out, just as I did with this one. The Last Of Us is one of the greatest stories of the post-apocalyptic genre, I will never forget the journey of Joel and Ellie. It has had its ups and its downs, but ultimately, The Last Of Us is an important experience, one that shocks, one that makes you question things about humanity that you normally wouldn't think about. The Last Of Us is a journey, from the shocking open of the story to the even more shocking moments just before the mind-baffling conclusion. It is a remarkable experience that I will never forget, and one that I will will mark as one of the best games of this year. However The Last Of Us is not an easy experience, it is one that challenges you, but if your willing to take those challenges, the rewards will be substantial.
Gold Award Received
The Good Stuff:
Excellent Story +
Great Characters +
Superb Level Design +
Outstanding Graphics +
One of the best Post Apocalyptic stories ever told ++
The Bad Stuff:
Too many combat situations -
Puzzles are too simple -
Good review, very thorough!