Published on July 10th, 2013 | by Luis Acosta
REVIEW: The Last of Us
The Last of Us Review – A month later, does it live up to the hype?
The Last of Us Review
By: Anthony Cespedes
July 10th, 2013
“That movie was the funniest movie I’ve ever seen!”
“No really, you’ve got to watch this movie! I’ve never laughed so hard in my life!”
“He’s not exaggerating, it was the funniest movie. Ever.”
Those were all descriptions people gave to me of that summer’s big movie hit, The Hangover. Time and time again, people told me I just had to watch that movie, assured me I would love it, it was my kind of movie. Finally, months after the movie was out of theaters and on DVD, my friends sat me down and made me watch it. I was excited, I hadn’t had a good laugh from a movie in a while, and I was guaranteed a good time. What was there to lose? An hour and forty minutes later, my friends were all doubled over in laughter and I… was unimpressed. Sure, I thought it was funny, but the funniest movie I’ve ever seen!? Nowhere close. I felt let down. For months, the movie had been hyped up for me, hilarious quotes thrown left and right, and somehow the movie fell flat. I simply had to accept the fact that the movie was just overhyped, and if I had just gone into it with no expectations I probably would have been just as blown away as the rest of them. This overhype phenomenon would carry through to other areas as well. Food, TV shows, games? All fell for the danger of the overhype.
Because of this, I approached The Last of Us with some trepidation. Released on June 14 by the esteemed developers at Naughty Dog to much fanfare and critical acclaim, I was bombarded by friends regaling me with their own reviews, insisting that it was one of the greatest games they had ever played. With some excitement and with a healthy dose of skepticism, I set out to answer the question – does The Last of Us live up to the hype, or would it fall victim to the overhype phenomenon? Twenty some odd hours later, I found my answer. Yes. A thousand times yes. Absolutely it lives up to the hype.
The game begins with an emotional bang, detailing the first moments of the outbreak of a disease, rendering infected humans into soulless, flesh-eating zombie-like existence (the game never actually refers to them as zombies). After a brief yet thrilling introduction, you’re quickly given control of Joel, one of the two protagonists of the adventure. Soon after, you’re introduced to Ellie, the second main character, and the pace picks up in earnest. The two form an odd pair – Joel is a middle-aged man who has lived in the post-outbreak world for decades, whereas Ellie is a 14-year-old girl, who never knew the world before the infection. The dichotomy between the two characters is one of the many strong points of the game, as Ellie will marvel over little things such as a record or a diary entry that Joel (and you and I) takes for granted. Ellie’s childlike wonder at the world around her is incredibly endearing, and Joel’s growing need to care for her creates a very strong attachment with the characters and draws you into the world and the experience.
Speaking of which, what a terrible world the inhabitants of The Last of Us live in. Humanity is clustered in small areas, and where there is a government presence it is typically oppressive. For fans of The Walking Dead this will seem all too familiar. Pockets of humanity are constantly in conflict with others, as survival of the fittest reigns. All the while, various types of Infected lurk posing yet another threat to humanity. Throughout Joel and Ellie’s journey, they encounter enemies both human and Infected alike, which allows for a wide variety of gameplay options. The AI of this game is another of its strong points, and between human enemies and Infected enemies, the gameplay changes. When fighting against humans, enemy combatants will take cover and use suppressive fire while others attempt to flank you. Against the Infected, some will run directly at you screaming, neglecting all stealth, while others will not readily detect your presence but if alerted, will bring you a world of pain. Gameplay decisions will change from situation to situation.
And that gameplay. I’ve barely scratched the surface on how impressed it left me. Weapon ammunition is scarce, and thus every enemy encounter becomes a decision. Do I attempt to stealthily sneak around this patrol of humans, or should I burn my ammunition now, and hope I can easily stealth assassinate a group later? How do I best avoid these Infected Runners in my way; do I attempt to stealth kill one and then go guns blazing on the rest? What if I alert one of the deadly Clicker Infected that can kill me in one hit if I get too close? Should I spare one of my few shivs to take that Clicker out quietly, or attempt to sneak around it? What if I can’t craft more shivs for a long time? Even this simple yet intuitive crafting system involves many micro decisions, simply due to the fact that crafting happens in real time. The game doesn’t pause while Joel crafts something, so if that Infected Runner is coming at you and you really need a health pack but you have to craft one, then you’d better craft it before that Runner gets to you because the game sure isn’t waiting. With an easy to grasp control system, the gameplay is one of the strongest I’ve seen in recent memory.
Of course, gameplay by itself doesn’t make a game. It needs to be accompanied by a gripping story and characters you care about. Fortunately, The Last of Us has this in spades. Joel is a strong protagonist, at times a man of few words, and while you may not necessarily agree with the morality of all the decisions he makes during the game he lives in a world in which ethics and morality have been thrown out the window. Ellie in turn provides a nice foil for Joel’s stoicism. Her engagement with the world around her is endearing, and her growing attachment for Joel is one of the strongest points of the story. The two are held up by a solid supporting cast of characters, each with their own set of dilemmas in this immersive world. The characters actually seem to believe in the world around them, which is enhanced by the very strong voice acting the game provides. Additionally, the game just feels real. After a time, you forget you’re playing a video game and it becomes more of an experience. If you expect something to happen a certain way in real life, chances are the game mirrors that as well. The movements of the characters are genuine, the physics appear authentic, and the subtleties in movement and facial expressions are captured incredibly well. The game isn’t bad to look at either, in fact it’s one of the most beautiful games I’ve seen on this generation of consoles. From the urban decay of the cities to the lush wilderness, “this game looks so real” has never been so appropriate. It makes it easy to get lost in the world, as depressing as the world is.
For all its highs, The Last of Us falls just short of being a perfect game. Load and save times can be incredibly lengthy. There are also inconsistency issues as far as alerting enemies. Joel will draw enemy aggression by being too loud, whereas the AI-controlled Ellie will run right past an enemy’s line of sight and fail to be noticed at all. Additionally, controls that apply in one area do not necessarily apply to another. For example, to climb up an elevated platform you press X, but if the game doesn’t want you climbing something and you press X, nothing happens. These are all minor gripes however, and are only noticeable because the game does everything else it sets out to do so incredibly well.
From start to finish, The Last of Us grabs you by the hand and takes you on a gripping, emotional journey. With it’s immersive world, gripping and at times unpredictable story, characters that you become truly invested in, and incredible gameplay, The Last of Us definitely lives up to all of the hype. It is one of the few games where I found myself forgetting that I was playing a video game, but instead felt that I was living vicariously through the characters. It is one of the greatest games I’ve ever played, and is up there with BioShock: Infinite as my game of the year. If you have yet to experience The Last of Us, get on it. You won’t be disappointed.