Alright, let’s get this over with. A lot of people have heaped a lot of praise onto “The Last of Us”. Many describe it as Playstation 3’s best game- a triumphant swan song before the new console generation hits in November: game of the year so far: an emotionally stirring, console generation defining masterpiece that simply must be played by any and all with any affection for video games. Is it all of those things? No. No it isn’t. It is not by any means a bad game, and on the whole is actually very enjoyable and well crafted, but in my opinion at least, it can’t be described as anything more than “rather good”.
Firstly: the story. Opening with a very effective scene in which protagonist Joel witnesses the start of the outbreak (more on that later) first hand at the cost of his daughter Sarah, it then skips to twenty years later: Joel is now a rough, no-nonsense smuggler working in Boston with his partner Tess. After murdering a group of goons and their boss who owes the two a cache of weapons, the leader of a revolutionary group called The Fireflies tasks the two with escorting a fourteen year old girl named Ellie (immune to the infection) to another group of Fireflies in exchange for Joel and Tess’ weapons, which were sold to the group. The story then covers the better part of a year as Joel attempts to get Ellie to The Fireflies, who have a nasty habit of all being dead long before Joel arrives at their location. All through the game there was a problem with the story I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but I’ve finally worked it out: it’s presented in the same way the story in “Uncharted” is. Both games use the story as a means to contrive new reasons for the main characters to travel to different places and little else. Side characters turn up, add little to nothing to the plot and bugger off again, leaving the focus on central characters that don’t have a great deal of depth to them, although in this case Joel does have a decent arc, albeit a predictable one. This doesn’t work here- the story should be an integral, driving part of the game and instead it simply boils down to “Hey, no one’s here to meet us in _____, let’s go to ____and see if there’s anyone there”. Having said that, the story isn’t all bad, and indeed I think its biggest problem is that it feels light and rushed above all else. The ending is a particularly bittersweet stand-out that feels very right for this particular story, the section set during winter is excellent and the chapters all have a few set-pieces that are pretty good. Another problem the story has is that between chapters the story violently lurches forward, often to a new state, with seemingly little connectivity between where you are now and where you just were. The story isn’t bad overall, I just feel that the “Uncharted” template doesn’t suit this genre. I’d have liked to see more of what the infection has done to people (a few moments come to mind, one being a slog through a series of back gardens -a creepy idea in itself- and corresponding houses that provided missed opportunities for extra horror) , a slower build up and more instances of humanity’s dark heart other than a few fleeting glimpses. It didn’t live up to its potential is what I’m saying.
The previously mentioned outbreak manifests itself in two main ways: a wealth of greenery covering the environments, and mushroom-based creatures stalking around. The gameplay is split into two main modes: combat and stealth, with the two often blending together mid-encounter. The gameplay is where I have pretty much no complaints: human enemies and infected require different tactics to defeat, the stealth is done very well, and switching between melee attacks and shooting is very smooth. There are various methods to employ in each fight, with things like distracting enemies for stealth kills, all-out shooting, bombs and melee weapons all letting you do things your own way. It’s also fun and indeed encouraged to keep switching up your ideas even in mid-fight, and the combat stays consistently entertaining for the game’s runtime. The human enemies are pretty smart for the most part, and bullets do a heavy amount of damage to Joel, as well as stagger him, making stealth and cover the better choice. Joel also has two main advantages over his enemies: the crafting system and “Listen” mode. The former involves picking up bits and pieces from the environment to make items like health kits, shivs and molotov cocktails, but the catch is that certain objects require the same items to create: making a molotov will deprive you of a health kit, for example. The latter is a function that lets Joel focus his hearing to see enemies through walls, but only if they are making noise. This is particularly useful during stealth encounters, but during gunfights you’ll mainly use it just to see if anyone’s still alive. The infected enemies come in four main types, with two being particularly dangerous: the first two are quick, aggressive and often come in packs, while the latter two forms are clickers and bloaters: blind creatures that see via eco-location and can kill you in one hit, for some reason (I get why the bloaters can- they’re huge and really strong, but the clickers I don’t quite understand). The only problem I have with the infected is that they’re not scary. Even sections involving multiple clickers aren’t frightening because you can easily outsmart and stealth kill them, and once you get to grips with the game and start finding more weapons they stop being so much of a problem. The gameplay is easily the best part of “The Last of Us”: it’s involving, tactical and fun whether you’re against humans or infected, and it stays fun, too.
Overall, “The Last of Us” is something of a disappointment. The story often feels rushed and its events consequential, with the plot simply dictating where Joel and Ellie go next. Their emotional bond only really starts to develop later in the game, and until that point Ellie alternates between being annoying and just kind of “there”, particularly when compared to the likes of Elizabeth (“Bioshock Infinite”) and Clementine (“The Walking Dead”). The gameplay is good though- the stealth and combat are all great and moving between them feels smooth. This is a good game and definitely worth a look, but I can’t jump onto the bandwagon this time- this is not PS3’s best game or the game of the year so far. It is, however a good game in itself, and maybe that’ll be enough.
By James Lambert
Oh, and one last thing I wanted to point out: the story is at times eerily similar to that of “Bioshock Infinite”. A violent, stoic badass with a dark, horrible past voiced by Troy Baker escorts a young female companion through an entirely hostile landscape full of things said companion has never seen before and as a result finds interesting and enchanting. The companion and Troy Baker badass both develop a more personal bond by the end, and she finds and give him ammunition. I’m not saying “Naughty Dog” ripped it off or anything, but that is uncanny.