September 2018
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Review: The Last of Us

The Last of Us is one of those games I’m of two minds on.

The-Last-of-Us-EllieOn the one hand, the story and characters are absolutely phenomenal.  I just can’t say enough good about that aspect of the game, and it’s far and away the biggest reason to play the game.  It tells a very mature story that isn’t so much about zombies as much as it’s about people and what they will do in desperate situations.  It’s also about rebuilding relationships and learning to trust.  It tells the story not only through the expected cutscenes but also through dialog spoken as you’re exploring your environment and even the environment itself.

Everything in the world has been meticulously crafted, there are no reused rooms or haphazard items strewn around.  Everything feels like it’s where it is for a reason.  Empty houses tell the stories of their former inhabitants through items left scattered in rooms.  And almost none of those stories seems to have ended well.  You see, The Last of Us is also an extremely dark game.  There are a very few scattered moments of levity, but those mainly serve to underscore the harshness of everything else that’s happening.  Joel, the main character, is certainly no Nathan Drake.  You won’t hear him popping off clever one-liners as he smirks at the bad guys.  Instead, you hear in his voice the strain of the 20 years he has spent struggling to survive in this nightmare.

the-last-of-us-high-res-image-2Graphically, it’s clear that this game pushes the aging Playstation 3 hardware to its absolute limits, and it’s astonishing what they manage to squeeze out of the machine.  Those gorgeous graphics come at the cost of an occasional glitch, but none of the ones I encountered were very serious.  The worst I ran into was a event that didn’t trigger after a battle ended, but after restarting the battle everything went as it should.  Music is very sparse, and often the only sounds you hear are the sounds of the enemies hunting you.  As you would expect, the voice acting is stellar – Troy Baker, the voice of the lead character in Bioshock Infinite does a fantastic job as Joel and Ashley Johnson knocks it out of the park as the already-world-weary 14 year old Ellie.

But…

The gameplay itself really didn’t do much for me.  Part of this is because it’s primarily a stealth game, and I’m not a big fan of stealth games.  They tend to be very trial-and-error, and it’s often difficult to figure out why you were discovered.  This game is no exception.  There were times I thought I was perfectly hidden but an enemy would spot me, and other times when I had basically walked right out in front of an enemy but they still didn’t notice me.  Before I relented and dropped the difficulty to easy (about 3 hours in I’d say) there were segments that I was having to play over and over because I would get past the first 2 or 3 guys and then get spotted & killed, only to have to do it all over again.

The-Last-of-Us-Stealth-GameplayDropping the difficulty really helped out, but there’s another related gameplay issue I had – it is VERY slow paced.  There are ingredients, items to boost your stats and items to improve your weapons hidden everywhere.  These aren’t simple collectables that earn you a trophy (there are those as well) but items you need to survive.  You basically have to spend the time searching every single room, every drawer, everything to find the supplies you’ll need to progress.  And this becomes pretty monotonous around the half-way point.

The actual gunplay when you’re in a true firefight is fine, but nothing really special.  I mean, I have no complaints with it but at the same time it didn’t “wow” me.  So it comes down to this:  if this exact same gameplay was in a game that didn’t have the same calibre story & presentation, it would be an average at best game.  But the story & presentation really are that good, and because of them this game is absolutely worth playing through.  It even ends on a note that while somewhat controversial is absolutely true to the characters and left me very satisfied.

I loved the story of The Last of Us and could honestly talk about it for quite a while, but I’m trying to be 100% spoiler free here.  The fact that it makes this game what I would consider to be a must-play in spite of the mediocre at best gameplay should tell you just how good it is.  But because a game also has to be played, that gameplay really took the overall experience down for me.  At the end of the year, I can tell you it will be among what I consider to be this year’s best games, no doubt.  But I can also tell you it won’t be THE best, because there are already other games I’ve played this year that I consider to be much better.

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