7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A Breath of Fresh Air - "The Last of Us",
This review is from: The Last of Us (Video Game)
For me, "The Last of Us" is a tremendous breath of fresh air in the gaming world. Usually, I'm forced to compromise and pick one of two choices in a video game; either the gameplay will be fun and the story non-existent (or unimportant), or the story will be good but the gameplay suffers from significant flaws. It's usually more of the former than the latter, but I always hold out hope for those periodic gems that succeed on both counts.
(I will do my best to avoid any significant spoilers, but what follows below does contain references to the plot. You've been warned!)
"The Last of Us" tells us the story of two characters, Joel and Elly. In their dystopic world, a contaminant of some kind (it's referred to as a spore, but we never learn too much about it) has infected the population. Globally. The spore is not fatal but does cause the human host to become aggressive, violent and, given enough time, causes significant mutations. So, this is essentially a mutant zombie story. Joel is forced to accompany Elly on a lengthy journey, bringing her to a new destination in this run-down, desolate, and extremely dangerous world.
Humanity has been nearly wiped out by the spores and the few humans that survive live day to day, just trying to hang on and prevent "the infected" from overrunning them. They form small groups, seek places to hide from the infected, and do not trust outsiders. With the complete collapse of government and society, man reverts to his "state of nature" ways. In "The Last of Us," Joel and Elly are just as likely to be killed by the infected as they are by fellow, uninfected survivors. Survival becomes the one law of the land and doing whatever it takes to survive. It is a kill or be killed society.
Joel remembers the day everything changed; Elly was born into this world. Joel is a battle-hardened survivor who has become a monster to fend off other monsters; Elly is largely ignorant of what the world looked like before the spores. But because Elly has only known this harsh environment, she is forced to grow up quickly. This contrast between the two characters (realism vs. optimism; hopelessness vs. hope; age vs. youth) drives the story forward and makes their interactions that much more interesting.
As with great movies, what makes this game such a delight to play is that the characters change! We see both of them evolve, over time, and their personalities gradually change. This is what makes the characters believable; we see how we have changed and we can see it in others. This adds a level of realism to the main characters that is frequently absent in games.
Elly initially has little respect for Joel, his rules, and his brusqueness. But she gradually comes to appreciate not only his skill in survival, but also that his rules are intended for her protection. Similarly, Joel morphs from a largely self-centered character to a man who develops genuine concern for Elly's well-being. In the midst of an oppressively depressing world, where man has turned against his fellow man, slaying him for little more than the contents of his pockets, there remains a faint glimmer of hope in Joel and Elly's journey.
The story is well paced, it never feels like we're being ordered from fetch-quest to fetch-quest, and even the best laid plans unravel, which means there is plenty of room for twists and turns. We see seasons change, new locations, and Joel and Elly even meet interesting characters (some good, some bad) along the way. In contrast, these individuals are typically static characters; they remain the same and are not with the main characters for the entire duration of the journey. But they add another layer of realism to the plot and are a great foil to Joel and Elly. Indeed, we would care much less about Joel and Elly if the other characters had been left out.
The gameplay is equally engaging. There are a couple key concepts that the developers got right on this game. They include:
1. Scarce ammunition/limited carrying capacity. Though this game plays and feels like the "Uncharted" series of games, ammunition is MUCH rarer. This means you decide very carefully when to use firearms. I preferred stealth whenever possible and tried to use physical weapons (baseball bats, planks of wood, lead pipes, machetes, etc) if I had to fight.
The limited carrying capacity also means you won't be stocking up several hundred rounds of the same type. Consequently, you rarely feel comfortable with your current status; you constantly feel like if you just had a few more shotgun shells, maybe you could relax. This heightens the tension, particularly when you're trying to sneak past intelligent humans (which will flank you if you're detected) or blood-thirsty infected (some of which can wipe you out in one hit).
2. Crafting resources. There are very few health kits to find in "The Last of Us." You will survive based on your ability to scavenge the necessary components to build your own first aid kits, molotov cocktails, and a host of other items. Again, you are constrained by space; can't make anything with a maxed out resource? Tough luck. The net effect of this system is that it truly forces you to be a scavenger, seeking out items everywhere, scouring every nook and cranny for that little part you hope makes the difference between a grisly death and success.
3. Stealth mechanic. In only a few cases are you actually forced to take a violent approach to a problem. In most cases, if you're able to craft a route that avoids detection (or you can run like mad and escape), you can avoid combat completely. The game actively encourages you to attempt this because of the known scarcity of ammunition and supplies. Sure, going in guns-blazing is a lot of fun; but what if just around the corner is a hornet's nest of infected that you'll have to fight?
The overall effect of these concepts is that you are frequently on edge. You never quite feel safe. There are moments when you get past all the bad guys and there's time for Joel and Elly to chat. But typically these are broken up either by sudden changes of fortune or an encounter with hostile humans or the infected.
"The Last of Us" has been criticized by some reviewers as feeling too much like a movie. And I can definitely see validity in that point. There are a good number of cut-scenes, all well-done and technically impressive. But, for me, the comparison to a movie is a perk. It's a very well done, interactive movie. It isn't like "Metal Gear Solid 4" which had a few extremely long cut-scenes. "The Last of Us" does a good job of dropping in a cut-scene to highlight a change in story, but then quickly drops you back in the action and essentially says, "Ok, no-time-to-think, GO!" The cut-scenes advance the story and provide a nice respite from the constant plodding of the journey.
When I started playing "The Last of Us," I thought it was an exceedingly depressing game. And it does tell a bleak, dark, and frequently gruesome story. But, like all great stories involving a journey or quest, that's what makes it so enjoyable. You start at the pits of despair, where all seems lost and there is scarcely a reason to continue. The darkness never really lets up, but it's contrasted against that faint glimmer of hope we see in Joel and Elly's relationship. That glimmer grows brighter and brighter as the game goes on. And I think that's the main thing that drove me to complete the game; I had to see if the glimmer turned into a flame or was snuffed out in this, cruel, barbaric world.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 12, 2013 8:50:32 PM PDT
The Accidental Druggist says:
Are you an older gamer or a younger one? Do you think this game is up there with games you played in your youth?
Posted on Jul 13, 2013 11:48:37 PM PDT
Lotus Flower says:
Great review, and spot on. I'm a 30+ gamer and I've got to say that this is truly one of the best game I've ever played to date. ND has done it again.
Posted on Jul 16, 2013 3:25:38 PM PDT
Philip Malvern says:
Joel, I am in my late 20s and I've played a fair amount of video games. As far as storyline goes, this is easily one of the best I've played on PS3 and ranks up there with some all-time favorites too.
Lotus, glad you enjoyed the review! I agree; fantastic job by ND. I paid full price for this and was happy to do it! Here's hoping we get more quality stories from ND in the future!
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