The Last of Us by Naughty Dog is proof that pre-release game reviews are not to be trusted, especially when they contain the amount of gushing praise that The Last of Us received. It’s a good game – possibly a great game – but a 10/10 score does a game a disservice when it can’t live up to that kind of unqualified expectation. I come not to praise The Last of Us or to bury it, but rather to give an honest look at the game with the benefit of hindsight.
Reviewers raved about the maturity level of the story in The Last of Us. This indicates two things: game reviewers don’t read a lot of books, and most of the games they review are that badly written. The story is essentially the same post-apocalyptic surrogate father-daughter relationship found in The Walking Dead, only with 20 years tacked on. Joel and Ellie are written better than most video game characters and they actually develop along with the plot, but managing to fulfill the most basic level of storytelling competency is not a high bar in a medium that is trying to claim artistic status. While it’s not the paste-eating machismo of the Call of Duty or Dead Rising games, The Last of Us is still marketed toward 17 year old boys. The difference is that these 17 year old boys have read The Bell Jar.
For lack of a better term, the gameplay in The Last of Us feels realistic. Joel and Ellie are sluggish and clumsy in combat in a way that the average video game badass isn’t, and this helps convey the vulnerability of the two characters. For gamers who are used to being able to shoot off an enemy’s pinky toe from a mile with a revolver Joel’s shaky hand might be annoying, but the characters’ frailty makes the game more immersive.
The game is also very linear. A few years ago this might not have been a problem, but gamers pay the same price for a new copy of The Last of Us that they would pay for a new copy of Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto V. For the sake of contrast, I bought Skyrim when it came out and still haven’t finished it, while I estimate that The Last of Us took me about eight hours to beat. As we enter a new console generation, this no longer seems like a viable option.
I wrote about this before, but The Last of Us looks and sounds great. This is probably the best looking game I’ve played on the Playstation 3, and the music and sound effects create an effective atmosphere for a survival horror game. The fact that the game looks so good, though, makes it all the more noticeable when a limb pops through a wall or an inanimate object turns into a clear spot on the screen. At this late point in the Playstation 3’s existence, big developers shouldn’t be allowing these kinds of problems with blockbuster titles.
The Last of Us unfolds as a series of vignettes that can be replayed upon completion. If you’re a fan of the Hitman series (and I am,) The Last of Us gives players the opportunity to perfect a botched stealth mission or change up gameplay. As someone whose initial stealth attempts usually end in bloodbaths, this is a welcome feature. The problem is that the game just isn’t that long, and there aren’t many levels that I would want to replay.
The Last of Us is a very good game. It’s not the defining game of this console generation or even the Playstation 3, but it’s good candy for those who like stealth action games or real survival horror. I would recommend buying a used copy at Gamestop or on Ebay, but I wish that I hadn’t bought a full price copy at the time of release. I also wish that the people at IGN, Destructoid and GameTrailers had played the same game that I bought, because then I might have gotten some honest reviews.
Update: Welcome N4G readers.