While video games and zombie apocalypses are certainly no strangers to each other, The Last of Us attempts to rise above the oversaturated genre by telling a more compelling, mature story and a deep gameplay experience. And though it doesn’t always hit the mark in gameplay, and its story may fall short of its ambitions, The Last of Us nonetheless provides another solid entry in Naughty Dog’s catalogue.
The story of The Last of Us sees the world overrun by an incurable outbreak that turns people into zombie-like creatures, sending the world into chaos. In the early years of the outbreak, a man named Joel lost his daughter – not to the infected, but to a soldier – as they tried to find safety. As the years pass, the loss of his daughter has turned Joel into a bitter and hopeless man. Eventually, Joel finds himself in the company of a girl named Ellie. Ellie could be humanity’s salvation, as she is immune to the deadly infection. It becomes Joel’s mission to escort Ellie to a research facility, so that she might be studied and a cure can be found.
Of course, the plot unravels into something a bit more complex – both narratively and emotionally – and includes twists and turns, deranged villains, and the experience of one loss after another. But what makes the story of The Last of Us escalate into something more is the core relationship between Joel and Ellie. Ellie becomes something of a surrogate daughter to Joel, and their interactions and banters can come off as something smart and heartfelt. The game is wise enough to provide some quieter moments of character development between the two of them, and not just focus on the dread of the apocalypse.
On the downside of things, when the apocalypse is brought into the picture, The Last of Us falls into incredibly cliched territory. It becomes yet another showcase of “the zombies aren’t the real threat, the survivors are!” which has to rank among the most tired of genre tropes. Wouldn’t it be neat if, for once, the zombies were the ultimate evil in a zombie story, thus leaving the narrative free to explore new themes and not simply tread the same road of nihilism and pessimism that’s been treaded a thousand times before? Even the death of Joel’s daughter is used more as a means to justify Joel’s violence towards the bad guys than it is contemplative on the actual nature of loss. For a game that presents itself (and has been acclaimed as) a forward-thinking , giant leap in the medium’s narrative abilities, The Last of Us frequently stumbles when it comes to expressing any themes and all too often falls prey to the genre’s most familiar territory.
Thankfully, the gameplay fairs a bit better. The Last of Us is a third-person action shooter, like so many games of today. But it sets itself apart from the crowd for rewarding patience and strategic pacing over simply shooting everything in sight. Some of Naughty Dog’s quirky controls are still present, with Joel seemingly magnetizing to any object in which he can take cover, but at least it’s not simply a case of just shooting everything.
Ellie, as well as a few other occasional allies, aid Joel with items and backup support in combat. Ellie’s presence ensures that the story is weaved into the game at all times, but she and the other friendlies also give the game more urgency, as their safety is as important as Joel’s. Joel’s allies help him out, and players must make sure he in turn helps them.
Unfortunately, with these allies comes one of The Last of Us’ big drawbacks: The friendly AI isn’t always reliable, and you’ll often find that you’re walking a mile ahead of your partners, as they’ve wandered behind or got stuck after a hectic encounter. The friendly AI never feels broken, but it can get distracting when you’re trying to hear one of Joel and Ellie’s conversations, only to resort to reading Ellie’s subtitles, as she’s so far away her voice is only audible in a distant mumble.
The single player campaign is a lengthy affair, with solid stage design and a few good moments of character growth from Ellie. But Naughty Dog saw fit to add multiplayer into the equation. Although these multiplayer additions were (strangely) given little fanfare before the game’s release, they rival, and in many ways surpass, the single player campaign.
Multiplayer comes in three varieties: ‘Supply Raid’ and ‘Survivors’ both serve as team death matches, and see two factions of players facing off against each other, using the same guns, melee weapons and makeshift explosives found in the story mode to try to outwit and terminate the opposing team, with Survivors being notable for its lack of respawning. The third mode is ‘Interrogation’ in which players “interrogate” their rivals after their defeat to learn the location of the opposing team’s lockbox. The team that captures their opponent’s lockbox wins. All three multiplayer modes are engaging, and give the game even more longevity and depth than it would already have.
The Last of Us is a hefty gaming experience, complimented by a memorable musical score and detailed visuals. There are more than a few downsides however: The inconsistent AI of ally characters, the story falls prey to the same old tired themes of zombie stories, with the introduction of a primary antagonist late into the game feeling downright excessive. A number of instances where Joel is required to push Ellie on a makeshift raft are fun at first, but as they increase in frequency they begin to affect the pace of the game.
There’s a lot holding The Last of Us back from being among the ‘greatest games of all time’ like it has often been touted (and how it often seems to tout itself). But there’s enough quality in the gameplay and multiplayer to justify Naughty Dog’s efforts.
7 thoughts on “The Last of Us Review”
To be completely honest, I have a dissenting opinion of The Last of Us compared to the rest of the internet. This game did not resonate with me in the slightest. I think its pathos was too forced; oftentimes, we’re made to sympathize with the protagonists because of what they are, not who they are. Also, the ending was horrible; it’s the worst of any game I’ve ever played.
I also don’t think The Last of Us will age well. I just don’t see gamers of later generations appreciating this game to the extent that this one does; without context, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just see another generic third-person shooter. When it comes to its story, there’s a good chance that, somewhere down the line, a game will be released that completely surpasses this one (discounting the ones that already have), making it even more irrelevant. Though to be fair, I think this could also end up happening to Uncharted 2, a game I like.
I can see why people like it, though. Ultra-emotional games tend to be very popular on the internet. In this regard, The Last of Us hits all the right notes. However, though I doubt it was directly inspired by it, I see The Last of Us as a failed attempt at being Mother 3 (which itself was a failed attempt at being Dragon Quest V).
I don’t regret playing The Last of Us because it sort of inspired me to start writing reviews in the first place. However, I firmly believe that while it does not belong in any serious discussion regarding awful games, it is one of the most disappointing games I’ve ever played.
LikeLiked by 1 person
In a weird way, I agree with you and disagree at the same time. I can see The Last of Us succumbing to age (but then again, maybe not), and I don’t think its story is quite as great as everyone says. It has moments of greatness, but it also has a lot of cliches it tries to pass off as genius (as I pointed out, the whole “survivors are the real threat” thing couldn’t be more overplayed).
I think the game has a lot of gameplay brilliance (I know I’m in the minority here, but I think I might like the multiplayer better than the story. I even took huge breaks in between the campaign because I’d be so quick to jump into the online modes). But I do agree that a lot of its story elements were a bit forced. Most gamers don’t seem to mind, since a game simply has to say it’s completely brilliant storytelling for gamers agree wholeheartedly. As much as I enjoyed it, I get tired of hearing people say The Last of Us is the “first mature story in the medium.” I can name a number of others that felt more genuine and profound (personally, I even found Rosalina’s side story in Super Mario Galaxy to be more emotionally effective. Yes, it was much simpler, but even in its simplicity it managed to be something beautiful. But I guess because it’s a Mario game it doesn’t count or whatever).
One thing that I think prevented me from being as wowed by TLoU’s story was that I had the privilege of playing through Ni No Kuni just a few months prior. Again, I’m in a minority here, but after Ni No Kuni I wondered why The Last of Us’ story was getting so much profuse praise for its emotion. Ni No Kuni managed to bring tears to my eyes. The Last of Us never did. But again, I guess because one appeals more to children that somehow makes it less viable to some people.
Anyway, I’m rambling. Obviously, given my review, I ultimately think The Last of Us is a great game. Not sure how well it will hold up in a few years. But I think as far as story-driven third-person shooters go, it was ultimately well done. And again…that multiplayer.
LikeLiked by 1 person
The whole “survivors are the real threat” trope being overplayed is something I completely agree with you on. I’ve gone as far as saying that it’s a storytelling trend that desperately needs to be retired; I don’t think there’s a single new direction you go with it anymore – at least not by playing it straight. It’s gotten to the point where that trope alone can instantly kill my interest in a work. I think the reason it’s used so much is because it was a popular trope amongst classic writers – especially classic sci-fi writers. Writers from this generation likely think something along the lines of, “So if I do this, people will think I’m smart,” when implementing this trope. In other words, they only perceive that classic authors use the trope, not why. Those authors typically used the trope for satirical purposes in order to demonstrate a flaw with society. Authors from this generation use the trope merely for the sake of using it and to sound more intelligent than they actually are (District 9 was an especially egregious case of this phenomenon in action).
Also, I agree with you on the fact that Rosalina’s backstory was better told than The Last of Us. I’ve always given more praise to the author who can make a more intelligent point than their rival using fewer words.
Interestingly, I too had a similar experience in regard to the story in The Last of Us. You see, by the time I got around to playing The Last of Us, I had already experienced Planescape: Torment, 999, and Virtue’s Last Reward. As a result, those titles are the standard to which I hold story-heavy games. In other words, my belief is that if your story falls short of being transcendent, you’re shooting yourself in the foot by forsaking gameplay in favor of it. The Last of Us doesn’t go that extra mile, so, to me, it sticks out like a sore thumb. There will be a game that proves once and for all to the general public that video games form a viable artistic medium, but I can safely say that going on the way that he is, Neil Druckmann won’t be the one to make it.
LikeLiked by 1 person
You had to go and remind of District 9… Geez, Neill Blomkamp movies may as well just be the image of a spaceship with the words “social commentary” flashing across the screen for two and a half hours. Naturally though, because he shoehorns such social commentary into sci-fi stuff, nerds think he’s the bee’s knees.
I think one problem developers these days have (I’ve been meaning to write a full blog on this and still plan to) is that they keep trying to prove to the naysayers of the medium that video games are an art form. So they just end up trying to replicate movies. I’m not discouraging storytelling in video games, since games have proven capable of telling great stories, but the fact of the matter is video games were not built as a storytelling medium like movies were. I actually hold games like Tetris and Super Mario World in high artistic regard because they showcase the unique sense of imagination and creativity that’s only capable in games, and the connection between a developer’s vision and the player. I think more developers should focus on showcasing the artistic merits of games whether they be movie-like or not, to show what a unique medium video games are, instead of trying to pander to people who would probably refuse to acknowledge their attributes no matter what by simply trying to replicate Hollywood.
LikeLiked by 1 person
The USS Social Commentary, perhaps? That’s not a crew I’d want to join. It’s probably where they stuck all the pretentious graduates so they don’t bother the ones that can actually get stuff done.
Some time back, I remember seeing a short documentary about Tomohiro Nishikado, the creator of Space Invaders. What that brief video demonstrated to me is that video games have been art from the very beginning. Therefore, the people who try to prove this to the naysayers are wasting their time. They create games that look pretty, may have a good concept, but aren’t actually all that fun to play, thus missing the point of the medium and ensuring that future generations will be left scratching their heads in confusion. There will always be snobs who refuse to acknowledge works of brilliance from the current generation. It may not always be a quick process, but those people have, and always will be, proven wrong.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Also, District 9 is one of those works that manages to get critical acclaim not because it’s deep, but rather because it’s the right kind of insipid. It doesn’t matter how dumb your movie is. Just pretend to have social relevance, add a little cynicism, and, presto, instant fan following.
LikeLiked by 1 person
That perfectly sums up my feelings for District 9 and every other such work. Bravo.
And I agree, video games have always been an art form, but people need to realize it’s a different art form. If we all just pretend it’s just an offshoot medium of movies, they’ll lose what made them a unique art form to begin with.
LikeLiked by 1 person