Final verdict: B
Final playtime: Maybe 30 hours…?
Yo damn. When I got this game I didn’t expect much, The Last of Us seemed like another one of them meh big budget mass market appeal games which videogame awards shows with no balls and no credibility always end up nominating for game of the year or some shit. And it is that. It’s all of that, but it also turned out to be a pretty good game.
Basically a virus gets out which infects almost everybody and turns people into zombies out for your flesh. Y’know, your standard basic zombie apocalypse. Protagonist Joel eventually ends up taking care of a young girl named Ellie who for some reason is immune to the virus, and makes it his job to go on a journey to take her somewhere where they can research this immunity and create a vaccine to save mankind. Whateva nigga.
The Last of Us is a third person shooter on the face of it, but in practice not really. It’s actually a very stealth-based game with some survival horror aspects and resource management. The high emphasis on stealth makes it feel a lot like Metal Gear Solid. One of the first flaws that becomes apparent with The Last of Us is that the controls are kind of slow and clunky. Your character moves kind of slow, you have to hold down L2 to run instead of walk, which is a totally unnecessary complication, your aiming reticule sways back and forth making it more difficult to aim, enemy attacks can stun you or make you fall down in a helpless state… these sorts of problems would be devastating for a shooter. But the truth is that for The Last of Us, these things don’t really matter because you are almost never in a situation where you have to fight. The game is simply not ABOUT this. There are a few forced fights here and there, sure, but 90% of the time you can get through every encounter with pure stealth. And good thing too, because fights are definitely not where the game is at its strongest.
As I said, it also has aspects of resource management. Something that I really liked early on about this game is that resources felt very scarce and precious. For example, you start out with a gun and you only have like 2 bullets. You ain’t gonna kill shit with that. Eventually if you’re careful you get up to maybe 16 bullets, and that’s still not very much but you feel like the fucking king of bullets anyway because they’re so scarce. Same deal with other items. Your melee weapon breaks after 4 uses. Shivs are one of if not the most useful item in the game because they’re the only way to stealthily kill zombies and open locked doors but they break after 1 use and you have very few of them. All of this is very good for two reasons: firstly it rewards getting through encounters using stealth because you use less resources, which is where the game excels. Remember, stealth in this game = fun. Fights = bleh. Secondly, it makes it more fun to explore and find items.
I’ve sometimes thought about how to make resources precious in a game while at the same time putting enough items out there for the player to feel rewarded enough for exploring. There can be many solutions to this problem, but Last of Us uses one that I particularly like: the crafting system. You find parts or materials, and these can be used to create an item. The brilliance of a crafting system is that you are no longer forced to work in whole units. A single item can be divided into potentially infinite units. In this way, you can give the player, say, 10 things to find, while at the same time only giving him one actually useable item. Thus, the item stays scarce and precious, but you also have a lot to find, and each part has real value because you can’t get the precious item without the parts.
And then we come to the problem. Execution. It’s a good idea, but you need to execute it correctly. The Last of Us seems to do a good job at first, but ultimately falls short. First of all, the scarcity of bullets which I mentioned previously. It works great at first, but as the game goes on it gives you more, and more, and more. And I don’t just mean bullets. You build yourself up to a veritable one man army, eventually you have a pistol full of bullets, a revolver full of bullets, a shotgun, hunting rifle, bow, magnum, sawed-off, flamethrower, assault rifle… what is this shit, Duke Nukem? It’s an easy mistake to make because more weapons = better, right? Wrong, asshole. It depends on what type of fucking game you are. If your game is Doom, sure, go nuts, whatever. If your game is Sonic the Hedgehog, you don’t give him a fucking gun and a motorcycle. I mean, who would do that? And while we’re at it, why do enemies drop bullets at all, let alone so many? Strike two.
Next, if you’re using the crafting system, why the fuck do you make it so that you can find whole items and that enemies also drop whole items? You’re diluting the entire fucking purpose of the system! What’s more, you need 2 full materials to craft an item in The Last of Us, and the game gives you materials in increments of as little as 1/4 to as much as a full one, which is too much, as evidenced by the fact that it’s very common to find materials and not be able to pick them up because you’re already full. That’s a situation you always want to avoid in this type of game. Part of the reason this happens is because the game caps the amount of items and materials you can carry at 3 of each type. A decidedly low number, but a bad solution to resource hoarding. The correct solution is to make resources scarce through the gameplay itself and not through a cap on the amount you can carry. That’s a cop out and it hurts the game because finding items is an important part of it. Then there’s the fact that later in the game you find training manuals that buff up your shivs (and other items) so that they can be used twice and then thrice before breaking, and suddenly shivs become a whole lot less precious than they were early in the game. This just makes the problem even worse and it was better before when they broke after one use.
Aside from that there are too many useless things in the game. Medkits are 100% worthless because you’re never straight up fighting to the point where you can get hurt. Or at least you shouldn’t be. And even when you do get hurt a little, you find food that you can pick up to heal yourself with throughout the game so I ended up never using a medkit in the entire game and thus being unable to pick up all the ones I kept finding or the materials to make them. Look, either take out the food so that the medkits maybe have at least somewhat of a use or take out the medkits. Then there are items like the smoke bombs which are totally overpowered and shouldn’t exist. They make it so enemies can’t see you and won’t shoot you (for some reason. Even though they know you’re there and have assault rifles and it would make sense to just fire blindly into the cloud) and they last fucking FOREVER. I only ever used one once to see what it did but it was laughable. Way too easy to troll enemies with that shit.
And speaking of useless things, you can upgrade your abilities, which is always fun, but the only really useful ones are the one that reduces the sway on the aiming reticule and the one that increases the distance you can see enemies with listen mode. The one that increases your max health is only nice to look at a bigger health bar but not actually useful, and the ones that increase the speed of crafting and using medkits are like whaaaat. Who the fuck cares if crafting takes 3 seconds instead of 5? They so obviously ran out of ideas on what to upgrade and just added pointless filler. COME ON PEOPLE try a little harder! Never bothered with the one that allows you to use a shiv to save yourself if a zombie grabs you either. If you got grabbed by a zombie you deserve to die. Which reminds me, I like how zombies kill you instantly if they get you. That’s how it should be.
Anyway. As I said before, the stealth aspect is fun and well made. You can hold down R2 to go into listen mode which allows you to “see” enemies around you, even those obscured by walls, which serves the function of the radar. Enemies generally behave well, they act more calmly and with more exploitable patterns when you haven’t been detected and go into much more aggressive search modes if they’ve been alerted by something like catching a glimpse of you or finding the corpse of a comrade you just assassinated. They’ll also cover each other’s blind spots more and talk amongst themselves, for example, if one enemy calls out to his partner after a while and receives no answer because you killed him he’ll get suspicious and come check out what gives. You can sneak up behind them and strangle them for a stealthy kill that doesn’t waste resources and I like how the strangle animation takes a long time as a way to make it inherently riskier. If you need to kill quickly you have to use a shiv. If you want to strangle you have to be more careful and make sure you don’t get spotted by someone else while you’re doing it. You can throw a brick at an enemy to stun them and use that opportunity to bash his face in with a pipe, but that makes noise so you have to be careful there’s no one nearby who can hear. Or you can throw a bottle to distract them and use that opportunity either to sneak up and kill them or sneak by undetected.
Zombies are dumber than human enemies and thus generally easier to sneak on, except for when they somehow have super hearing or some shit and can detect you even if you’re sneaking up really carefully behind them, in which case it’s fun having to switch to hiding and ambush tactics to avoid detection. It’s a little jarring how your partners can run in front of enemies without being seen, but I guess also appreciated because it would suuuuuuuck if you got spotted due to idiot companion AI.
There are a few forced fights in the game and although, like I said, the fights aren’t the game’s strong point, I’m not against having some because it gives you a chance to unload on some of the weaponry you’ve been stocking up. It gives at least some meaning to not only the bullets you’ve been finding but also to the upgrades you’ve done to your guns. So that’s all well and good. What I don’t like is how easy it can be to forgo stealth and just rambo it up. It’s obvious that the developers wanted to leave in the option to just shoot your way through the game and I know why they did that: it’s a consequence of The Last of Us being a AAA mainstream game. Can’t have Joe “Itchy Trigger Finger” Everyjock quitting the game because he didn’t have the patience to play without shooting up a storm. We needa move those 5 million copies guys! The problem is that this devalues the gameplay. Zombies killing you in one grab is a good start but you need to take it further. Playing carefully and meticulously as to go undetected should be rewarded more than it is. The whole thing is cheapened when you know that at any point you can just go “Fuck DIS! Rat-at-tat-tat like that and I neva hesitate to put a nigga on is back!” and probably win faster that way to boot. Sure, you’ll use more resources but those aren’t even as scarce as they should be, as I already explained above. No. There should be a punishment for failing. Being detected by an army of guards or zombies should be a death sentence, not simply a cue to switch to Plan Bulletstorm.
I mean for fuck’s sake, the last stretch of the game makes for a fun stealth sequence with a well designed environment for this purpose, but it’s obvious that the developers wanted it to be doable both the good way and the shitty way because they give you a fucking assault rifle and enemies drop shitloads of ammo. I never even got to fire that assault rifle… which reminds me, it was unexpected for the game to not have some sort of final boss. On the one hand it kind of sucks that I amassed this massive stockpile of weaponry and never got to use any of it, but on the other hand I can respect the choice to make the end a fun stealth sequence rather than a traditional boss fight that might not have been as good.
Anyway, the story and setting are good. The game has a lot of very pretty places. Some of my favorite parts are actually just looking around houses and neighborhoods. The voice acting is extremely good. I’m liking Troy Baker a lot lately. He will always be Kanji in my heart but the dude has got talent and does an awesome job voicing main character Joel in this. I even ended up liking Ellie, which is strange because she’s almost tailor made for me to hate her with her filthy insolent mouth, rebellious tendencies and generally rambunctious attitude. But the game does such a good job of developing her character and relationship with Joel that I ended up caring for her anyway. Dammit, you win this time Naughty Dog. Whatever. The Last of Us is hyped up more than it deserves but it’s actually a pretty good game. I enjoyed playing it.
Final Verdict: B
Final Playtime: Clock resets halfway through for no fucking reason. Maybe 30 hours…?