Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Last of Us (PS3) Review

We're approaching the end of July, but SuperPhillip Central still has some big games to review. One such is Naughty Dog's The Last of Us, much proclaimed as one of the greatest games of the generation, if not THE greatest. Let's find out what SuperPhillip Central has to say about it with our review.

Not Quite the Game of the Generation,
But It's Absolutely One of Naughty Dog's Best

I am always hesitant to play something that many herald as the "game of the generation." I feel that this title puts an almost impossible to overcome bar for the game in question to reach and leap over. Sometimes I might even feel some animosity towards the game after playing it, realizing that all of the overly emotional compliments and awards were undeserving of the game. The Last of Us is the type of game that falls into neither category of game of the generation or a title that I show ill will towards. No, it's a game that ranks right up there with Sony's finest first-party titles, one of Naughty Dog's greatest achievements, and one of the best games of the year-- nay-- of the generation. It's not without problems, but what is? It's Naughty Dog at their most sensational, it's The Last of Us.

The Last of Us begins with a bang, putting the player in the role of protagonist Joel's daughter Sarah. A mutant strain of a fungus known as cordyceps has infected large numbers of human beings, turning them into malevolent and highly violent beings. The city turns under into chaos, with thousands rushing to find safety amid the carnage. Joel and his daughter are stopped by an enemy soldier, who fatally wounds Sarah with a gunshot. The game fast forwards to twenty years later where major cities are under lockdown, sections of cities are quarantined by police, and a huge swath of humanity has been destroyed. Joel meets up with Ellie, who a friendly rebellion group known as the Fireflies, wishes to have "smuggled" across city limits for the reason that she might hold the key to curing humanity. Joel and Ellie start out not on the greatest of terms, but as their journey together takes each twist and turn, they understandably grow closer. It's a relationship that showcases a lovely transformation between the two, and a heartfelt, beautiful story that heavily contrasts with the hellish world the two must survive in.

The Last of Us is one of the most gorgeous
games to have a realistic take on things.
If I had to describe the game in one short and simple sentence, it would be that The Last of Us is an action-adventure game with some survival horror sensibilities to it, and then that wouldn't even be fair to the game. The Last of Us has you deciding the best way to tackle encounters. With limited ammo and the threat of being overwhelmed, it's not always the greatest idea to rush into rooms and areas like Rambo. Instead, stealth is key, which The Last of Us has plenty of. Joel can sneak behind enemies and strangle them to death, or, for a more quiet kill, use a shiv to stab right into their throats. Yes, that is pretty gnarly to see. However, sometimes your only choice is to fight fire with fire.

Sometimes Joel just has to get his hands dirty.
Alongside encounters is some simple environmental puzzles to break things up, as well as exploration, which The Last of Us contains a wide sampling of. One such environmental puzzle requires Ellie, who can't swim (join the club!), to cross over a flooded part of an underground passage. In order to do this, Joel must swim and find a plank of wood and set it by Ellie. She rides atop the wooden plank (after a little hesitation to do so), and Joel pushes it to get Ellie safely across. These aren't brain-busters like any means, but they offer a nice change of pace for the game.

As for exploration, a lot of The Last of Us takes place in rather linear areas, but most of time there are side rooms or areas to journey into to acquire goods for crafting, health kits, and supplements, which are used to boost Joel's overall health, healing time, etc.

Crafting is a major part of The Last of Us. At any time in the game, you can look through Joel's bag in real time. Just make sure there's no infected breathing down your neck beforehand! Through acquiring crafting goods from shelves, drawers and other places within the game world, Joel can craft things like health kits, Molotov cocktails, and upgrades to melee weapons, such as strengthening them so they don't break as quickly. In addition to crafting goods, Joel can visit workbenches placed throughout the game to upgrade his various weapons, increasing their reload speed, capacity, and so forth.

This brick could easily be replaced
by a launch Xbox 360.
The Last of Us is genuinely frightening in many regards. One part within the first half of the game has Joel's team in the darkened confines of a subway station. Unfortunately for them, the station has plenty of inhabitants in the form of one hit kill Clicker creatures. Clickers are unable to see, but they are super susceptible to sound, so Joel and the gang must quietly move through the labyrinth of benches, walls and columns as they make their way to the other side. When there, Joel must defeat one of the Clickers that stands in his way, and if he doesn't do it quietly enough, he'll alert the other handful of Clicker creatures to his location, possibly getting his throat torn out in the process!

But these tense and immersive moments are occasionally ruined by the AI. Generally your AI partners behave themselves, but sometimes when you're supposed to be silent, such as in the previous Clicker example, they will move around, even move right next to the Clicker threat. Thankfully, the AI can't alert the enemy to you, but it's still something that took me out of what was supposed to be an super-serious experience. Furthermore, I've had it where enemies would do erratic behaviors, almost as if the AI couldn't decide what it wanted to do.

And a "good day" to you, too!
That said, overall, the AI in The Last of Us is rather smart, despite the aforementioned issues. Enemies react differently depending on the situation. For instance, if they spot Joel in a vulnerable position or see him reloading, they will take that opportunity to go after him. They can surround Joel and try to take him down that way. Ellie can pretty much take care of herself, hiding in appropriate places, and even stabbing foes that have Joel in their grasp. It's a high level of intelligence that not many games can claim to have, but The Last of Us has it.

"I could use... a hand here...*choke*"
The Last of Us has four difficulties to play through for beginners and experts alike. After beating the game initially, players can start a New Game+ on their current difficulty for even more fun. Completing in-game challenges, some of which are related to trophies, unlocks cash that can be spent on character skins (such as unlockable Uncharted shirts and Jak and Daxter goggles), concept art and graphical filters, like sepia tone and black and white.

Additionally, if the massive single player campaign wasn't enough, Naughty Dog has a multiplayer component to The Last of Us. This mode is called Factions, and has players picking a side, either Hunters or Fireflies, and participating in matches to help their clan stay alive for 12 weeks. Each match serves as its own day. After surviving (or failing to survive) the 12 weeks, a player can choose their clan once again. It's an incredibly innovative take on multiplayer, currently only marred by the amount of lag in a wide number of matches. Note: That I'm saying this at the time of this review. It could be fixed by the time you read this.

Here's something to heat this match up!
The world of The Last of Us is absolutely breathtaking. Environments in the post-apocalyptic world of the game have plenty to see and admire. I personally love how there's so much vegetation covering the game's structures. It's almost serene, which is completely contradictory to the hell and horrors that exist in Joel and Ellie's world. Character models are by far the most impressive aspect of The Last of Us's presentation, using motion capture to create sophisticated and realistic looking human models-- from their look to the way they move. Simple things like Ellie running her fingers through her hair as she moves are what separates games like The Last of Us to the competition. The voice acting is some of the strongest I've heard in a long time, really punctuating the drama of the game. The minimalist music, composed by Gustavo Santaolalla, delivers a soft spoken score to The Last of Us that focuses less on bombastic horror themes and more on emotion, perfect for Naughty Dog's vision of the game.

I could stare at many of the areas
of The Last of Us for hours.
Perhaps what's most great about The Last of Us is that it is a roller coaster of emotions for the player. From fright to delight, from sorrow to happiness, The Last of Us offers a wide range of emotions that I, personally, went through while playing the game. It's rare for a video game to do that to me. I think that speaks volumes for Naughty Dog's latest. The Last of Us succeeds at creating a compelling story that is, at its heart, a heartwarming journey between two completely different individuals brought together through a harrowing adventure in a Dystopian future. I found myself caring about both Joel and Ellie, and really rooting for them to survive despite how hopeless their situation seemed. The game isn't perfect, as there are some AI and online multiplayer issues, but all in all, in a world where AAA become more and more soulless to me, The Last of Us is an example that moved me as a player. As an adventure, it can't have been for nothing, and as a game, Naughty Dog's work certainly wasn't for nothing either.

[SPC Says: 9.25/10]

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