The Last Of Us is a game that our own Nathan Birch was worried would flop this year. But that was before we played it. It’s in no danger of flopping; it’s simply too good for that to happen. Which doesn’t mean, however, that it’s perfect: Here’s what Naughty Dog did right… and what went wrong.
It’s Possibly One Of The Best-Written Games In Recent Memory
The game isn’t immune to some zombie cliches: No points for guessing why Joel winds up taking Ellie across the country. But by and large, it’s well-characterized; Ellie is very much a teenage girl, and Joel’s not always nice to her. The tutorial in particular does a superb job of explaining Joel’s mindset and why, twenty years later, an essentially decent man has become a violent petty criminal with a fairly high body count.
The game’s environments are also filled with hints about what happened in a specific area, or to a specific person. Some of the darkest moments in the game are shown to you as you scavenge.
In Most Situations, You Can Play It Your Way…
Although the game will occasionally force you into a battle situation, or a moment where you have to run if you want to stay alive, most of the time how you play it is up to you. You can sneak past the enemy, you can shoot it out, you can choke them to death one-by-one, you can mix and match.
…And If That Goes Wrong, You Can Wing It And Not Get Killed.
Unlike a lot of games where stealth is a major component, if your plan goes off the rails, you can still generally get out of the situation without dying. You can sprint behind cover, herd enemies into a bottleneck, blast your way out, and survive.
The tools the game gives you are so balanced, so effective, that you can swap strategies and feel like a cross between Mad Max and Batman; it’s that thrilling and cathartic. Speaking of which…
All Of Your Weapons Are Useful, And You Want To Use Them
Most games have weapons that either suck, or just aren’t as effective as others, so you tend to stick with a handful. Here, every weapon has benefits that suit it for different situations. For example, if a group of enemies are bunched together, a Molotov cocktail will wipe ’em out. If they’re advancing on your position, throw a smoke bomb. If you need to knock an enemy off-balance, dope slap them from a distance with a brick (which is far, far more comedic than Naughty Dog was probably intending, but hey, as a strategy, it works).
More than that, though, every weapon has a different heft, a different feel. And sometimes you get so immersed in the story you become genuinely angry. There will be a few times where you choose to do this:
Not because it’s the best way to do it, but because the guy in question has it coming.
The Enemy AI Is Challenging But Doesn’t Cheat
Enemies are not shy about hunting you; human enemies will flank you, hide, lay traps and ambushes, and have all types of weapons to use on you, for example. But the game doesn’t generally drop some BS out of nowhere; you’ll see enemies coming, as a rule, unless everything goes to hell and you get swarmed.
But not every game is perfect, and as you play through the game presents a few problems.
The “Clicker” Enemy Type Is Severely Overpowered
If you’re seeing this, or anything like it, for a fair chunk of the game, that means you’re dead.
“Clickers” are an enemy you run into early on, and can kill you in one hit, until you dump an absurd amount of supplements, the game’s upgrade currency, into the ability to just stab the damn thing with a knife when it grabs you. You will have knives well before you have this upgrade, and you will curse Joel for his blithering stupidity in this regard.
Worse, they’ve got enormous health bars relative to other types of enemies. In areas where you have options and can avoid them, it’s not so bad, but the game has several moments where you’ll have to deal with lower-level enemies bum-rushing you while a Clicker flails its way towards you, and you had better be able to run, or you’re screwed.
There Are “Boss” Enemies
There’s an enemy-type called a Bloater that has heavy armor, can kill you in one hit (in what is, in fact, one of the single grossest cutscenes in the entire game), and has a long-range “spore attack” that essentially boils down to a mortar shell it fires from its stomach. It’s not a bad or cheap fight, and the game uses them sparingly, but you do find yourself annoyed at absolutely having to fight this guy on two separate occasions. Both times are jarring and frankly, hugely cheesy, especially when you’re first introduced to it. You half expect the Guile Theme to start playing.
There are other “bosses”, in a way, but those get a pass not least because they’re far better written and frankly, more fun to fight.
The Game Spawns Enemies Out Of Nowhere
The worst offender in this regard is when you fight your way through the hotel in Pittsburgh; you’ll clear an area, move on to a new one, and suddenly a few enemies spawn out of nowhere to come up behind you. Thankfully this is relatively rare, but for a game that’s so well balanced and thought out, it’s a little surprising Naughty Dog resorted to such a cheap tactic.
It Can Be Unclear What To Do Or Where To Go
The game doesn’t provide you with a map or objectives, beyond “getting the hell out of Dodge”, as a rule, and that combined with the fairly open-ended level design and the need to scavenge means you might be wandering around a level for a while before you figure out what to do next. This can be problematic if you’re low on resources and have to sneak past enemies in a level. The game will occasionally take pity on you and give you a marker to head towards, but that may not pop for a while, and you may not have the time to wait for it.
Ellie, Learn To Swim
Seriously. It makes sense she doesn’t know, and allows the game to set up a few platforming puzzles, but you’ll still find yourself annoyed at her. She can stab a guy in the back but not swim? Really?
All that said, it’s a tremendous game. It’s easily Naughty Dog’s best game: Well-written, challenging, thoughtful, beautiful, and meaty to boot, with hours of gameplay. We’re not even getting into the multiplayer, which is its own, separate, game and worth another thousand words in of itself. If you own a PS3 and don’t own this game, you’re depriving yourself, pure and simple.