Friday, 21 June 2013

The Last Of Us Review (PS3)

The Last of Us is a survival horror game made by Naughty Dog (the makers of the Uncharted and Jak and Daxter series') that is set in a post apocalyptic world where a fungal infection that turns people into aggressive zombie-like creatures has ravished the human race. The game features two main protagonists, Joel, a smuggler that witnessed the outbreak of the infection and Ellie, an orphan born and raised amongst the ruins of the world. The game focuses on being realistic and gritty with an emotional driving story at its core.

Gameplay wise the controls are well designed and work very well but are quite standard. At times in the game you are required to move ladders and planks to reach new areas, the way this is done looks realistic, but is slow and irritating. When I first saw this I thought "cool, there must be a scene where you've got to place a ladder under pressure and that it serves to add some extreme tension every now and then", but this doesn't happen once in the game, it literally is just an annoying and slow way to reach new areas. 

Of course as the game is a survival horror game the flashlight is very important and one thing I thought was a very nice little touch was occasionally the light will start to flicker and turn off and to make it work properly again you have to tap the controller handle as if you were tapping the flashlight to make it work again. There are a lot of minor cutscenes for actions such as giving someone a boost onto a ledge, also to do a stealth kill like strangling someone you just tap a button which reduces the sense of a struggle. Now these things are unrelated, but both are good examples of when there feels like a sense of separation from the game. Gathering and crafting is a big part of the game as it is the source of bandages, bombs and shivs (bandages being the main source of restoring health, bombs provide tactical advantages with large groups of enemies or setting traps and shivs are used to kill Clickers or open locked doors). When the crafting menu is open the game is not paused so you can still be attacked, which follows the vein of modern survival games such as ZombiU. Items such as wood planks, metal pipes and axes can be picked up and used as melee weapons, they can be used for a limited amount of hits, but can be improved by adding a shiv which adds another hit (an instant kill hit no less) which is very helpful. 

One thing that I was really annoyed by was when on a beam or plank you can't fall off and you can't jump off most ledges, in old games I could take this as a limitation of the time, but this is meant to be a cutting edge game focused on realism. It’s really not good enough. As with most other survival horror games ammo is scarce and yet when you've killed an enemy with a gun that was shooting you they wont always drop ammo and you can't check their bodies, this is another thing that shatters the "realism" of the game. When scavenging sometimes you'll find parts or tools that can be used to upgrade weapons at workbenches, this includes improving clip capacity or reload times and really helps with improving your odds in firefights. One of the possible upgrades at the workbench are holsters for quicker access to extra weapons, one problem is the long range holster looks terrible as both weapons are on the same side of your backpack and if you actually tried to grab a specific one of them it would be horribly difficult and you would probably grab the wrong weapon, yet another example of the game shattering the realism its trying to focus on. Through scavenging you'll  also find pills and medicines that are used to improve Joel's abilities such as crafting speed and amount of health. One thing the game does very well is the amount of choice you have when confronting enemies as you have the choice to go for an all out firefight, stealth kill the enemies or avoid combat completely and use certain paths that avoid all enemies to get to the objective. The stealth elements of the game work very well, but it could do with a way of warning you if the enemy knows of your presence and is looking for you or if they see you other than by their reactions. The stealth does have a listening mode though that reveals where enemies are in a radius around Joel as long as they are moving or talking and this comes in handy all the time. Ellie is always following you and as with all games I've ever played with followers, Ellie seems hell bent on getting in the way and being annoying constantly. 

The game has an average length and could be completed fairly easily in a day if you didn't do too much looking around for materials and ammo. Another problem with the game is the loading can take a very, very long time. The game is very oddly paced in that it will fluctuate between big fight scenes and large empty zones for item scavenging and makes the game quite predictable and severely reduces how fun it is to play. My biggest problem with the game is even though it is meant to be a survival horror, the game fails to create or sustain any tension, throughout the game I didn't feel drawn in, I didn't feel the tension I should have and I didn't jump once, I was very disappointed that the game failed to do what it really had to do to make the game work. 

I must  also mention the incident on release day as Naughty Dog is a big company that has produced a lot of games and yet on their release day of its newest game there was a problem with their servers that severely affected the autosaving of the game, it really was not a good start and may have been an omen for what was to come.

The graphics range from okay to good and are always pretty, but there are much better examples, especially from Naughty Dog itself which is a terrible problem. A big problem with the graphics is that when the camera is moved they will blur significantly and this is extremely disappointing. A touch that I at least appreciated is that the weapons and items you have equipped are displayed during cutscenes.
The music in the game is one of my favourite things, its comprised of soft, subtle haunting sounds played mostly on what sounds like an acoustic guitar which gives a slight western feel to the whole things and works wonderfully, the simplistic, sad soundtrack gives a perfect tone that the rest of the game sadly doesn't quite match up to. 

The Last of Us features the voices of Troy Baker (Bioshock Infinite, Batman: Arkham City) a veteran voice actor who plays Joel, and Ashley Johnson (What Women Want, Ben 10 Alien Force) who provided motion capture and the voice of Ellie and brings a quirky teenage quality to Ellie that I loved.

The story of The Last of Us is very good, But wholly unoriginal (I would explain further but I don't want to give away any spoilers). The start of the game has you running from many dangers and yet I didn't feel rushed even though I should have been, I felt almost as if I could just take a calm stroll which definitely was not a good start to the game. There's a scene in the game where you are caught in a trap and hanging upside down, Joel gets Ellie to cut him down while a horde of the zombie like creatures attack you both, the big problem here is that while shooting all these zombies and putting both of them in danger Joel never thinks to at least try and shoot the rope to cut himself down. I really loved the cutscenes as they often did bring that emotion that the game is based around and I found myself playing the game just to get to the next cutscene (something I really shouldn't want to say about any game). A wonderful touch is when you find a note or book Joel and Ellie will often actually comment on the content of the text, something not enough games do. The end of the game really spoke to me and I loved it, it was conflicted and twisted in a very real way that brought an almost unbelievable humanity to the end. It's the scenes of emotion (sadly always in the cutscenes) that really hit home and gives the game a personality that very, very few games I've played have achieved. There is one thing that really let me down in the story though, when the start of the game ends the screen fades to black and says twenty years later before you find anything out about Joel (accept he has a daughter) and after all those years he decides he doesn't want to talk about his life and doesn't want to hear about Ellie's and so you never find out enough about the main protagonists to really relate to them which makes the raw emotion of the game seem generalised, which personally I didn't like.

Personally I don't really like survival horror games so they have to work very hard to make me enjoy them and The Last of Us couldn't manage it and yet I find myself strangely attached to it even with its problems. If you are thinking of buying it I'd say it won't be as good as you think it looks and it's definitely not fun (due to the desperate, realistic nature of the game for the setting), but if you want a game that really hits you in the end like a bullet to the head then think about buying it, my suggestion would be to wait and buy it second hand or trade it in after because it doesn't have a lot of replay value. In the end The Last of Us is a good experience, but not much else.

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