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The Last of Us Review

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On 06/26/2013 at 01:00 PM by Julian Titus

Deep down, we're all just animals.

Any PS3 owner that is looking for a mature, character-driven game.

Since finishing The Last of Us, I’ve been sitting at my desk agonizing over this review. Thinking over my time with the game, I’m filled with conflicting emotions that I now have to distill into something cohesive for you fine readers. To say that this is the most impactful game I’ve played so far this year would be a grotesque understatement, but The Last of Us is not without its faults, and to gloss over them would be disingenuous. I call this “The Reviewer’s Lament”: having to fight the urge to gush for a thousand words and instead give a proper account of my experience with this game. My hope is that, even if it reads a little rough around the edges, it will still be entertaining, which is The Last of Us in a nutshell, really.

Taking place over the course of a year, The Last of Us is a tale of what happens after mankind survives the zombie (well, zombie-ish) apocalypse. This isn’t a case of something like The Walking Dead where people are getting by a few months after society collapses. This is what the world looks like when humans have been struggling to stay alive for many years in the wake of catastrophe. Bleak, unforgiving, and heart-wrenching, I was impressed at this very unique setting for a genre that is always just on the edge of being played out.

The story centers on Joel, a haggard Texan who went through the hell of the outbreak that led to the end of the world as we know it and a young girl named Ellie. Ellie has only known what it’s like to live with the constant fear of danger from both the infected, mindless humans and the roving packs of bandits and hunters who, at the end of the day, are just trying to survive like everyone else. Joel is tasked with escorting Ellie across the country to hook up with the Fireflies, one of the only organized groups still trying to create some semblance of civilization in a chaotic world.

Don’t let the mention of an escort mission scare you; The Last of Us is unlike any of the games that might come to mind at the utterance of that word. This is a game that blends genres and pulls mechanics from all manner of sources. Part stealth, part traversal and exploration with a liberal amount of inventory management and shooting, it’s difficult to pigeon-hole this title. When everything works in The Last of Us it creates a tense, organic experience that needs to be played to be believed. When it doesn’t, well… let’s just say that I’m happy for the generous checkpointing system.

Naughty Dog has really made some amazing advancements in their animation tech with this generation, and all the tricks they learned from three blockbuster Uncharted games comes into play here. Joel maneuvers through the environments naturally, and easily transitions from a stealthy crouching walk into sliding through a tight gap between debris. He has such a great amount of believability that it’s easy to slip into his shoes, which makes every injury and every kill that much more intense.

It’s this sense of realism and believability that makes The Last of Us work so well. The environments rarely give that telltale impression of a level designer’s hand all over them, as I’ve come to expect from other games. Yes, there is usually only one way for Joel and Ellie to make it through a particular area, but the way that they navigate through that point always looks like a real path that they would take. It makes sense when the upper areas of a building are barricaded with file cabinets, as people have been trying to survive in these places for years. Even the convenient ladder or wood palette seems perfectly natural, and it’s easy to imagine another set of survivors passing through the same locations as Joel and Ellie.

This sense of exploration and discovery is one of my favorite parts of the game. It’s so common for games like this to have a distinct funnel to the environments, lest the player step out of bounds and break everything. I was amazed at how dense every location was, oftentimes with little tangible reason to go far off course. Again, this added a weight to the realism of the locales. After two decades of desolation, would every room really be full of helpful items? No, I think not. Naughty Dog has crafted a massive game that manages to look amazing at every moment. The Last of Us truly transcends what we believe to be possible on current generation consoles, and even in the most stressful moments I had to applaud the designers for such a well-crafted exploratory element.

For the first half of the game, The Last of Us is perfectly paced, blending the exploration, stealth, and story elements together in such a seamless way that it becomes difficult to find a proper stopping point. I was in admiration of the restraint shown by the designers, because it really seemed like this was going to be a game where combat really took a backseat to the narrative and exploration. This was a very good thing, because I didn’t think the combat was very good to begin with.

Then the game loses its way in the back half of the story.

As I said, I wasn’t a fan of the combat in this title. The controls are counterintuitive to what I expect for a game with gunplay, and the act of shooting a gun just never felt right in The Last of Us. The game emphasized stealth in the early sections, but this was a binary affair; every enemy in the area goes on full alert if Joel makes one wrong move, no matter how quickly he silences the person that saw him. On top of that, enemies materialize out of nowhere once Joel has been exposed, usually ending up in a death and a quick reload. At certain points it’s possible to avoid combat completely, while other times it’s impossible to move on without slaughtering everyone in the area, even if Joel and Ellie reach the place they need to get to. However, the game does a poor job of communicating when the combat zone is the former and when it’s the latter.

Still, I was dealing with the subpar combat mechanics and the iffy stealth elements just fine, right up until the point when The Last of Us turns into a generic third person shooter. There comes a moment where it starts throwing pitched gunfight after pitched gunfight at the player, with little time to rest or gather extra ammo and items. Once again, the message that the game tries to convey to the player is at odds with the actual gameplay, as the concept of running and hiding from human hunters gets tossed out the window. In these sections, the enemies have a preternatural ability to know exactly where Joel is at all times. They’re crack shots, and this becomes especially frustrating since enemies in this game soak up damage like a sponge. When it takes two to three blasts from a shotgun at pointblank range to take someone down something is very wrong.

As aggravating as the combat gets in the final half of the game, the real stars here are the characters. If this were a lesser game I might have stopped playing, but I needed to see what happens to Joel and Ellie in the end. Simply put, these are two of the most empathetic, flawed, and human characters I’ve ever encountered in a game. Kudos go to the performance capture work and the vocal talents of Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, but this game would be nothing without the amazing script. This is a game about the slow building of trust between two very different people, set against a backdrop where no one is really a good person. When we’re stripped down to the need to survive, morality goes out the window, and The Last of Us demonstrates this brilliantly. Even the small supporting cast has more depth of character and emotional resonance than the main characters in most other story driven games. I don’t know what black magic Naughty Dog has used to display the spark of life and emotion into their renderings of the human eye, but there is a subtlety of emotion found in this game that is truly next level.

My experience with The Last of Us is something I will not soon forget. This isn’t just a candidate for game of the year considerations—it’s a candidate for game of the generation discussion. The fact that it has so many issues with its combat and chooses to focus on that part of the game for so long towards the end may detract from my score, but it doesn’t detract from how important this work is. If this is the only PS3 game you play this year you really can’t do much better.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Chris Yarger Community Manager

06/26/2013 at 01:17 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Great review Julian! I went into your article with a bit of fear in regards to having even the slightest spoiler, but you nailed it and you were also 100% spoiler free! Good job, I can't wait to get my hands on this game!

Julian Titus Senior Editor

06/26/2013 at 01:23 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Thanks! I'm really particular about spoilers, and with this game I really wouldn't want to give anything away. That's what spoilercasts are for. :)

Our Take

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

06/26/2013 at 01:30 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Julian definitely hones in on a lot of the strengths and weaknesses of The Last of Us. Where I differ in opinion is in terms of the combat. I felt it was stressful at points, but I feel that it helped add to the overall sense of pressure that Joel and Ellie faced on their adventure. You finish one firefight, hoping that it would be the last of it, just to fall into a pit full of Infected, and have to, nervously, make your way through hoping you can avoid a fight at all costs. No, combat wasn't perfect, but I do think it achieved what they were attempting to accomplish. 

I guess my beef had to do with variety outside of combat. I mean, how many ladder sections, planks and waterboard sections where there? I felt like they could have created a bit more variety in those sections to make 'em feel a bit more original.

Not to mention, I feel like multiplayer is a nice surprise. A lot more tact is needed in that mode than I anticipated, and its quite fun - even if I'm really bad at it.

As Julian said however, the story and characters are where this game hits home. The writing is top notch, and each character has dimension, even just minor supporting characters. It all culminates to an ending that blew me away. I'm sure you'll hear us talk about that on an upcoming spoiler-cast though. 


06/26/2013 at 04:12 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Curse you,PS3! You tease me so! (Shakes fist epically at the sky) Tongue Out

Matt Snee Staff Writer

06/26/2013 at 04:15 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

sorry I couldn't read this, I know there's little spoilers, but I'm trying to keep myself totally fresh for this one.  Sounds like you did an even handed job of it though.  Looking forward to this game!


06/26/2013 at 04:20 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

This better be playable with Sony's Gaikai deal...  I did really like the review, especially after reading ones that gave it a perfect score.

Justin Matkowski Graphic Designer

06/27/2013 at 12:11 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Second Yargz - awesome review! Unfortunately, I do not own a PS3, and I have been kicking myself since I've been hearing so many great things about The Last Of Us!

It seems like this is the point in the gaming generation when developers have such a solid hold on the hardware, that some truly impressive things are pulled off tech-wise. The Last of Us looks like the type of game where you just stop while playing, and pan the camera around to drink it all in.


06/27/2013 at 12:41 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

I like your honesty with the review here, sometimes it's difficult not to completely gush at the impressive sections and 'miss out' constructive criticism. It certainly sounds like Naughty Dog have created something special here but ironing out those gameplay issues could lead to something even more spectacular in the future. Reviews like your go a long way in ensuring that actually happens.  

Julian Titus Senior Editor

06/27/2013 at 12:49 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

The game that they had been talking about was one where guns were super rare, and even encountering 3 humans at one would be an "oh crap" moment. If that had been what we got, it could have been transcendent. This ended up being a much more traditional video game, but it does give me hope that someone could come along and make that game that Naughty Dog was talking about.


06/27/2013 at 01:33 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Not only is your review full of lies but you post yet more lies in the comments at the bottom.  Ammo was absolutely scarce in the game if you played on a challenging difficulty.  I had no rifle ammo for the entire last section of the game on hard.  I had several parts where I was specifically looking to take out multiple guys with one molotov to conserve ammo.  Bad guys did not materialize out of nowhere because of someone being alerted and bad guys could absolutely make noise undetected by the rest unless they were close by.

I'm not sure if you are lying on purpose or just completely ignorant, but the fact that this joke of a review may be used by someone in their decision making process is a travesty.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

06/27/2013 at 05:47 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

If there's one thing I pride myself on, it's my honesty. This is my honest review based on my experience. If I was being dishonest I would have glossed over everything negative about the game and given it a 5, because this game is on track to be my game of the year so far.

I played the game on default settings, as I do with all of my reviews. By the end of the game, I was flush with ammo for most of my weapons, with the exception of nail bombs and molotov cocktails. I'm sure that's a different story on harder difficulties, but I dislike the shooting mechanic enough that I have no desire to play it on hard.


06/27/2013 at 04:16 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

"This isn’t just a candidate for game of the year considerations—it’s a candidate for game of the generation discussion.... 4/5"


Julian Titus Senior Editor

06/27/2013 at 11:05 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

There are plenty of games that I would put in my top games of this generation that I wouldn't give a 5 star score to. The first Mass Effect is probably my favorite game of the past 8 years, and I gave it a 4.

Games can have flaws and still be important, memorable, and must play experiences.


06/27/2013 at 04:50 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Sorry, gotta say this is a bit og a lame review! Complaining about the gameplay?! Are you fucking kidding me?! DUDE, this isn't fucking Uncharted or COD! Sounds to me like you don't know how to fucking play the game properly "every enemy in the area goes on full alert if Joel makes one wrong move" that comment proves to me you are shit at this game! What u wrote is total horse shit, the enemies will ONLY react if they see, or hear you! Believe me I know, I'm playing it on fucking Survival (normal was easy). Go back an learn how to play this game like a BOSS instead of a halo bitch! This is one of the greatest games ever made, personally I think its not just GOY, but game of the generation, and an exclusive at that - Sony must be chuffed!


06/27/2013 at 09:11 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Hard to counter that logic.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

06/27/2013 at 11:05 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

I'm glad you loved the game. I did too.


06/27/2013 at 09:14 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Game of this generation...yeah right. Form your own opinion instead of parroting that review blurb you read over on Metacritic.  Provide some critical analysis to back it up, or stop talking shit to someone who has.


06/27/2013 at 11:48 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Good review, Julian. Looks like you gave the game fair treatment. Looking forward to playing this sometime.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

06/27/2013 at 01:48 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

ha ha is that guy for real?


06/27/2013 at 07:02 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Sadly yes. Well at least he didn't say Julian should lose his job or threaten to kill him so there's that. 


Matt Snee Staff Writer

06/27/2013 at 07:37 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

i guess we should count our blessings!


06/28/2013 at 01:07 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Fantastic review of this amazing game. You nailed it on all points. During the last sections I felt like I was fighting Terminators. You'd shoot a guy point blank in the face and he would simply "shake it off"! Even with shotguns. It seemed to mar what turned out to be a rather touching ending. The voice work and facial animations were better than any game I can recall. As the credits rolled I was in awe of just how many people worked on this one. Kind of like Tomb Raider in that regard. But they all came together to create a masterpiece they should be very proud of.


07/01/2013 at 12:41 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Its Ironic that someone has something bad to say about a very good and honest reveiw but dont have the balls to show who they are, hopefully anonymous isnt a part of our community.At any rate Julian you did a great reveiw and an honest one and if some people cant get the fact that reveiws are opinions and you dont have to agree, but this guys a clown lol!!!


07/02/2013 at 05:49 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Nice review! :)

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