Having greatly enjoyed the Uncharted series, I was excited to learn Naughty Dog had a new project. I was not all too surprised to hear it would feature pseudo-zombies, but I was intrigued by the implied stealth mechanics and the “have a little girl along the ride with you” concept. As release came close, I got ready to get my hands on the wonderful Collectors’ Edition, that provided me with a healthy dose of game art and a controller design that has proven invaluable in helping me demand my controller back from other gamers in the household.
Developed by: Naughty Dog
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release date: June 14th, 2013
Platforms: PS3 (Reviewed), PS4
Launch Price: 59.99 USD
To me gaming is about the whole experience, so I waited until evening to launch it, in the hope of experiencing the full thrill of the dark environments and apocalyptic setting. I was, however, not ready for what could very well be one of the best opening chapters I have played. The game is not only graphically superb, but the voice acting is outstanding and matched by a powerful soundtrack that helps bring scenes and events together, drawing in and immersing the player. The intensity and urgency of the situation are communicated in such a manner that you are pulled in by the unfolding story, and the pacing is just right to allow for exposition and participation. Once you reach the end of the introduction, your “tutorial chapter to teach you mechanics” unfolds, but it is painless and swift, not giving you too much nor too little information and showing you the way to go with subtle story cues that you will only appreciate on your second playthrough.
I started the game on Hard difficulty, having read that Survivor mode was challenging and I would be spoiling my appreciation of the stealth mechanics if I played on anything lower. It took only about one chapter to get me to the first “it’s midnight and I can’t get past this section” block, which carried on to about 3 hours of some failtastic attempts to both loot that hidden vault and get past a particularly tough version of the aforementioned pseudo-zombies, called “Clickers” in the game universe. At the time, I had no proper understanding of the sound and escape mechanics nor did I have a complete grasp on exploring to find materials, so it was a needed reality check to how my progress should be moving forward (or not). Of course after I gave up for the night I cleared the section in one go the next day… because that’s usually what happens when we stay up late to do hard stuff
As you continue through the game, you start to understand how it can be action-packed and story-driven at the same time. The conundrum in which humanity finds itself is not told to the player, it is shown in the landscapes and environments, through discoveries of the player and the reactions of NPC characters. The subtlety of this approach allows for the player to remain protagonist and participant without compromising the integrity of the story. There are no moral choices to be made, but understanding of the characters comes about through playtime, making their experiences ours and helping us understand and accept their choices and reactions, even when and perhaps especially if we don’t agree with them. I was pleasantly surprised to find this was the case, as it allowed the cinematic parts to flow well with the action.
The Last of Us Gameplay
Starting on Hard mode may have a steep learning curve, at least for your first multi-Clicker encounter. However the combat system in The Last of Us is simple enough and the in-game tips are sufficient to assist you in finding the answers to your problems. Stealth and preparation are key elements when moving to Survivor difficulty mode, as materials are more scarce and the enemies have better hearing, while conversely yours is disabled. It does not reach Demon’s Souls level of challenge, but it does require that you learn the mechanics and approach each fight in its own right. Some fights can be bypassed with some running, yet other fights should not be avoided to obtain good materials or artifacts dropped by mobs, whilst others still are best left for your companions to fight out. Learning to differentiate what type of fight it is and deciding on the best approach accordingly challenges the player to use critical thinking to select the right tools for the job. This is very enjoyable for any gamer who takes pleasure in a self-strategized victory and I count this as one of the salient points of the game: Simple mechanics, with multiple implementations and multiple solutions to each problem.
Enemy variety is an important and welcome factor in any game. Overall, there are human enemies and infected enemies, with the latter having further subdivisions: Runners, Clickers and Bloaters. Human and Runner enemies can be dispatched with melee attacks without special enhancements, however Clickers and Bloaters are immune to weak attacks and can one-shot you if they get close. Thankfully, they are both blind, so you can navigate the map around them until you reach a specific “kill” position – this is enhanced by placing several different types of enemies together, challenging the player to organize a kill order and think up a methodology. The mechanics that I found the most enjoyable related to enemy distraction through noises, ambush setup, and stealth kills. Unfortunately, some of the endurance fights, such as the ones against Bloaters were rather dull even in their intensity, as success depended more on dodging and countering or having specific weapons. You cannot outsmart these set-pieces and as such they result on run around sequences that do not make good TV.
Many Uncharted veterans could well be puzzled by the multiplayer approach, as it is a rather radical departure from the previous series’s structure. Multiplayer requires that you grow and feed a group of survivors by gathering supplies that are also coveted by other survivor teams. Bloodbaths ensue. Unlike solo play, group mechanics make stealth a difficult option, and resorting to sniping or baiting and booby-trapping enemies much more profitable. Open combat is usually frustrating as your newly created character gets pitted against people with hundreds of matches under their belt, making the starting matches a true test to your refrain on throwing your controller at the TV: after all, what could you really do against someone in full body armor, with 3 upgrades to their shotgun, who starts each round with a shiv and has perks giving them gifts more often… oh and knows the map, the weak spots, the common spawns… yeah. This needs balancing and it has been rather off-putting on my journey to platinum, that necessitates 84 matches on each faction without a failure of any 100% risk mission… which apparently means a lot of people leave the match midway if you are losing badly, making the unbalanced matchmaking even more of a problem.
That aside, the multiplayer mode has a lot of originality going for i,t and it can be very enjoyable. It was delightful for me to learn to use smoke bombs to stun enemies as I rushed in to obtain a shiv kill. It is exciting to know your team-mates can and will be there for you as it benefits their progress to assist you with gifts and heals. It can be intense if you find a group willing to go full open on each other. But again these matches don’t happen often as you learn the game, so if you are late to the party expect to deal with some frustration. On a positive note, the developers are very active on the Playstation Forums and patches are frequent and detailed.
The Last of Us is a graphically beautiful, well-paced, and well-balanced story-driven game. Simple but engaging mechanics make it accessible without diminishing the challenge at higher difficulty tiers. The music score is an asset, and the acting superb. All these factors make the end-product a good purchase for gamers seeking a strong single player adventure with AAA production values. I would not recommend the purchase for the multiplayer, as despite many original features that shows and attempt to rethink multiplayer, it remains in the end an add-on which is not the focus of the game. There’s an average-to-high motivation to replay the game on different difficulty levels, both to collect items and uncover additional story elements. The final Fextraopinion is therefore: buy~!
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