Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Last of Us Rapid Review

The Last of Us (PS3 Exclusive)
Original Release Date: June 14, 2013

Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony
Type: Action-Adventure/3rd-person Shooter
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
DLC: Some

Story Summary: 20 years after a zombie outbreak, the grizzled survivor Joel is forced to take on a job from the resistance group the Fireflies. He has to deliver the 14-year-old girl Ellie across the country to another crew of Fireflies. After discovering the true nature of his mission, Joel realizes how important it is that the mismatched duo survives.

Gameplay Summary: The player (as Joel) treks across the ruins of civilization, slaughtering spore-based zombies and savage humans along the linear journey. With a focus on looting and combat, various supplies and weapons can be crafted on the fly, from bombs to bandages. Combat can take the form of stealth or direct attack, based on the player’s judgment of situations.

Multiplayer Summary: Players represent their own clan of survivors, and their continued success keeps their people alive with supplies. The three modes are death by depleted reinforcements through respawning, 4-on-4 YOLO mode, and interrogate the enemy for a lockbox location. The player’s character can be customized in appearance, weapons, and RPG-like bonus abilities, which are unlocked as the player progresses.

My Assessment:
Series Status Going In: New, original series. I’ve played a little Uncharted, their previous work.
Main Story Length: Long
Extras/Sidequest Length: Very short, mainly collectibles
Worth Replaying: Yes
Overall Difficulty: Somewhat hard

Story Assessment: The dialogue is refreshingly simple, and the story kept me guessing from start until finish. The quick chats between Joel and Ellie are always entertaining and often funny. Various characters probably swear more often than they should (especially Ellie), but all of the characters are written very well. The game wisely discards the illusion of moral choice, forcing players to kill (or ignore) enemies, offering only choices as to how they’re killed. I’ll be pondering the controversial conclusion for a long time, but I firmly believe it ended exactly as it should have, taking survival to its logical yet illogical extremes.

Gameplay Assessment: I’ve heard lukewarm reactions to the gameplay, but I loved it. It achieves a very delicate balance of offering both stealth and direct combat, only rarely forcing the player to do one or the other. I have nothing but praise for the limited ammo, supplies, and craftables, adding tension to most combat actions. However, based on the initial demo video/trailer I made the mistake of believing the environments are very interactive, but that occurs only on a graphical level and not so much gameplay. That said, it’s a visually stunning experience.

Multiplayer Assessment: Enjoyment of the multiplayer hinges on enjoyment of the singleplayer gameplay, faithfully recreating and balancing out the features of stealth vs. direct attack. The idea of being the breadwinner of your own clan of survivors and having quick story missions is great, but I wish I could actually see and interact with the clan in some context. I consider multiplayer a winner, and I’ll keep playing it for a while.

High Point: David explains that “everything happens for a reason”
Low Point: Using shivs as keys rather than weapons when Joel could simply break the door down
Protip: Apply brick then Molotov to crowd of infected

Overall: The Last of Us reminds the industry that games don’t always need currently-popular elements like open-world exploration, customizable character creation, and moral choices in order to be deep and immersive. The lack of moral choice in Joel’s actions allows the story to develop in directions that would be impossible if the player could make big decisions. The surprisingly strategic gameplay is solid and keeps combat interesting, but the game offers little to do outside of the main story, aside from the decent multiplayer. For its healthy balance, consistency, and excellence in both story and gameplay, The Last of Us is my pick for 2013’s Game of the Year.

Final Thought: The ending was “okay,” I swear.

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