Not that I haven't been looking forward to it; The Last Of Us is one of my most anticipated games of the year.
So, let's start at the beginning.
The game has a blast of a start. The first 15-20 minutes of introduction gameplay are beautifully presented and one of the most stunning starts to a game I've ever seen.
It took me by surprise, though, that the main part of the game is actually set 20 years AFTER the intro, where you follow old guy Joel. I say old be because he must be at least in his late 40's, maybe even early 50's.
|The facial animations are mind-blowing.|
You're introduced to him and Tess, two people who are just sorta getting on with things in a ruined world. They run a mini smuggling business and smuggle things around in return for supplies. No-one in this ruinous world can be trusted. Not the military. Not strangers. Not no one.
The USA has been shut down and separated into these safe havens where people live. They're spread out across the US (where the game takes place) however in-between them are vast, massive stretches of *barely* inhabited land. Cities and towns lie in ruin, empty and void of all normal, human life.
Joel is ultimately set the dangerous task of escorting a 14-year old girl, Ellie, across zombie filled America in order to deliver her to a group of people called the 'Fireflies'.
The first thing you'll notice about the game and its characters is how incredibly well animated they are. Facial capture is some of, if not the best, that I've seen. It's simply stunning.
It brings the people alive and makes you feel somewhat closer to them. And it's really the characters who make the story as good as it is.
While some of the side characters, like Tess, don't feel very well explained or relevant, the two leads - Ellie and Joel - are superbly well crafted. You'll care greatly for both of them. I didn't expect her to, but Ellie did steal the show for me. She's a lovely character, but not typical or generic. She feels (and looks) alive and she has her own distinct personality.
Joel is a little more monotone, however after a while he lightens up a bit. He's a troubled man with his own problems and you can't help but feel for the guy. He's been through a hell of a lot.
The game's story is without a single shadow of a doubt its strongest point. The way it's told is brilliant and while some characters don't feel like they were built on enough, Joel and Ellie and the journey they go on more than makes up for this. The funny and interesting conversations they have while wandering around together are brilliant. Ellie will talk and comment on things and it all feels very natural and realistic.
However The Last Of Us, contrary to what many, many, MANY reviewers are saying, is not perfect. In fact, it has such a big problem in the area of gameplay that the game really can't be classed as remotely perfect on the whole.
The gameplay is split into two parts. The first part is the combat. And the second is the sort of 'platforming, slash puzzle solving, slash getting from A to B slash searching for supplies' parts.
Admittedly, you're going to be using stealth a lot. Ammo can be a bit on the scarce side, so taking things to the shadows is often the safest and most economical way of doing things. You're gonna want to abuse the over-poweredness that is hand-to-hand combat too.
Come up close to an enemy and you can bash their brains out with your fists or some pipe or brick or something. It's the best part of the entire combat system and incredibly satisfying.
You can't always go in shooting though. There are different types of zombos and one of these types are Clickers. They're zombies with these giant mushrooms on their heads (no, not in an adorable Toad from Mario kinda way) that are blind and run around making clicking sounds and listening for noises. You have to use stealth to get past them because if they hear you, they're so fast and a one hit kill that you stand no chance - especially when there's more than one.
You can sneak up on them and take them out silently though, and they aren't immune to guns or anything, so you can be a bit inventive with how you approach situations involving them.
This no doubt all sounds good and fun, and I haven't said a bad word about the combat yet. But that's about to change. Unfortunately, the combat is just completely, well, naf.
First of all the shooting is off. It's loose and feels very much like L.A Noire's gunplay. Which isn't good.
Then there's the issue of the AI. I haven't seen AI as inconsistent and poor as this for some time. You'll be stealthily trying to get past a clicker when your AI buddies will just charge ahead, run INTO one of the zombies, and then hide behind a wall. And the zombies don't even do anything. Which is kinda good because it means that as dumb as the AI is they'll never 'get you killed' for their mistakes, but at the same time it's a complete and utter immersion breaker. All of it is nonsense. It's barmy. It's completely ridiculously silly. It's actually comical. And Ellie, as adorable as she is, is no different. You'll pull this kinda face:
as she tries to follow closely behind you only to get tangled with a Clicker who doesn't even react to her presence.
In fact, the enemies don't find it necessary to attack any of your AI companions - especially Ellie. In Bioshock Infinite, Elizabeth had a reason for not being attacked. Because she was needed alive. But zombies have no brain. They have no reason not to attack Ellie. The fact she is invisible to them makes no sense. If she actually ran off and hid then fine, maybe they wouldn't attack her because she'd be hiding away. But she doesn't. Half the time she runs around in the middle of combat not getting attacked. Why?
And I'm not done there. The level design is horrific.
OK so I expected a more open world with random enemy encounters and shit, and OK, what we got was a scripted, linear world with scripted linear enemy encounters. The problem isn't that I didn't get what I wanted, it's just that the direction that Naughty Dog did decide to take is one that does nothing but make the combat and game world feel incredibly restrictive and poor.
The world is so scripted and so tightly regulated that you never feel free. You're forced into making decisions because the game world says so. It's INCREDIBLY generic.
And then you have the enemy encounters. The human bad guys aren't too bad, but the zombies are awful. Every infected fight feels generic and scripted and a majority of them are these awfully designed 'arena' levels.
You'll enter an area and there will be loads of, for instance, Clickers wandering around. Why? Fuck knows. I have no idea why they're just skulking around doing nothing. Why don't they wander off? They're damn zombies, why are they standing around like they're guarding something? What is their purpose? It feels so out of place for a game that is trying so hard to be realistic that I can't even explain it to you.
You'll then proceed to make your way through this generic, linear 'area', taking some of the infected out if you so wish and trying to get to the next section. The level design is not random or unpredictable. These 'areas' are so generic and scripted they leave nothing to the imagination. The way these arena levels are built is just atrocious. Yes, atrocious. I'm not even kidding.
Some encounters with the infected DO feel random and intense, and that's awesome! But half the time you'll be waddling quietly through an 'arena' trying to avoid some weird ass zombies that have absolutely no purpose for being there. Like, seriously, you could wait there for hours and the infected would still be wandering around that area. Apparently they don't do anything except stand around. I'm sorry but it really is a bit of a joke. The level design is frequently worse than bad.
It's also worth noting that zombie fights happen WAY too much. They are overused to the max. You won't encounter 1 or 2 at a time. Instead you'll come across hordes. It feels just like any other generic zombie game at that point and combat situations become a drag.
When you're not battling foes though, you'll be trying to navigate the dangerous environments. The US is in ruins and Joel and Ellie will need to find their way from A to B in more inventive ways than just walking. You'll need to climb, use ladders and other things in order to get to where you want.
I really wish these quiet platforming/puzzling solving parts were good. Believe me. But they aren't. They're not as bad as the combat, but they're close.
The puzzle parts are so shallow and mind numbingly boring I have nothing positive to say about them. There will be a gap that you need to get across, so instead of searching the environment, looking for things to use, you'll turn around and, oh, WOW, guess what? They'll be a GIANT plank of wood RIGHT THERE behind you for you to use. And you know the odd part? It looks exactly the same as every other plank of wood you used before it. Apparently there are just loads of massive planks of wood that are sturdy (not rotting or anything), look the same and are brilliant for getting across big gaps. How, uh, coincidental.
It may sound like I'm nitpicking but I'm not. If the platforming parts weren't so Goddamn repetitive and totally lame then details like the wood wouldn't matter. But everything about them is bad.
Sometimes the wood you need will be propped up against a wall, and you'll have to search a little bit to find it. Challenging stuff.
Sometimes you'll use a ladder! Yes. Very impressive.
Hang on, though, I thought that this was a survival horror game? Then why are there well placed ladders and planks of wood everywhere you go? Where the hell is the surviving? How come Joel never has to go into a house and use his brain and pull out a table or a bed or a fridge and use that to climb up somewhere? What I'm saying is there is zero innovation or invention here. Nothing even remotely unique. It's bland. It's pointless. It's totally lame. And the game never seems excited about any of it either.
The bleak tone it has sets the mood well, but when you're completing awful, boring and repetitive platforming segments like this, that bleak tone feels more like the game's way of snoring. And Joel sounds bored too. The voice acting was perfect. But I can't lie, it made me laugh when he walked up to a gap and said dully "We need to get across." and Ellie said "How do we do that?" and he said "We'll find a way." That's the type of enthusiasm that gets me going!
But no, seriously, the voice acting IS perfect, it just makes me laugh that Joel sounds as bored as me in those situations.
What happened Naughty Dog? You created one of my top 3 series when you came out with Uncharted! But what is this? You call THIS fun? You call THIS platforming and puzzle solving? In fact, what DO you call it?
As this game is about surviving, you'll need to scavenge for supplies. However even this is bad. I know it sounds like I just won't stop complaining but it's hard not to when the gameplay is this boring and
If you want to search for supplies you have go into the boldly placed houses and things. There will literally be a house that is blatantly obviously hiding supplies that you need, and it will be right next to where you need to go, so you can't miss it. Basically, you never, EVER have to stray from the set path in order to find or 'scavenge' anything. Not that you can stray away anyway. Alan Wake was more of a survival horror than this. At least it let you properly explore and search environments.
Occasionally the area you're in DOES open up a bit, and you have room to breathe. But it stills feels limiting. It's still not that big. It's still generic and linear on a massive level. It's just not good.
The Last Of Us is not a survival horror. It's a heavily scripted action-adventure game featuring zombies.
What does this all mean for TLOS? Where does it leave it? I wanted to love this game, I REALLY did. But at times it was laughable - literally. I mean, the AI running into a Clicker only for nothing to happen? Sure.
The story is such an incredibly well told tale that needs to be experienced I recommend at least just watching a play-through of the game on YouTube.
However while the story and characters and voice acting sky-rocket so high that you can barely see them, the gameplay is so BAD and drops so far and hits the ground SO hard that I can't possibly give this game a higher score. I'm sorry guys. I know everyone loves this game. I know they think it was made by God and given as a gift to gamers. But it wasn't. It's got a lot of gameplay problems. And that's what is so sad. It's the gameplay that lets it down .The story is to be admired. But the gameplay is bad. Just plain bad.
For all the flaws with the gameplay though, Naughty Dog KNOWS how to make a sensational story. It's mind-blowing. The finale isn't stunning in gameplay terms (none of the gameplay is good) but the story reaches its peak and ends in a truly magnificent fashion. The emotion, the characters; it's all superb. Incredible, even.
But the gameplay takes away what The Last Of Us has. It takes away its magic. The journey is good when you're not really playing it. And that, that is bad. Very bad.
Should you buy it? No. Should you rent? Well, for the story yes. But don't expect good gameplay. I'm sorry guys, but The Last Of Us isn't perfect.
TLOU has emotion and tries really hard. It has a stunning story. But the rest of the game is average. Bad even. I'm being generous with my score because while so much of the game flops, it's still playable. It's average enough to play-through. Not unbearable like some games.