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The Last of Us review: life and death

The Last of Us is as thoughtful as it is exhilarating, and easily stands as Naughty Dog's best work to date.

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At first glance, The Last of Us embodies the tired nature of gaming at the end of this generation. It's a third-person cover shooter with zombies (or as the game calls them, "the Infected"). Perhaps the only genre more thoroughly exploited in the past few years is the modern military first-person shooter. While it would be easy to dismiss Naughty Dog's latest as simply an "undead Uncharted," The Last of Us does so much to separate itself from its predecessors. This is the most mature title to come from the Santa Monica studio, and not simply because of the violence and gore on display. Even in the confines of such a familiar genre, The Last of Us dares to challenge many modern gaming tropes. The end result is a journey that is as thoughtful as it is exhilarating, and easily stands as Naughty Dog's best work to date. Simply put, The Last of Us is a joy to play, with every encounter becoming a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse. The post-apocalyptic world envisioned by Naughty Dog is an especially hostile place, and it's reflected in the game's core systems. Crucially, regenerative health is gone. Even more importantly, bullets and supplies come in short supply. Instead of being able to mow down dozens of enemies with a fully automatic assault rifle, you'll approach each encounter with a greater appreciation for every bullet you have, every inch of health your character has left. Joel can be killed in one bite, and players will undoubtedly be exposed to a number of gruesome deaths throughout the journey. But, never does it feel like he is frail or underpowered. Instead, The Last of Us finally makes good on the promise of the first Uncharted game--to make an "everyman" hero that would be far more relatable than the space marine so common in our medium. Joel wouldn't be able to survive plummeting out of an exploding airplane, let alone multiple gunshot wounds. But neither can the people you encounter. The game's most thrilling battles place you and a handful of other survivors in an open environment. Every human opponent is no more hearty than you, and they are equally aware of their own mortality. Unlike most third-person shooters, the threat of a gun can be an effective tool.

The Infected are terrifying, but battles against survivors are more fun

The intelligent AI makes every encounter dynamic and interesting. E3 presentations must always be taken with a grain of salt, given the heavily scripted and practiced nature of those demos. However, The Last of Us manages to deliver on all the promises made by its impressive stage presentation. Yes, the AI will flank you, run away, and become aggressive when they hear an empty clip. Yes, Ellie will find opportunities to help you in meaningful ways in combat. Yes, certain enemies will beg for mercy when completely outmatched. You could recreate that compelling E3 presentation if you wanted to--but more importantly, you'll likely have an entirely different experience based on how you play. And while each encounter will play out differently, The Last of Us is ultimately designed to be played in a certain way. It is not a game meant to appeal to the masses. Modern stealth games like Dishonored and Hitman Absolution celebrate the ability to play-as-you-wish by having systems that adapt to both stealthy and loud play styles. The Last of Us is not one of those games, making no concessions for the impatient gamer, one that wants to go from point A to point B in the quickest way possible and simply wants to kill lots of people along the way. It's telling that the game's trophies don't center around combat or progression. You'll never snap someone's neck to hear that "bling" sound and see some pun-titled trophy pop up: "A HEAD OF THE GAME: Choke 50 enemies." Instead, the achievements center around enjoying the environment, scavenging for collectibles, and simply talking to people. At many times during the adventure, you'll be able to talk to Ellie and explain the meaning behind a movie poster, or simply talk about how life was before the collapse of society.

The journey will take you across the entire country

The story is massive, told over the course of four seasons. Joel and Ellie's journey spans thousands of miles, and during that time, you'll see their relationship evolve into something quite special. Terrific writing and fantastic performances across-the-board make it easy to become invested in a story that might otherwise be by-the-numbers for the zombie genre. And the varied, detailed, gorgeously rendered environments invite mesmerized appreciation. Yet, The Last of Us is not without its flaws. Occasionally, Naughty Dog resorts to the "game-isms" that define other mainstream titles. More than once, the game will instantly spawn enemies in an area, rendering useless the deliberate gameplay that the game is designed around. Being forced into a bombastic gunfight feels cheap, especially after methodically clearing the previous area. The endgame also starts ratcheting up the number of enemies and the amount of ammunition you have--disappointingly devolving the game into the dumb shooter it was intentionally trying not to be. The first boss fight is an utter shock--simply because the mere notion of having a boss fight seems rather unnecessary and forced. Another boss fight towards the endgame is also a disappointment, because it drags down what should have been a satisfying story arc. Instead, by turning the encounter into a standard three-hit-kill boss battle, it negates any of the moral complexities of the situation at hand.

Bill is one of the many memorable characters you'll encounter

These shortcomings are blemishes on an otherwise impeccable experience. Naughty Dog was wise to hide so much of the game from the public's eye. There are so many genuinely memorable moments, with surprises and cliffhangers leading to major shifts in gameplay. To reveal any of them would be a disservice, but the surprises begin from the very moment you press Start and begin a new game. As a package, The Last of Us is a meaty one. A single playthrough can take up to 20 hours, depending on how thorough you are and what difficulty you choose to play in. There's also a multiplayer mode which captures the essence of the campaign--although it falls short in content. When it stays true to its vision, The Last of Us is a masterful, suspenseful, and beautiful experience that weaves together a compelling narrative with thoughtful gameplay. While it occasionally falters, Naughty Dog proves that they can breathe new life into the third-person cover shooter. [9]
This The Last of Us review was based on an early debug copy of the game provided by the publisher. The game will be available on PS3 on Blu-ray and PlayStation Network on June 14.

From The Chatty

  • reply
    June 5, 2013 7:00 AM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, The Last of Us review: life and death.

    The Last of Us is as thoughtful as it is exhilarating, and easily stands as Naughty Dog's best work to date.

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 7:04 AM

      Fuck yes. Apparently Edge gave it a 10/10 too. Can't wait.

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      June 5, 2013 7:07 AM

      ahh damn , I dont want a PS3 :(

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        June 5, 2013 7:15 AM

        ya I dont want a ps3 either but some of the exclusives I do want. really should come out on pc

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        June 5, 2013 7:36 AM

        Why not? PSN, more and better exclusives than 360... Not to go all fanboy because I enjoy both systems, but the PS3 kicks ass, dude. If you like, wait until the inevitable price drop on or around PS4's launch.

        • reply
          June 5, 2013 8:26 AM

          Better exclusives yes , better system ... you're going to have to pull something amazing like 7 HD streams running at the same time to convince this Xbox fanboy. You're right , I'll have to wait for the price drop or just get a

          PS4 if they have a version for it. One way or another Im going to play this game.

      • reply
        June 5, 2013 7:47 AM

        Its a good system. I was a skeptic, too, but I got one for blu rays. Its great.

      • reply
        June 5, 2013 8:31 AM

        then you hate great games and blu ray players that can play them

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 7:08 AM

      This game totally wasn't on my radar, saving "Oooh, Naughty Dog", but man, the handjobs this game is getting from everyone today. o_O

      • reply
        June 5, 2013 7:15 AM

        IGN claiming it's PS3's best exclusive yet. hnnnngh

        • reply
          June 5, 2013 7:35 AM

          It must top Demon's Souls to hold that honor!

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            June 5, 2013 7:44 AM

            That's gonna be pretty fucking hard. Demon's Souls has tons of replayability. Naughty Dog games generally have none, in my experience.

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            June 5, 2013 7:53 AM

            This is such a niche title its laughable. Last of Us is infinitely more approachable than Dark Souls. Its worthy of any title they want to bestow on it.

            • reply
              June 5, 2013 7:57 AM

              'approachable' doesn't have anything inherently in common with 'best'

        • reply
          June 5, 2013 8:41 AM

          Nobody cares about Polygon and their terrible website.

    • gmd
      reply
      June 5, 2013 7:16 AM

      did not see this review coming out today

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 7:18 AM

      man, my PS3 is busted, would love to play but just not sure I'm gonna fix that blu-ray player

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 7:20 AM

      this game comes out on a Friday? weird.

      • reply
        June 5, 2013 8:30 AM

        Yeah, that caught my eye too! Is this going to be a thing now?

        I hope it does become a thing.

        • reply
          June 5, 2013 11:19 AM

          Due to E3 blowout I expect.

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 7:27 AM

      Ugh, boss fights? That's disappointing.

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        June 5, 2013 7:33 AM

        It's Naughty Dog. It wouldn't be the same without a terrible final boss fight.

      • reply
        June 5, 2013 7:35 AM

        Yeah, boss fights feel too video game-y for this type of experience.

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          June 5, 2013 7:40 AM

          I wish more games would ditch them, it's such a tired element, they can surely be far more creative with their climactic moments.

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          June 5, 2013 7:49 AM

          Exactly. It's like they almost made it to fully mature story/experience and then just said screw it and fell back on old habits.

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 7:34 AM

      Ars was like "If you don't own a PS3, you should pick one up"

      • reply
        June 5, 2013 10:36 AM

        I am looking forward to when the next gen comes out so I can hopefully pick up a PS3 for under $100 and finally play some of their good exclusives.

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 7:35 AM

      Well shit, there goes my ability to wait. At least Amazon has release day shipping.

      • reply
        June 5, 2013 7:36 AM

        Amazon has release day delivery..

      • reply
        June 5, 2013 7:41 AM

        Thankfully I'm at a music festival that weekend so I'll wait for it to drop under 30 quid instead. Still, hurray Naughty Dog!

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 7:37 AM

      The critical question is when does the half-tuck shirt appear in the game.

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 7:50 AM

      I got about halfway through the review before I broke down and pre-ordered it. I was going to wait, but yeah, not gonna happen now.

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 7:51 AM

      Whoa whoa I had no idea this was coming out so soon, I had just assumed it was coming out this fall for some reason. Shit.

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 7:53 AM

      Preorder justified

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 8:10 AM

      Where's the best place to order from? Any deals going on, lower prices or nifty pre-order bonuses?

      • reply
        June 5, 2013 8:15 AM

        Amazon pre-orders get $10 instant video credit.

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 8:19 AM

      Cool! I hope the high praise isn't due to the drought. Looking forward to this!

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 8:24 AM

      Preorder is tempting, but considering how fast I've seen prices for things like BioShock Infinite fall, somewhat tempting to wait, too...

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      June 5, 2013 8:33 AM

      What is this sorcery of releasing on a Friday?

      • reply
        June 5, 2013 8:51 AM

        You get the whole weekend to play!

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        June 5, 2013 9:43 AM

        Just curious, but is there a reason most are released on Tuesday? Seems like Friday would be a no-brainier. Are they afraid of movie releases hurting sales?

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          June 5, 2013 9:46 AM

          Historically, music releases have been on tuesdays because Billboard tracked tues-tues, so you'd want the maximum possible sales period in order to get as high a placement on the charts as possible.

          That pattern has rubbed off on other industries, I'm guessing.

          Most games are released on mondays over here.

          • reply
            June 5, 2013 9:53 AM

            Hmm, interesting.

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            June 5, 2013 10:38 AM

            Yeah, I used to work in a record store. I think it was less about "rubbing off" and more about already existing shipping logistics.

        • reply
          June 5, 2013 9:50 AM

          I have always heard that with Friday releases you have the risk of the shipment getting there late and having to wait until Monday. Not sure how true that is.

          • reply
            June 5, 2013 10:06 AM

            I could see that being a possibility, but dunno how often a late shipment happens nowadays. I can't recall being at a Gamestop or Walmart or whatever and them saying "Yeah it releases today but our shipment didn't come in."

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              June 5, 2013 10:16 AM

              The last time that ever happened to me was Asheron's Call 2 release day. The shipments for a large part of PA got delayed due to a storm.

            • reply
              June 5, 2013 10:17 AM

              It happened once when I worked at Gamestop and the district manager ended up driving to the airport to get the packages himself.

              • reply
                June 5, 2013 10:41 AM

                Hah, damn.

                • reply
                  June 5, 2013 10:56 AM

                  Ironically, I believe it was State of Emergency. So much hype, followed by so much disappointment.

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 10:11 AM

      is this on steam? ;)

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      June 5, 2013 10:30 AM

      I will add this to the short list of 4 or so games I MUST play on the PS3 at some point.

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        June 5, 2013 10:44 AM

        Uncharted 1 through 3 are worth getting a PS3 for.

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          June 5, 2013 10:51 AM

          Those games don't really interest me though for some reason. They are fun to watch, but I have no desire to actually play them. Last of Us though... this one looks awesome!

      • reply
        June 5, 2013 11:29 AM

        Demon's Souls is required to be on that list.

        • reply
          June 5, 2013 12:09 PM

          It's at the top of that list!

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 10:39 AM

      This is awesome; thanks for the review! I'm super excited for this game now.

      Definitely hitting up gamestop for my preorder copy right after work next Friday. Too bad it's not coming out this Friday; my gf is going to be out most of the evening for a ladies' night xD Maybe I can get them to arrange another one next Friday.

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 10:40 AM

      the demo owned. im pumped up

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 11:31 AM

      Some more questions for you, Andrew!

      - How different has your second playthrough been from your first? Does the story change much from game to game? I'm curious as to how free form the game is, or if Naughty Dog pushes you along one main path and only makes you feel in control of your decisions and path through the game by sprinkling the game with insignificant choices like crafting this over that item.

      - I've heard TLOU includes a New Game+ mode. Have you tried it? Does carrying over your gear and upgrades make subsequent runs easier?

      • reply
        June 5, 2013 11:43 AM

        I answered your first question in the other thread. There is a NG+ mode. However, the upgrades that you unlock don't DRASTICALLY make things easier/harder. NG+ is easier simply because by the second time around, you know what to expect and how to handle combat situations better. It's also there for trophy hoarders, as it is pretty much impossible to get certain trophies without multiple playthroughs.

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 11:47 AM

      Man I'm going to have to buy this aren't I? It sounds awesome. Here I thought I was done buying PS3 games.

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      June 5, 2013 12:07 PM

      Naughty dog has already proven they make quality games I had no doubts they could pull this game off well.... I'll be getting it day one.

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 12:09 PM

      i am excite. i have a wedding to attend this weekend, but hopefully i'll get some play time in.

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 1:06 PM

      I'm not sure how you expect me to read this without a big number at the top out of 10.

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 1:27 PM

      Oh boy ... time to dust off that PS3!

      • reply
        June 5, 2013 6:02 PM

        fo fuckin real

    • reply
      June 5, 2013 6:57 PM

      best work to date? holy shit buying ten copies.

      • reply
        June 5, 2013 6:57 PM

        Glad I just upgraded every part of my theater setup