Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Last of Us Review (spoiler free!)

I was really broke last weekend, so no new additions...but I have some super cool stuff coming in the mail very soon, and hopefully I'll find something garage saleling this weekend. Until then, I present my review of The Last of Us.

Why I tried the game: Well, I'm not sure this one needs explaining. Its definitely the biggest and most anticipated Playstation exclusive released this year (so far anyway). I remember seeing the trailer at E3 last year (?) and immediately knowing it was a game I had to play. I like the Uncharted games quite a bit, so that added to my excitement. I picked it up as soon as possible and got the edition that came with the art book / comic. I highly recommend the art book (which can be purchased separately) to check out after playing the game, if you're into that. The comics also make a pretty neat backstory, and I'm excited to see how it will conclude next month (although the game kinda spoils that at the end). 

Likes:  Where to even begin with a game as hyped as this one? I went into this with high expectations. I heard that it got "straight 10's across the board!" except for one hipster website that gave it a 6. I don't may much attention to professional reviews, I mainly ask friends and watch gameplay videos on youtube if I'm on the fence. However, 10's from EVERYONE is quite impressive. I went into this with huge expectations, and it definitely delivered.

Graphics tend to be the last thing I'd ever mention in a review...I mean, hell, some of my favorite games are for the N64 (was that ever pretty?) but this game takes it to another level. The cityscapes are hauntingly beautiful. We've all seen post apocalyptic cities again and again. They've gotten more realistic, but generally seem to remain the same. TLOU spins the average bland urban decay of zombie games into something different. Its years after the shit hit the fan, and in most places nature is taking back what we have claimed our own. Everywhere you turn there is grass growing, trees bending to work with the broken bricks of a mostly demolished building - and even flowers growing up from the city streets. In another setting with another tone, it'd be something welcoming, something warm and touching. The scenery contrasts the struggle of humanity trying to survive, and its really inspiring to look at.

The gameplay is extremely polished. Even the Uncharted series had hiccups when switching from firearms to hand to hand combat. Most of that is eliminated in TLOU and every motion feels smooth and fluid. Hiding behind a table, throwing a bottle to distract an enemy, using a pipe to smash in his skull, and spinning around to take out his homie with a shotgun blast seems to just melt from your brain to your finger tips. It takes very little thought to switch from A to B, and it makes the immersive feeling of combat strikingly realistic. It plays like how  you'd actually want to move were you doing the same maneuvers in a real life situation. 

  The AI is very intelligent, and I rarely got the little red cross on my screen indicating a friend needed help. Allies move in stealth, and only attack when appropriate. Many times throughout the game Ellie warned me "Hey, on your right!" before I even noticed a lumberjack crashing down on me with a board or crowbar. They can fend for themselves and are much more help than they are a burden.

The story...I'm not going to say much about the story, as I'm sure 99% of people playing this game are playing it for the cinematics and story. I will say that it scared the hell out of me in spots. The first meeting with "clickers" (mutated humans who have lost the ability to see, but gained the skill of echolocation) had me holding my breath and my heart pumping in my chest. The only other game I can think of in recent years that has made me feel quite like this is Dead Space (and Dead Space 2 I suppose). The happy moments feel extremely happy, and the sad moments hit you like you're a lady watching a lifetime movie with her Aunt Flo. With very limited background story, I feared most of the game that I didn't care all that much about the characters, but by the end I was cheering or tearing right along with Joel and Ellie. The story is what makes this game a 10 rather than a solid fun romping TPS. 

There is a part right near the last section of the game where Ellie calls you after her, running ahead excited about something in the city. I had no idea what she was seeing, and Joel kept asking her what it was. When we stepped through the door and I saw it, I really honestly felt happy and excited - almost as if it had actually happened to me. I don't usually get such emotional rushes from video games (not happiness anyway)...but this stood out to me as the highlight of the entire game. If you play through it, you'll know what I mean and hopefully feel the same way. It was my favorite part, and I'd like to shake the hand of whoever wrote that part into the game.

Dislikes: My dislikes are few and far between, but are definitely worth mentioning. 

First, I should mention the difficulty. I generally play FPS games on Normal, and then will try a bit on Hard. For games like Uncharted or Heavy Rain (or TLOU) that are mostly cinematic, I play on the easiest setting available. This may seem like a copout, but I play these games for the story, not the challenge. I like to see things unfold and not get stuck and frustrated. I like to play the games more as an interactive movie than as a standard video game. So, I started this up on easy. I like to think of myself as a competent gamer, I like to think that I'm pretty good at games. I should mention that I had a handful of parts that were frustratingly difficult even when set on easy. Most of the time, it was just a matter of me doing the wrong thing, but once or twice I had to just hold down R2 (run) and haul ass and hope I hit a checkpoint. Perhaps that is what the developers had in mind, but I felt like I was playing it wrong. If you're undecided on what difficulty you should play on, I suggest hopping it down a step from your average game.

Navigation. There were certain points in the game where I felt hopelessly lost. I had to find a ladder that I just wasn't seeing, I had to dive under water to grab something I couldn't find, etc. This is a fairly minor issue, because after a few minutes of wandering around an option pops up to press L3 for a hint, and it'll place a marker on your screen at your goal. Much of the time it was something stupid I should have seen without the hint, but sometimes it was cryptic and frustrating. A minor complaint, but worth mentioning.

There is a ton of places to explore at each stop. There are bonuses and collectables, some that add to stats or ability, some that just give you some side stories. The world is huge, and its excellent - but often the characters and story made you feel rushed. In most games I don't mind saying "fuck off for a minute" while I explore...but a game that you want to follow the story of means you want to "hurry up!" when its being shouted at you from other characters. This is actually my largest complaint. I had to decide to either explore for collectables and break the experience of the story up, or run past possible aides to keep up that feeling of urgency. 

Conclusion: Odds are if you're a person who is going to enjoy this game and play it, you've already planned on checking it out. The hype has been overwhelmingly loud across the internet and social media websites, so much that it seems impossible for anyone to have missed out on this. The Last of Us is a blockbuster hit - easily a candidate for Game of the Year, probably an easy winner for Playstation exclusive of the year (although, maybe we should wait and see how Beyond Two Souls turns out...) I rarely buy games new. $60 is usually too much for me to justify spending on a 15 hour experience. The Last of Us however is a masterpiece, and should definitely be on the shelf of any gamer who owns a Playstation 3. Unless you bought the system for its bluray player and collection of sports games, not playing through The Last of Us is a sin, plain and simple. Just remember to buy a box of tissues with the game. Its an emotional rollercoaster that will have even the most manly gamer tearing up at times.

10 clickers out of 10. 


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