Wellington Daily News - Wellington, KS
by Garon Cockrell
Video Game Review: The Last of Us
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July 26, 2013 11:15 a.m.

Platform: Playstation 3
Sometimes a game comes along and takes my feelings about it
on a rollercoaster ride. The Last of Us
did that so much, that I very nearly stopped playing altogether a few times. I
didn’t understand the hype and adoration it was getting. I really felt like I
was missing something, but I dug in my heels and kept at it. And boy, am I glad
I did.<>
The opening sequence is a rather surprising bit of game
design. You find yourself not controlling Joel, the character you’ll be
controlling through the rest of the game. Instead, his daughter, Sarah, plays
as your window to the game’s prologue as she’s awoken in the middle of the
night. While pulling the ol’ switcheroo on who you play as isn’t anything new,
the amount of detail put into this rather brief sequence speaks volumes about
how much effort Naughty Dog, the game’s developer, put into The Last of Us. As Sarah climbs out of
bed and wanders around the house, there’s a very deliberate slower pace to her
movements that are subtly emphasized by an ever-so-slight sway to her
movements, giving more weight to the feeling of just having been woken up and
unsure of a situation.<>
As you move to the next section of the prologue, you’re
still in control of Sarah as Joel and his brother, Tommy, drive off to get away
from the city. While Joel and Tommy try to figure out what’s going on as they
talk in the front seat, Sarah sits in the back seat and will move around as you
spin the camera around to get a view of what’s happening. As you move the
camera around, Sarah will clamber over the seats pressing on the windows and
leaning on the car’s seats to brace herself as she looks around. It’s a very
subtle touch that’s easily overlooked. The effort put into this incredibly
brief sequence is something that wouldn’t be missed if not included, but its
inclusion is a brief hint at the level of design craftsmanship that’s been put
into The Last of Us.<>
Once the prologue wraps up, you’re put twenty years into the
future to see humanity’s struggle to survive against their brethren, both
infected and not. Humanity is its own greatest enemy and obstacle to overcome
and it’s a great analogy for The Last of
Us. The “inner demon” of what something is at its core is the struggle of not
only the story of The Last of Us, but
the struggle of the gameplay too often getting in the way of the tale that
Naughty Dog is telling.<>
The actual “game” portion will be more than a bit familiar
to people who have played through Uncharted
2 and/or Uncharted 3. From a pure
mechanical perspective, you’re looking at a very similar game. It’s not quite
as simple as that though. Ammo is far scarcer and your health doesn’t
regenerate, making going guns blazing a la Nathan Drake not only  inadvisable, but nearly impossible if you plan
on seeing the game through to the end. As in Uncharted, there’s cover to use, but you’ll be using it more to sneak
around to set up stealthy kills and hide from opposition more than to pop up from
between segments of mowing down hundreds of people as casually as you were putting
a second bag of chips in your cart at the grocery store because they’re “buy
one, get one free.”<>
The Last of Us
tries to deviate from the simplistic, popcorn-action flick style of Uncharted and instead wants you to sneak
around more. With your resources more limited for both dealing out death and
keeping yourself alive, it would make more sense to take this approach. You’ll
find sneaking about the best way to handle most situations because if you try
to go full Rambo, you’re likely to either fail miserably or be left with so
little in terms of supplies that you’re next encounter will be the end of you.<>
It’s when the game forces you into full combat without the
stealth that can be a bit maddening. Too many times I found myself reloading a section
time and time again because I thought I couldn’t find the proper sequence in
patrol patterns to take down most of the enemies in an area only to find out
that there was no alternative to full on combat. It’s a little disheartening to
find out you’re doing it wrong without any real cue aside from constant failure.
For a game that presents itself with such a wide array of being able to fight
or avoid enemies, it seems like a bit of a blunder to not include some sort of
hint that you can’t avoid certain sections. Actually, it seems like more of a
blunder that those sections exist at all. They’re far more common in the first
half of the game, but once you learn that there are areas you can’t get passed without
taking on all comers, those instances will seem less annoying.<>
Joel will also improvise weapons and weapon upgrades with
the simple crafting system. It works very logically as you strap on scissors
blades to a lead pipe using duct tape you find laying around. You’ll craft
makeshift grenades, smoke bombs, and molotov cocktails using things you find
laying around. You’ll also find glass bottles and bricks throughout the world
that you can use to both distract enemies and stun them so you get the upper
hand on them.<>
Granted, the logic of some of the stuff is a bit silly, but
you have to suspend your disbelief somewhat. Realistically, what are the odds
you’d find a random ladder to climb an inaccessible ledge or a conveniently
placed pallet to help Ellie, your companion through most of the game, get
across some water? Those sections of simple puzzle solving seem out of place
and largely unnecessary. If there was more to them than “find object to make
next area accessible,” I wouldn’t have a problem with throwing some puzzles in.
As they are though, they’re one of a few unfortunate design tropes that made
their way into The Last of Us.<>
Looking to access higher area of buildings? You’ll be
blocked off by groupings of furniture used to block off a stairwell that are so
precisely placed, that no one could have placed them from any direction but
from the side that you’re looking at them from. Why block off an area so others
can’t get to it if you blocked it off in such a manner that there’s no way you
could have gone back to that area? It’s a simple thing, but when there are so
many little details crammed into The Last
of Us, it’s hard to overlook the nonsensical ones.<>
Those simple details that make the world so nearly
believable are sprinkled throughout your journey so generously; you might not
even notice them. Bricks are found only in spots that would make sense. Finding empty glass bottles thrown about everywhere in a bar makes as much sense as only
finding one or two throughout huge areas. When Joel goes to grab a low spot of
cover, Ellie will go to occupy the same spot as Joel if there isn’t any other
logical cover for her. At first, this looks like she might be clipping through Joel
and might be another design detail somehow overlooked. Upon closer inspection
(spin the camera ever so slightly), you’ll notice that Ellie is actually against
the wall and Joel has adjusted his stance as to let her hide under his arm.
Joel is protecting her. There’s something about this when I finally noticed it
that really warmed me to both Joel and Ellie more than I thought I was going
Will you warm to them as well? Odds are good you’ll likely
warm to both and then go back and forth constantly on one of them specifically.
I’ll leave that statement as vague as possible in case you haven’t had the opportunity
to play through it yet. Let’s just say there’s a very purposeful choice in the
game’s title that might not become totally clear until the credits roll.
Deep down, what exactly is The Last of Us? Ultimately, it’s a game that’s perhaps a stepping
stone for gaming as whole. While it suffers a bit from the foundation it was
built upon, the incredible design of not only the world, but the more subtle
and small touches of animation and dialogue make getting through The Last of Us an experience you shouldn’t
pass up. Sure, the combat might muck it up for entirely too much of the first
half, but once you get passed that and the areas that require you to take out
everything become less frequent, it turns into the game that everyone has been
hyping it up to be. You’ll be on a ride that you’re going to remember for a
long time and is likely going to be copied for a long time.<>
8 out of 10 blown off infected legs.

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