When The Last of Us came out on PS3 in 2013, it was met with much fanfare and critical acclaim. A ridiculous number of publications gave it a perfect score. I never played it then, because I was usually playing something on the 360. However, when it was announced that it would be remastered and re-released for the PS4, I was really excited to finally play the game of the generation.
Of course, given how well reviewed the game was, it would be difficult to live up to the hype.
The opening of The Last of Us was absolutely wonderful. It was cinematic, everything looked great. You’re introduced to Joel and his daughter and their relationship is established quickly and easily. The problem (infection) is introduced in a way that is both mysterious and frightening, and the fact that the game puts you in the shoes of a young girl at the start makes things even more bewildering and intense. The opening has drama, emotion, it sets the world up brilliantly.
Then we skip forward 20 years. We’re reintroduced to Joel and his companion Tess and then… not much happens for a while. We walk around – for a few minutes this is interesting because we’re learning what the world has become. But then we continue walking, through basements and abandoned buildings. A few lines of dialogue are exchanged between Joel and Tess, but it’s pretty quiet. Joel is very stoic and doesn’t give us much to relate to. We come across our first infected enemies, but the fight is a tutorial and they are very quickly and easily dispatched. After an amazing opening, we’ve now spent about 30 minutes doing nothing but walking along a set path without much action or story progression and it’s really jarring. At this point, my interest was really waning.
Things happen slowly. The first big fights are slow – you have so little ammo that you pretty much have to resort to stealth kills which require patience that I don’t possess. We finally meet Ellie and discover the point of the game but relationship between her and Joel also builds slowly. It wasn’t until Bill’s Town that things started to pick up, and it wasn’t until the journey to Pittsburgh that the game really got its hooks in me and I became totally invested. That was almost halfway through the game. There were major pacing problems.
I feel like I’m reviewing two different games here. The first half looked really pretty and had some good writing, but from a gameplay standpoint, it just wasn’t that fun. The last half, on the other hand, was brilliant. In the first half of the game I didn’t enjoy the combat at all. It was too slow, ammo was so scarce. Dying was frustrating because all I had to look forward to was another abandoned building to walk through. In the second half of the game, I enjoyed combat so much more. I had a wide variety of weapons to choose from and if I wanted to fight rather than sneak around all the time, I could. Plus, the action scenes were usually followed up by some really great character development and storytelling. The pacing was 100x better in the 2nd half of the game. So let’s focus on that now.
The storytelling in The Last of Us was so, so good. Once I got far enough into the game I loved Ellie and Joel and totally believed their relationship. The dialogue was great, and the wonderful animation of the characters made things seem even more real. It was the little moments that made this game special. The first part that really got me was Joel and Ellie in the truck, heading to Pittsburgh. They had this dialogue that was so natural, and filled with humour and pain. The music helped cap it off and it was really beautiful. The stories told in the collectible documents you find around the game were also really compelling. Getting a glimpse into the lives of other people in the game world who you would never met was intriguing, and usually sad.
There were a lot of really exciting set pieces later in the game as well. Using the sniper rifle in the suburbs to save the rest of your group was really one of my favorite combat scenes. There were also a few parts of the Winter portion of the game that were different and got very stressful.
Speaking of Winter, getting to play as Ellie for part of the game was a welcome change, and I appreciated the opportunity to get to know her character better. Winter was one of the more intense episodes of the game and was really enjoyable to play. Unfortunately, something that happened right at the end left a bad taste in my mouth. (Minor spoiler warning) Ellie gets captured, hurt, the people she loves are in danger. She faces down enemies who are also cannibals, has to kill many of them, is under constant threat of being murdered and eaten… and then at the very end (this clearly wasn’t enough to traumatize our 14-year-old heroine) it’s implied that she’s also threatened with rape. I was really disappointed by this. It’s such a lazy, common, unnecessary way of putting female characters through the wringer. During the rest of the game, the writers were brilliant and handled character development (and my emotions) with surgical precision. Why they felt the need to start swinging a big machete at this point is beyond me.
I’m not going to give anything away about the end of the game, but I thought it was really well done. The story that had been developing and the relationship between Joel and Ellie that had been building all came to a head and there was major pay off. It was a satisfying ending, and the fact that it was put together like a great movie made it even better.
The DLC, Left Behind, was also included with the game. During this you play as Ellie, before Joel ever comes into the picture. Left Behind was a perfect 2 hour gaming experience. It has the same great writing as the main game, though the dialogue between Ellie and her friend Riley may actually be even better. The pacing is great. It’s not as action-heavy, but the game wastes no time. Every scene matters. My emotions ran the gamut while playing this, from pure joy to absolute heartache.
The Last of Us is a really difficult game to rate. It starts with a bang, but within the first couple hours of gameplay I was often tempted to just put it down because the excitement dropped off so much. If it hadn’t been so critically revered, I probably would have put it down. Ultimately I was rewarded for sticking it out because the last half of the game was amazing.
Rating: 9/10 – The Last of Us is one of the best written stories I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Though it drags at the start, in the end it was totally worth playing. It’s an emotional roller coaster that really gets you invested in what’s going to happen next and makes you care about the characters. The gameplay isn’t as good as the story, but it gets better as the game goes on and is very enjoyable by the end. The perfection that is Left Behind is what’s bumping this rating up from an 8 to a 9.