Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Last of Us Review (spoiler-free)

Far too often in life, our opinions change with time. Critics review content and are usually swift in the consuming of said content. They put words to a page, throw on a score, and then publish for all the world to see. At times, these opinions remain unchanged throughout time, but they can also change. Perhaps a second play-through reveals a game not nearly as good as we thought originally or maybe a game isn't quite as bad as we remember.

When I beat Naughty Dog's The Last of Us this past weekend, I instantly thought it was one of the best games this year and a strong contender for Game of the Year. I wanted to sprint to my blog immediately and tell everyone about its greatness. Instead, I took a slightly different approach by waiting a few days. I wanted to see if my strong opinion altered as time passed. I can now say my opinion has indeed changed...for the better. The Last of Us isn't just the best game this year; it's the game of the generation and one of my favorite games of all-time.

The game is set in the United States where the country is ripped apart by a mysterious cordyceps fungus. That being said, this isn't your typical "zombie game." One of the key differences with The Last of Us is its emphasis on survival, which is accomplished with a variety of techniques. First and foremost, ammo is scarce. In many situations, you'd do just as well to sneak past a section of enemies rather than confront them head-on. Moving in close for a melee or stealth takedown are also options, but be cautious. Melee weapons will break over time.

Finally, you won't be able to pause and heal yourself or craft your next weapon while playing The Last of Us. Instead, all upgrades and healing are handled on the fly. If you're about to be attacked, you'll either have to fight the enemy off or retreat to a safe place where you can heal. This adds a sense of realism to the game as you must always be aware of your surroundings.

You'll have to deal with two primary enemy types throughout your journey: humans and the infected. Both pose unique challenges. Humans are smart and The Last of Us enemies have impressive artificial intelligence. They'll attempt to flank and even managed to sneak around and surprise me on occasion  The infected are slightly more predictable. For fear of spoilers, I won't get into each of the specific types, but let's just say you'll have to approach each situation differently.

Our society has placed such an emphasis on violence that many would scoff at certain scenes throughout the game. I would only ask they take a closer look at the entire context and understand what it really means within this world. Killing in a game like Call of Duty or even Grand Theft Auto is mindless killing. You kill enemies in waves, run over pedestrians (sometimes even by accident), launch air assaults, and mow-down foes with powerful assault rifles.

The Last of Us is absolutely brutal; yet in many situations, you feel bad about what you're doing as a player. It paints an incredibly depressing picture of a fallen world where finding anything good is a struggle. The violence isn't glorified. If anything, it helps you understand violence and its consequences on a grand scale. The few moments where you do experience peace, good, and quiet are only truly appreciated due to the brutality throughout the rest of the game.

All these techniques work seamlessly together, edifying the most important aspect of The Last of Us: its story (no spoilers here; don't worry). Let me just say you are in for a story that rivals, or even bests, series like The Walking Dead, Uncharted, Bioshock Infinite, and more. Joel and Ellie are both flawed, yet endearing characters. I related to both of them, but for drastically different reasons. In modern literature, film, and gaming, there's really no better praise than to say a character is "real." Joel and Ellie's actions throughout The Last of Us always stay true to the character. More importantly, you care about them and eagerly anticipate what will happen to them next.

If ever a game warranted a perfect score, it's The Last of Us, not for being a perfect game, but for being a game you couldn't possibly imagine being better. All my complaints seem minor when you consider everything Naughty Dog not only attempted, but accomplished with this new franchise. The story is a heart-wrenching roller-coaster, the characters real and memorable, the game mechanics are well designed, and the graphics are beautiful.

At the end of the day, there's really no higher recommendation I can give a game than to say that every adult who considers him/herself a gamer should play this game. It's uncomfortable and even hard to play at times. You'll laugh. You'll smile. You may even shed a tear. One thing, however, is certain: you will never forget playing The Last of Us.

10 out of 10

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