Sunday, July 28, 2013

Tech: The Last of Us review

During the time I was playing "The Last of Us," a PS3 game developed by Naughty Dog, I kept thinking back to Cormac McCarthy's "The Road."

Both works present post-apocalyptic lone wolf and cub stories, in the same sort of spare style. Both involve unflinching brutality, despair, and cannibalism. Comparing the two is natural. And you might think that the comparison flatters "The Last of Us," since Cormac McCarthy's book won a Pulitzer Prize and widespread critical acclaim.

You'd be wrong, though..."The Last of Us" is actually the better story:

In the game, a mutant strain of Cordyceps has wiped out the majority of the world's population. Those infected with the fungus invariably turn into feral, zombie-like killers. Society collapses, with survivors living in quarantine zones under martial law, scavenging in the wilderness, or worse. Decades after the initial chaos, a grizzled smuggler named Joel and a fourteen year old girl named Ellie embark on a journey across a ruined U.S. in search of a cure for the infection.

Despite the action-centric marketing, TLOU is really about the relationship between Joel and Ellie. For much of the game, there won't be any enemies at all - you'll just follow Joel and Ellie as they walk around abandoned buildings or deserted neighborhoods. It's in these quiet moments that Joel and Ellie get to talk to each other and the game really shines.

Of course, there are many dangers in the world, in the form of human bandits and infected monsters, but it's suicide to take these threats head on. That's because TLOU presents the player with drastically limited resources, at least in the early going: in a warehouse with ten enemies, you might only have three rounds of 9mm, a makeshift shiv (created via the game's crafting system), and half your health left. To survive, you'll need to use stealth, improvised distractions, and up-close-and-personal melee kills.

This brings me to my one complaint about TLOU, though it's a major one: after about six or seven hours in, the stealthy combat begins to become repetitive. You can only sneak around so many dark hallways and overturned store shelves before they all start to blur together, which is exacerbated by the limited selection of weapons, craftable items, and enemies. Combat never gets boring, per se, but you'll likely find yourself plowing through enemies just to get to the next part of the story.

TLOU is developer Naughty Dog's fourth and final PS3 game, and, at least from a technical standpoint, it employs everything they learned from making their popular Uncharted series. Environments are sumptuously detailed and often spectacularly lit. The sounds of footsteps and gunshots are jarring. Heck, they even went all-out for the soundtrack - the game was scored by Academy Award-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla. All in all, it's obvious that a lot of people sacrificed a lot of time to make TLOU, and an unforgettable video game journey was the result.

Rating: 91/100


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