Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ghost's Angry Reviews: The Last of Us

This is your standard spoiler warning.  If you don't want The Last of Us spoiled then tread carefully through this review.

This is Ghost, thanks for joining.

It's been awhile since I've done one of these.  Been a bit busy causing large amounts of havoc on my friend Solid.
Yeah that didn't turn out exactly how I had planned... don't ask

So I'm back and probably worse than ever before, but if I don't torture you with terribly written reviews then you'll have to go elsewhere for something that might even be worse so here we go!


I'd all but put the video game reviews to rest. Why?  Video Game Reviews take a very long time to prepare for and write because while a movie may take 2 hours to watch (or 5 if you're talking about Return of the King Extended Edition), a video game can take anywhere from 10 - 90 hours to play through, level up, and see everything to give an entirely honest opinion about the game as a whole.  So, not only is it time consuming but you have to have the skill to beat the game itself.  There's no use reviewing a game that you can't get past the 3rd level to save your life, unless you're doing a list of games that are too difficult to complete.

So I had pretty much for the sake of time and my life have put video game reviews down.  To get me back into reviews, it would take either something to send me into a fanboy rage...

or something so beautifully created that it leaves you breathless and wanting more

Can't trust anyone... anyway moving briskly along.  I just so happened to find one of each within a month's time period so it looks like I've got at least two more in my back pocket and this time.  So without further ado, let's get into the review properly now.  Is this the happy one or the angry one?  Only one way to find out...

"The world's been hard on us... hard on him.  Joel's done some terrible things.  He tells me that on this journey you either hang on to your morals and die or do whatever it takes to survive.  Guess I'll find out."

Bennet the Sage said it best "The Last of Us. It's fantastic.  I know that sounds pretty short and I'm not usually this straightforward, but that's all my review would amount to.  It's fantastic!  And considering every single media outlet's stepping over themselves to find the correct adjective to properly convey how good this game is, my review would probably be drowned in a sea of 10-dollar words."

He's not joking either.  Usually when things are too good to be true they usually are.  This suspicion increases when you realize the The Last of Us is a Sony exclusive.  It's not even available for PC... it's one game available for one system.  Now I don't want to make any assumptions on Sony's practices especially after their specifically excellent trolling of Microsoft in the last few months but you kind of have to wonder if professional reviewers aren't getting a little side action to make such good remarks.   I mean look at all this.

Gaming's Citizen Kane Moment ???  That's a pretty bold and almost pretentious statement you've got on your hands there.  Can all this really be true?  That's when I turn to the fan community for advice because something like this can't possibly be this good.

Yet it was.  Independent Internet Reviewers were giving their praises.  Social Media was going crazy over this game.  People basically had nothing but praise to give this game so I just had to check it out for myself to see if it was up to all this hype and love.

The Story
We open on a young girl, Sarah having fallen asleep on the couch waiting for her father Joel to come home so she can give him his birthday present.  After he carries her to bed she wakes up because of a commotion downstairs.  Eventually seeing her father shoot the next door neighbor who was "sick" they get in a car with Joel's brother Tommy and attempt to escape the town.  After finding a roadblock and crashing they car they find themselves in the middle of a disaster as the town is full of zombies

...umm... I mean "infected" people who become that way because of fungal spores that they breathe in that travels to the brain causing them to lose their humanity and attack/bite others thus also transferring the fungal infection into their body and...
They're zombies!! Just come out and say it already!!  Stop pussyfooting around it!

Joel, Tommy, and Sarah make it out of the infected zone only to have a soldier be ordered to kill them.  He takes his shot but received swift retribution to the head from Tommy.  Unfortunately Sarah doesn't make it and we go into the title sequence as twenty years pass.

Over the past 20 years Joel has made his living in Boston's quarantine zone as a smuggler of drugs and weapons with his partner Tess.  While getting revenge on a fellow smuggler who has been sending people to kill them they run across a lady who works with the Fireflies, a group of people attempting to not only find a cure for the infection but also to overthrow the oppressive government.  She asks Joel and Tess to smuggle something out of the city for her.  A girl.

Eventually they agree and attempt to smuggle the girl out of they city.  Her name is Juno MacGuff  er.. I mean Ellie.
Seriously?  Can't even make her first name that different from the actress she looks like??  The creator of the game says that they didn't rip off Ellen Page's likeness but...
just look at that picture and name...
Not long after their escape Tess and Joel learn that Ellie has been infected but unlike others who turn within a day or two, she has had this bite for three weeks and is immune to the infection.  The Fireflies wanted to use her immunity to find a cure for the remainder of mankind.  They get to the drop-off point but only find the bodies of the Fireflies.  Remembering that Tommy was with the Fireflies at one point, Joel decides they need to find him, however Tess reveals she has been bitten as soldiers come after them.  Tess sacrifices herself fighting off the soldiers as Joel and Ellie make a run for it.

Joel realizes it would be so much easier if they had a car to travel the full distance to Jackson Missouri where he believes his brother still is, so they track down an acquaintance of Joel's who owes him a favor, Bill.  Bill  is..
I............ ok

After getting the car, Bill goes back to his solitary life.  After a bit of a journey, the pair run into a gang in Pittsburgh who cause their car to crash.  They barely escape with their lives with the aid of two brothers Henry and Sam.  Unfortunately Sam gets infected and attacks Ellie one morning.  Henry shoots his brother and then commits suicide out of grief of what he had to do.   The Fall season hits when they find Tommy at a power plant outside of Jackson trying to restore power to the town.  Tommy agrees to take Ellie on to the Fireflies but Ellie realizes Joel is just trying to get rid of her.  Joel says she'll be safer with Tommy but eventually has a change of heart and sends Tommy back to his wife as they attempt to find the Fireflies in a nearby college.

As you can probably guess the Fireflies are dead or vacated the premises because the infection spread to some monkeys they were working on.  They get ambushed by some men and Joel lands on some debris which pierces through his stomach.  Winter rolls around and he has survived thanks to Ellie hiding him in a cabin home and hunting for food and tending his wounds.  She meets up with some men and trades deer for medicine, but it turns out the man she traded with, David, was looking for Joel to kill him.  Ellie eventually gets captured by David's men who are cannibals and almost kills/rapes her (we're not exactly sure what his motivation was)  but thanks to the medicine, Joel was able to get up and rescue her.

Eventually they make it to Salt Lake City where the Fireflies are working on a cure but not before stopping to make sure the IMGUR community loves this game.

They find the Fireflies and Ellie goes into surgery to start the process for getting them a cure when Joel figures out the plan.  The fungal infection grows on the brain so they were going to kill her by removing her brain.  Not about to let this happen, Joel kills many of the fireflies guarding the surgery ward to get to her, kills the surgeon and everyone in his path to save her life and take her back to Jackson to live a normal life.

When she wakes up Joel lies to her and says that the Fireflies have stopped looking for a cure because others have been immune and nothing has worked.  Once they get back to Jackson, Ellie explains that her best friend was infected at the same time as her and how she wished that she had died with her friend.  She asks Joel to swear that what he said about the Fireflies was true... he lies once again and swears leaving Ellie accepting his answer but still doubting.

The Gameplay
The Last of Us has what seems to be a grab bag of not only logical gameplay mechanics but some of my favorite things... for the most part.  The camera is in the third person for the whole of the game which is a massive plus for me.  I'm getting more used to first person thanks to Fallout and Team Fortress 2, but I still prefer third person so you can see if something is coming up behind you.

The environment is perfectly crafted to make your playing experience the best it can be.  Here's why.  There are no quest markers (unless you turn on hints which only appear after several minutes of you being in the same area and not progressing) so while you aren't sure exactly where you should be going next it allows you to use your brain and figure it out but there's also not that many options so you'll eventually come to the right conclusion after coming face to face with several roadblocks or other dead ends.  This gives it the feel that you are making your own way without being easily lost.

What also makes this so great is that with a semi-linear gameplay it has tons of auto-save points.  You don't even know when they appear and you basically don't ever HAVE to save the game yourself.  This has often been the bane of gamers world wide.
But not here... the game secretly autosaves at what I can guess is every other room or section of the game.  Anywhere that you would encounter more than one lone enemy it auto-saves right before so when you die.. (not if... you WILL die in this game)  it starts you off right outside the room you just died in so you never have to backtrack and do an hours worth of gameplay all over again.

There is a large element of stealth in this game.  Opponent AI only pays attention to you when crouched in stealth.  From a logic standpoint that doesn't make a lot of sense as I've seen Tess, Ellie, and Bill all 3 walk right in front of an enemy and they don't react whatsoever.  This comic from I AM ARG! fairly accurately represents this.

However once YOU get out of stealth not only can the enemies see you and warn other enemies but they keep looking for you if you go out of sight which DOES make logical sense.  So stay to the shadows and use those bricks and empty bottles as distraction techniques.

Actual combat can be handled in many ways.  You can run in with a melee weapon for a good old button mashing festival.  You can sit behind a barrier and use various handguns or rifles.  You can stealthily suffocate or shiv someone while hidden to avoid others detecting you.  Or if you're wanting to be especially crafty and can pull it off, toss a bottle or brick to get people to go toward a single direction then toss a nail bomb taking out the whole group.  However if your option is throwing a brick at someone or throwing a smoke bomb, throw the brick.  Smoke bombs are fairly useless and work about as well as this...
The game also makes your resources just scarce enough but not too rare.  You can't hoard up ammunition or ingredients to craft healing packs or nail bombs to make your gameplay a breeze, but I never found myself in a situation (other than the very last level) having difficulty finding enough equipment and ammunition to keep my head above water.  I don't know how they found that perfect spot of having just enough and not too much but they did it. 

Nitpick Corner
There is no such thing as a perfect game/movie/etc.  The comparison to Citizen Kane is actually a very good one.  Citizen Kane is considered to be one of the best films ever made yet it has a massive plot hole.  The whole movie is about them trying to figure out what his dying word "Rosebud" is, but there's nobody in the room when he dies.  How did they know that was his dying word?  No one noticed it or cared enough about this to make a comment on it till they really had to sit down and think about it.  

The Last of Us is very similar.  Nothing that I am about to say negative about it are game breaking or lessened my enjoyment of this game in any manner.  It keeps you so invested in the characters and story that unless you really sit down and think about them you won't even notice them.

For example, melee weapons and shivs break after use.  Now we gamers are used to the idea of equipment deteriorating after use and the logic and lack of logic thereof...
but... while I understand a wooden 2X4 would break after a few uses to an enemy's face, I fail to understand how a lead pipe or katana will break after being used five times.   I also fail to understand how if you stab someone in the neck with a shiv you lose the shiv.  JUST PULL IT OUT OF THEIR NECK AND USE IT AGAIN!!   All of this...yet NONE of the guns wear down or break... they stay just as perfect as if they were never shot.  WUT?

The only other thing I can really nitpick is how predictable the story can be.  It's been said that there are no new stories to tell.  Everything's been told already it's just a matter of the little details around this.  The Last of Us is no exception to this.  Most of the time when something happened on screen I'd say what I figured would happen next or eventually and this was pretty much no exception.  

I'm starting the game as Sarah?  She's gonna die isn't she?  - CORRECT
The girl is important?  I bet she's immune to the infection.  - CORRECT
Bill said not to steal stuff... I bet Ellie is gonna be shown later with some of Bill's stuff - CORRECT
Just met two brothers?  At least one of them is going to die right? - CORRECT
Joel wants rid of Ellie and doesn't want to talk about his past?  I bet he's gonna warm up to her, love her, open up, and protect her no matter what right?  - CORRECT
The Fireflies are going to do something Joel will refuse to agree with concerning Ellie - CORRECT
The ending is going to leave me bittersweet - CORRECT

That's not to say the writing is bad.  It's quite the contrary.  If you can make me so emotionally invested in these characters that I cry at the death of a character I've literally known for 14 minutes.. you know what you're doing!

Final Thoughts.
This is not a game that will leave you with happiness or a wonderful feeling at the end.  It stirs up a lot of emotions and few of them are positive.  Sadness over multiple deaths and sacrifices, the lead weight in my stomach as Henry commits suicide out of grief over killing his zombified brother.  Seeing Ellie's doubt and almost desire to die.  It's a lot of heavy stuff and I wouldn't suggest trying to play through this game in a single sitting.
Other than that, once again as Sage said "it's fantastic."   I opened with that and I can only close with that because it's true.  It lives up to the hype and the praise.  The gameplay is fun and great, the difficulty is right in that sweet spot where it should be, the puzzles are there but not overly challenging, and the environments are absolutely gorgeous!  It's truly a masterpiece of a game and I'm so glad I had the opportunity to play such a wonderful game.  If you're on the fence about getting this then just take the plunge.  You won't regret it.

This is Ghost fading into the darkness.
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If you want to see my other Video Game discussions and reviews, click here!