Ronnie’s editorial one of the year’s most popular games, The Last of Us.
Every so often a game comes out that changes, revolutionizes and revitalizes gaming. These games sometimes push the boundaries of gaming into new territory, such as Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time with its fully 3D, open world. Some represent the epitome of its genre like Starcraft and Starcraft II. Others push storytelling to new levels, such as Final Fantasy VII. Ever since its release, many people have claimed The Last of Us fits into all three of these categories, with some going as far saying that it is the Citizen Kane of gaming. Well, I’m here to tell you that it is most definitely not the Citizen Kane of gaming, nor does it fit any of the categories stated.
First, let me say that I have not finished the game. I understand that may hurt my credability, but I urge you to read on and truly contemplate that ideas I present. Second, The Last of Us is an amazing game. Great? Maybe. Perfect? Far from it. More than anything I hate reviewers that give 10 out of 10 reviews for a game then lament its issues, knowing most gamers are only going to look at the score. Finally, this is just my opinion. Feel free to disagree. Feel free to e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) telling me how I am the scum of the Earth. My opinion is mine, and I only want to share with you the reasons I have to support my opinions.
Honestly, there is not much to complain about here. Sadly, outside of the perfectly written dialogue, there is not much to praise either. Naughty Dog has delivered a well polished story, but I feel it does not deserve the praise that has been heaped on to it.
The opening sequence got me excited for the journey I was about to embark on. I instantly felt a connection with Joel and his daughter. I genuinely felt frightened when the outbreak started, and the car ride was perfectly scripted. The end of the opening sequence proved that Naughty Dog was willing to play with my emotions. Sadly, every bit of the story after this has felt uneven and poorly paced.
After the opening sequence, the pace grounds to a halt, which would be fine if the pace developed at all after that point. At three different points in the game I have talked to three different people about this story and all three have told me that the pace picks up soon. Well, it has not. I am still doing tasks that feel contrived with predictable outcomes. The characters themselves are the only reason I am still engaged with the story at this point.
One thing that people seem unwilling to admit is that The Last of Us is a zombie game. Yes, the typical zombie virus is replaced by a fungus, but in the end, they are still zombies. The idea of fungus zombies is novel at first, but before long they just feel the same as the zombies we have seen dozens of times before.
On the other end of spectrum, as with most zombie stories, we have the idea that people are more dangerous than the zombies. Sadly, in The Last of Us, the human antagonists are just as unoriginal as the zombies. The military government is boring and does not really serve much purpose in the game, except to advance certain plot points. The hunters are an interesting, but overused trope. Sadly, The Last of Us did not use them in interesting ways, and for the most part they lacked personality. Out of all the groups, the Fireflies seem the most interesting, but I have not seen much of them where I am in the game.
The core storyline is that Ellie is (SPOILERS…) immune to the fungus, and you are escorting her to a group of Fireflies to try and develop a cure. I only saw that coming, oh, as soon she was first introduced. I honestly hoped I was wrong. How many times have we seen this? Too many if you ask me. I can almost guarantee at this point that no cure will come of this quest, because hey, that is how a zombie story works.
One thing The Last of Us does well is to provide immersion into a world where every task undertook is perilous, and you feel like overwhelming odds surround you on every side. The characters show the wear and tear of living in such a world for twenty years. Sadly, they cannot do this as well as a recent game from an independent developer, Telltales Games’ The Walking Dead. I give them a B for effort.
Gameplay is really important, right? I mean, we play games because well, they are games, so the way they play should be pretty important. With this in mind, it seems to me that most gaming websites, magazines and reviewers of any kind would disagree because they lied to you and told you that this game is a 10 out of 10 when the gameplay sucks. I do not see how anyone that has played this game for more than thirty minutes can give it a perfect score. Honestly, saying the gameplay is good in this game is like saying the original Resident Evil had awesome controls.
With story, I really had to nitpick to find things wrong, but with gameplay I am facing the opposite problem. How can I explain to you how bad the gameplay sucks without it taking you an hour to read this? Oh, I know, I can tell you what is good about the gameplay. Wait, that could be a challenge too. Well, uh, you have an in game sprite that you control. That’s positive, right?
My major problem with the gameplay in The Last of Us is how frustrating the game can be. Often times if a Clicker is in my vicinity, I can expect to die ten to fifteen times. This would be fine in a game like Demon’s Souls where it does not seem that the game’s rules change every time you restart. Seriously, I do not know how the Clicker works. Sometimes when I sneak in front of one, no problem, I get by, but the next one I try to sneak by in the same way decides to have my carotid arteries for an afternoon snack. And, I am not the only person that feels this way. I know of several other who have put this game down, because it is too frustrating on the lowest difficulty at certain spots later in the game. Difficult is fine. Frustrating is not.
Imagine this: You are surrounded on all sides by evil fungus zombies who respond to sound. You are in ninja mode, trying to dodge these monstrosities, then out of nowhere your companion starts talking about how they cannot swim. At this point you would probably move your bowels and run, but in The Last of Us, Ellie is invisible to everyone but you, except when it serves the plot. It is nice that our partner in this game does not make things harder for us, but that also allows her to break our suspension of disbelief when she runs right into the line of sight of a murderous soldier.
As far as game pet peeves, my biggest is the feeling of running down long corridors, and boy does The Last of Us feel like a series of corridors. I know, there are certain areas that are “open,” but those lead into a corridor, that leads into a corridor, that leads into another corridor which might have two doors, that lead into corridors. Game developers are becoming very adept at fake openness, and Naughty Dog seems to be one of the best.
I could drivel on and on about how bad the gameplay is for this game. Overall, it has just been a hard game to play for me, because I wish I could just watch it instead of playing it. I love the cutscenes. I love the dialogue. I love the characters. But, when the game gives me control I groan. Is this the future of gaming? Cinematic games that have barely playable segments that technically make them into a game? I hope not.
The Bottom Line
Look, I am not saying that The Last of Us is a horrible game. I am just saying that it is definitely not a perfect title like the gaming media would have you believe. This game has become the fastest selling PS3 game, and that is partly thanks to all of the perfect or near perfect reviews. The gaming industry wants you to buy games, and we have to face the fact that video game publications are a part of the industry.
I have enjoyed my time spent with The Last of Us for the most part, and I am sure that I have many more hours of enjoyment to glean from it, but I doubt I will ever spend three hundred hours with it like I did Final Fantasy VII. I doubt in twenty-one years I will still return to this game like I do every so often with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It just is not that good. Instead of saying it is the Citizen Kane of gaming, maybe we should be saying it is more like The Matrix of gaming. It does some insanely cool stuff, and defines an entire decade of advancement in gaming, but in the end it is mainly just pretty to look at.