Beyond the Hype: Is The Last of Us a True Masterpiece?

Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us is a darling of both critics and fans alike, but is it truly the modern masterpiece many claim it is? Join me as I look at some finer points of this giant game to find out if it really is as good as everyone says it is. 

Full spoilers ahead

In a worldlast of us flag

During my time with The Last of Us, it seems that the world is one of the more intriguing aspects of the game. Let’s boil it down shall we? In 2013 we see the downfall of society because of an infection that causes people to go crazy and kill each other; 20 years later the United States has very little infrastructure left and humanity is on its last legs. While some people praise the world of The Last of Us being original or unique, I see it as a pretty standard zombie apocalypse story.

The tropes continue with the narrative. One man finds the cure to the zombie plague and must get it to a hospital and journey to save all of mankind. It’s all very simple if you boil it down to its essence, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Parfaits have layerslast of us gas masks

When a story is complex at its core it becomes difficult to follow, which can be detrimental to the writing. If your focus as a player is on keeping track of the narrative as opposed to noticing the intricacies of the characters, then any character development might as well be meaningless. What Naughty Dog did was give players a story and world that at their bases are simple and easy to understand, then add layers upon layers of details.

Those details aren’t difficult to notice either. Even the changes in Joel’s mannerisms from the prologue to the first act of the game are clear thanks to the writing and of course Troy Baker’s excellent voice acting. Small changes like Joel’s watch becoming battered over time, the greying of his hair, and the coldness he has when dealing with Robert are drastic changes from the Joel we see early on. This is easy to see because there aren’t any terribly complicated plot details getting in the way of the characters.

All about that pacelast of us ellie

The narrative doesn’t stop with this general structure throughout the entire game. Every time the setting changes, from Philly to Wyoming and beyond, the goal is simple: Get Ellie to the hospital. This simple goal allows us to see how the characters progress and keeps the story moving at a good pace. Drama isn’t too high for too long and there’s never a lull where nothing is happening story-wise. This is a good thing, except for when you factor in the fact that this is a video game, not a movie.

Let me be clear, I think The Last of Us is without a doubt one of the highest achievements in storytelling that gaming has to offer, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good game. While the pacing works marvelously for a story, it adds needless annoyances to the gameplay. If you’ve played The Last of Us then you might be able to guess what I’m talking about. Yes it’s the planks. It’s always the planks.

Let me walk the planklast of us ladder

They’re supposed to provide a break for the intensity that follows every encounter and allow the player to take a step back and enjoy the world, but they end up feeling out of place and pointless. You could argue that these puzzles vary the gameplay from the firefight and stealth segments, but can you even call them puzzles?

A puzzle should feel satisfying to complete. The only obstacle in completing the puzzle is your own ability to understand the puzzle, so the good feeling you get when you finish it should come from the act of completion itself, not from finally being done with it. In The Last of Us the planks are all in some arbitrary location that never makes sense, so you’re stuck wandering around aimlessly until Ellie, Tess, or whoever says, “Hey, maybe it’s over here.” Then you grab the plank, walk it slowly to the thing, place it on the thing, and you win! Congratulations, you’re now as skilled as a lab rat. Good for you.

My problem isn’t with the task itself, it’s with the execution. The moment of completion doesn’t make me feel satisfaction, it makes me feel glad to be done with that portion of the gameplay because it was boring and pointless. It felt like I had to just wait around until the other character pointed out exactly where I had to walk to progress through the game, which basically means there was a timer on my progression. If the task were more satisfying to complete or had some other reward than progression I would not mind, but as it stands it marred an otherwise good gaming experience.

It’s not my fault, I swearlast of us joel and ellie

The faults with the gameplay don’t stop there. I felt that while the settings for stealth and combat scenarios were incredibly intense, not everything was clearly communicated to the player. There were times when the controls didn’t respond like they had in the past, or one animation caused my character to attack in a completely different direction than I was intending. In intense scenarios like the one in the school gymnasium, the climbing controls got in my way and caused me to die when I shouldn’t have. This is an inherent problem in The Last of Us’ design.

There isn’t a singular instance I can point at to showcase why the controls don’t feel right, but the character movements and combat animations never quite felt responsive like they should. They looked gorgeous and once you get used to the feel they’re mostly fine, but I often found myself locked in some sort of animation trying to navigate the map in a stealth encounter only to have Joel die because something didn’t respond quickly enough.

Win some, lose somelast of us window

If the controls were 100 percent instant and responsive, then the animation quality would suffer and the game would lose its lustrous sheen that makes it what it is, so I can’t fault Naughty Dog too much. The focus of the game is the narrative and characters, and sacrificing any ounce of this game’s incredible atmosphere would be a crime. It’s just a shame that the controls have to suffer ever so slightly because of it.

Finitolast of us window 2

This is a series about picking apart what I believe to be games that are overhyped by major media outlets and mass opinion, so when I set out to write this article I expected to tear this game apart given the fact that it’s so universally loved. Then when I sat down to play it again before writing, I found that the game was much better than I remembered it being. So much better that I cannot say this is a bad game or even a mediocre game. The Last of Us has its flaws and I still think it’d work better as a movie, but it’s still a massive achievement in storytelling, and for that it deserves its clout.

 

Like my analysis of The Last of Us? Hate me for it? Let me know in the comments below!

All image credit to stoken

3 Comments

  1. I like your review, but it feels like you’ve lost some points that made the game very unique in game play, story, and mapping.
    I’ll start with the environments in Last of Us.

    I want to point out that in last of us, there’s a crap ton of useless rooms. why is this significant? well it’s because detail, and it made the world more immersive. Like in good post apocalyptic, or open world, games such as Fallout, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Gta 5, or deux ex theses places have useless rooms, or alleys that have no reason to be there. the only reason that useless rooms are there is because of immersion. It’s almost like a reminder that I’m not the only one in this world and it feels real.

    The overgrowth in the world gives it this man versus nature theme, this also goes for the zombies, but that’s for a later conversation. Now it feels like I’m the only one who notices this, but the shrubberies all over gave a feeling that man’s wold is ending and nature is taking back what it rightfully owns. And again, it makes the world immersive because it feels like I can never escape nature. while the world changes with seamless transition between cites, beaches, and forests (of course), they’re all united in the fact that nature has taken them over.

    Finally level planning… OMG THIS GAME FEELS LIKE PEOPLE ACTUALLY GAME A SHIT ABOUT THE GAME. if you take your time in the game, there’s more than one way of sneaking, shooting people in the face, or making an ambush. My favorite part of the game play in last of us is I can shoot people with a shot gun, then hide, then start knifing motherfuckers because they’re looking of me, and when I get spotted I got a place to run away to to make an ambush and get away. The map gives so much flexibility to any player.

    Secondly game play
    I EXPLORE AND I GET REWARDED WHAAAAAAAAAAT? seriously though, this game rewards extensive exploration. I spent hours just looking every nook and cranny in the game because there’s so many things to find. notes, bullets, crafting items, or useless rooms. It feels like Naughty Dog gave so much love for this game because they put so much detail that most people would miss out on.

    In the very first scene in the game. Playing as Shara, I could have easily just walked to Joel’s computer, but exploring I saw a happy birthday card, the phone has it’s line cut, a news paper talking about a new disease, a news reporter talking about the chaos outside, an explosion outside, police cars driving by the house, the phone that shows how many times Tommy called Joel’s phone, and then the dog barking surprises Shara, AND ABOVE ALL THAT, the sloppy tired walk Shara has then slightly changes to a cautious and worried walk, AND ABOVE ALL THAT, the small comments that Shara has. IMMERSION IS THE BEST. The random notes in the world, the characters comment about them. The games is amazing with this.

    Ammo and healing items makes it feel like I’m scavenging to survive. This is one of the few games where collecting items and ammo doesn’t feel like a chore and is always rewarding. literally, ammo and random stuff to craft are the greatest things ever because it gives me confidence that I’m one step closer;to making a shiv, or that I have two more bullets for my EL DIABLO MOTHER FUCKER.

    I HAVE A SHOTGUN AND THUS PEOPLE ARE NOW DEAD. nope, not dead. why? because I ran guns blazing feeling invincible. This game reminds you how easy you are to kill. Opposed to other games like, CALL OF DUTY (<—fuck this game), I get a pistol, I now can kill a whole god damn army. In last of us, I am almost an equal to an npc, IMMERSION, I AM ONE WITH THE WORLD AND PEOPLE IN IT. except the fact I can heal myself and npcs can't.

    Leveling up system can tailor to any player. sneak, guns blazing, or ambush. YES I SAID AMBUSH. Sneak I can increase my listen distance, guns blazing decrease weapon sway, and ambush crafting speed. There's always something for everyone.

    The enemies. human npc almost feel like their smarter than me. They flank and hear if I'm out of bullets, they cover each other, and if your not paying attention these sneaky mother fuckers will wreck you with a wooden plank. The infected… THEY'RE ALMOST NOT LIKE LEFT4DEAD ZOMBIES. the zombies are twitchy and fast making aiming difficult. clickers are unique in the fact that they're attracted to sound. Shoot and you'll get spotted, and now your running because you shot, but guess what, their attracted to you even more because you ran. So if I'm gonna shoot a zombie, it better count because if I get caught there's a 95% chance that I'll die.

    OKAY, the last significant point I have to say is when you talked about weapon sway. I have no problem with your opinion, I respect it, but there's a reason for the weapon sway, or like you said not as responsive. In the classic game such as castlevania, and I mean the first castlevania, or megaman, and I mean the very first megaman, there's a delay and that's to make the game FUCKING HARD, and to make the player stop and think… unless your like me with a shot gun… then you don't think… because I have shot gun. The weapon has a delay swaying to point A to point B and aiming the gun has a delay as well, a very short amount of delay, but that very short second is crucial. again the game forces you to think about your actions.

    There's a lot more the talk about gameplay wise, but that's all I can think of right now.

    Final subject I will talk about story. I'M NOT SURE WHAT IT'S ABOUT BECAUSE I'M INDECISIVE AND DUMB. I think it's about man vs. nature. Hope vs. Science??? okay… so shara = hope and ellie is replacement for shara thus it's about shara vs. cure for infection.
    This man vs. nature theme occurs often in the world. the cites taken over by plants and people taken over by mushrooms I think.

    So that concludes my quick synopsis of last of us. if I sound dumb, sorry.

  2. I like your review, but it feels like you’ve lost some points that made the game very unique in game play, story, and mapping.
    I’ll start with the environments in Last of Us.
    I want to point out that in last of us, there’s a crap ton of useless rooms. why is this significant? well it’s because detail, and it made the world more immersive. Like in good post apocalyptic, or open world, games such as Fallout, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Gta 5, or deux ex theses places have useless rooms, or alleys that have no reason to be there. the only reason that useless rooms are there is because of immersion. It’s almost like a reminder that I’m not the only one in this world and it feels real.
    The overgrowth in the world gives it this man versus nature theme, this also goes for the zombies, but that’s for a later conversation. Now it feels like I’m the only one who notices this, but the shrubberies all over gave a feeling that man’s wold is ending and nature is taking back what it rightfully owns. And again, it makes the world immersive because it feels like I can never escape nature. while the world changes with seamless transition between cites, beaches, and forests (of course), they’re all united in the fact that nature has taken them over.
    Finally level planning… OMG THIS GAME FEELS LIKE PEOPLE ACTUALLY GAME A SHIT ABOUT THE GAME. if you take your time in the game, there’s more than one way of sneaking, shooting people in the face, or making an ambush. My favorite part of the game play in last of us is I can shoot people with a shot gun, then hide, then start knifing motherfuckers because they’re looking of me, and when I get spotted I got a place to run away to to make an ambush and get away. The map gives so much flexibility to any player.

    Secondly game play
    I EXPLORE AND I GET REWARDED WHAAAAAAAAAAT? seriously though, this game rewards extensive exploration. I spent hours just looking every nook and cranny in the game because there’s so many things to find. notes, bullets, crafting items, or useless rooms. It feels like Naughty Dog gave so much love for this game because they put so much detail that most people would miss out on.
    In the very first scene in the game. Playing as Shara, I could have easily just walked to Joel’s computer, but exploring I saw a happy birthday card, the phone has it’s line cut, a news paper talking about a new disease, a news reporter talking about the chaos outside, an explosion outside, police cars driving by the house, the phone that shows how many times Tommy called Joel’s phone, and then the dog barking surprises Shara, AND ABOVE ALL THAT, the sloppy tired walk Shara has then slightly changes to a cautious and worried walk, AND ABOVE ALL THAT, the small comments that Shara has. IMMERSION IS THE BEST. The random notes in the world, the characters comment about them. The games is amazing with this.
    Ammo and healing items makes it feel like I’m scavenging to survive. This is one of the few games where collecting items and ammo doesn’t feel like a chore and is always rewarding. literally, ammo and random stuff to craft are the greatest things ever because it gives me confidence that I’m one step closer;to making a shiv, or that I have two more bullets for my EL DIABLO MOTHER FUCKER.
    I HAVE A SHOTGUN AND THUS PEOPLE ARE NOW DEAD. nope, not dead. why? because I ran guns blazing feeling invincible. This game reminds you how easy you are to kill. Opposed to other games like, CALL OF DUTY (<—fuck this game), I get a pistol, I now can kill a whole god damn army. In last of us, I am almost an equal to an npc, IMMERSION, I AM ONE WITH THE WORLD AND PEOPLE IN IT. except the fact I can heal myself and npcs can't.
    Leveling up system can tailor to any player. sneak, guns blazing, or ambush. YES I SAID AMBUSH

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