The Last of Us (PS3, 2013) I don't put titles on posts in this thread because there are more than enough delusions of profundity in them on my part. Also because I'd make some terrible attempt at a joke and nobody would care. In the case of The Last of Us though it comes with one ready-made. "It can't be for nothing," Ellie's assessment of the journey you've gone through and the title of the game's platinum trophy. While it could be considered one of many hardened platitudes acting as an ode to survivalism, I took it as a challenge. As much as this game drove me up the wall, I was finishing it. And then I was going to eviscerate it. In order to prevent me from interrupting my own thoughts I'm going to list the things I liked about the game first. - The cutscenes look nice. - I like that a AAA game released so late in a generation that it effectively formed part of a bookend to it along with GTA V and BioShock Infinite has a story with a somewhat unconventional conclusion. - The Left Behind DLC was much more engaging and interesting from a narrative perspective, and I'll go into this later. - I remember enjoying the multiplayer much more when I played it (late 2016, I think). Aside from anything else, it felt like my ability developing as I played it more and became more accustomed to it was a more accurate representation of the game world as it was presented than anything in the single player. When a multiplayer match went right, it really went right. - When I first played the story again this time I found the prologue much more evocative than I thought I would. - Playing on Grounded Mode, the extra hard difficulty offered by DLC, I actually did experience tension when trying to sneak past enemies. Now. If you're unaware, The Last of Us was released to much fanfare in 2013 by Naughty Dog, who in their post Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter days had spent their time convincing people that the Uncharted games were good examples of platforming and institutionalised racial genocide, prompting you to kill scores of non-white people while a loathsome **** in a haircut and a wet shirt tried to be funny the whole time. Somehow this proved successful and they decided to end the PS3 with something grand and gritty, and what can be grittier than bleak post-apocalyptic survival horror? You play as Joel, twenty years after that opening scene where some sort of viral infection turns people into mushrooms, because apparently in a game where near enough everything is as generic as it comes, "zombies" just wouldn't quite cut it. They are in fact "infected" and will infect you too, so stay away. Joel is a smuggler who straddles a line between humanity's ordered attempts to rebuild itself and the unfortunates who are on the outside of the quarantine zones. Eventually he is tasked with smuggling a girl, Ellie, to a location, and from there hilarity ensues. I've had a bit of a tough time trying to think how I was going to approach this review because of the complete lack of any other reviews which seem even close to my general view of the game. That isn't to say I (knowingly) rip off other reviews, but I find it can help if I'm writing about something in-depth to see the source material poked around, examined, investigated. Here, there's nothing. Nothing from anyone immediately reputable, at least. The lowest score I found on metacritic from anything I've heard of was Gamespot, which gave it 8/10. The only review that seems even close to my opinion is the Zero Punctuation one, which is more underwhelmed than anything else. He describes the game as "Oscar-bait" and the story at least seems a bit like that to me, as if it's been meticulously formed to be as emotionally manipulative as possible. The things I can say I like about the game are there, and they're sincere, but they're brief. Fleeting. Cosmetic. So much of what is lauded about this game just sort of passes me by and I don't have much to say about it. While the stuff that ruins it for me completely undermines everything else to such an extent that I loathe all of it. The gameplay ranges from generic to bull****. You have a range of weapons, melee and guns, and can craft throwables with stuff you find in the levels. On harder difficulties when resources are more scarce this becomes an actual source of tension, since it's been three chapters since you were last able to make a molotov and you just hope you can use it in a worthwhile spot. That's fine. Survival aspect looking good so far. But then it's just undermined slightly if you play on an easier difficulty and you have more stuff, you might have three molotovs on you which is your limit. But then you might have the necessary parts to make three more. Whoops. Actual weapons aren't anything special either really, until you've got a fully upgraded hunting rifle which ****s with the physics and sends bodies ragdolling through the air. That's great fun. The bow and arrow is the most realistic feeling and adds an extra layer of tension when trying to kill someone silently - if you miss you'll distract them and might attract the attention of another enemy, plus you definitely won't get the chance to get the arrow back. But then there's a peculiar mix of frustration and inevitability as enemies will generally always walk around on the same path, so if you're hidden you can just wait for them to enter your line of sight. Of course, the infected shamble about and might move a fraction out of the way just as you fire, but then you've got a handy checkpoint system which seems to quicksave every forty feet or so, so no harm done. Melee weapons are fun. There's a real weight to them, and when you sneak around successfully and choke people unseen, you do feel a sense of achievement. Or maybe satisfaction is a better word. The problem with much of the game's stealth is how it presents sections where it can be used. Here is an area, here are some enemies, here is your chance to kill them. But there will always be some sort of nonsense to undermine what you're doing or have done. Say you have an area with some infected in it. There are different types, Clickers are so called because they're blinded by having mushrooms for a face but they click to move about by sonar. You have to move quietly, which means moving slowly but always being wary of where they are in relation to you. It sounds very tense, until you realise any NPCs you're with can't be detected. So I'm crouched, walking as slowly as I can while a clicker goes in the opposite direction - a fat man goes stomping along next to me to move to his next pre-determined cover point, Ellie follows shortly after. Running right in front of the clicker. It happens with sighted enemies too, and it completely destroys any sense of tension or immersion you might be feeling. Plus it just irritates you. They're not affected by the rules of the game, why are you? That's just a minor irritation though. An oversight on the part of the game which can be ignored (if it weren't for the noises of the footsteps or when they talk loudly). My favourite, and this happens more than once, is when they game gives you an area with enemies in it and then gives you **** if you complete it stealthily. There's one section in an old book store, there's two floors and (human) enemies on both. I think there's four on the bottom and five on the top. The ground floor is easy to do silently, the top floor a bit harder but still possible. If you kill all of these by stealth then there's actually a second wave of guys waiting to rush you - but can't because you haven't triggered them by being seen. They spawn outside the door to the fire escape waiting to rush the second floor, but they won't come in. The game has an awful habit of having enemies in an areas which you can clear out then throwing in more right after it. Just struggled crawling around for ten minutes trying to kill eight guys while not being seen? Oh hey here's another eight all from the same place, which didn't have anyone in it a minute ago when you were there. Oh whoops you're dead, better start from the beginning again. This happens often enough to go from minor irritation to game ruining liability. What benefit is there in trying to play without being seen if you're going to be forced to fight? From a gameplay perspective it just builds resentment, and in terms of character development it doesn't do anything since you're too focused on how contrived the situation is to think Joel is forced to be brutal because the fact is, he isn't. The game and the shoddy way the levels are designed force you to do this, it's nothing to do with the story. Even then there's a contradiction, as some sections need you to eliminate all the enemies to advance while some don't. Some even need all the enemies gone even though you could get through quite comfortably without going near any of them. The other problem such areas present is how the combat options seem to direct you away from confronting multiple enemies at a time. Aside from the flamethrower (a very late-game weapon anyway) and the shotgun, none of the weapons work well with crowd control. If you watch a video of someone playing on Grounded when there's less ammo you'll see sections like this where they have to run around looking for bricks or bottles to use as melee weapons. Here they game turns into something from Benny Hill, you desperately trying to isolate enemies then hoping you can time you swing right otherwise whoops, you're dead, and you have to kill a bunch of enemies first again before you can get to the bit you're stuck at. The final area of the game is particularly bad for this as Joel rescues Ellie from the Firefly hospital where she's about to be killed to get a cure for the infection. You can sneak past all the enemies to get to her, but if you kill one of them he'll drop an assault rifle, so you can basically turn into Rambo. Great. Very atmospheric. There are other areas where the enemies are annoying to the point of being distracting. You might be dismayed to find that after grabbing and choking an enemy that you can't move the body out of the way in case another guard finds it. No matter, they'll walk right past it. I realise that since it came out in 2013 I could reasonably categorise this game as "old," but surely this is basic stuff for stealth games which long pre-dates this point in time, right? These problems spoil the game in two ways - there's no sense of consequence or threat in any of the levels, and there's no feeling of vulnerability about the characters. In a game centred around the apparent fragility of the human relationship between Joel and Ellie, the central gameplay mechanics being so poorly implemented undermine everything the character development tries to do. In the prologue at the infection's outbreak we see Joel's young daughter killed in his arms. Throughout the game he ends up having what's really a quite creepy (yet insincere) relationship with Ellie, coming to effectively adopt her as a replacement. The understandable thing to do here is to have the player share in Joel's feelings of protectiveness, the sense that Ellie is vulnerable and he gradually feels more protective of her. But then she isn't, because she can and does run in front of enemies without consequence. There goes the key aspect of the characterisation. There's also the fact that she's borderline unkillable when you're playing as Joel anyway, since if any of your NPCs are grappled by an infected you've got a good thirty seconds to save them. I feel as if someone at Naughty Dog pre-empted these complaints by saying, ah! We'll have a section where Joel has a big steel spike go through his stomach where you have to play as Ellie. That'll make her feel threatened, especially when she ends up having to save herself from a cannibal at the end. This section only raises two questions for me however: How the **** is a fourteen year old girl on a horse supposed to nurse a man back to health when he's suffered that injury? Also, why is she the only person on the planet who still has an actual knife? You see, Joel can create shivs with stuff he finds, but they break when you use them. Ellie though, her knife is magic. It's unbreakable, and she stabs anything you need her to with tremendous vigour. The section where Ellie kills someone for the first time after being split up from Joel and going to find him when he told her not to is set up to display some sort of loss of innocence on her part and dawning realisation on his, but she approaches the violence in the game with the same sort of relish he does and when you play as her, she can kill infected as effectively as he can. She can still make and use throwable weapons, if you have the ammo you can easily kill the human enemies you face. There isn't enough tangible difference in the gameplay between the two characters to make either of them distinctive, and the resultant bond they're supposed to feel afterwards just doesn't connect. The Left Behind DLC, while not at all explaining her ability to nurse Joel back to health, does go some way to at least fleshing her out as a person. It's laughably short, but it alternates between flashback to time spent with her best friend before being infected (oh yeah she's magic, standard zombie story 'they are immune they are the key to survival') and fending off enemies trying to find medicine for Joel. I liked the flashbacks because it made her seem more human and more girl-like, while the 'present' sections did actually have a sense of drama about them even despite her abilities I've just described. Maybe the flashbacks helped make her seem vulnerable, I don't know. Either way, I'm glad I at least had one positive experience with a story which is supposed to be so good. And yes, that story that's so lauded. I've said why I think the gameplay spoils it, but there's more than that. Joel has to escort Ellie across the country to the home of the Fireflies, some sort of rebel faction that sprung up after infection. (As an aside, the world building seems really disjointed. The explanation of what happened in the twenty years between prologue and main story isn't explained very well even with the assorted collectibles, and it should be. Joel is familiar with the history, the player should be too.) Fine. Oh there's one hilarious bit at the beginning, Joel and his girlfriend kill somebody they knew because he stole guns from them and sold them to the Fireflies. "Guess we'd better find a Firefly then." Oh hey look their leader was just waiting round the corner and will now deliver you to the next plot device. Very convenient. That distraction aside Joel and Ellie end up in Utah where the Fireflies are based and, completing the game as I did four times the reunion with Fireflies leader Marlene annoyed me more the more I saw it. She made her own way there and didn't take Ellie herself because... of reasons. Joel says he wants to see Ellie and Marlene starts moaning at him for being there because her journey was bad. "You don't know what I've been through" she says, as if everything in the game is somehow driving Joel to say **** you to the world. Yeah, it's not like we just had a nice stroll halfway across the country to get here, one of your mates died, so you've had it rough. **** off. Although Ellie is immune to the disease she has to die in order for them to get it from her, and he saves her and runs away. A fitting response to the contempt the world holds him in you could say, but I just can't care. I get that it's not supposed to be nice. I get that they're not supposed to be good people. I get that the forty-something Joel and the fourteen year old Ellie have both led ****ed up lives and share feelings of abandonment, because they're clearly stated in the game. So when they simultaneously lie to themselves and each other at the end once they've run away from everything, I get why they do it. I just don't care. I don't think it's shocking, I don't think it's striking, I don't think (aside from it not being the standard ending) that it's even noteworthy or unexpected, it just... is. Have their conditions and experiences ruined them so badly that they're content to live in a world they both know is untrue, purely to avoid feeling lonely for a few months before it inevitably comes crashing down? I can't say my exposure to the violence and brutality of the game is what's left me as jaded as them because it hasn't. The gameplay is too generic and consequence free for me to think anything has been at stake, that anything has been at risk. But, unlike the two of them, I'm too numb to care. Has there been more characterisation in the travelling between cities? The game has chapters set in Boston, Pittsburgh, Colorado and Utah, is their closeness linked to the (apparently) uneventful travel between these setpieces? Is that what I've missed? The moving from place to place also doesn't really help establish a setting. It's in a destroyed United States and you can see things which remind you of the humanity which was lost, but you pass through them so quickly there's little interaction or understanding. Maybe this would be easier if either character was at all engaging. Joel is too gruff and too damaged for me to care what he thinks, and I get that Ellie is supposed to be as normal as it's possible for someone like her in her situation to be, but half the time when she's acting like a regular teenager it just seems too incongruous with what's going on. She'll see a poster for what I assume is supposed to be a Twilight film and say "I wish I could see this!" then yell **** YOU! a minute later as she throws a brick at a guy who you then run up and hit round the head with a baseball bat. As I think about it now I don't think I can decide which is poorer for characterisation - the gameplay problems which make them invincible or the apparent gaps in the story which makes the reasons for their attachment to one another seem flimsy and unreal. I can quite happily look past gameplay problems for the sake of the story in a game. If my interaction with it is at least functional and consistent enough to not be distracting, I don't really mind. If anything it can help, letting your mind go into autopilot while you focus on the world/characters/whatever is going on. Even in spite of everything I've complained about here I could overlook it if the story or characters were consistently engaging. They aren't. Fair enough. Much, much worse than all of that though, and the lasting memory I will take away of this game, are the bugs. This game came out at the end of a console generation. It was ported to the next console a year after its initial release. There are aspects of the game which are technically great or at least very intensive, and understandably push established technology to its limits. I had to play this game in short bursts because I was afraid of how quickly my PS3 cycled through its fan speeds. Oh this was something else, trying to listen for enemy movement when you're trying to sneak past them is undermined when your console sounds like a jet engine getting ready for takeoff. The cutscenes look better than nearly anything I've seen on the console, and the lighting, when there is light, is equally striking. When you're inside though, woof. I get that you're supposed to use Joel's torch to see but the game is so dark and murky and washed out in most of its interiors it barely makes a difference. Anyway, the cutscenes are nice and the lighting is nice but there's nothing else in the game I could see as being particularly taxing. The enemy AI is non-existent, the gameplay isn't massively varied, it's not even an especially long game. It just has lots of different locations. Absolutely none of this excuses any of the problems I faced with glitches and bugs which, as far as I'm concerned, are from a game which is unfinished. I'll give you a run through. I originally planned on an easy playthrough then easy +, allowing me to get all the collectibles. Nope. Just after killing my first bloater the game got stuck. Bill and Ellie wouldn't move to climb out of the window. I reset to the last checkpoint, black screen. The game wouldn't load that save file any more, so I gave up. On my first Grounded mode I was just at the start of chapter 4. You're supposed to go down an alleyway on a deserted street and meet tripwires for the first time. One problem though, the street wasn't there. I tried not getting any collectibles first because it seemed to disappear depending on how I moved down the street, if I went straight to it a ladder I needed to get to the next area wasn't there. This was also the first time I experienced problems with the sound, as neither character was saying the things they were supposed to. After deleting my game data and reinstalling it it worked, mercifully, and I carried on. Apart from the two later times I had to do the same thing after sound stopped completely and enemies just started charging me whenever I was in a room. By the end of my second Grounded playthrough I had given up on this and blew through it as quickly as possible to try and bypass any problems, but that's not really the point. In a game which tries so hard to establish an atmosphere, a climate of fear and immersion in a world and characters which in my opinion are extremely thin, technical problems like this changed the game from something I was trying to be involved in to something I was actively resenting. I had another problem with environments not loading later on actually, when the injured Joel is chasing after Ellie he jumps a barrier into a street and a setpiece is supposed to trigger with him being grabbed. It didn't, and as I walked down the street it disappeared. Maybe I'm spoiled in terms of when I came into video games, when I seriously came into them, but I don't understand how something could be made in the 2010s, something so high profile and lauded, and be this poorly made. I had a flashback to the days of my original PS2 which had been dropped on the floor many times and made certain noises when you turned it on, I had to listen for a series of clicks (appropriate I suppose) to finish so I knew I could play the game without it ****ing up if I died. I don't want to say my expectations going into this game when I first played it were swayed by the reaction to it at the time of its release and since. From pretty much mid-2013 onwards I've become incapable of caring what anyone thinks about anything unless I already know/trust/value their opinion, so hype doesn't bother me. In this case though I don't feel as if I was oversold or misled, I just feel bemused. I don't understand why this game is as popular as it is/was. I don't understand through any conventional measure of a game why it's rated so highly, and that's without adding in the technical problems I experienced. It has high points, but they're so fleeting and so far apart they become lost in a sea of mediocrity with the occasional iceberg making the game break. With everything I've said in mind, I can't recommend this, and I would struggle to say I enjoyed any part of it, really. Taking out my frustrations on it by playing it on easy and relying mainly on melee weapons was out of spite more than anything else, and it was the game's faults combined which drove me to it.