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‘Last of Us’ shambles like a zombie

Jun 10, 2013

By John Powell - G4 Canada

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The Last of UsBefore I was a gaming journalist, I was a film critic. As such, I found it interesting that every year at Cannes critics would gush over certain films as if they were printed on gold celluloid or something. When those films eventually made their way to mainstream moviegoers though, many had no clue why they got such exemplary press. It is not that the films were awful. It is just they didn’t deserve to be glorified like that.

The video game industry is no different. Games like ‘BioShock’ and ‘Arkham City’ were each met with such over-the-top, such outrageous praise, you would think playing them would open up the secrets of the universe.

Although both were outstanding titles, neither was flawless and didn’t deserve the perfect scores they were given based on imperfections nobody should have overlooked.

Think about it. You fought only three enemies in the original ‘BioShock’. That made for boring battles. Getting anywhere fast in Arkham City was so awkward and time-consuming it actually impaired the overall experience.

So why did critics heap exaggerated praise on both titles despite these and many other crucial defects? Simple. When you have to wade through so much content day in and day out, anything that goes against the grain is met with amplified excitement. Something that’s just different is seen as being magnificent because it breaks the overbearing monotony. Objectivity is blurred by enthusiasm.

The Last of Us Another factor is that video game plots have been accused of being simplistic and lacking emotional depth. While gamers know that’s not true, it seems some critics think any surprising ‘BioShock’ plot twist or methodical piece of storytelling, even if it gets in the way of the game itself, must be brilliant. Many times though, all of this is just window dressing, classic cases of style over substance. Sorta like ‘The Last of Us’.

‘The Last of Us’ is as far from perfect as you can get. It begs, borrows and steals from every zombie game, movie, novel, comic book or T-shirt you have ever seen. It is one massive cliché in a bloated market and there’s nothing to set it apart from ‘Dead Island’, ‘Resident Evil’ or even ‘Silent Hill’. You have seen this all before and done so much better, even though it may not have looked or sounded as nice.

Like the maggot-ridden undead themselves, the story, gameplay shamble along at an almost unbearable pace. As the eternally morose Joel, your goal is to transport a young girl, who seems resistant to the zombie plague, to safety so that a cure to the global epidemic might be found. Along the way you will run into every, single zombie apocalypse plot device ever conceived.

People who you thought were friends betray you, check.
Evil, trigger-happy soldiers, check.
Companions, who selflessly sacrifice themselves so you can escape, check.
Roving bands of street punks, check.
Abandoned warehouse, buildings fraught with danger, check.
Maybe it is best if we all split up, check.
Cheesy social commentary, check.

The Last of Us While the predictable plague is set-up during the game’s first 30 minutes or so, you will do nothing as a player but open doors, answer a phone and briefly run through some zombie-infested streets. It is like you are a lowly extra in a low-budget George Romero or ‘Walking Dead’ rip-off. It is not even 'Return of The Living Dead' or 'Sean of the Dead' good bad, either.

When you finally get to play the actual game, do something interesting or exciting for a change, the familiar format (‘I Am Alive’ anyone?) beats the life out of you like a carefully wielded tire iron. You guessed it. In the post-apocalyptic world, you have very little ammo and you have to scavenge for crappy weapons like baseball bats, planks of wood, metal pipes and bricks.

Yes, you can bludgeon someone to death with a brick to the head. How exciting.

Pathetically outnumbered and outgunned, you have to crouch, sneak around and stealth kill your foes from behind and not in a good ‘Splinter Cell’ kind of way either. Of course, all of said human enemies have no trouble finding shotguns, machineguns and plenty of ammo. Maybe Joel needs new glasses.

For the rest of the game, you will climb through one identical abandoned building and sludgy sewer after another. With no map to guide you, you bumble around, bumping into dead-end after dead-end until you locate the only way through the linear levels.

The Last of Us Much has been made of the relationship between crotchety Joel and spitfire Ellie. Let’s set the record straight. After all these years, Zelda’s Navi might be able to step down as the most irritating character to ever appear in a video game now that Ellie has arrived. She follows you around like a lost puppy, constantly in your way at every turn. This makes backtracking through narrow passageways or doorways a pain. It is bad enough she is always underfoot but her personality and behaviour grates on you. In her whiny voice, she persistently complains and expresses the same monotonous shock, horror whenever you put a human or zombie down. She jabbers the same three or four incredulous statements, over and over again when you do so. By the time you are couple hours in, even if you are not a religious person you will solemnly pray to any celestial being who will heed your call for a zombie horde, a roving gang, rats, bats, spiders, snakes, rabid dogs or even a pissed off flock of pigeons, anything at all to come along and carry Ellie off for good.

Joel ain’t much better. Developers Naughty Dog didn’t even try to create someone new. From head to toe, he is Nathan Drake without any of the charm. The glum, bitter, shell of a man has the emotional range of a toaster oven. He is depressing to watch and depressing to play and not in a Max Payne kind of way either.

It is true. The multitude of melodramatic cut-scenes (most of which you cannot skip) are quite lavish but someone forget to tell the developers, we aren’t here to watch a movie. We don’t want to be passive observers. We want to interact. We want to play a game and that’s where ‘The Last of Us’ fails. The leisurely gameplay is not gratifying. Slowly creeping through dilapidated buildings, slowly sneaking up on enemies, slowly searching areas for weapons and items is boring.

It doesn’t matter how great the graphics or audio are. It doesn’t matter how fantastically rendered the cut-scenes are. The gameplay is weak and therefore nothing else really matters.

I am a huge fan of the ‘Uncharted’ series and Naughty Dog’s work. They are some of the most imaginative and polished developers ever to sit in front of a keyboard; which is why I was dumbfounded and so very disappointed. ‘The Last of Us’ is a just a bad version of ‘Uncharted’ with zombies and an annoying teenager you hope turns into a zombie so you can have an excuse to double tap her in the head.

Style over substance. Cut-scenes over gameplay. If I wanted to sit back and watch a bad movie, I would go to the local multiplex.

 

The Last of Us The Last of Us
Format: PlayStation 3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Naughty Dog
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Official Site: http://www.thelastofus.com/

Rating: 4 / 10

 
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