I get the feeling that if it were possible to charge someone $60 to sit and press “X” for 5 hours to beat a game, Naughty Dog would have done it with The Last Of Us.
Can we all agree for starters that games are about playing and toying around with? That that’s why we call them “games”? Whether that’s using a bit of creativity to take down a Big Daddy in under 5 seconds in Bioshock through a clever use of traps or engineering your own motion activated vault door in Minecraft, the best games give you the basics and let you create your own experience.
On the other hand, the pure cinematic appeal of video games is obvious: people love the thrill of epic drama, screamed inches in front of their face through explosions and cursing. But when the cursing and the explosions fade away and we are standing in the quietude of the virtual zombie apocalypse, we have to ask ourselves: Is what we want an experience, or a game?
Naughty Dog was convinced they could have both, but there’s not much “game” in The Last Of Us.
Sure, you shoot things. You collect things too. You then upgrade the stuff you shoot with the stuff you collect. But those are the only things you do in The Last Of Us, and pro-tip: they’ve all been done before.
When they’ve taken time out of posing in front of bags of Doritos and Mountain Dew, gaming journalists have only really bothered to review the story of The Last Of Us. It’s much easier to fawn over an hour-long narrative and ignore the other three hours of problematic gameplay. The quality of writing is great, there’s no doubt about it. The dialogue, range of emotion and attachment to characters is everything you’d find in a well-written script.
But I’m not playing a script. I’m playing a game. And when a game forces me to tear my eyes out in excruciating boredom every 10 minutes while I find and carry a ladder around to get up to a roof, there’s something wrong. Something inexcusable, in fact.
Good games don’t waste people’s time. Half Life 2, for instance, is a master class in brilliant gameplay merged with inventive storytelling. At every moment the game is either exposing the world of City 17 or requiring the player to figure out whether brute force or cautious problem-solving is necessary to advance.
In The Last Of Us, avoiding conflict entirely is the ideal approach, but it’s frustrated by a sometimes lame stealth system — touted as innovative due to its emphasis on “sound” (move over every other stealth game in existence!) — and upgrade trees that emphasize nothing but loud, cacophonous violence.
They can’t all be Half Life 2, it’s true. But you don’t have to be Will Wright to know that what passes for gameplay in The Last Of Us, really shouldn’t. It’s 2013. Time to move on from “shooting at things from behind cover” and stabbing someone “stealthily” in the neck a few feet from his buddy. Half Life 2 was never that silly, and it had a mechanical dog robot that played a game of gravitational “catch” with roller mines.
The bottom line is this: The Last Of Us is not an out-of-the-blue masterpiece that will change the face of gaming forever like everyone and their mother is saying on the internet. It’s a relatively boilerplate modern blockbuster title that, like Call of Duty, rests on a trusted formula: Hit ‘em with emotions, make them grind through a bunch of levels, rinse, repeat, and hope they keep coming back.
The emotional part is brilliant, but do you need to be a “gamer” to appreciate that? No.
Do yourself a favor and avoid paying $60 for a glorified movie and watch a playthrough of it on YouTube for free. You’ll still get all the story and won’t miss a thing.