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THE LAST OF US LEAVES GAMES BEHIND 

 
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.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NAUGHTY DOG

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.

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6 Responses to THE LAST OF US LEAVES GAMES BEHIND

  1. Joel

    Your justifications still don’t make sense.

     
  2. Ian Whitaker

    @Spoons: Call of Duty is almost entirely about characters. You could almost sum up the entire series as “Shoot a lot of things and hear a lot of characters talk.” The Last Of Us was marketed just as much for it’s sophisticated story as Call of Duty was marketed for it’s explosions, but BOTH of those have nothing to do with actual gameplay. At the end of the day, what makes a good plot different from good special effects if the gameplay is equally bland? That’s why I mentioned CoD.

    I wouldn’t call The Last Of Us survival horror unless we are significantly altering our definition of “survival” to merely include “not dying.” In that case, Call of Duty is also a “survival action” game. Ammo management is about the only survival element I can locate in the game. Keep in mind the host of diametrically opposed games that bear the “survival horror” label. The difference in “survival” mechanic between The Last of Us and a game like Project Zomboid is huge. Why do we call both games “survival horror” when the gameplay experience of both is totally different. I would simply label TLoU as “action horror.”

    @Nololicare: Because people shouldn’t pay over-inflated prices for incomplete gaming experiences. If you’ve played a lot of games, it’s pretty easy to understand if you will like a game from watching it.

    @Joel: Of course, but when story takes precedence over satisfying, innovative game design is when a game becomes problematic. A good example of good game design is Mass Effect where the gameplay centered around character relationships as well as player choice which you had to successfully manage over the course of the game. Same story with The Walking Dead series. The Last Of Us would have played out the same way no matter anything you did, which made the gameplay just a window dressing. I like third-person as well as first-person, but the game itself would not have been different either way.

    Thanks to the three of you for responding!

     
  3. Rachel

    the best games give you the basics and let you create your own experience.

    I agree with this, which is why your review makes no sense to me. The gameplay in The Last of Us is quite excellent in reinforcing its theme and storytelling aspects but also in letting you strategize how you approach each situation within the constraints. Without those constraints or focused method to gameplay, then it really is nothing but let’s play. Also, it really makes you attached to its characters, even more so than just watching these cutscenes string together. If you actually experienced crouching and moving forward as quietly as possible in a room full of clickers, sweating because you don’t want Joel or Ellie to die, I can’t believe you could summarily judge TLOU’s gameplay to be nonexistent. I don’t think you’re making any valid point if you want to be truly critical.

     
  4. Spoons

    This review makes me nauseous. How can the reviewer compare this game to Call of Duty? Call of Duty is a strictly action-based game, focused on constantly re spawning enemies you can only get through with brute force. It’s story and narrative is almost completely devoid of characters. And the only “emotional” qualities of the call of duty story lines are the shock moments put in more for marketing than for real player contemplation. The Last of Us is the exact opposite. With slow, thoughtful gameplay and a storyline focused directly on it’s characters. The two games could not be more different. But I have a feeling the reviewer is simply part of the hipster review crowd so common nowadays that simply groups all AAA titles into the same category and only pays attention to indie games because… you know… big budgets are evil. That’s the only way I could see the reviewer justifying the comparison to call of duty. For the record, I loved the gameplay in this game. It’s classic survival-horror (without too much horror), which is to be commended since even more classic survival-horror games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil have started catering to the action-oriented crowd for fear that the player base would be too bored having to actually think their way through the game.

     
  5. Nololicare

    “Do yourself a favor and avoid paying $60 for a glorified movie and watch a play through of it on YouTube for free. You’ll still get all the story and won’t miss a thing.”

    This is bad, why are you encouraging people to basically not to buy the game? It’s a really good game. I don’t believe in ‘lets play’. I feel its destroying the game industry, people are starting to watch the gameplay and judge the game, when they never played the game.

     
  6. Joel

    In no way do I feel as though you got your point across. “But I’m not playing a script. I’m playing a game.”? Are you or are you not playing the game that has a story to it? Cause to me that seems like a pretty boring concept if you aren’t. People play these games because they get the sense of being the character as opposed to watching the character. You only get that feeling if the story telling is good. Sure you can just watch others play it on YouTube, but its not the same thing. Sure game mechanics play a big part in the game, but so does the story. I think every game today has a movie like script to it to draw the player into the character. If you want to play just “the game”, then play the multiplayer part. From the tone of the article, it seems like your more of a fan of first person shooters. If you dont like The Last of Us, then you must hate every third person shooter game, cause they all have the same game mechanics. I get you don’t like the game which is fine by me, but dont write about a genre you already dislike.

     

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