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Review: The Last of Us

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In my time playing The Last of Us, I never really felt as though I was doing well.  There was never a sense of accomplishment or victory in clearing a room of bandits or escaping from a Bloater.  I made it through another encounter, and because of my mistakes I have a total of six bullets among all of my guns to deal with the next one.  Between the gameplay and narrative, I couldn’t shake the sense of dread — my luck is going to run out.

The Last of Us is the story of Joel and Ellie above all else.  Yes, it is a post-apocalyptic story akin to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with a splash of zombie fiction, yet character interaction is the meat of the narrative. Whether it is the dynamic between Joel and Ellie, or the unique cast of character who make appearances throughout the story, it all feels fresh.  The Last of Us reuses typical situations for the genre, but twists it in such a way that it doesn’t feel cliché.  You feel for the characters, and their problems become your own.

The world is dark, yet technically beautiful.  There is a section where you must traverse an office building which demonstrates the level of detail Naughty Dog put into the environments.  The building has conference rooms, break rooms and office cubicles, many of which serve no purpose to the game.  Many don’t even have pickups or any reward for searching them.  These rooms exist because realistically they would have been there.  Beyond the physical location, Naughty Dog establishes the cruelty of the world through example, shoving the evidence for the game’s bleak and broken the world in the player’s face.

The gameplay is solid, capturing the story’s brutality.  Melee especially demonstrates some chilling death animations, showcasing how brutal it would be for a person to kill someone with their bare hands.  Each encounter holds weight, with a couple of bandits managing to be more than a challenge for Joel.  As encounters grow in scale, players will rely on a hybrid of stealth and hit-and-run tactics to survive.  A lack of bullets prevents the game from becoming Uncharted, yet it is nigh impossible to perfectly sneak through any section without being caught.  The gunplay is a major improvement from Uncharted as well, with most enemies dying after a few shots.  Crafting adds to the equation, allowing Joel to create nail bombs, smoke grenades and Molotov cocktails.  Every resource is valuable, and none of the weapons feel arbitrary.

Unfortunately, the game has some flaws.  Most reviews have mentioned the enemy AI’s tendency to look past Ellie as she runs right in front of them.  While I wish the companion AI were tweaked so it almost never interfered with stealth, I appreciate that Naughty Dog made Ellie invisible rather than have her force the player into a fight.  While not a flaw itself, some players may also be frustrated with the game’s difficulty.  This isn’t to say The Last of Us is particularly hard, but players shouldn’t go into The Last Of Us as though it were a traditional stealth game.  You will need every bullet, bomb and bottle to make it through.

What flaws the game does have pale in comparison to the polish.  The game includes character dialogue for a variety of optional parts of the game.  For example, Joel and Ellie will discuss the contents of a note in a child’s bedroom.  This dialogue is an optional result of an optional note in an optional room, and the fact that Naughty Dog took the time to record it is fascinating.  Another fun little addition to the game was Ellie’s thefts.  Throughout the game, Ellie has a tendency of stealing things, only to tell Joel later.  If you watch Ellie, you can actually catch her in the act, and find that the objects are missing.  No one would fault Naughty Dog for not including these little details, but the game is made better because they did.

Overall, I love The Last of Us.  It is a dark, tense journey that punishes you.  Naughty Dog has polished the  gameplay and story to a mirror sheen and uses them in tandem to make one of the best games this year.  To players looking for not just a great video game narrative, but an excellent narrative in general, I fully recommend The Last of Us.

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Five next-gen issues

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The next generation of video game consoles is upon us.  As developers walk away from the Wii U while it hemorrhages money, Microsoft and Sony have prepared a more traditional evolution of their respective consoles.  Both systems offer similar technological advancements, as well as a variety of new features — some better than others.  With such little information available, it is pointless to try to measure which console will be superior.  Therefore, I will detail the five biggest issues I have with both the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One.

  1. No backwards compatibility: Yes, I know the seventh generation of consoles hasn’t been the greatest for backwards compatibility, but the PS3 originally had the feature and the Xbox 360 covers a decent part of the Xbox library.  While most video game enthusiasts won’t need to worry about this, I can definitely see this being an issue for someone trying to get into gaming.  It’s not the most important feature, but it’s that extra bit of effort that would add value to the total package.
  2. Social features: Not an issue, but a very strong focus that I feel Microsoft and Sony should tone down.  I am realistic, and I understand why Microsoft and Sony both want to boast these features.  But do we need a dedicated “Share” button?  I’m not dropping $400 or more on another Facebook machine, I want to play video games.  Which leads to my next point…
  3. Not enough games: E3 is around the corner, so I hope Sony and Microsoft make me eat these words.  The official announcements for both consoles featured very few games overall.  And what little they did show consisted of either games which were already announced or trailers that served no purpose beyond being pretty.  The actual games need to take priority if either company wants to sell their console.
  4. Online: An internet connection should never be a requirement for something to work.  We don’t live in a world where everyone universally has access to a connection, even if it seems that way.  Consumers have nothing to gain from always-online requirements, and they shouldn’t stand for them.
  5. Motion controls: Between Kinect and the glowing blue strip on the PS4 controller, motion control is here to stay for the eighth generation.  It almost always feels forced unless it is a game based around it.  It is a gimmick, and with luck it won’t overstay its welcome.

Official Playstation Magazine closes

According to Game Informer, Playstation: The Official Magazine will be ending production with their Holiday 2012 issue.  The magazine’s publisher, Future US, also announced the closing of Nintendo Power in August, with the last issue coming out this December.

As an avid fan of print journalism, it pains me to see so many video game publications biting the dust.  There’s not much to say on the subject, but this post goes out to all the print journalists, gaming or otherwise.