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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.

Microsoft removes DRM, used game restrictions

Games Xbox

In response to criticism of the Xbox One’s DRM and used game policy, Microsoft has removed the system’s daily online connection requirement and restrictions on game trading.  The Xbox One can now play games from the disc, and owners will not have to download the game.

I was thinking of writing a longer article on the entire Xbox One vs. PS4 debate, but Microsoft’s decision to completely reverse their policies has changed the argument. I never expected Microsoft to completely change their stance.  The fact that they did suggests that the negative reaction they received coupled with Sony’s popularity at E3 really scared them.  This is huge step for gamers and consumers, and shows that your opinion does matter. If Microsoft can be frightened to the point doing a complete 180°, the same can be done for Sony, Nintendo, and all the various publishers and developers out there.  You can’t just put out any product you want while ignoring feedback, and if you want to sell a console or a game, you need to have the fans on your side.  The Xbox One is officially back in the running.  Now let’s see if they can justify the higher price.

“Bioshock: Infinite” cover to appeal to non-gamers

Bioshock Infinite Cover Art

Creative Director at Irrational Games Ken Levine recently addressed  the choice of box art for Bioshock Infinite, which has faced criticism from many.  Levine explained that the cover art was designed to appeal to people unaware of the game, as opposed to fans who’ve been following the title since its announcement.  Levine assured fans that Irrational games will provide alternate cover art that can be printed out.

Walking the tightrope between business and art always seems to be an issue with media.  It’s easy to cry “sell out,” but you need only look at history to discover that the quality of your work doesn’t mean a good life.  Can I blame Irrational Games for trying to appeal to the type of person who will spend $60 because the cover has a gun, fire, and the American flag?  No.  Will the box change the content of the game?  Also, no.  This is not the worst cover art ever made for a game.  (This is.)  However, what could have been great has resigned itself to mediocrity, a blemish on what seems will be an amazing game.

“Assassin’s Creed 3” to feature alternate universe DLC

Earlier this month, Ubisoft announced “The Tyranny of King Washington,” a series of downloadable content (DLC) for their upcoming title, Assassin’s Creed 3.  The single-player expansion will focus on an alternate universe scenario where George Washington becomes an evil tyrant after the American Revolution, forcing the protagonist, Connor, to assassinate him.  The DLC will be released within six months of Assassin’s Creed 3, which comes out Nov. 20.

While highly unusual, I think this DLC is a breath of fresh air within the America-centric game industry. The number of military shooters where Americans must fight back against terrorist threats from nonspecific Middle Eastern and Eastern European nations is staggering.  While it could be considered offensive how the Montreal-based developer is depicting America’s founding father, is it really any better than how Call of Duty developer Treyarch ended their Vietnam War-era shooter with an over-the-top American victory?