You can safely read the review before playing the game.
The Last of Us is breathtaking. The game’s atmosphere is close to overwhelming. Naughty Dog have certainly put their work into the game’s scenes, to make them scaring and nervetripping. Both sound and light are well-made, and enhances the gaming experience to heights to the very top tier of today’s gaming.
Simply put, The Last of Us is the best game up to this date in the horror/action/zombie genre. The scenes are balanced and well-paced. Although you don’t think about it consciously as a player, the mix of action scenes with slower environmental gaming scenes with astonishing beauty creates an impression of great art.
But the astonishing atmosphere and well-paced scenes comes with a hard price. The game’s quests and scenes reeks of linearity (in a bad Max Payne kind of way). The game constructors have decided what way the player must go, and what he must do. So when I play, I do them, but when I know where I am supposed to go (i.e. where my co-characters go) I search everything else first, making sure not to let any supplies remain untouched. The illusion fades.
The Last of Us is an action game, and I should say something about the in-game conflict resolution as well. The game is constructed with stealth in mind. It is preferable to have a low profile and sneak as much as possible. The crouching with as little noise as possible gives a continuous feeling of suspense. And be sure that action will break loose from time to time, and give you your alotted amount of shooting and molotovcocktailing.
Conclusion. The Last of Us is a must-have game for most ps3-gamers. It plays on several different registers, and have a variety of scenes which provides suspense, action and adorable milieus. With its enhanced stealth mode, it delivers much more than any common fps or tps. The theatricals are quite ok, as well as the story. With all the benefits of this game, it is easy to overlook its sometimes tedious linearity. Simply put, The Last of Us is the best horror/action/zombie-game there is today.
Spoiler alert. I will spoil the game in this section. Therefore, I strongly recommend that you complete the game before continuing reading. I am not joking.
So, what’s up with the ending? From a theoretical narrative perspective, it’s an easy one. There is no arc in Joel’s character. He stays the same from his daughter’s death until the credits.
Why on earth doesn’t the player get to choose whether to let Ellie go through with the surgery or not? Most certainly, had Bioware constructed The Last of Us, that choice would have been there. But Naughty Dog is not Bioware, and The Last of Us is a linear game.
The fact is that had Naughty Dog chosen to let the player choose whether to let Ellie go or not, they had to put much more resources into the development of the game. If you want to make such choice crucial, you need to implement a lot of background info on that one.
Think about Deus Ex(2000) which had three separate endings, depending on the moral choice of the player/character. To make this choice a real one, and not a pseudochoice, the programmers built in hundreds upon hundreds of small bits of info and arguments for and against the different choices. These bits and arguments was implemented into in-game newspapers, emails, dialogue and even the small subchoices the player made in order to complete quests before the grand finale.
So, if Naughty Dog would have chosen to give the player one choice within a game otherwise completely linear, they would have had to put in a lot more resources to represent the two sides of being selfish or sacrificing your loved ones to the firefly organization. Had they removed these resources from what they did good in the game, perhaps the tradeoff would have been bad.
Though, there is one fact which overrules every other, when it comes to letting the player make the story’s most important choice or not. It is an economic fact as well. It is not about creating a game, but creating a franchise. Because, with Ellie alive, a sequel is possible. And in the end, gaming companies creates video games to make money.
Most certainly, Naughty Dog has already contracted the main actors for a sequel or more, to repeat the winning concept. It is possible to whine about it (”There is no arc! There is no katharsis!”), but even though they didn’t make as complete symbolic narrative as Red Dead Redemption, they can repeat The Last of Us. And repetition is the key to success. Think about the Uncharted series with just Drake’s Fortune. Or Assassin’s Creed. Or Warcraft for that matter.
Let us all look forward to the sequel. But please, Naughty Dog, create arcs for the main characters next time.