It was good. Nailed the emotional beats, but I had a lot of problems with the plot and the infected. The ending was great, though. Review at my blog and in this post.
You're deep underground, in a subway-station. In front of you are an unknown number of so-called "clickers" and a choice; sneak past them or gun them down? You count your bullets, look over your knives and make a decision... Whatever you choose, blood will flow, you will tense up and it's not completely sure whether you'll make it out of there alive...
Levels like this are a dime a dozen in The Last of Us, Naughty Dog's new PS3 game after the excellent and mindblowing Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. Darker in tone, bloody and scary, the survival horror game tells the story of Joel and Ellie who are on a journey across a ravashed and post-apocalyptic America, whose other inhabitants are either bloodthirsty "infected" or bloodthirsty survivals. You have to watch your supplies, as bullets, medpacks and shivs (infinitely important in this game) are scarce. You have to be tactical, smart and a very good climber. The ability to swim is also a plus.
Joel and Ellie are two wonderful characters; they're funny, they've been through a lot and their developing relationship is the best part of the game. Sadly, the rest of it feels very by-the-numbers. There's an amazing and astonding game in here somewhere, but it struggles to come out, only showing its true colors a few times.
The biggest problem it has is its genericality. In the beginning, The Last of Us feels like something you've played, watched, read and experienced before. It's not anything new. Sure, it's tense and fun, but after a while it's just endless shoot 'em up/stealth 'em down, with mindless set-piece after mindless set-piece. Some more infected here, some clickers there and oh shit!, RUN! It's not different or varied enough to quite reach the levels it wants.
The times it does light up, and start firing on all cylinders, are whenever you encounter other survivors. The infected become, after a while, nothing but an annoyance; a roadblock between you and whatever goal you have at the moment. But whenever other survivors show up, it's as someone drops a bomb into a kindergarten. The result is astounding, epic and more tense than anything else.
Thing is, in a post-apocalyptic world such as this, it's every survivor for him/herself. Some want to trade with you, others want to kill you and take your stuff, but whenever you meet one you're never, ever, completely safe. They're wildcards in the shows universe; you just never know what they might do and how they think. Where the endless infected just become a roadblock, the other survivors are an intriguing mystery - "should we trust them? are they safe know? how are they going to betray us? are they telling the truth?". Both you, Joel and Ellie remain ready for everything, more ready than whenever you're sneaking around the clickers preventing you from getting a ladder, because in this world you can't trust anyone.
Humans are much more interesting to fight in the game too; it's here you really have to think, plan and be ready. With the infected you can just sneak around and, if things get too dangerous, run away, but with the humans everything's much more complicated. They'll hear you, they'll see you, and (worst of all) they'll shoot back. These levels are risky, dangerous and high on adrenalin, something that's missing when you've killed two hundred clickers and shot three hundred runners.
The game lights up whenever you encounter a survivor/survivors, and it slows right back down again once the infected pop up. It's a damn shame too, because it's linked with the game's biggest fault.
SPOILERS AHEAD PEOPLE!
About the game's premise, but also some vague stuff about things happening towards the end of the game. I'd advise you to play through and come back. Whatever you do, consider yourself warned...
Ready? You done? That was fast. Okay.
I am talking, of course, about the big "cure"-story. Thing is, Ellie is infected, but she hasn't turned. Your job, as the reluctant hero, is to take her across America to the Fireflies, so they can make a cure.
Stop me if you've heard this one before.
The moment we learned this key piece of info, I groaned. Loudly. It's clichéd, it's tired and, frankly, I thought Naughty Dog were better than this. Soon after I started hating the infected-parts of the story, as none of them were really interesting anymore and large parts of it was just easy the longer you got into the game, were stocked up and had upgraded your weapons.
Which leads me to my other big annoyances. Early in the game, I was low on ammo. In fact, I had nothing. A guy, who hadn't seen me yet, had a shotgun in his hands. I sneaked behind him and strangled him to death, ready to claim my prize; some new shotgun ammo. Just what I needed to get rid of the three other guys. But did I get any shotgun ammo? Nope.
In a survival horror game, where everything counts and you have to stay stealthy and have a tactic to win, things like that annoy me.
So, to wrap this up; The Last of Us is, in parts, an astounding, beautiful and deep game, and a generic third-person survival-shooter. Whenever it decides to show its humanity, it surprises with fantastic, interesting and varied characters, but when it goes into monster-territory it's like someone hits the snooze-button. It should have gotten rid of the infected and the cure-storyline, making the game about Joel getting Ellie back to her family. A plotline like that has pathos and it changed the entire last set-piece of the game to a more emotional one instead of "kill all these people". It would've also been scary in a whole other way, as Joel would've finally come out of his shell, being a father-figure to Ellie, then taking the risk of having it all ripped apart from under him, leaving him once again with nothing. This way, the game could've kept all its humanity (and then some), still had its story - with not that much changed, actually - killed some of the more boring parts of it and kept the magic of, for instance, the "Winter"-part (easily the most beautiful, scary and haunting set-piece this game has). Imagine only Ellie and David sitting around the campfire, talking instead of fighting? That would've been tense as hell - doubly so after you'd played the part through and realized just how close you were to your possible fate.
There's a thin line between things in The Last of Us, and the problem is you're never quite sure when you cross it. In that aspect, it's not the infected that's the biggest problem; it's the other survivors. Those without their humanity. Those who aren't really the last of us. Or are they?
Another question that the game sideskips, instead offering you more infected-shoot-'em-up. Which is fun, really, but Naughty Dog can do oh so much better.
(would've been 6/10 if not for the characters, the dialogue, "winter" and the ending. the game nails every emotional beat, but disappoints regarding the plot.)