The Last of Us has released to critical and commercial success, providing gamers with one of the best games this year. Naughty Dog’s most recent foray on the PlayStation 3 has been on everyone’s mind since its release, some claiming it may be Sony’s best exclusive title yet. Analog Addiction’s George Sinclair gave The Last of Us a perfect 10 stating, “The Last of Us might just be the finest game of this generation and everyone with a PlayStation 3 or at least access to one, owes it to themselves to play this game.”
In this 3 part series of ‘Analog Analysis’ we hear thoughts from George Sinclair, Ryan Livingstone, Rob Gisbey and Jamie Briggs as they analyse every aspect of the game. I must warn you in advance this article will include FULL SPOILERS, so if by some chance you have not finished The Last of Us it is best to read our thoughts AFTER you finish the game. You have been warned.
In part 1 we discuss the emotional start of The Last of Us and if it was effective at establishing the world, how combat worked and if it was successfully implemented, our thoughts on the real-time crafting system and the use of environmental storytelling.
The Last of Us began with a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching first chapter? How effective do you think it was in establishing the world, its characters and their motivations?
Jamie Briggs: I had heard people talking about the emotional first 10 minutes, and from watching trailers leading up to the games release it seemed clear Joel’s daughter would die. Yet I never guessed she would die the way she did, the fact she was gunned down by the very people sent to protect the people set the world up perfectly. People are in panic, society is falling around and people make rash decisions, in this instant it cost a little girls life. It was the most emotional moment of the game for me, which is odd seeing as I was barely connected to this little girl. Yet they were able to make me truly care about her well being, thinking about the intro now still has an emotional effect on me.
Ryan Livingstone: In terms of character development, this chapter was absolutely crucial to show what the world had done to Joel, and also a glimpse at when it all started. His daughter, Sarah, only had a brief period on the scene, but you quickly grew attached to her amidst all the chaos. Sarah also was important in regards to Joel’s attitude towards Ellie, as it started off as a reluctant relationship that grew to an almost father-daughter bond towards the end. The start of the game showed Joel as a normal loving father, leading up to the first scene twenty years later to show how much he changed. He turned into a black market dealer, developed a dark past and did what he needed do to survive; he is who you kill throughout the game. It also started the hopelessness and desperation feeling that is rampant throughout the game, from Joel’s first kill, to Joel doing everything to save Sarah which came to a gut-wrenching, emotional end. It is very much the platform for Joel’s personal development throughout the game and also his future bond with Ellie.
George Sinclair: As soon as the game opened I knew something extremely bad was going to happen as soon as I laid eyes on Sarah who’s the first character players are going to see in the game. The killing of the character’s daughter is something we’ve seen before in many different forms of media but it’s the way in which Sarah dies that really gripped me. Having been shot by the soldier and rendering Joel helpless to save his dying daughter really tore at my guts.
Rob Gisbey: The horrific opening of The Last of Us is masterfully executed in so many ways. Not only does it succinctly establish what feels like a genuine bond between Joel and his daughter; but by allowing us to embody her physically, it cleverly invests us in her fate that much more. It also does an excellent job of instilling a realistic sense of panic, showcasing multiple aspects of the outbreak throughout the house and on the car journey, both visually and through dialogue. The sequence where Sarah is injured and Joel cradles her as they flee through the tumultuous streets further emphasises their desperate helplessness, and truly makes for some heart-pounding moments. Lastly the way in which Sarah is horrifically murdered solidifies the game’s dark tone and does a great deal to foreshadow what Joel will eventually become; bitter, closed-off and morally bankrupt. This defining event colours his relationship with Ellie from the start, and is affectingly beautiful in its terrible tragedy.
The game’s combat experience is stealth-based and brutal, forcing you to desperately face-off against humans and infected alike. How successful and indeed enjoyable was gameplay in The Last of Us?
Jamie Briggs: Naughty Dog doesn’t gloss over the fact killing in The Last of Us, is a brutal, uneasy task. Watching Joel beat someone to death with a pipe, smash their head against a cupboard or even impale their throat on a shard of glass isn’t fun. But that’s the good thing, it’s not meant to be fun. Killing all these people was just the means to an end, and that end was survival. You wanted to survive to protect Ellie and continue to survive, which meant these brutal tactics were necessary.
Then you have the other side of the coin when facing the infected, which personally became less frightening then facing humans. Once you got a sense of what these infected will do and how they react, you can plan ahead from a distance. Yet facing humans requires more desperate measure, they will flank, they will throw molotov’s in your area and they will shoot you. It did a great job at showcasing that the true evil in this post-epidemic society, were humans themselves.
Ryan Livingstone: Having a stealth-based system in this type of game was important, as supplies were often limited and enemies were varied. Naughty Dog nailed it, besides often getting pushed out of my hiding spot by Ellie and Joel sometimes not facing the way I needed him too, they handled the system well. Being able to sneak up on Clickers with a shiv or assessing the area and enemies movements before going into action was often required so you could determine what weapon would work best. The brutality of killing in this game could often leave you feeling little uneasy, but it is exactly how it would be. Every living person is fighting for their own survival; they will do what needs to be done to ensure they see the next day. You kill the same people that Joel was before Ellie, you feel the struggle of each person you strangle to death and you feel the relief to make it out alive. They really created a perfect blend of being able to stealth through areas quietly to eventually smashing someone’s head in on a desk.
George Sinclair: The stealth elements in the game were phenomenal I thought. It’s very easy to evade your enemies which allows you to take them down one by one but you really have to pick your moment. Taking a guy out in clear view of his buddies or smashing a Clicker’s head in with a brick is a sure fire way to get you noticed and can dramatically change the way the battle plays out and it won’t always be in your favour.
Rob Gisbey: The world we once knew is gone and what’s left behind is grim and unforgiving in its brutality; a truth that gameplay frequently reminds us of with its constant fevered scavenging and shocking bursts of uncompromising violence. Survival is a real focus in The Last of Us, which with supplies being as scarce as they are can prove severely challenging at times. Combat is best approached through stealth, and total awareness and cunning are crucial in picking off hostile forces, be they infected or human. The latter of the two are really the more dangerous, being less predictable and more resourceful, and having to ruthlessly execute them in order them to procede can often be quite a sickening, chilling experience. If you’re spotted however, everything devolves into chaos, becoming a frenzied scramble that will ultimately end in death, be it yours or theirs. It’s incredibly immersive and extremely effective.
Several titles have implemented the use of realtime crafting systems before. Is Naughty Dog’s attempt successful and if so, what does it add to the overall experience?
Jamie Briggs: I think it is done very well, it pays to think ahead and craft constantly. Being pursued by humans and infected alike, leaves little time to craft. Which gives a great sense of desperation when you find yourself desperately needing a health-kit, or an explosive. It made me desperately scrap through multiple battles, taking down one or two enemies with bare fists just to get enough time to craft a health-kit as I meander the doors of death, there are the moments I still remember fondly. I have already said it a few times, but The Last of Us makes you feel desperate and the real-time crafting mirrored that feeling perfectly.
Ryan Livingstone: The real-time crafting system is realistic, but it can be difficult to manage. Supplies are limited so usually you will create a med kit after a battle, or if you see lots of enemies you may create a Molotov. The real-time aspects means you can’t go “hold on wait a second while I create this shrapnel bomb to obliterate you….okay now I’m ready.” You have to prepare yourself before each fight and use your supplies wisely, creating something mid battle isvvery difficult to do as once you have been hit, your crafting is cancelled and often meant your death if a bloater is nearby. It further adds to that feeling of desperation, and while it can be frustrating in-combat it forces you to think ahead and to not waste your supplies. Naughty Dog has done this very well, and in context with the game, it is the ideal method to create supplies.
George Sinclair: I really thought the real-time crafting system added a further sense of tension I already had from the game. There have been many times I was crafting a much needed item only to have enemies realise what I’m doing and rush me. It’s also a really slick and simple system so you can do craft quickly but you’ll want to find a safe spot to do so.
Rob Gisbey: The realtime crafting system in The Last of Us is truly a stroke of genius. It works on so many levels and feels surprisingly intuitive and unobtrusive considering it takes up a large portion of the screen mid-game. You are encouraged to scour your environment for anything that can be used to your advantage. Certain materials can be combined to create med kits and nail bombs, or to modify blunt weapons, making them considerably more deadly. Often different items are made up of the same components, forcing you to make tough decisions as to which supplies you’ll need most in any given situation. The fact that this is all done without pausing significantly raises the tension, and choosing the optimum moments to combine your ingredients requires careful planning and strategy. When your enemies are swiftly closing in around you and you’re crouched behind cover, frantically attempting to heal yourself or cobble together some potentially lifesaving equipment, it really is a panic-inducing, anxiety-provoking experience.
How would you rate the visuals presentation The Last of Us has to offer? What did the use of environmental storytelling bring to the game and how did it make you feel?
Jamie Briggs: Exploring areas was probably one of my favourite things in the game, each room has its own story to tell and it is mind blowing to think some players may completely miss some great side-stories. These are well-presented throughout the games collectibles, which details some interesting stories about your current environment or the world around you. They drove me to continue searching, I wanted to know more about the world, I wanted to be engrossed with every morsel of information possible. Yet when the games credits rolled, I found out I missed a great deal of information, which further pushed me to continue searching. Great games make you want to explore and collect items and The Last of Us is one of the greats.
Ryan Livingstone: The environments that you visit throughout the game are so well-crafted and blend perfectly with what each area has to offer and the story itself. Fighting in the pitch-black hotel basement felt so intense and made me feel uneasy hearing a bloater grumble around the corner, it was terrifying. I could not wait to get out and see the sun again, and when I got out I felt so relieved. Until I started to get shot at by humans again. The environments also never stick to the same style, as you go from city streets, to ruined subways and even to lush forests; it shows you how each area has been affected. Not only are all the areas beautiful, they all have their own stories from other victims to the infected, and makes exploring even more important. Not only will you search for supplies to keep you alive, you will search to see how others coped with the world collapsing around them and how they met their demise. You can picture each story as they told, and feel sorrow for each person that has fallen. They create a blend of visuals that you can see with your eyes, and stories you can picture in your head.
George Sinclair: If I didn’t know better, I could almost be tricked into thinking this was a next-gen game. It looks beautiful but that’s what you’d expect from a Naughty Dog game. Instead, it’s the surroundings that tell some of the story. I found an abandoned RV with a long-dead corpse strewn out of the door and upon entering a find a family photo with “forgive us” written on the back. As soon as I looked down the end of the Camper I see three bodies, two smaller than the third and I can instantly know what’s happened here without having to be told.
Rob Gisbey: Visually The Last of Us is probably the single most impressive current generation title I’ve ever had the fortune to play. Naughty Dog have pushed the PlayStation 3 further than I ever thought it could go, resulting in everything from the detailed character models to the dilapidated scenery looking simply breathtaking. Facial animation and motion capture are particularly awe-inspiring, managing to convey incredible nuance in the actor’s performances, which in turn helps to ground you in their world. Almost everywhere you look there are exceptional examples of environmental storytelling, playing a meaningful role in your comprehension of the catastrophes that befell those there before you. Scattered documents, family photographs and possessions left in disarray are often a sobering reminder that the world as we knew it is over, and that it’s doubtful whether any of these people are still left alive.
Keep an eye out for part 2 and 3 of our analysis series coming very soon. Until then let us know your thoughts on The Last of Us below and if you agree or disagree with our thoughts so far.
You can find George on Twitter and his blog on IGN. Jamie Briggs is on Twitter @JamieAA and on YouTube. Rob Gisbey can be found on his BandPage and on the VxM Videogames Podcast. Ryan Livingstone is part of the contributing staff at Analog Addiction. You can also follow his blog on MyIGN.