Critical Consensus: The Last Of Us
Naughty Dog's apocalyptic adventure slays the critics
It doesn't happen often, but occasionally something comes along that is so brilliant that critics have no choice but to swallow their cynicism, choke back their snark and write about why something is just so goddamned awesome. The Last Of Us, Naughty Dog's newest IP that focuses on human relationships through the prism of a deadly fungal infection, seems to be one of those times.
Official PlayStation Magazine UK's David Meikleham was certainly not shy in declaring his love for the game, suggested readers sell their kidneys to get a copy of the ten out of ten, "peerlessly tense hide-and-seek sim crafted around thoughtful stealth and devastating gunplay."
Of course until now Naughty Dog's flagship franchise has been the macho, Indiana Jones style adventures of Nathan Drake in Uncharted, but Meikleham reported that The Last Of Us is a Drake beater, and a new high for the studio.
"A better game than any of the Uncharted titles," he wrote, but added later that "it doesn't handle like Uncharted, it doesn't pace itself like Uncharted, and it's certainly a damn sight scarier than your favourite fortune-hunter's feral yetis."
While he praises strong combat, well balanced AI and ability to use different tactics, enemy design and behaviour, it's the emotions that are the star here. Reducing your reviewer to tears is usually a sign you've missed a game breaking bug in hour 17 of your game, here it's a testament to "a tender maturity that boils the apocalypse down to the touching cross-country journey of a surrogate father/daughter pairing."
The more cynical among you might dismiss this as a PlayStation publication cheering for the home team, but it should only take a glance at the rest of the scores to see that's not the case. Veteran reviewer Oli Welsh at Eurogamer handed out the same score, and made a lot the same points to back up the double digits, clearly in love with the death of a nation theme he saw in The Last Of Us' narrative.
"This melancholy twist is just one of several things that lifts The Last of Us far above its clichéd basis. The others are the outstanding engineering and art and sound design, the fine direction and performances, the touching relationship of the two leads and the tough, tense action gameplay."
"Empire went as far as to call it 'gaming's Citizen Kane moment'"
Pacing was praised, with the puzzle sections offering the player a chance to drink in the "peaceful desolation" punctuated sparingly by a score from Brokeback Mountain composer Gustavo Santaolalla.
And it's not just the industry sites that have gone giddy over The Last Of Us. One of the most complimentary reviews (and one that broke the embargo earlier this week for a few awkward hours) was from film site Empire, which went as far as to call it "gaming's Citizen Kane moment."
Reviewer Matt Kamen gave the game five out of five and the sort of quotes a PR can only usually dream of, "a masterpiece that will be looked back on favourably for decades."
"The gameplay itself could easily have been a disappointment - broadly a mix of stealth and action, with innumerable sections of waist-high cover shooting, it doesn't immediately offer anything new. Played with a shooter mindset, it doesn't, in fact. However, it's in avoiding combat when possible, incapacitating foes and only killing when absolutely, unavoidably necessary that the game stands apart."
Of course even Citizen Kane had its haters, and here it's Polygon that drags the metascore down, with Phil Kollar bestowing a lacklustre 7.5 on the game. For comparison, that's the same score he recently gave to Resident Evil: Revelations, and a full point lower than his score for Metro: Last Light.
While others saw the game's emotional storytelling and at times depressing world as signs of greatness, Kollar was clearly hoping the apocalypse would be a bit more, well, fun.
"It's not a fun place to be, and likewise, the game isn't really a fun thing to play."
He still praised the characterisation of Ellie, something other reviewers had mentioned, and the relationship she has with the other lead character, Joel, but was less happy when the AI of other characters failed.
"AI partners often attempt to follow you and stay behind cover nearby, but sometimes they screw up and get stuck out in the open. These moments don't result in detection by enemy AI, which is a wise concession to the stealth gameplay. But it looks ridiculous and shatters the atmosphere Naughty Dog works so hard to build."
And while others had praised the deliberately difficult gunplay as a clever design move, Kollar finds it's "messy" and "frustrating" at first, and then finds killing the game's non-zombie foes morally uncomfortable. Ultimately, the storytelling and design that dazzled other reviewers seems to have left Kollar unmoved.
But the low score is, in these post-embargo hours, in the minority. Overall it seems that not only is The Last Of Us proof that the PlayStation 3 is still a force to be reckoned with, even as its little brother steps into the limelight, but that Sony still knows how to work with a AAA studio to make sure it can produce top quality titles that make its console shine.