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Review – The Last of Us

18 July on Blogs, Reviews  
A relação de Joel e Ellie em um mundo em ruínas é o foco do jogo

The relationship between Joel and Ellie in this torn world is the focus of the game

Naughty Dog has made history with Uncharted, it's debut franchise for the PS3: the first title showcased the console's enormous graphical and narrative potential, while its second outing refined the formula into one of the most fun and thrilling action games of its generation. Be it with its breathtaking set pieces to the natural dialog during gameplay, Nathan Drake has guaranteed his place in the Hall of Fame of videogames. But Uncharted 3 seemed like a step back and proved to be inferior to its predecessor - a fact that started making sense when soon after its release Naughty Dog confirmed that it had been developing a second game in parallel: The Last of Us. With the premise of showing a post-apocalyptic United States destroyed by a zombifying fungus, the story revolves around the "older than usual" protagonist, Joel, and the 14-year old girl he needs to escort, Ellie.

Unlike Uncharted, The Last of Us starts off on a much more intimate tone, which should be very familiar to those who played Telltale's adaptation of The Walking Dead: a brief prologue illustrates Joel's traumatic past, quickly catapulting the player to a depressing future: people starving on the hands a military dictatorship. Joel has become a smuggler alongside his friend Tess. Things escalate quickly and he sees himself forced to bring the young Ellie to a resistance group known as the Fireflies, which requires crossing the devastated country. Despite attempts at being creative, the premise is anything but - anyone who read The Walking Dead comics or watched the TV show Revolution will see countless parallels everywhere. Every old narrative trick is used right off the bat, not only to cement the ambiance, but also wrestle forced tears from players.

Joel passará por grandes provações para sobreviver

Joel must fight with all he has in order to survive

On the other hand, gameplay tries a bit harder to be creative and different, but stumbles on some basic problems. The Last of Us follows the Silent Hill school of protagonists incapable of taking all foes heads-on, being forced to rely on traps, stealth and scavenging each and every tool or supply left behind in the destroyed environments. Separately, these elements are quite interesting, but the actual mix leaves a lot to be desired - such as many funnels that keep players from backtracking in the beginning. Since it takes a while to realize which door is a way-one ride into the next segment, many will lose many collectables in the first few hours, when they can be the most vital. Naughty Dog seems to encourage repeated playthroughs with the inclusion of a New Game+ mode, but other than the increased difficulty, there are not many incentives to do so.

The game's identity crisis is its worst enemy: the is a clear focus on scavenging, but many times it can be at odds with stealth and combat. Picking one as the main theme, like focusing on tension (as we have seen in the breakthrough PS2 game Siren) would certainly give it a more cohesive feel. And some of the mechanics end up strangely arbitrary, especially when it comes to stealth: nothing is weirder than slowly crawling among a horde of Clicker, enemies that use echolocation like bats (but that the game implements as "really good hearing")... while your companions make a lot of noise right under their noses with adverse effect - well, most of the time. Which is not to say that the experience isn't nice: when the game clearly elects one of its aspects to focus on in certain segments are always the best parts of the whole adventure, which is quite lengthy. Playing on higher difficulties is especially rewarding, forcing you to really bust your chops to survive.

It's not hard to make comparisons between this game and Bioshock Infinite: both star an older, rough hero (both dubbed by Troy Baker, no less) that need to escort an young AI-controlled character in a world in upheaval; both rely on heavy drama and excessive violence and require a big dose of scavenging. I did mention in my Bioshock Infinite review that its component mechanics are weak, tied together by a very personal and instigating narrative. The Last of Us seems to do exactly the opposite - separately, its mechanics are very cool, but their mixture is not cohesive, and the plot relies heavily on cheap emotional tricks. The one problem they share is the constant break of suspension of disbelief, which is pretty bad here: there is nothing worse than seeing your colleagues doing several stupid thing while you have to be so careful and still survive - most of the time.

The Last of Us tries too hard without having a soul to call its own: even the typography in the title just follows the current trends, just like so many people abused the blue/orange contrast in Hollywood in the last few years. It is a huge mash-up of a bunch of popular works – not seeking inspiration, but copying without adding something personal. The abuse of emotional wrangling - including an ending that is alluded halfway through the adventure as leaving space for a future sequel – leaves several questions opens and just reinforce that feeling of something missing. I strongly believe Naughty Dog did not have the maturity to carry create two games in tandem... and both Uncharted 3 and The Last of Us suffered for that, despite the latter having been the clear focus for them these last few years.

Don't get me wrong: this game deserves to be played. I just recommend getting your expectations straight and not forgetting that games deserve more than just aping successful formulas.

Tech Sheet
The Last of Us
Plataforms: PS3
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

Author, freelance videogame journalist, cinematography major and a little insane.