Monday, July 25, 2016

VGR The Last of Us

It took me quite a long while to finally play through this one, and finally review it here.

The Last of Us is a cult game people have already wrote and talked about countless times, but I personally only discovered it through the PS4 re-release since I skipped it last gen. And then I finally got it, and loved playing it.. but with a broken TV these last few months I was stuck with no means to finally finish it...

Anyways - I finally played through this gem, here's the review!

VGR: The Last of Us: Remastered
From Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment
Played on PS4
Also available on PS3 

Type Survival horror/Action/Adventure game
Year 2014 (2013)

It's strange to think this game was made by the developers of Crash Bandicoot. Oh, I know decades have passed since that time, most of the original team at Naughty Dog has moved on to other projects and the studios' barely recognizable now, having not only created the Jak & Daxter series but also achieving mainstream success with the Uncharted franchise.

But here we are with The Last of Us!

A sort of zombie drama unlike anything the medium had produced so far. The equivalent to The Walking Dead for video games, I would say. Storytelling as progressed so much these last few years, it is now possible to have a drama revolving around fatherhood as the basis for a video game (just ask David Cage!).

The Last of Us was originally released in June 2013 for the PS3. And an updated version, The Last of Us: Remastered, was released for the PS4 in July 2014.

What's it about?

A tense opening scene.

Our story begins on September 2013. A mysterious attack causes the outbreak of a rampant fungus-based virus which ravages most of the United States! At the start of the game we get to see this happening from the point of view of a young girl from her home in the suburbs. Her dad Joel tries to get her and his brother out of the city, but the Infected immediately causes a wide panic... During their escape the daughter his shot in Joel's arms...

It is now 20 years later. And civilization is no more. Survivors live in heavily-policed quarantine zones. Joel works as a smuggler with this partner, Tess, out of the Boston quarantine zone. One day after trying to retrieve some stolen weapons they're accosted by one of "the Fireflies" - a rebel group opposing the new military structures. They will return the guns to Joel and Tess in return for smuggling this girl Ellie to the Fireflies hiding outside the quarantine zone.

After a while, Joel finally agrees. And what was supposed to be a simple routine job turns into this huge trek around the USA, escorting the girl. Ellie was infected weeks ago but she somehow became immune. They want to study her, they might find a cure for the infection!

Along the way Tess is killed, as well as most of the Fireflies they find around. They're forced to drive around and even contact Joel's brother Tommy. Slowly Joel opens up to Ellie and finally starts warming up to someone new in his life since losing his daughter. Joel is shot, they're forced to stay hidden during winter and try surviving the cold. Before finally joining the last remaining Fireflies up in Salt Lake City the following spring...
I got something stuck in my eye, I swear...!

The Last of Us is another one of these modern survival horror games heavily inspired by Resident Evil 4. Both gameplay and presentation owe a lot to RE4.

Gameplay is actually pretty close from what you'd expect of the genre, similar to modern Resident Evil or Silent Hill games. But while those have been putting too much focus into action recently, Last of Us doesn't forget it's supposed to be an horror story and always keep the attention and the plot revolve entirely on its characters.

You control Joel (and alternatively others such as Ellie) from a third person perspective. You can rely on a wide variety of firearms to shoot your foes, from pistols to rifles, shotguns and even a bow and arrows. You can scavenge for melee weapons like pipes and baseball bats. And finally there's some items you can grab like bottles or bricks to distract or stun enemies.

A bit emphasis is put on crafting weapons. You can craft upgrades or build handmade items to use or throw. Like health kits and molotov cocktails.

True to the survival concept of surviving in a post-apocalyptic world, there's a big stealth system. And a cover system.

You mostly spend your time dealing with humans and the Infected.  For that matter, you can sort of enter a "listen mode", which close to what you find in modern games like the Batman Arkham series, it will allow you to highlight and notice the enemies around by listening and locating your foes via the sense of sound.

Enemies come in a wide range of variations and types, for both humans and monsters. The AI is pretty smart depending on enemies they might try to circle around you or call for more reinforcements.

Development of The Last of Us began as early as 2009. After the release of Naughty Dog's last game Uncharted 2, for the first time ever the studio sort of split off into two distinct dev teams to explore different ideas that had been circling them since working on Uncharted. One would go on to make the bigger but more traditional Uncharted 3 while the other team decided to try playing with different original ideas which would evolve into The Last of Us.

Back when working on Uncharted 2 the art team played with some desolated abandoned environments and habitations in ruins (which might sound familiar if you played through that game). Pushing the art direction into these places they sort of came up with the post-apocalyptic setting of The Last of Us. But they still needed a concept.

The entire game finally fell into place when they decided to bring it all together around the relationship between a father figure (Joel) and the daughter he finds in someone else in that new world (Ellie).
At first the game was going to be a lot simpler and on a much smaller scale, making Tess being revealed as the main antagonist originally. But instead they went for a more much natural tale of survival.

Actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson portray Joel and Ellie respectively. The game relies heavily on their outstanding performances, going as far as also using their motion capture performances for the roles.

The Last of Us is a simply gorgeous game. With some of the best most detailed and realistic environments I've seen last gen - and this gen again so far, thanks to the visual upgrades!

The game controls great. It does feature a lot of QTE segments and environmental interaction like Naughty Dog is famous for on the Uncharted series. But they did feel a bit more restrained and natural here.

The characters' relationship, interactions and dialogues are some of the best we've had in the genre, games can tell great stories without over relying on old gaming tropes (documents spread around the environments, pages of text or cutscenes), it all comes out while simple playing the game!

The Last of Us takes the player on a fairly long journey throughout various scenery, without even forcing you through the usual sewer levels! Some beautiful scenery is explored like a river dam, suburbs, a little town, a snowy valley, etc!

The game is framed around the tale of a father's loss and the coming of age story of Ellie, both combining naturally for a really good survival tale. "Life goes on".

Finally the game also features a decent multiplayer mode, I have never bothered much with it but it's there if you want to! It's playable up to 8 players coop and versus using the settings from the singleplayer campaign. There are 3 game modes: Supply Raid, Survivors and Interrogation - where you can play as either "hunters" or the Fireflies.

The Last of Us was received to a fantastic reception, selling over million copies worldwide. It's simple, it has since become a big franchise for Sony Entertainment! The game received a lot of praise, particularly for its plot and characterization, relying on natural interaction and subtext, as well as the great world-building. It's easily one of the best games for both the PS3 and PS4, receiving a ton of "Game of the Year" awards.

The original score composed by Gustavo Santaolalla is fantastic. He's  a composer mostly known for his minimalist work, but here he was able to let free and play with grandiose themes, adding a great touch of danger throughout the journey.

Overall, The Last of Us is an amazing game to be experienced by any veterans or newcomers to the genre. Highly Recommended!

In a way it's like a pretty great mix between The Walking Dead and Half-Life 2 (and the game feels greatly inspired by the later, specially that whole zombie-infested Ravenholm section).

The game received a bunch of downloadable content. Throughout a Season Pass it was possibly to get a lot of additional stuff for the multiplayer mode as well as some video documentary. Most notably the game would receive one last memorable piece of DLC in the form of an additional singleplayer campaign chapter: "The Last of Us: Left Behind" (more on that below).

Thanks to the success of the game and the arrival of a new system for Sony, the PS4 received a "remaster" of the game The Last of Us Remastered, an enhanced version of the game featuring impressive graphical upgrades and updated combat mechanic as well as the addition of the always fun Photo Mode, upgraded 1080p resolution and higher resolution for the character models. It came packed with a few of the DLC as well, the "The Last of Us: Abandoned Territories Map Pack", "The Last of Us: Reclaimed Territories Map Pack" and The Last of Us: Left Behind.

Since the release of the game, The Last of Us has been slowly being expanded into a multimedia franchise with a 4-issue comic book miniseries titled The Last of Us: American Dreams published by Dark Horse Comics in 2013, written by Druckmann and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks, a prequel to the game and Left Behind revolving a younger Ellie. And there's even talks of a live action film adaptation produced by Sam Raimi, which has been so far stuck in development hell. There's finally rumors of a video game sequel, although Naughty Dog is not sure if they want to move on with that first or try new original IPs first, but they're actively exploring ideas for the sequel as of now.

I give it:
3 / 3 Necronomicons!

VGR: The Last of Us: Left Behind
By Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment
Type DLC Expansion pack/Prequel
Year 2013

Following a bunch of multiplayer DLC, the game finally received a proper singleplayer story DLC in the form of The Last of Us: Left Behind, a prequel to the main game.

The game was released as an additional expansion pack for the original PS3 game before being bundled with The Last of Us Remastered for the PS4 and also receiving a standalone release for both consoles on May 2015.

Left Behind puts you into Ellie's shoes before the events of the main game.

The story is split into two narratives. Right around the time Joel was severely injured as winter was just around the corner, Ellie ended up in this abandoned snowed-down mall looking for supplies to treat Joel's wounds. But Infected and hunters are slowly converging on their position... The story keeps cutting to flashbacks set months earlier, before Ellie met Joel. She used to hand out with this friend, Riley. But Riley's now forced to leave to join the Fireflies militia group so she wants to spend some time with Ellie before being forced to leave town. They go play in this desolated mall not unlike the one covered with snow in the present. The night end up on an impulsive kiss between the two girls when the Infected surprise them and ends up biting both girls, infecting them...

Left Behind features the same gameplay as the main game, although it puts more emphasis on story and exploration. It also includes a few fun distractions. A fun element barely touched in the main game is the ability to direct the attention of the Infected and herd them towards human enemies to your advantage.

You also get to interact with some of the environment in the abandoned mall such as a carousel, a photo booth, the arcade (and a really unique take on fighting games!), wearing some silly masks and all of this culminating in an epic water gun fight on the last day of Ellie's innocent past before things went further to hell...

The idea behind The Last of Us: Left Behind was to offer players one last singleplayer DLC with a much smaller scale and budget and only half of the team working on it. They decided to focus on Ellie and her story prior to the events of the game, going from a bit mentioned near the end of The Last of Us. The character of Riley was in fact first introduced in The Last of Us comic American Dreams by Neil Druckmann and artist Faith Erin Hicks. That comic was used as reference for this DLC.

This chapter revolves around the idea of "loss". And for a game made on such a smaller development time, it was pretty great and easily stands with the rest of the main game. It's a great "mature" look into survivor guilt, teen love and friendship (in this post-apocalyptic worldview!).

Overall: The Last of Us: Left Behind was a terrific add-on! 

Giving the players even more connection to Ellie. We get to see her journey from a carefree personality, quickly ripped away by the events of this game, into her now-more sarcastic and closed off character. There's very little combat here, it's made more tense by how rare it happened in this chapter. 

Despite how short it was, it's just as good and memorable as the main game. A great addition to the story, a Must Play for fans! 

It was just as well received as the main game, if not even more! Which explains why it was even made available as a standalone release.

If I have any criticism for it it's how short it was. And also I would have loved it they used the Remaster to actually insert this chapter back into the main game, but that's maybe just me!

I give this one a: 2.5 / 3 Score! 

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