Survival horrors have long been a genre crying out for something fresh, something different that still gives us the same sense of enjoyment and fear as when the style burst onto the screen with the likes of Resident Evil and Silent Hill. We’ve averted (somewhat) global catastrophes at the hands of super evil mega corporations, rummaged through mist covered streets while being hunted by the evil that lurks within and, more recently, battled horrifying demonic entities across blasted landscapes and broken space stations. That’s not to say that this reviewer hasn’t quivered in fear when dark shadows dart across the screen or god forbid something falls off of a wall, but we’ve done and experienced all this before.
The Last of Us brings a new dynamic whereby, instead of blasting your way through hordes of enemies with an abundant supply of weapons and ammunition at your disposal, you are instead placed into a situation where a length of string and chunk of brick are your only options (you get the idea). This may seem like a restrictive feature, but having your resources limited and scarce really makes you think about each encounter and, instead of charging in guns blazing, you have to carefully consider each of your decisions, which keeps the tension at a great level. Naughty Dog got it right with this game and you will struggle to find something else in the current market that captures the joy and fear on a level we first experienced in the original Silent Hills. Of course, this game is not purely fear inducing from start to finish, but it happens just enough to keep you on edge and at no point does this feel forced.
The Last of Us is set in a very bleak world and Naughty Dog is not afraid to show you exactly how bleak it is. There is gore in this game; how can you have a horde of infected creatures baying for your blood and not involve an element of gore? This game is not ‘Manhunt’ though, nor is it a hack and slash with limbs flying left and right, instead when forced into a combat situation it feels necessary rather than entertaining. You fight and kill because you need to survive in a hostile world, you are in a desperate predicament and when having to attack and kill a survivor or infected alike you are only doing so because there is no alternative. You may be forced to go to extreme lengths to survive but you feel for Joel and Ellie’s plight and although this will shock a few gamers, you will empathize and understand their motives and that’s what truly sets this apart from what we have seen before. Your only goal is survival.
The Last of Us has Naughty Dogs super-high production qualities that we first saw in the ‘Uncharted‘ series and by no means is it bad thing. The PS3’s resident explorer brought a world of vibrant, lush and beautifully rendered jungles and ruins and this game has been given the same treatment. A good portion of this takes place in an open and sprawling land filled with the remnants of society and nature has reclaimed large areas, which is a change from the confined alleyways and labs we normally see, although they are in there.
The only drawback to this is that because of the nature of The Last of Us you notice the exploration-combat-cut scene style narrative that was also in Uncharted, but because Nathan Drakes adventure shot by at a high speeds you tend to forget that you weren’t actually in an open world while the illusion of it played out well; The Last of Us doesn’t always manage that. As with most games you will be in a situation where door B was the one you need to use and you’ll never quite understand why you couldn’t open door A, or you will be in an area where the cover is positioned nicely in order to push you towards the enemies and the end of combat. The combat within The Last of Us has pretty much been cut and pasted from ‘Uncharted’ as well, but the darker and more sinister theme fits the style well. Cinematic fights scenes always made for good viewing in ‘Uncharted’ and the brutal combat of The Last of Us is no different. There are plenty of tricky fight sequences that keep you on edge and the gunplay which is not too frequent as well as the constant lack of ammo makes every situation feel risky no matter what you decide to do.
Don’t be concerned about the slower pace though because the game play and cut scenes integrate together perfectly and you don’t notice load times too much and the areas connect seamlessly.
Ultimately it would be easy to stereotype this as a zombie survival, but although you can draw similarities, it is at its core an entirely different experience. The ‘Non-Human’ enemies you face are infected rather than undead and although they are a consistent antagonist throughout, you appreciate and sympathise with their condition; the ‘Runner’ infected, as an example, is fully aware of what they are doing but is helpless to control itself. The focus though is not on the enemies but instead on an engaging story set in a ruined world with the threat of attack playing behind the scenes; combat is not the focus.
The usual archetypes are present though – a virus has swept across humanity, killing a vast portion and turning others into blood crazed killers. From trailers released it also appears that the virus can spread through bites and life as we know has come crashing down. This has happened hundreds of times before, in small print, on consoles and on the big screen, but what sets this aside is that the writers/Naughty Dog make little to no attempt to explain the source or development of the virus, as these explanations can become quite preposterous at times (2008’s film ‘The Happening‘ I’m looking at you). What Naughty Dog and the writers have done is make a concerted effort to tell the story of the surviving humans and how life continues in the aftermath as they struggle day to day for survival. The best way to generate an image is to think of AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead‘ – the living characters are the focus and the human interaction is the most important aspect on display.
Continued character development is a key feature to telling a great story and the experiences in the game certainly compliment this. Beginning in the modern day world we are introduced to Joel and his life in the first panicked days of the outbreak. Flash forward then, to 20 years in the future and the remains of an all but devastated United States. For spoilers reasons I won’t go into too much detail as the story definitely needs to be played, but a world weary Joel takes on the mantle of guiding a young and naive Ellie across a blasted and infection riddled landscape which makes up the remainder of the game.
This may not seem earth shattering and we’ve been in a similar position with ‘Enslaved’ but the dynamic between Joel and Ellie, his tired and worn experience and her youthful naivety make for a great partnership. This is something that The Last of Us does well, the main characters (portrayed by Ashley Johnson – Ellie and Troy Baker – Joel) feel like people and the survivors they meet and interact with feel just as real. You genuinely feel for these characters; couple this with a well thought-out and executed story and you have a world of survivors and villains that are well-fleshed out and sometimes so disturbing that you will notice and remember when things happen to Joel, Ellie or any number of the supporting cast.
With the general abundance of zombie-survivals available across multiple platforms, you could be forgiven for saying Naughty Dog are merely jumping onto an already existing fan base and making ‘Uncharted: Undead’. However it is clear that those who created The Last of Us have drawn from the best sources when writing and creating this world and have included the best elements from computer games (Uncharted and Fallout) and television (Walking Dead) and although we find comfort in the familiarity of the style we get to experience something which is so much more.
The Last of Us is sure to become a hallmark of the PS3 and with is fantastic visuals, strong game-play, disturbing world and emotion provoking story you will never regret having played this and will remember it as the time when survival-horror made its comeback. Stay Alert, Stay Alive
Preview By; Simon Moore (Si)
GamepadGlory or Gamepadsnory ?
Before and build up –
Initially when I first heard about Tomb Raider I was not all that excited about it. It sounded like a great idea but with all the failed additions to the series in my eyes it started to get frankly stupid. With the new style, the origins story and the concept of it being open world it certainly had my attention. In the build up to Tomb Raiders release the more details the publisher released the more and more impressive it looked. The adverts and game play footage added to my excitement showing the games more in depth cinematic moments.
First impressions –
The first time I took control of the new, more human, Lara I noticed two things. Firstly, they really were not kidding when they wanted it to feel like she is being put through her paces and secondly how much attention to detail the design team had invested into the environment. The way in which the light scatters across from the candles and the warm glow it gives, the water running down walls into a pool below and grimy stones on the ground and walls. I was very satisfied with the way Tomb Raider looked and what the team had achieved with their time and efforts. I love the new sound and how it gives a real sense of the environment. You know that feeling when you look at a game for a little while and then you look at the time and realise 10 minuets has passed and all you had been doing is looking around and at the beautifully crafted world, that happened to me and I’m not ashamed to say a fair few times with this game.
Gameplay & Combat –
Lara feels very responsive, her movement is very fluid and with a solid camera behind her it doesn’t take long for anyone to get good at this game. The bow is definitely the hero weapon with five different versions of it, all improving on the last, its a fun weapon to use. Climbing feels natural and easy to navigate. It doesn’t take long for you to master all the different ways in which you can dispatch your foes and get into the story. This is the point when you can sit back and enjoying the game.
50% in –
So with being quite a way into the game and having found my feet with the controls I find myself having to dispatching my first tormentor with a gun. On screen Lara is nearly throwing up at this ordeal but within five seconds is trying to lob her next enemies head off with a climbing pick. I soon realise this game is not actually open world, sure you do get the sense of the island being open but its not, everything in Tomb Raider is set in one direction. In fact there are even areas in the game, if you go past a certain check point, you will find yourself having to go to the nearest base camp just so you can fast travel back to the area you may have missed. When I think about an open world setting the first couple of games that come to mind are Far Cry and Grand Theft Auto. These are true sand box, go anywhere you like or climb pointless mountains for no reason to find things you don’t need… that’s open world. If all you have in front of you is a straight line then this is not open world.
There are a few hidden tombs around but they are not very difficult to find, there will be a huge painting at the entrance of most. The ones that don’t give you so many clues to where the entrance is make you feel a little patronised by the time you have finished them.
I also noticed that all of the other characters who were part of the original exploration group are under developed and not as well delivered as Lara. This brings the game down but only ever so slightly.
The end –
After finishing the game I felt fairly satisfied with how the story ended. I liked the transformation of Lara from a young, innocent woman into the proud warrior we all know and love as the game progresses. I do however feel the games ambition was too much too soon, I mean where do they go next with this. They have definitely set the tone and bar with the Tomb Raider reboot but, unfortunately I am going to make this reference, its like comparing Uncharted to Uncharted 2.
Beautifully crafted with amazing detail, a lot of love and heart has been put into making this game. Lara is perfectly executed in all ways but the game lacks in its ambitions, they just don’t quite reach their goals and it leaves you expecting something else to happen but that never comes. A little more attention needs to be paid to the supporting cast but I think with more time and drawing on the experience of making this title the dev team will be able to nail this. I want them to open up the beautiful new world they have created in future instalments. The new direction they are taking the Tomb Raider series in is great.
7.5 / 10 Whippyice
- Tomb Raider Review – Lara Croft: Luck Rider (petexxvii.wordpress.com)
- Tomb Raider Receives Late Game Combat Trailer (news.softpedia.com)
- Tomb Raider Review for Xbox 360, PS3, PC (ugrgaming.com)
- Survival is the name of the game for new ‘Tomb Raider’ (jslowiczekconnect.wordpress.com)
- Review: Tomb Raider rebirths an icon but stumbles awkwardly to its conclusion (o.canada.com)