The Last of Us Critical Review
Updated: Nov 14, 2020
The Last of Us (Sony Computer Entertainment, 2013) is THE game that inspired me to do a Game Design Masters at Kingston University!
Here is my critical review of The Last of Us.
Work by Sweeney (2014)...
What does the post-apocalyptic game, The Last of Us, aim to achieve?
I think the aim of the game is to make the player care about Ellie, the secondary main character, in the same way that Joel, the lead protagonist, does.
The bulk of the story follows Joel and Ellie on their journey across America in search of a cure however that isn’t what the story is about.
The story focuses on the relationship between Joel and Ellie during the course of the game. It starts with them not liking each other when they first meet. This is so that when Ellie does protect you by killing enemies later on, the player begins to see her as an equal.
Speaking of killing enemies, this is the core gameplay loop of The Last of Us. There’s an emphasis on survival where you have low ammo, non-regenerating health and enemies both human and infected which encourage you to switch up your playstyle in combat and stealth sections.
Human enemies can out-flank you and throw Molotovs at you, so you have to keep moving to gain the upper hand.
Infected can’t out-flank you but you have to approach each type of Infected differently. For example, Clickers can only be killed by a shiv, an invaluable weapon that can also open rooms filled with resources.
You can also craft items and upgrade weapons/skills to make combat and stealth encounters easier to manage during the course of the game.
So how does this gameplay loop serve the story?
During the first combat encounters before you meet Ellie, you have low health and are very vulnerable. Your weapon sways heavily so its hard to aim at an enemy accurately.
This motivates the player to scavenge and upgrade your skills and weapons so that you have a better chance at surviving a combat encounter.
How does the story make you care for Ellie?
When we see Joel 20 years after the outbreak, he is still grieving over the loss of his daughter, Sarah, who died when the outbreak began.
When we see Ellie for the first time, she pulls a knife on Joel to protect Marlene, someone that she cares about, showing us that she is willing to protect those that she loves.
This is a key component of her gameplay when she and Joel are fighting enemies. She can stun and kill enemies to protect you by her own volition, not by your command.
Ellie also provides moments of levity throughout the game by joking about porn magazines, reading terrible puns from her joke book and being curious about the world around her which warms us and Joel to her. The player wants to protect her when she gets caught by enemies because she is a joy to talk to in-between the combat sections.
You also get to empathise with her when she’s vulnerable after killing someone for the first time. Joel however doesn’t do this; he pushes her away. We’re on Ellie’s side when she stands up for herself. We want Joel to trust her the same way that we do which he does a moment later when he gives her a gun.
When Joel almost dies from a near-fatal injury, we play as Ellie in winter. The items and weapons/skills you’ve upgraded as Joel get reset when you play as Ellie which makes the player empathise with her as we struggle to survive alone.
At this point, the player respects and cares for her to the point that when we play as Joel again in winter, we want to do everything we can to save her from David, the man who has been hunting her.
The same applies to the ending where Joel decides to save Ellie despite the possibility that her death may create a vaccine. For players like myself, I wanted to save Ellie no matter what even though I may have doomed humanity. That’s how much the game made players care for Ellie.
Is there anything in the game that detracts from the aim of the game?
Companions can’t be detected during stealth, only Joel can. Companions also sometimes run right in front of you when fighting enemies which disrupts the flow of combat.
Human enemies can’t hear you when you’re walking right behind them which does lessen the tension.
All in all, The Last of Us is an excellent game which integrates story and gameplay seamlessly. It’s one that I highly recommend.
Naughty Dog (2013) The Last of Us [Video game]. Sony Computer Entertainment. Available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Last-Of-Us-PS3/dp/B00844PC9S/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+last+of+us+ps3&qid=1605359624&sr=8-1 (Accessed: 19 October 2020).
Sweeney. J (2014) The Last of Us [Digital Painting]. Available at: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/l2ba (Accessed: 19 October 2020).