The Last of Us Review: A Story of Stealth and Scavenging
These actors deserve much more than a pat on the back: The Last of Us works because they work.
The plot, for better or worse, isn’t really important. What is important, what makes the whole experience fresh, are the two protagonists and their interplay. They’re constantly having small character-building conversations, and much the way Irrational Games did with BioShock Infinite, Naughty Dog helps make Ellie a character players care about by seriously upping her utility. Ellie is a vital member of the team, not a hapless screaming victim. In fact, her foul-mouthed comic relief is a perfect foil to Joel’s gruff demeanor, and she winds up being one of the most memorable game characters since — well, since The Walking Dead’s Clementine.
None of this would work without phenomenal performances from the game’s voice cast, in particular Ashley Johnson as Ellie and Troy Baker as Joel. Ellie in particular steals the show, often with her glib reactions to Joel’s ultra-violent tactics. She has all of the game’s best lines, and they’re all delivered with an edge of sarcasm that allows Johnson to evoke that peculiarly teenage burden of obviously knowing everything, but being surrounded by people too dumb to listen to you.
Meanwhile, Baker’s Joel has a Clint Eastwood-level disinterest in conversation, and matches it with a voice often just as gravely, menacing and cold. The Texas accent that goes with it, especially following Baker’s great turn as BioShock Infinite’s Booker DeWitt, elevates the portrayal even further. These actors deserve much more than a pat on the back: The Last of Us works because they work.
Despite what you may have thought up until now, and maybe what the story would suggest, The Last of Us is a stealth game. Instead of gunning down hordes of crazy, infected humans, Naughty Dog has taken a tougher, more careful approach. Most combat scenarios are spent with Joel keeping low and moving quietly. There’s also a lot of throwing-bottles-to-distract-enemies and sneaking-up-behind-guys-and-killing-them-quietly.
While you have a lot of options in any given scenario, the formula for each encounter is basically the same.
The reason for all the stealth gameplay is two-fold. First, enemy encounters in The Last of Us generally follow a certain script: You enter an area filled either with angry infected fungus-head people or angry dudes with guns. You need to cross said area. The angry people in that area are patrolling it, often looking for you. If they catch you, you’ll have to fight all of them at once, and you’ll almost certainly lose. And second, you’re extremely vulnerable and have limited supplies, so outwitting enemies or outright avoiding them is always better than a straight fight.
While you have a lot of options in any given scenario — stealthily avoiding enemies, sneaking around and stabbing them, throwing molotovs at them, carefully firing headshots at them, distracting them with a thrown object, running up and hitting them with a pipe, and so on — the formula for each encounter is basically the same. Sometimes the actors are different, like different kinds of infected. But none of the fights is ever that different.
Sneaking around enemies, dispatching them either quietly or loudly and scavenging crafting materials are what The Last of Us is all about, and it’s the repetition of these three mechanics over the course of the game that get The Last of Us into a bit of trouble. The least enjoyable is the scavenging, which can be fun when you really feel like you’re finding useful things or helping to keep yourself alive. Playing on a higher difficulty is recommended, though, because otherwise you’ll be swimming in crafting materials, especially if you play carefully and conserve.