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.

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17 Comments on The Last of Us Review: A Story of Stealth and Scavenging

robert

On June 5, 2013 at 11:29 am

The “Gameplay takes away from the story” thing seems to be a recurring theme this year

R.J.

On June 5, 2013 at 2:11 pm

@Robert

Yeah, I’ve noticed that, too. Perhaps seeing that often enough might get more devs to take a hard look at whether the same approaches to gameplay really serve the story they want to tell.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to this game.

Michael

On June 5, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Yeah Gameplay is bland. Stuff annoys me like vehicles and furniture that you cannot search. The combat is pretty dumb and frustrating. It really takes away from the horror and fun of the game like for example shooting at enemies and being seen is pointless. The crafting items is so confusing at times. Ah well. I’ll pass on this.

SweetPea

On June 16, 2013 at 6:58 am

Great review Phil! You’re probably the only one who wasn’t afraid to talk about the negative things and gave an honest review, not just just blindly praising the game to the skies.

Fart

On June 16, 2013 at 9:09 am

The mainstream outlets had already made their decision to award this perfect or near-perfect scores the moment it was announced, entirely due to Naughty Dog’s involvement. Had a lesser known developer released it, they would have had no qualms about criticising its weaker elements. It’s pointless even calling themselves ‘journalists’ anymore, they might as well call their magazines “Highest Bidder Monthly” or “Fanboys Who Schmoozed Their Way Into Cushy Industry Jobs Far Away From the Plebs.”

The game’s good but giving it 10/10 just because of what you WANT it to be is pitiful. Not as bad maybe as all the great scores given to recent Final Fantasy games because they legitimately suck, but still intellectually dishonest and analytically damaging.

larry

On June 16, 2013 at 4:56 pm

This SPAM site is on meta?? Did u even play the game head MS sucker

hisoka89

On June 16, 2013 at 5:02 pm

this review is very bad , tomb raider 92 , the last of us 80 , what the , how you want to be credible !

Dan

On June 17, 2013 at 5:23 am

This has got to be by far the best video game, let alone Playstation game, i have played. Period. The balance between story and gameplay was outstanding, the constant tension and subseqeuent relief after each scene was spectacular. The periods where you just get to walk around and take in the surroundings mean so much more after going through an intense battle, especially if you’re low on supplies. The Last of Us did live up to the hype, and then some.

Cunt

On June 17, 2013 at 9:40 am

The last three comments were clearly written by Sony/Naughty Dog staff. They don’t even seem genuine.

Raj

On June 22, 2013 at 1:56 pm

A fine balanced review. I agree with many of the comments over the scavenging aspects of the gameplay but the Story still wins me over. It’s pretty rare that you get something so compelling and real.

Ted

On June 23, 2013 at 3:49 pm

I finally finished the game. I did think the game play and the scavenging ran on being repetitive, but the story and Joel’s and Ellie’s interactions makes it worth it. I do wish in the story they gave us information to how the infection started, was it natural or man’s furthering tinkering with nature that caused the infected.

Hudson

On June 25, 2013 at 1:06 am

I find it a bit unfair that Tomb raider did get a higher score and they have pretty much the same cons except for in tomb raider they left out the
•So many human enemies to fight (and kill) during the course of the game that it gets ridiculous and undermines the narrative — despite emphasis on story, like every other game, you’ll still shoot scores of random, faceless nobodies as the central mechanic
also I thought The Last of Us had a great sound track and left me wanting more, which I love in games!

Phil Hornshaw

On June 25, 2013 at 10:06 am

@Hudson

It’s tough when people bring up comparisons to other reviews. I reviewed Tomb Raider several months ago, and of course, all the circumstances of that game and its release were different from The Last of Us. It’s impossible to compare every game to every other game, and every moment in which a game is reviewed is unique. Instantly, when I review a game, I’m weighing it against every other game I’ve ever played. Everything changes with each new review.

So the point is this: there is no comparison between Tomb Raider’s score and The Last of Us’ score. If I were to play the two games back-to-back and directly compare each one, it might work. But it’s impossible to do so. Maybe if The Last of Us had come out first, it’d have the higher score. Maybe not. Maybe Naughty Dog is expected to do amazing things and Tomb Raider was a surprise. Maybe not. But from my point of view, Tomb Raider doesn’t fail for having huge numbers of enemies, where The Last of Us does. The two games are attempting fundamentally different things, and that explains a big part of why what might ostensibly be called the same problem is more forgiveable in one situation than another.

Anyway, how I feel when I play a game, about that game and what it’s trying to do and whether it accomplishes that thing, is a solitary moment. So it’s really hard, and even problematic, to say, ‘well, this game got this score and that game got that score and that’s a travesty.’ If you’re looking at the scores over reading the reviews, you’re wasting your time.

Nub

On July 8, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Good review. I think what most people like about the game, me included, is just the general atmosphere of it all. It was done well, and that’s what kept me going. The actual gameplay was an afterthought. I had fun with some of the stealth, but for the most part I just wanted to hear the next conversation or see the next cutscene. I didn’t give a crap about the gameplay, and only crafted stuff so I could kill things faster so I could see the next cutscene. You can’t really “rate” a game like this, because I love the game for the reasons I wanted to love it (atmosphere) and didn’t give a crap about the other sections (gameplay) that I didn’t really want to care about in the first place.

asdfjkl

On July 14, 2013 at 5:33 am

How dare you give your honest opinion!!! You are supposed to give it a 10 no matter what otherwise you are uncredible! 8 /10? more like Hate/10 you horrible critic!

Jordan

On January 29, 2014 at 10:34 pm

I agree with the mechanical feel but if you were to think about if the apocalypse ever were to hit like this in scenarios that are gone through in the story, most if not all WOULD be violent. it is one of the saddest truths of humans, when it comes down to it, there are more violent people then there are peaceful. Now sure you would find a couple along the way BUT the odds of that would be against you and that is part of the reason they did that i believe. I must say though…In my opinion the multiplayer is rather hideous. Having a scattered objective type atmosphere was just to much of a stretch for me.

Phil Hornshaw

On January 29, 2014 at 11:24 pm

@Jordan

That’s fair that violence would be something of the norm, but what The Last of Us lacks is variety. It’s never “Our tense encounter with a random group goes bad,” or “We inadvertently invade the space of paranoid-but-peaceful survivors (like in, say, I Am Alive).” It’s always running across the marauders, who are especially evil and without nuance.

In fact, as far as the violence is concerned, I’m not sure I buy that it would necessarily be quite the norm in most situations One has to assume that while most survivors have the expectation of violence, avoiding violence is almost always in everyone’s best interest and would be a general goal for most people. Every violent encounter runs the risk of injury that leaves you vulnerable to future attack or potential infection or sickness, and that means even a relatively small injury can result in death in a world with limited medicine. Add to that the scarcity of bullets and the like, and just the risk of losing, and fights become something best avoided. You can also look at human history for examples — there are plenty of periods with fewer laws and overarching governments in which violence was more of a part of life, but it wasn’t the ONLY part of life.

So from that standpoint, I think there’s potentially just more that could be done here. Fallout might be a good example, really; you encounter a wide range of people who have a wide range of motivations and methods of dealing with you, and one would think the same would be true in a game like The Last of Us.