The Last of Us Review: A Story of Stealth and Scavenging

What’s pleasantly surprising, then, is how well the mechanics that grow a bit tedious in the single-player campaign translate to multiplayer. Dubbed “Factions,” it pits teams of four players against each other in some pretty standard deathmatch-style games. The two modes, “Supply Raid” and “Survivor,” seem to differ only in the number of respawns available to players: in Supply Raid, your team has a total of 20 respawns in a pool, and the losing team is the one that runs out first. Survivor includes no respawns.

The goal in each match is to seek out and destroy the members of the other faction, but how you go about doing so is actually the interesting part. The matches themselves are simple enough from a rules standpoint, and you’ll choose a loadout of guns at the outset. But like in the regular game, there are crafting materials scattered about the map and marked on the players’ minimap, and those items allow you to craft all the goodies Joel has access to in the campaign. Straight-up shooting works, but not particularly well, especially when you spawn with only a handful of bullets.

Actually finding and killing opponents successfully amounts to a careful game of cat and mouse. You have “listen mode” in multiplayer the same way Joel does, and you can use it to briefly see other players through walls — but it has to recharge and you can’t use it for long. Fights usually boil down to players huddled behind cover, trading the few bullets that have with them, while other members of their team attempt to flank the enemy. Strategic thinking is key, as is being quiet and stealthy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go loud; craftable bombs, powerful guns and melee fighting are all available, too. You can even sprint, although it generates so much noise that, like gunfire, running will bring you up on everyone’s minimap.

The goal of all this fighting isn’t necessarily to rack up kills, although that’s important, too. Playing well and looting the bodies of your enemies results in gathering “parts,” which then can be converted to “supplies.” Leveling up in The Last of Us isn’t done through experience points or by stats, but through the growth of your “clan” as you successfully bring supplies back after each battle.

You never get to see this clan represented as anything but dots, but all the parts you don’t use in-game to purchase ammo, upgrades or armor increase your clan population, and if you can keep them well-fed by bringing back enough stuff, you’ll continue to unlock new weapons, customizations, and perks that can be added to your loadout. Altogether, the metagame is actually pretty good at putting hard choices to the player, because while you might find yourself able to buy body armor in the middle of a fight, or upgrade your guns to make them more effective, you’re potentially sacrificing supplies for your clan. And clan members can starve or get sick or killed, too, and can complete missions for additional benefits as you gain more and more members. Their success is determined by your success in battles with other goals, and all of it leads to more unlockables and better gear.

The many elements come together and result in a deep and strategic multiplayer experience that feels larger than the sum of its parts. Finding gear in a match, crafting a grenade, sneaking around your teammates who are engaged in battle and getting the drop on enemies is a whole lot of fun. If there’s a criticism, it’s that there doesn’t feel to be an abundance of variety (much like with the campaign). Some wonky spawns that drop you amid all your enemies get a bit irritating, too, but they seem rare enough to be chalked up to bad luck rather than bad design.

Still, as good as the multiplayer in the game might be, it seems somewhat unlikely that it’ll be widely embraced if only because it’s not the draw of The Last of Us. It’s a nice surprise, sure, but probably won’t be blowing any minds. It’s competent in a way that seriously alters the initial impression that it was tacked on to a single-player game to sell more copies. That makes it a nice addition, but more consolation prize than winning Lotto ticket.

The Last of Us is most certainly a game you should play, as it does some great things for storytelling and carries the sort of polished intensity Naughty Dog has become known for producing. But despite its major victories and steps forward in storytelling, many of those same annoying video game conventions — the demand for action and high body counts, the lack of truly engaging and innovative play mechanics — continue to pull games like The Last of Us down toward the lowest common denominator.

Pros:

  • Heavy emphasis on characters and story makes for a great narrative in game form
  • Ellie steals the show — she’s a great partner and players really will find themselves caring what happens to her
  • Phenomenal voice cast, with special emphasis on the portrayals of actors Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker
  • Stealth gameplay leads to some extremely intense scenarios
  • Good balance to combat leaves players thinking about how to approach scenarios in order to maximize scarce resources and survive
  • Various infected and gun-toting human enemies mean there’s a fair amount of variety
  • Plenty of great, tense moments throughout; story is often emotional and impacting
  • For the end of this console generation, still a gorgeous game
  • Multiplayer is surprisingly fun and deep, making great use of stealth, combat and crafting mechanics
  • New Game Plus mode adds some replay value, and harder difficulties can really amp up the challenge

Cons:

  • For all the emphasis on story, in many ways it’s fairly predictable and familiar for post-apocalypse genre fans
  • Scavenging for crap to craft into weapons takes up a ton of game time and grows tedious and frustrating
  • Huge amount of combat scenarios with human enemies that are not meaningfully very different from one another
  • Ellie is a great partner, but the smoke and mirrors of enemies ignoring her is pretty obvious
  • Environmental “puzzles” are highly simplistic
  • 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, and that’s not counting infected

Final Score: 80/100


Game Front employs a 100-point scale when reviewing games to be as accurate about the experience as possible. Read the full rundown of what our review scores mean.


Read more of Phil Hornshaw’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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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.