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.
- 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
- 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
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