I didn’t like The Last of Us. In fact, I hated it. Having completed Mass Effect, Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Heavy Rain, I felt I was well prepared to take on the emotional rollercoaster that was Naughty Dog’s latest feature, The Last of Us. My tear ducts had been exhausted by a host of choice-based, stress-inducing titles that mainly focused around the end-times, if not some other heart-wrenching tragedy. Soon after receiving my PS4, I decided I would finally jump on TLOU hype train to see what all the fuss was about.
Whilst you need thicker skin than most to enjoy decision-driven, character-annihilating games, I was told that TLOU would destroy me emotionally and would absolutely blow TWD out of the water (For those of you who haven’t played Telltale’s TWD, you absolutely MUST. If you like crying and betrayal, that is). So, with tissues and wine nearby, I popped in the disk and braced myself for the gaming experience of a lifetime.
The introduction to the game certainly didn’t disappoint. The first playable character is Joel’s daughter, Sarah, and in true Sony/ Naughty Dog form, a light-hearted beginning is soon cut short by a disaster. After killing their “sick” neighbour, Joel and Sarah flee their home, driving through the city before crashing and injuring Sarah in the process. Even though this was only about five to ten minutes into the game, I was already seriously impressed. My stomach was in knots as Joel ran with Sarah in his arms, reassuring her as the world went to hell around them. The game takes a sad yet not unexpected twist when they run into a soldier who is under strict instruction to shoot the Infected. Despite Joel’s best efforts, he cannot convince the soldier that he and Sarah are not infected, resulting in the soldier shooting at them, fatally wounding Sarah. The introduction ends with Sarah dying, giving you a good insight into the hardened and unforgiving character Joel becomes. It was the perfect introduction and a fantastic foundation to build on, but The Last of Us and I were never meant to be.
By the time Ellie and Joel set off on their own, the initial excitement and adrenaline had worn off and I quickly became bored of the strict father vs rebellious child dynamic between the two. There was no part of the game I found as intense or engaging as the introduction. I played this game on a 43-inch screen and I found the interaction icons – albeit deliberately small – very difficult to find. The inventory and weapon changing facilities were clunky and often added unnecessary difficulty to switching between weapons in combat.
The enemies were also predictable and repetitive. I’ll admit there’s a degree of repetition in most games; whether it’s fetch quests, snow trolls living in the obviously snowy mountains or familiar and endless enemies found within a particular series (Think The Elder Scrolls and wolves). But there was something about the nature of the combat strategies for both the NPC’s and as a player that just niggled at me constantly. Most of the combat required a fair bit of duck-and-cover, throwing bottles or bricks as a distraction and sneaking up for a good bit of throat stabbing. Again, that’s nothing new, but there was little to no variation in the style of attack from Infected enemies or even “normal” humans. It was just boring.
I found the Clickers far more irritating than scary. Even when I put the game on easy to compare the difficulties, they took way more bullets/shivs/Molotov cocktails to kill than was necessary and each fight felt the same, usually against a few Clickers and a group of Runners. Even the humans you regularly had to fight were dull and uninventive. I’m not complaining because I found the combat too challenging; it was just so repetitive that I tried to avoid it even though being stealthy isn’t my forte. I had to rage quit on more than one occasion because I didn’t feel like the game was connecting with me, but I was determined to finish it and see it through.
I explored every interaction I could to widen my experience, but felt that the story as a whole was very predictable: Man finds an immune child, man pretends not to care for the child but eventually grows to love her as his own and will sacrifice himself, and everyone else, to save her. Meanwhile, Ellie pretends she is invincible and can take care of herself, is wary of the father-figure Joel is becoming then eventually releases she loves and needs him and that they are a family, as well as realising that she is just a child and needs a little guidance. There was little fear that one of the two may die; TWD had seemingly “main” characters dying left, right and centre, forever making me wary of becoming too fond of a character.
The graphics, on the other hand, were absolutely outstanding. It was one of the first PS4 games I played and it did blow me away. The details in the buildings, mountain landscapes and even the water looked real and believable, and the characters were actually quite believable too. Whilst predictable, I do understand the rationale beneath Joel and Ellie’s feelings. Both characters were cast exceptionally well, particularly Ellie. A lot of her behavioural quirks I could identify with my twelve-year-old self: Head-strong, arrogant, but also silly, vulnerable and playful. Joel underestimates her for the majority of the game, keeping her away from combat situations when she would have been a massive help (Thanks for nothing, Joel!) Her anger and frustration is palpable and I understand why she is a bit of a risk-taker at times. It certainly lightened the mood when she was more playful, whistling and singing songs as you run around and make friends with giraffes, showing how vulnerable and childish she is, especially in water—based levels where she needs Joel to help her across. Which made me think: If you can train her to shoot straight, can you not show her how to swim, or at least doggie paddle? Considering we already had the super fun mini-game (more of a mini-nightmare) of “Let’s find a raft and drag Ellie around!”
I also didn’t find the music as moving or enchanting as I thought I would. I don’t particularly believe in “bad” soundtracks; there have been many people who commented on how the soundtrack for TLOU reduced them to a weeping mess. I put around 30 hours into this game, and I can’t remember how the main theme goes at all. I was so disappointed and disengaged whilst playing that I shut out a lot of its features. I don’t remember most of the characters or location names because I just wanted to finish it. None of the plot “twists” came as a surprise and a lot of the puzzling scenarios came without tutorials or guidance until you’d been struggling for twenty minutes, such as the fight between Ellie and that guy you need to distract with bottles then stab a few times whilst he’s chasing you around a diner..
The thing that disappointed me most was the ending. Of course, Joel had to choose between saving Ellie or not. He eventually realises that he loves Ellie like his own and – in my game at least – took the option of keeping Ellie to himself, which leads to the obvious choice of point-blank lying to Ellie that other people were immune and we would find them, as well as killing an entire medical team. Then off they go, into wilderness having just massacred a medical team and I’m left with my emotions still firmly intact.
Well, that last part isn’t completely true; I felt sorely disappointed and angry. TLOU was the first time I’d fallen victim to the hype-train. There was no element of the game that I could connect with and in the end, I just tried to rush through it so I could at least say I finished it. It didn’t invoke the same emotional response I had felt in similar games: I didn’t worry if the main characters would die or that there would be a totally unforeseen, disastrous plot-twist; I simply felt empty. It was the worst gaming experience I ever endured.
I posted my opinion on TLOU last year on Facebook and more recently on Twitter and it was not well met. I was called heartless, Ice Queen and a fake gamer for not enjoying this “Masterpiece” of a game. At times I felt that perhaps I was being deliberately harsh, so I tried loading back to give the game another try; I didn’t last more than an hour. Recently, though, others in the wider gaming community have shared my views on the game and I slowly began to realise that indeed I am not a heartless weirdo; I simply did not enjoy it and don’t see what all the fuss is about.