I'm slow, so I'm only halfway through The Last of Us, but I'm thinking about quitting and moving on. I'm really frustrated with the game, and I'd like to express some of my troubles with you all, and see what you think.
So far, The Last of Us is a wonderfully crafted, monotonous and disaffecting experience. Very early on the game abandons its brutal, survival-focused style of gameplay, and devolves into being pandering and combat heavy. The game doesn't ever require me to think. Puzzles are pedantic and require absolutely no problem solving skills, but only the alertness to notice that the game is always pointing me in the direction of the answer. The remainder of the game requires me to climb for awhile, sneak for a bit, then kill a clutch of enemies in a miniature labyrinth of detritus from which I cannot escape until the enemies are dead. It is only after the allotted number of enemies, usually 3-8, are dead that the game allow me to "progress" - into another span of climb, sneak, kill. Only the aesthetics of the environment change. Sometimes the enemies are humans, other times they are zombies.
And though the art design is gorgeous: meticulous, gritty, and consistent, believably dilapidated and filled with the debris of a crumbled modern world; and though, it is easily the best-looking and smoothest-running game on the PS3, the environments through which I have been traveling can hardly be considered interactive. Despite the alacrity of Joel, the game's protagonist, I can only climb or overcome obstacles that lead me to the end of a level, or to a small cul-de-sac where sometimes lie extra supplies, often incongruously placed. It is like being haunted by a parent who is constantly warning me not to not wander off or touch anything that we didn't come for.
For each section of the game, there is only one way in and one way out, much like a labyrinth. Unlike a labyrinth, there is no Minotaur; there is no reward or compelling conflict to overcome. This extremely limited, linear game-style is just like the Uncharted series, also made by Naughty Dog. In Uncharted, these flaws were easily overlooked because of the game's kinetic gameplay and restless narrative. In The Last of Us, the slower pace, initially scarce resources, and insistence on a more careful style of gameplay expose these seemingly minor inconveniences as fully developed flaws.
Also exposed is the lack of consequence regarding my actions. Each 'climb, sneak, and kill' section of the game is merely a transition to the next cut scene. Very few of my in-game actions effect the outcome of the story; neither are they agents of change for the game's narrative. At no point have I been required to retain information that I have learned in a cut scene, or during gameplay, and apply it to the way that I play the game outside of how to kill a zombie. At no point have I been required to explore, learn, think, and act, all in a concatenous sequence.
All told, the action of The Last of Us consists of little other than collecting conveniently laid supplies, then climbing, killing, and sneaking until forced to kill, exactly as dictated by the game. I am not an expert sneaker, but I do try to make it through most encounters without killing. I find I am unable to exit most areas until all the enemies are dead, or, as happened very recently, combat was forced upon me without the option to evade. It is frustrating to be forced to fight in a game that prides itself in keeping resources—such as bullets and weapons—scarce. It dangles stealth before me like a carrot on a stick. I am manipulated into constant failure, instead of failing on account of my own incompetence.
Since I am discouraged from thinking through encounters, the game must provide me supplies appropriate for each encounter. I can always tell when I am about to enter a combat, because I will suddenly come upon a cache of supplies that will happen to craft precisely the items needed for the next set of enemies. This further discourages me from interacting with the game, as I do not need to manage my inventory other than to craft the item that the supplies have boldly suggested I build. With this kind of inventory management, it would be less tedious to just give me the health pack or Molotov cocktail, instead of conjuring the illusion of item management.
Lastly, the story has not progressed since the beginning of the game. Ellie joined me, I've gained and lost other companions, but for the last several hours of gameplay, it has been nothing but climb, sneak, kill on the way to a destination, while constantly being interrupted by the same obstacles over and over again. Nothing has happened to the characters to change their motivations, no useful information has come to light to change their circumstances or the circumstances of their goals. Nothing has happened.
It is to Naughty Dog's credit that I am still very interested in discovering what happens to these characters, but I've become so disaffected by the remainder of the game that I don't know if I can resist the urge to read the synopsis on Wikipedia.
Scott William Hannan holds a B.A. in Film/TV Production from Columbia College College Chicago, and two master's degrees from St. John's College in Santa Fe, NM, one in Liberal Arts and the other in Eastern Classics. He aspires to make a living writing and reading in whatever capacity suits him best. And only you can help.