So given I'm off work for the Christmas holiday at present I thought it was high time to indulge in a large single-player game that I don't always get chance to during the rest of the year. Only this time I thought I'd do write-ups of my playthrough as a first-timer, having never played the game before. I've gone for The Last of Us (TLOU herein) not least because the setting intrigues me, I like the focus on story and it's a heavy-hitting PlayStation 3 exclusive. I have largely ignored the Uncharted series although have played a demo of entry number 1. It felt a bit floaty and off in terms of combat so I didn't really bother going back to it.
Here we go! Apologies for any jarring tense-switches, poorly written asides or overly long clauses with or without commas and/or brackets. I also want to say sorry in advance for any slandering, poor explanations or lame jokes. And overuse of CAPITALS. Oh and also any time I misspell things, use bad grammar or punctuate poorly. I tend to write "hot" and edit after and since this is meant to be more of a live piece, it'll inevitably have some wonks that I hope you'll overlook, dear reader(s). I will also greatly overuse dashes or hyphens and write clauses that get shoddy after going on too long.
This first write-up is the result of the morning after the night before where I sat down at around 1930 and didn't get up again until around 2340 and even then didn't want to stop playing.
There will be spoilers everywhere in this post. Please do not read if you do not wish The Last of Us to be spoiled. Any of it. This first post will be a long read at 4,725 words.
There may also be bad language given the rating of this game so perhaps consider NSFW(??)
I WILL NOT TAG SPOILERS.
Session start: beginning of game.
Session end: arrived in Lincoln, Massachusetts.
Time elapsed: 3 hours 25 minutes.
Times died: at least 8 or 9. (I didn't count.)
I don't yet have a PlayStation 4 and so am mostly ignorant of what current generation graphics should look like. So when I say TLOU looks incredible to my eyes I hope the point isn't laughed out of the comments section. I like the way the title screen is quite elegant and forgoes a title. I like the menu bleeps and chimes - very Silent Hill (as my wife actually pointed out to me).
The game gets underway and the first thing I notice are the excellent facial animations and tight dialogue. This becomes clearer even later on but Joel's gruff, subtle irritation with seemingly everything and his sometimes clipped responses are very good - sometimes to the point where you can't make out what he's said without turning on subtitles. (I do this just as we're getting in the car with Tommy who reminds me ever-so-slightly of Sawyer from LOST). The cutscenes and relationship established between Joel and his daughter Sarah are very very good. Joel seems grumpy and reluctant to praise yet Sarah is still warm and playful with her responses. The joke about selling drugs and Joel's biting quip about helping with the mortgage made me laugh out loud. A few more jokes and it's off to bed. Feels very much like a film.
Then we're into the beginning of the game - a drowsy room exploration playing as Sarah hunting for her dad after an urgent phone call from Uncle Tommy in the middle of the night. It's fine. The level of detail in the rooms you can explore is absolutely astonishing and it feels typical survival horror - explore an abandoned space, search for clues...face the horror. I really like the fact that there's actual handwriting in this game - a great touch. Makes everything personal as handwriting always is. The game funnels you through to what it wants you to see, which is fine at this early stage. I like the fact the news reporting on the TV in Joel's room is not overly-expository and only hints at a problem. Feels like everything will be experience at "ground level" where you're not given bird's eye view of panic and pain but instead live through it and see it and feel it first hand. Makes the characters and plot feel really worthwhile and not forced on you.
The sense of dread that builds up with finding Joel's phone downstairs and the handwritten note about ordering take away/take out food is good. And...here's Joel! Panicking and desperate and on the run. As expected he has to shoot a neighbour so we get the first glimpse of the zombies/infected. I wasn't even sure what would be waiting at the front door until I realised Uncle Tommy had arrived in his car. More tender dialogue is all good although the calm request to turn on the radio seems a bit strange - ahh - only to find out that no communications are working. Really like the way Tommy and Joel overlap each other when talking in the car about taking 71 - very natural and realistic. More exposition which, again, is fine. Everything is gripping at this stage: visuals, narrative and character design are all really great.
Suddenly reminded of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare during the driving sequence where the car allows you to sit and watch all the action. Nice touch that the traffic makes it impossible to leave. And CRASH! The voice acting really stands out during the escape sequence on foot. So good the way the voice of Sarah is muffled as she leans into your shoulder. This really is one of those games where every little detail impresses and the only other developers to do that are Nintendo and Rockstar. Tense music, minor jumpscares...all good. Running, running, we're going to escape. And here's a soldier to help.
By God. 31 years old and this is the first time I burst out crying at a video game. Absolutely riveting. The editing and sound design are phenomenal. Holy shit. I cannot believe what just happened.
I mean, I knew Sarah's not on the front cover and so forth so in some senses she had to go but I didn't think it'd be like that. I just assumed she'd be swallowed up by zombies and that'd be that.
Summer 20 years later
Waking up - was he dreaming of Sarah? Dialogue is all good; I like the fact Tess isn't an obvious love interest - hints of convenience of cohabitation coming through. It's decent that they've decided to make the first major opponent another human rather than straight off the infected. I can't stop saying it but this really is quite the blend of film and game. The quiet, creeping nature of the single guitar notes and haunting strings really give this game a brooding feel. This street sequence reminds me of Half-Life 2 and arrival at City 17 - you can either listen or not.
BOOM! So we're taking the high road. Real-time first aid. That's going to be tricky later. Tess seems quite powerful in terms of contacts and world knowledge. But I also like the fact she's not blabbing on about who the Fireflies are and why they matter to this universe. Moving a bookshelf... Joel watch your head on that wine bottle! Haha. OK so generators, tunnels, sneaking...all good for clandestine operation. The game is introducing co-op movesets early on and I'm assuming Joel is some fifteen stone or greater by the way Tess helps him up over the barrier. Step outside of the urban area and I'm reminded again how beautiful this game is. The details are absolutely mindblowing with overgrown foliage prettying the place up. Introduction of gas masks and spores - should this have been a player-driven mechanic rather than Joel automatically doing it? Perhaps that was one risk too many or one system too many for players to manage. The spores did seem to fade in from nowhere so perhaps that's why they kept it auto-managed.
Now I'm playing Far Cry 3 because I can mark targets! Hah. Oh, not marking targets but still, a localised "hearing" system is as good as any to promote stealth and it looks like you can be easily overwhelmed. Ah yes. Dead already. Damn it. Second time through - mash that Square button! Made it. The outdoor areas really are lovely. A little more of Tess' networking with the kid and here we are in a marketplace. Who would want to have to care for a dog in this desolate wasteland? Good to see Tess' influence and power with Malik and other merchants. And the fight makes me smile: the cheers and encouragements are so vicious!
Another encounter. I really love the fact everyone is genuinely dog-eat-dog and pissed off with everyone. Everything seems to be solved by violence or bribery. The cover system is very natural. The fact you don't have to press a button to magnetically stick to surfaces like Mass Effect and/or Gears of War is appreciated. Joel just seems to lightly place his palm to show when/where he's in cover and you can waltz around to where you like. A few humans down and many more to go, I'm sure. That was satisfying. Gunplay feels good and bodies go down. Now we're at the base and I'm doing My First Stealth moves. The strangulation is a good move and Tess is very quick to back me up. That's good design. Got a warehouse key. Hooray for Resident Evil style 3D objects!
Into the other warehouse rooms and there are a few more to take care of. I throw a bottle at the head of a guard and rush him for a takedown. Thankfully nobody else sees it. I try another stealth move and FAIL. So it's back to gunplay. A few guys come running and I blast my way through the yard and into the other adjacent building. Still feels satisfying even when it went wrong. I manage to get back to a "non-alert" phase and strangle two other stragglers. The stealth really is good - the camera is so close to Joel's head so you are limited with vision - an intentional design choice I'm sure - and means it's never too easy to stealth kill. It's a little silly I can strangle a guard after throwing a bottle as a distraction when his friend is literally three metres away and ignores the chocking death rattle of his comrade, but whatever. At least it makes it easier for me!
Check the tatty woollen jacket on Robert! Seriously though, nice detailing with gouge holes and so forth. The container area now feels like a Battlefield 3 or Black Ops II multiplayer map...but whatever. Whose boat is that?! What does Robert do? I finally get through to his antechambers or whatever and...he runs. What an asshole. I like the fact he throws his gun at us first. A futile and frustrated move. Nice seamless transitions between gameplay and cutscenes - sharp and makes the game flow really well. Facial expressions are good - Robert now looks more detailed now he's flat on the floor versus Tess. Are the Fireflies a threat? Hah. I love the way Robert is a total turncoat, wheeler-dealer, two-faced asshole. Nice one Tess. A bullet to the head makes the point.
Hm. Again good to see we don't get a knowledge dump, just a short "queen Firefly" comment from Joel. Marlene makes a good first impression although Joel and Tess are so guarded. Having not lived through any kind of post apocalyptic situation though I can't really complain about their stand-offish-ness. Just goes with the territory I suppose. And so the ante is upped - let's get the hell away from the soldiers. Good to see there's world-building going on with government versus Fireflies and so on but that Joel and Tess are totally seperate from it. Just noticed Marlene is wounded becuase of the whole holding in the contents of my stomach gesture. Oh, nice that Tess asks about it. Dialogue is so well done! Ahh, the old simultaneous stealth kill. Reminds me of all those good times in "All Ghillied Up" from Call of Duty 4. I'm not really sure who the soldiers are moaning about but happy enough to take them down. The environments are very Half-Life 2 out here - like "Route Kanal" or uhh, "Highway 17". Open spaces, lovely skies, concrete everywhere. I manage to get seen again and have to shoot one of the last two soldiers and beat the other one to death. The fight animations are brutal and the zoom in just as your knee hits someone's jaw is a real crunch moment.
I assume we're going back to base for the Fireflies. But it doesn't sound like anyone's going to be there. CURRRRRRRFEW! Ahh if only that voice was the same as Zork Grand Inquisitor. Ne'er mind.
And here's Ellie. What a hothead! It's good they're unafraid to make her swear. Negotiation. Decisions. I think Marlene is going to bleed out pretty soon.
Off we go. Back out into the city streets. I can feel the tension, not least because of the constant tannoy announcements that threaten death if I'm found harbouring fugitives - which I assume both Marlene and Ellie must be...? The probing between Joel and Ellie is good. He's so short and gruff with his answers. She's so matter-of-fact - the contrast is good. Let's hide out and take a nap. Nice. "Your watch is broken." Good link. Here's that haunting guitar strings arrangement again. Ellie's starting to show innocence but not too much. Tess is back! Straight to the point. Let's do this shit!
On the road
Pretty cool that there haven't been any obvious level transitions or title cards to announce new areas or give you a location name for where you are. Makes it seem less like a game and more like an actual narrative you're playing through. I love Ellie's awe at being out. And the rain drumming on the inside of the lorry trailer. Oh fuck. Soldier ambush. Let's hope it doesn't go as badly as the last one! NO ELLIE! Oh, wait. Good job. Ha ha she is excellent. Knife a guy in the thigh and say sorry for it, then express shock when Joel and Tess take over. The crux of the plan revealed. Ellie is infected but not infected. Perhaps she's resistant in some way or whatever. A vaccine? Onto searchlight hopping through rainy trenches to avoid the soldiers. Is it me or is Joel the only one talking at a reasonable level? Tess and Ellie seem to be talking so loudly I'm surprised we aren't getting found.
We are bound to get spotted. A wide open street, a ton of soldiers. YES WE ARE! I have died once after being surrounded by one guy with a machine gun. Not sure I'm taking the best route down the back of the buildings. The bloke with the searchlight seems fairly ineffective though, so that's good news. Back out into broken roads and pipes again and we're safe. I hope. Gah! More soldiers. But at least they're retreating this time once we get through the sewers. Another cutscene. So Ellie is the key to the cure. Good to see that Joel is signalling to us that the infected are going to present more of a danger by saying "Do I need to remind you what is out there?"
Into the city
These skyscrapers are awesome. I don't know how these levels are loaded nor how much is rendered as explorable space but holy shit it all looks so good. I cannot imagine the improvements on the remastered PlayStation 4 version. May have to spoil myself by YouTubing it at some point. The wonky corridors are good - makes you feel unsafe. Why HELLO infected corpses. I hope these aren't going to come back to life or whatever. Remember Crimson Heads from Resident Evil a.k.a. RE:make? Some exposition of clickers - fair enough. Looks ugly. I'm sure it'll be ugly to fight.
Obligatory loud door that creaks and thumps its way open. CRAP! Clicker ahoy! Glad Joel tries to play it cool when he says he's fine. He's not fine. Given a first aid kit by Tess and heal a bit. This whole kneeling down thing to use items worries me. Tess goes a-lookin' up high for a route and I'm worried she'll be...oh no. She won't get rushed on her own whilst we're both below the ledge. I'm sure Tess prefers lifting Ellie versus Joel. HI THERE TUMOUR FACE! I already dislike the noises these clickers make. It's like a dolphin crossed with a shrieking girl and a dying frog. Thankfully I'm not directly fighting them yet.
Out onto the edge of the skyscraper and I really like the way Ellie talks to herself to reassure herself things are fine. Into a new room, thank you revolver but hello close-by clickers! I drop down alone to combat the beasts. Dealing with the first two infected is fine but God Damn It I keep getting rushed by the clicker. I die twice then decide to go another route and start throwing bottles aplenty. Eventually I find a large number of stealth takedowns with regular infecteds is best followed by pistol and melee work on the clicker. Thank God I manage to take its head off with a melee strike. They're just as awful as the chainsaw weilding enemy from Resi 4. My word. Some more building exploration and I'm now terrified of the next possible encounter. It really seems like you can die at a moment's notice although respawns seem to be quite handy - like you're reset to the start of that fight or whatever, with all relevant supplies still in tow from before your death.
MOLOTOV time! I have heard this is an extremely powerful weapon but I imagine rare. Headed into a subway station or train station and clickers abound. Frigging great. I appreciate the stealth tip though. Go slow. Real slow. I turn my torch off even though I have no idea if it works. I successfully manage to shiv the first clocker but then have to shoot a couple of infected then die by the bite of a surprise clicker. Surveying the scene it seems to make sense to go round the square of the station and so that's what I decide. Manage a few good takedowns and also molotov three other infecteds plus a clicker, so that was a definite bonus. This game is very good at making you think the coast is clear then surprising you with one more enemy. We make the climb out and I'm glad to have a moment of relief. The number of times various characters are saying "Let's move" is starting to stand out a bit. Entering another warehouse with a rusted roller door...oh bloody hell. Please don't let me be left outside. No. Thank goodness we all got under without another fight. "You've got something on your shoe." Yuck. Good job Ellie.
I try the upgrade bench and put a few upgrades into the pistol but rage against the fact I don't have enough parts to sort out the revolver. I must have missed a few rooms here and there. The layout of the offices manages to confuse me and I keep entering the same rooms before finally realising I should be heading up the ruined floor. At first glance I thought it was unusable.
We get split up by a ton of splintered floorboards and other debris. Hooray! And they're all gosh-darned clickers again. My new favourite enemy. Bam. I'm dead already. I have to throw bottles and bricks three times because I walk the wrong way into the main exhibition room thinking I need to get through that instead of going the other way. I have a horrifying feeling there's a clicker on my heels and so sprint through the double doors rather than waiting to fight any others. At the top of the stairs I'm glad to see it's just a regular infected trying to break into the room with Tess. I like the way Tess' bat breaks with the force of her thwack! Melee combat is the name of the game here in the larger room Ellie is being attacked in. Joel seems to teleport towards enemies if you're a few feet away and mash the square button - convenient as all hell for me right now. Pistol aiming with an old SIXAXIS upclose is not good. We take down the remaining infected and I'm glad to be out of that place. Felt very claustrophobic and dangerous.
Good to see the relationship building with Ellie talking about the amazing view. Oh and THANKS TESS for noticing Joel is starting to care. Jeez. What an iron lady. A bit of a shame we "fast-forwarded" through some of the city exploration but I guess it's to do with overall pacing and ensuring the exploration/combat doesn't devolve into samey been there, done that encounters. I was looking forward to seeing a few more city streets given they'd just panned out to show it but hey.
Through the alleyway and back onto the road again. This time we're at the Capitol Building. Ellie cant' swim!? OK, I suppose that makes sense. No chance for a fourteen year old to learn twenty years into a country-wide (worldwide) pandemic disaster. Wonderful green scummy water. Here we are. The drop off. It was never going to be this easy, was it? Holy crap. Tess is soon to die and so the quest is now Joel's alone. The dramatics are superbly enjoyable. Emotional yet gritty. Joel's disbelief is understated. On the other side of the door, Ellie's isn't! Clever that Naughty Dog force you to circle back around the same room from above to see the consequence after hearing the gunfire. Things are getting more desperate - Ellie and Joel both sound like they're starting to panic at the prescence of the soldiers. Nothing about the acting performances in this game is half-baked. Remarkable.
I use the newly-acquired hunting rifle to take pot shots from afar. It works and attracts the other soldier who I manage to take down by running around the tables a few times.
FUCK THIS LOBBY! Christ no matter what I do I die. Head into the darkened room on the right - dead. Go down the centre, guns blazing, dead. Hang back and wait for them to try and go one-by-one? Dead, again. Even going left and using the hearing trick doesn't work as I just keep getting overwhelmed and when I think I'm safe I'm not. Finally I decide to kill two and sprint for the exit. It seems like it'll work as I get out to the steps the first time, to the road the second time to hear Ellie say there's a set of stairs nearby then the third time I die right at the top of the subway stairs. Eventually I realise I have to kill as many of the first wave as possible by hanging back in the broken staircase with the yellow wallpaper, shoot a couple in the corridor areas and stun one in the room closest to the exit THEN sprint down to the subway. Fucking hell that took at least six deaths.
How on earth is there a soldier down here already?? Ellie really can manage to breathe these noxious spores without a gas mask. What a handy advantage! I kill one soldier and the other leaves of his own accord. We bolt through trains and Ellie has to hang back given that I don't have any arm bands to give out. The underwater swimming controls are a bit tricky and remind me of the original Tomb Raider from the 1990s. Tricky and sticky. Easy to get stuck underwater. I surface at the next open area and Ellie seems to have walked her way down - how in the hell? I wander down into an underground area and dive for supplies then resurface, finding a ladder on the opposite side of the train tracks. But Joel won't grab it - or at least the prompt to grab it won't pop up. I am now swimming aimlessly.
It takes another four or five minutes. For shame I have to Google "How to get the ladder in the subway Last of Us" to figure out it's the pallet I need. Ellie jumps on rather dangerously and I'm surprised she doesn't fall in the water but helps grab the ladder and we move on. In fairness, the ladder did seem rather too heavy to just grab from below, but whatever.
Back into the daylight again. Still beautifully done. Birds chirping makes it seem more pleasant than it actually probably is. Glad to see Joel has a plan; Ellie now seems warily trusting. The countryside is amazing. Truly beautiful. Interesting to hear that Joel thinks Marlene is going to die and perhaps has already versus Tess' earlier optimism. Contrast is good.
Arriving in Lincoln I decide to call it a night after a few minutes. I like the fact Ellie starts to doubt Joel and I was a little surprised to hear him admit he's never been to see Bill personally in Lincoln before. But I suppose travelling this far for...supplies? would be entirely too dangerous alone. I climb over the building using the plank and explore the small office picking up some resources. But then at the bottom of the stairs there's an external door and in a shed lay a clicker. Thankfully Ellie alerted me with a handy swear word. I want to dice with the clickers but don't know how many times I might die trying so that's that for now. Bloody good first impression considering I played for a good 3 and a half hour solid stretch and would have gladly played more.
On reflection after my first (rather too lengthy) playthrough you can tell there are a huge number of influences blending into this game: from films like I Am Legend and novels like Cormac McCarthy's The Road (which also had an excellent film adaptation) and from games I get strong hints of Resident Evil 4, Half-Life 2 and Silent Hill 2 (y'know, those earlier entries that were actually good). A little sprinkling of Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead. I am quietly amazed at how detailed all of the locations are and the sheer artistry on show. Even single rooms that you pass through once and will never return to are given such life and detail that I am now wondering just how long this took to make and how big a team there was producing it. I mean, those places I will likely never go back to and yet they were so incredibly detail. My mind is blown.
The combat and movement sometimes feel a little clunky: at first I didn't like the way Joel seems to teleport towards enemies when you hit the melee button but I understand why it's there: death can come so quickly that it's important you can get a chance to get a few hits in and take down a threat and make a move of some kind. I like the weighty feel of melee and I like the revolver which really feels powerful. Molotov cocktails seem to be the insta-kill item but I don't seem to get supplies often unless soldiers or clickers are all over the place. The game is thoroughly excellent though. The graphics, the story...really have the wow factor just as good as Rockstar Games. I'm starting to wonder if skipping Uncharted was a bad move...
See you on the next one and thanks for reading! I am hoping the next ones can be shorter in length and more frequent.