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The Last of Us reviewed: What devs can learn from critics
 The Last of Us  reviewed: What devs can learn from critics
June 6, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

June 6, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
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More: Console/PC, Design



Game reviews are typically meant to tell players whether or not they should go out and buy a game. But what can game developers learn from critics' reviews?

Here, we take a look at the critical reception to Naughty Dog's tense, third-person stealth-action game The Last of Us, which currently earns a score of 96 at Metacritic.com.

Critics love strong characters, relationships

Philip Kollar of Polygon is among many reviewers who praised the game's character-driven narrative above all: "The best parts of The Last of Us are devoted to building these two characters, and their relationship with one another," he says. (Score: 7.5/10.)

VentureBeat's Giancarlo Valdes takes it further: "Though strong roles on their own, Joel's and Ellie's story wouldn't be as effective without the large supporting cast... The stories behind these characters give you a small snapshot of what that fragmented society looks like." (Score: 90/100.)

Environment design also plays a role, becoming a character itself. Ars Technica's Kyle Orland observes: "Each environment is littered with incidental touches, both big and small, that help flesh out the story of the post-outbreak world much more effectively than lengthy exposition."

Meanwhile, Edge notes: "While this is not an open-world game in the textbook sense, it feels remarkably dense for employing such spacious environments. A typical slice of unbroken space might incorporate a street, several alleys and a variety of multistorey shops or dwellings. This approach to level design gracefully serves the game's narrative context." (Score: 10/10.)

Eurogamer's Oli Welsh praises the game's themes: "It's the classic journey into the west, the pioneer's tale - but turned on its head," he writes. "[B]ecause this anti-Western isn't about the birth of a nation. It's about the death of one." (Score: 10/10.)

Balancing convention and innovation - it's still really difficult

In the same review, Welsh adds:

"At a time when blockbuster action games are sinking into a mire of desperate overproduction, shallow gameplay and broken narrative logic, The Last of Us is a deeply impressive demonstration of how it can and should be done. It starts out safe but ends brave."

Wired's Chris Kohler is more cynical, saying the game could have done without its gunplay -- a common criticism leveled at March's BioShock Infinite as well. "While it puts on the appearance of breaking the mold with what would appear to be unorthodox characters and gameplay, it actually takes great pains to never introduce anything into the design that might turn away the millions of gamers who won't play anything that doesn't have at least ten different types of gun," says Kohler.

NowGamer's Adam Barnes expresses disappointment in the much-hyped AI: "Enemies seem to have an endless supply of ammunition – which you can't even collect after a battle – and won't think twice about opening fire. There's no sense that your enemies need to conserve ammo as much as yourself." (Score: 8.5/10.)

Joshua Vanderwall of The Escapist also criticizes some of the larger action sections. "In some areas... the enemies seem to come in endless waves, which can get tiresome despite the thrill of combat. These areas can feel a little too high intensity for what is otherwise an at-your-own-pace experience." (Score: 4.5/5.)

Paul Sartori of The Guardian is not so thrilled with The Last of Us' inclusion of certain genre mainstays either: "Uncharted was able to distract attention from its illusion of an open world by racing along at a hundred miles an hour, and that doesn't always happen here. There are plenty of times when you'll wonder why you had to open this door and not the other identical one you just passed, or when an area opens out into a large room full of conveniently cover height crates."

Tom Hoggins of the Telegraph also had some grievances with the environment design: "The gentle environmental puzzling could have stretched beyond shuffling ladders around and opening doors." However, he says, "one of the game's greatest strengths is making its quiet moments as impactful and important as its firecracker ones." (Score: 5/5.)

"The problem is Naughty Dog's reliance on cutscenes," NowGamer's Adam Barnes observes. "As brilliant as they are – and honestly, they're some of the best, most emotive cutscenes you’ll see for a long time – they remove some of the impact this harsh world could've had."

However, this didn't prevent other reviewers from finding the world just harsh enough:

"On its harder two difficulty settings... supplies and weapon-crafting materials become so very scarce," notes Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton. "When forced to rely on every possible trick and advantage I could muster, I came to appreciate just how much work had gone into making The Last of Us balanced and consistently challenging."

Edge also praises Naughty Dog for not overburdening its players with too much: "If given too much screen time, the infected assailants could easily distract from this sensitively cultivated human drama, but the game's biggest threat is used sparingly."

The Last of Us is scheduled for worldwide release on PlayStation 3 on June 14th.


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