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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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Comments


George Menhal III
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I feel like Bioshock Infinite got the credit and admiration that should have been given to the original Bioshock, which was much fresher and innovative in its narrative and execution. It was such a successful endeavor, in fact, that Bioshock Infinite exists as a footnote to its predecessor. Would I personally recommend that someone play Infinite over the original Bioshock? No. The original has the more lasting impact, by far.

As much as I wanted to love Bioshock Infinite, I can only like it. It is a great game, but not one of the greatest and by no means worthy of a perfect score.

I have a lot of hope for The Last of Us and will be playing it on launch day, to cap off the week of E3 with what I hope will be one of the best games of this current generation. Naughty Dog has been making continuous advances with each game, and the tone of The Last of Us is more up my alley than that of the Uncharted series. We will see how honest the reviews are in about a week.

But I agree with Maciej on the issue of Bioshock Infinite. It was praised a little bit too unfairly in my opinion.

bobby corwen
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I pre-ordered this game because the developer hasn't let me down in many if its past games. I seldom read reviews because it is a tainted system.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Camilo R
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Naughty Dog continues to put out quality releases one after the other. They're wizards. Hats off to those guys, kudos.

Jed Hubic
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I'm likely to buy this still, however, I'm sure I'll regret it. Usually the gameplay takes second fiddle to set pieces and scripting (like Uncharted). That being said, maybe I'll be wrong.

Game critics are essentially like movie critics now to me.

Kujel s
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/\ this is why I've never been interested in their games!

John Flush
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@Michael - We have to have games that will draw an Roger Ebert before we can have one... Every time a game like that shows up though it gets blasted for not having enough action or gameplay or something like that. And then we are reminded that if you want something good go read a book or watch a movie or some crap like that.

Vijay Srinivasan
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Really now looking forward to this game!

Richard Black
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The first game reviews I ever read were as a kid with a subscription to Nintendo Power which not only seemed to have honest reviews but had Seanbaby which was frigging hilarious. I didn't think it odd at all that a Nintendo magazine reviewing only Nintendo games actually bashed and pointed out bad games. Now I do, because it seems ridiculously hard to find reviews pointing out flaws in games that have any kind of recognizable studio backing. Whether their glossed over or intentionally skipped over in order to avoid offending potential adverizers I've seen ridiculously good reviews given to games that have been flawed and bugged across 3 platforms and are boring even when they don't bug out and crash before leaving intro areas. It's like there's a grace period for most major publications to avoid mentioning major flaws in studio productions for like three months after release to avoid the suggestion someone might not buy the game based on the review. Which entirely too often renders it pointless to even read reviews.


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