• Great articles on other sites
  • RSS Great articles on other sites

  • Gaming, Reviews - Written by on Friday, June 21, 2013 9:26 - 4 Comments

    The Last Of Us: Review


    This review comes from Digitally Downloaded.

    review I just want to get this out from the start: The Last Of Us is an incredible game. Naughty Dog’s finest title, to be sure, and if you’re looking for buyer’s advice, just skip the rest of this review and look at the score at the bottom. Suffice to say, the game is essential.

    But, everyone else has already reviewed the game and the chances are that if you’re reading this you’ve either already got the game, or made up in your mind whether you will be buying it. So instead of covering the pros and cons to a game that doesn’t really have any technical cons, I thought I would instead discuss a broader narrative about the game. Specifically, the fact that many critics seem to mistake The Last Of Us as some kind of pinnacle of artistic achievement.

    Empire magazine, one of the finest film magazines out there, even went as far as to compare it to the single most important and influential films of all time, Citizen Kane. These critics as a collective need to take a good hard look at themselves and their ridiculous hyperboles. The Last Of Us, as utterly brilliant as it is, is popcorn entertainment. It’s a blockbuster closer to a Bond film or The Avengers than Citizen Kane. When you consider the great works out art out there – Shakespeare, The Mona Lisa and yes, Citizen Kane, The Last Of Us simply does not belong to that club.

    Let’s consider for a moment what we generally mean when we talk about “art.” Art is, of course, a subjective thing and what is one man’s art can be another’s consumerist trash, but generally speaking what separates a film like Citizen Kane from one like The Avengers, or what separates a random doodle of a woman to the Mona Lisa is a universal commonality that is tricky to define, but can be best summed up as deeper meaning.

    So what makes Citizen Kane art? The infamous Rosebud, for a start. That single word, left so deliberately ambiguous in that brilliant film, has been the source of debates, PHD papers and academic careers for decades now. Because it’s so ambiguous there’s no one single meaning that can be attributed to it, and as a consequence it becomes a launching pad to look at the other themes of the film, and also the socio-political and economic climate that brought the film into being.

    There’s nothing ambiguous about The Last Of Us. There is no meaning that isn’t spelled out in very well written, but very straightforward text. There’s no emotions that we as players aren’t told to feel, and there’s no mystery about what’s going on in the game. There isn’t even the scathing social commentary that we see in some of the finest zombie movies of Romero’s, despite the game being, in part, a zombie narrative. The Last Of Us simply takes the darker ideas of those same zombie movies, throws in a dash of the commentary on human nature found in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and presents it in a more palatable form than any of the inspiration the game pulls from. This is the very definition of a blockbuster. The more ambiguity you work into a text, the more likely it is that people won’t “get it” and therefore a film, book, or game that is too “out there” will be ostracised. That naturally doesn’t fit with the economic models behind blockbusters, and so instead we as players are treated to something where every meaning and every message the game wants to convey is nicely spelled out to us.

    This also plays out in the game’s design. Every step of the path that players follow is carefully constructed to keep them moving forward while presenting a nice variety of challenges and opportunities for empowerment. Broken down to its very core, The Last Of Us is no different to any other modern shooter where players are directed down a path and into a larger area with some enemies to overcome, and then directed down the next path, with little room for exploration. Where the game pulls away from this model popularised by Call of Duty and company is that it never feels artificial. The stealth mechanics help to give players a solid sense that they have greater freedom than in most other games, and the levels themselves are designed impeccably to feel like they belong.

    Naughty Dog claimed that through development it wanted to make sure players felt like they belonged to a living world, and it achieved that. Run down buildings looked like they were run down in a way that conforms to the various laws of physics. Objects that players can hide behind feel like they belong there, neatly side-stepping the challenge that many shooters face whereby cover feels contrived from an environmental point of view (“there’s a table sitting THERE?!?”). Stuff goes on around players that they can’t interact with and has little to do with their adventure, but is there because it should be there. These little touches count the world over in terms of production values, and I can’t think of a game with a better world than this one.

    But it’s still all designed to work players down a linear path and to experience a linear narrative where there can only be one true meaning. Ultimately it’s an effective narrative and it pulls on the heartstrings like few other blockbusters can, but it’s still a story where players don’t get to make any meaning out of it for themselves.

    Ultimately The Last Of Us takes the old way of making games and refines it to perfection. I couldn’t put the controller down as I played the game, but I was never surprised by anything either. I could expect, with near perfect accuracy, when I was safe, and when to expect a combat challenge, simply because the moment the area opened up, I knew enemies were on the way.

    I was challenged – never frustrated, but challenged – because when this game wants to be tough, it is indeed tough. But I was challenged in terms of my skills as a gamer. When it comes to art I like to be challenged on a moral and intellectual level, and that didn’t happen here.

    And perhaps at the most basic of basic levels, the comparison between The Last Of Us and any artistic text is flawed for a very simple, but very relevant reason; a good work of art challenges the audience, and therefore a portion of the critics and community that witness it will also dislike it greatly. Citizen Kane was a commercial failure on first release. What is and isn’t fun is far easier to assess on an objective level. Just as The Avengers was near-unanimous in its praise (and for good reason, it was fun), so too is the gaming equivalent. The Last Of Us is brilliant fun. Nothing less, but also nothing more.

    And it must be said that I highly doubt anyone at Naughty Dog was even trying to make art. Not with that budget, and not with the concept that drives this game. Naughty Dog was simply striving for – and achieving – perfection with the most popular formula currently doing the rounds in the games industry.

    I do hope that game critics and the game community doesn’t start holding this up as an example of “games can be art.” It’s woefully (knowingly so) inadequate for that task, and if gamers start sticking this title in the broader art discourse, the other arts are going to continue to treat the games industry as that cute little kitten than growls and hisses and thinks its tough, but can be shut up with a saucer of milk.


    Image credit: Naughty Dog

    submit to reddit


    You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

    1. Seraphalx
      Posted 21/06/2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I’m sorry you missed the incredible subtleties in this game, but they are indeed there. There is more than enough to debate and interpret. SPOILERS.




      GO AWAY

      Ahem. What did Joel say when the sound cut out after Ellie struck David in the head dozens of times with the machete? Was David a pedophile, did he try to rape Ellie — if not, what was she going to finish “He tried to-” with? Why did Joel really take on Ellie at first? An obligation to Tess, the possibility of a cure for the Cordyceps, or was it the resemblance to Sarah right from the start? What was the relationship between Bill and Frank — did Bill really believe that he was best off alone? Was Henry killing himself after shooting Sam a reflection on Joel’s obsession with Ellie as a reason to live? Did Ellie know full well that Joel was lying to her at the end? What do we think happened after the credits rolled? What is the real point of the game — that there’s no reason to survive; or is it more an examination of the lies we tell ourselves? Is it about justifying the horrible things we do? Or is it just about the pathetic brokenness of one burly, muscular man who saw the world end?

      Really, I’m picking right now as an arbitrary point to stop listing things in this ‘game’ that are fodder for fantastic discussion, because I don’t know when and if I would stop if I tried to be comprehensive. The Jury is in, this is art. Great art.

    2. Seraphalx
      Posted 21/06/2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Also, the notion that this game is some sort of fun rollercoaster ride is ridiculous. Every time I finished a session of this game, I felt depressed and anxious. When my wife puts down the controller, her hands are shaking — hell, she said she wanted to watch SVU and do some laundry to calm down; to put that in perspective, she used a tedious chore and a show about horrific crimes as a palette cleanser for this game. My mother-in-law just watched the cutscenes and it even affected her. Sure, sometimes it was exhilarating, but just as often it was nerve-wracking and heart-wrenching.

    3. Don
      Posted 23/06/2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink | Reply

      I disagree and feel that this game was indeed art, despite it’s conventional linear design with its normal limitations. My definition of art, which is a subjective one and not “official” is something which makes you think and touches you at the same time. Naughty dog have stretched this genre to the limit with this classic.
      This game was one of the most brutal I have ever played. The violence was up close and a great deal of the time you were killing other people and not mindless zombies. The scene where Joel tortured the two guys was horrific and yet I could understand why it had to be done but at the same time I felt terrible that it had to be done. I liked all of the main characters but they were all killers in their own right and yet you simply had to be one if you wanted to survive in that world so I forgave them that but still it troubled me.

      There is a scene when Joel and Ellie are re-united and despite the fact that they are speaking, the dialogue has been muted and thus you focus on the intensity of the moment and the music playing. I don’t know about you but that was the most touching sequences I have seen in a game – ever. Worthy of any movie that I have watched.

      As for the ending, without giving anything away, I could see why the characters made the decisions that they did but once again I was troubled. They were wrong on one level but right on another and no other game has left me feeling that way and I have been playing games now for over 30 years. Not a bad achievement and this elevates this game to the level of what can be considered art – well for me anyway.

    4. Duke
      Posted 24/06/2013 at 8:26 pm | Permalink | Reply

      It might be art, but not until it is playable on my new $7K gaming rig…

    Leave a Comment


  • Get our 'Best of the Week' newsletter on Fridays

    Just the most important stories, one email a week.

    Email address:

    Follow us on social media

    Use your RSS reader to subscribe to our articles feed or to our comments feed.

  • Most Popular Content

  • Enterprise IT stories

    • Super funds close to dumping $250m IT revamp facepalm2

      If you have even a skin deep awareness of the structure of Australia’s superannuation industry, you’ll be aware that much of the underlying infrastructure used by many of the nation’s major funds is provided by a centralised group, Superpartners. One of the group’s main projects in recent years has been to dramatically update and modernise its IT platform — its version of a core banking platform overhaul. Unfortunately, the $250 million project has not precisely been going well.

    • Qld’s Grant joins analyst firm IBRS peter-grant

      This week it emerged that Peter Grant, the two-time former Queensland Whole of Government CIO (pictured), has joined well-regarded analyst firm Intelligent Business Research Services (IBRS). We’ve long had a high regard for IBRS, and so it’s fantastic to see such an experienced executive join its ranks.

    • Westpac dumps desk phones for Samsung Android mobiles samsung-galaxy-ace-3

      The era of troublesome desk phones tied to physical locations is gradually coming to an end in many workplaces, with mobile phones becoming increasingly popular as organisations’ main method of voice telecommunications. But some groups are more advanced than others when it comes to adoption of the trend. One of those is Westpac.

    • Ministers’ cloud approval lasted just a year reverse

      Remember how twelve months ago, the Federal Government released a new cloud computing security and privacy directive which required departments and agencies to explicitly acquire the approval of the Attorney-General and the relevant portfolio minister before government data containing private information could be stored in offshore facilities? Remember how the policy was strongly criticised by Microsoft, Government CIOs and Delimiter? Well, it looks like the policy is about to be reversed.

    • WA Govt can’t fund school IT upgrades oops key

      In news from The Department of Disturbing Facts, iTNews revealed late last week that Western Australia’s Department of Education has run out of money halfway through the deployment of new fundamental IT infrastructure to the state’s schools.

    • Turnbull outlines Govt ICT vision turnbull-5

      Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has published an extensive article arguing that the Federal Government needed to do a better job of connecting with Australians via digital channels and that public sector IT projects needn’t cost the huge amounts that some have in the past.

    • NZ Govt pushes hard into cloud zealand

      New Zealand’s national Government announced a whole of government contract this morning for what it terms ‘Office Productivity as a Service’ services. This includes email and calendaring services, as well as file-sharing, mobility, instant messaging and collaboration services. The contract complements two existing contracts — Desktop as a Service and Enterprise Content Management as a Service.

    • CommBank reveals Harte’s replacement whiteing

      The Commonwealth Bank of Australia has promoted an internal executive who joined the bank in September after a lengthy career at petroleum giant VP and IT services group Accenture to replace its outgoing chief information officer Michael Harte, who announced in early May that he would leave the bank.

    • Jeff Smith quits Suncorp for IBM jeffsmith4

      Second-tier Australian bank and financial services group Suncorp today announced that its long-serving top technology executive Jeff Smith would leave to take up a senior role with IBM in the United States, in an announcement which marks the end of an era for the nation’s banking IT sector.

    • Small business missing the mobile, social, cloud revolution iphone-stock

      Most companies that live and breathe the online revolution are not tech startups, but smart smaller firms that use online tools to run their core business better: to cut costs, reach customers and suppliers, innovate and get more control. Many others, however, are falling behind, according to a new Grattan Institute discussion paper.

  • Blog, Enterprise IT - Jul 5, 2014 13:53 - 0 Comments

    Super funds close to dumping $250m IT revamp

    More In Enterprise IT

    Blog, Telecommunications - Jul 5, 2014 12:12 - 0 Comments

    What should the ACCC’s role be in guiding infrastructure spending?

    More In Telecommunications

    Analysis, Industry, Internet - Jun 23, 2014 10:33 - 0 Comments

    ‘Google Schmoogle’ – how Yellow Pages got it so wrong

    More In Industry

    Blog, Digital Rights - Jun 30, 2014 22:24 - 0 Comments

    Will Netflix launch in Australia, or not?

    More In Digital Rights