The Last Of Us – Review (PS3)

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The Last Of Us takes place 20 years after the outbreak of a fungal virus that wipes out most of mankind. The virus is a brain parasite that turns it’s victim into a violent psychopath and then eventually mutates them beyond recognition.

As you might imagine, it doesn’t take long for the world as we know it to disappear. Bands of survivors stick together and are either on lockdown in heavily militarized camps or left to fend for themselves outside of the quarantine zones.

You play as Joel who, along with his associate Tess, smuggles goods between the zones – for a price. When a deal goes south and the only way to rectify it is to take on another job, Joel and Tess end up being asked to smuggle a 14 year old girl, Ellie, out of the zone and to a resistance group.

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And I will leave it there story-wise so as not to spoil anything. The Last Of Us has a fantastic story with lots of great twists and turns. Some I saw coming but the majority had me picking my jaw up off the floor when they hit. I would strongly advise not watching too many trailers if possible so you don’t ruin the game for yourself.

The Last Of Us is a third person game but beyond that it’s difficult to give it a genre. Stealth? Definitely. Action? Definitely. Survival Horror? Definitely. I think the main thing to keep in mind is that this isn’t a game for the faint-hearted. This is a visceral, at times disturbing, beast so if you’re not of strong stomach then it might be best avoided. Which would be a real shame because this is a truly exceptional game.

I came out of each play session feeling drained – physically and emotionally. The emotional side was obviously down to the story, superb script and fantastic voice work. The physical side is something that is much harder for game makers to provide, usually done by using jump scares and creating an atmosphere (see Dead Space).

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In The Last Of Us enemy encounters are so tense that even just a couple of opponents was enough to bring a feeling of dread. The amount of times I got through encounters by the skin of my teeth with almost no health left was high and it really gave the game a realistic grounding.

Holding down R2 activates Joel’s listening ability, essentially giving a sonar ping and identifying enemy locations, even through walls. However it only shows enemies that are moving so while very handy it doesn’t give you all the info you need, ala Batman Arkham City, which I think is a good thing. It can also be switched off if you want more of a challenge.

So you’ll hear them coming, take cover, activate listening mode and then formulate a plan. And you have lots of options. While scavenging you’ll find lots of items that can be picked up and eventually put together a different number of ways. Health packs, Shivs, Molotov Cocktails, Smoke Bombs and more can all be crafted to help you out of a jam.

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But you better find somewhere safe to craft them because it’s done in game. The action doesn’t pause as Joel bends down and the crafting menu pops up on-screen. Thankfully crafting itself is just a case of choosing what you want to make and holding X for 4 or 5 seconds until it creates it. 4 or 5 seconds is a long time during a firefight though…

As you progress through the game you encounter different enemy types. Sometimes it’s the infected, which also come in different stages of infection: Runners are newly infected – screaming, lunging balls of fury and madness. Clickers are stage two – without sight but with super sensitive hearing, these guys will kill you in one hit if they get too close. Stage three is… well, I’ll let you find out yourself. Other than infected you’ll meet other humans: some military, some fellow scavengers – all doing whatever it takes to survive.

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Graphically the game is outstanding, easily one of the best on the Playstation 3, and just goes to show there is life in the old dog/console yet. Some of the scenery had me just wandering, looking. I don’t recall the last time I played a game at such a slow pace, desperate to drink it all in. I thought I had played Bioshock Infinite that way but compared to this, I was much quicker through Columbia than the wastelands of The Last Of Us.

The audio design is truly fantastic – it has to deliver for the combat to work and boy, does it. The score is wonderful and used superbly. The world feels real because of the great sound work here. Aside from the noise of the world and the sounds of you breaking/using things just the horrible noises that accompany the melee attacks… at times it was almost too much.

And let me touch on that quickly because I feel, while it is a conversation for another day, that The Last Of Us has a very interesting message on violence and delivers it in probably the most mature and subtle way I’ve ever seen in a game. It’s one of many themes throughout the game and they all add up to a great narrative experience.

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But it isn’t all about the story with The Last Of Us. A robust and, most definitely, different take on the usual gaming multiplayer offerings is included. Can the sheer terror of the solo experience be replicated online?

Indeed it can. Naughty Dog have created a really tactical, challenging multiplayer offering. This is definitely not anything like Uncharted online. Here you choose a side to fight for and play through the in-game equivalent of 12 weeks (you can quit out and come back, you don’t need to play it all at once), scavenging for supplies – either from looting objects or the bodies of your victims.

It’s certainly very tactics based as (a limited) version of Listening Mode is available to all and makes for some very tense encounters. I can see myself playing this a lot because it isn’t like much out there in terms of multiplayer. The closest I can think of is Assassin’s Creed and even that isn’t really too similar.

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Overall then, in case you couldn’t guess, I can’t recommend this enough. If you’ve been following any of the game press recently you’ll have seen The Last Of Us get a perfect score from almost all of it reviews. I did wonder whether it really could be that good? The answer is yes.

Rating: 10/10

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Dead Space 3 – Review (PS3)

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I really enjoyed the previous two Dead Space games – the original was a return to the very best of survival horror and while the sequel did get bogged down with enemy encounters I thought it was excellent. So hopes were high for this latest installment, despite some of the negative buzz floating around online.

Set some time after the events of Dead Space 2 – at least long enough for Isaac and Ellie to get together and break up – the game actually opens some 200 years in the past with a nice prologue section. Nice that is, until the shooting started. The first thing I noticed was how different it felt to previous games. Granted you’re using a rifle rather than the plasma cutter that the series is famous for but still I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the handling had changed dramatically.

And it was a feeling I couldn’t quite dismiss throughout the game. As you come back to (Issac’s) present day you regain control of everyone’s favourite space engineer. Forced into helping track down Ellie you’re soon attacked on the way off the planet.

Dead Space 3 brings together the usual necromorph threat with a much higher Unitologist presence than before. And they’re armed, military units. Hell at one stage some of the necromorphs have guns!

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Taking out the necromorphs still feels satisfying but the human enemies didn’t quite have that quality – whether that’s a game design issue (in terms of how the weapons control and the way shots affect enemies) or just because these games haven’t previously been about mowing down other humans, I couldn’t tell you.

I liked the story but I am a sucker for this universe (I’ve watched both animated movies and read the first spin off novel – will be reading the next one soon πŸ™‚ ) so if you’re not invested you might not find it as enjoyable. I didn’t even mind the OTT end part of the game as much as lot of people seemed to.

I did, however, encounter a save problem that almost made me walk away from the game completely. About 4 hrs in I made it to the beginning of a new chapter, let the tram journey (yes trams are back!) finish and then quit to the main menu and out of the game. However next time I loaded the game I was back at the end of the previous chapter about to enter a room where I needed to hold off enemies until the tram showed up to escape on.

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Problem No.1? It was also a chase, so there was an invincible enemy hounding me from the back as well. Problem No.2? It started me with no ammo and a quarter health 😦 There were 7 bullets in the room and I tried for almost an hour to get through it to no avail. I dropped it to ‘easy’ and after another 20 minutes I finally escaped to the tram. The game maintains your save for you and allows only one save per slot.

It was one of the more frustrating things I’ve experienced recently – I mean surely the end of a chapter/beginning of the next one (especially in the haven of a tram) is the *ideal* place to trigger a save? Come on Visceral, that is ridiculous. If you can’t be bothered to organise a proper save system, at least let me choose when to save!

The much maligned ‘micro-transactions’ didn’t effect me at all. They are there is you want to use them but it’s not essential to use them to get through the game.

There are still snatches of the original survival horror roots of Dead Space here but they end up overplayed and you can tell when (and even worse, where) the scares are coming. There are still space exploration parts and that sound drop out still makes for a fantastic experience. But it’s not really about that stuff any more.

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Make no mistake, Dead Space 3 is an action game with these parts added. The balance between horror and action had teetered with the second game but has now tilted fully in favour of run ‘n’ gun action. It isn’t a bad game at all. It’s just not what I want from a Dead Space game.

Rating: 7/10

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