[This article contains some pretty mild spoilers, so if you haven’t beaten the game you might not want to continue reading…]
By now, I would say it’s a pretty safe bet to say that most people have gotten their hands on Naughty Dog’s latest masterpiece, The Last of Us. I sure know the guys at KaboomShark have! We have become quite accustomed to having late night multiplayer sessions, but that is a story for another time. To get back on topic, The Last of Us is a beautiful game that tells the amazing story of a scarred man and a traumatized girl. However, regardless of how beautiful The Last of Us is (by both standards of environment, story and gameplay), there are still many issues that left me perplexed. When I play a Naughty Dog game, especially one like The Last of Us which focusses on environment and atmosphere, I expect something that is polished to a degree that most development teams can only dream of. I wish I could say that about their most recent success showcased this level of polish, but I just can’t. While The Last of Us is a great game, it’s just not up to Naughty Dog’s standards when it comes to quality and polish.
With so much time and effort going into The Last of Us, I would have expected Naughty Dog to produce a game that is so near perfection that it would blur the lines. While it may have delivered when it comes to gameplay and story, there are some major issues with tension atmosphere. These issues were mainly forwarded through quite a few wonky glitches, something that you don’t hear about a lot in Naughty Dog games. While there was nothing entirely game-breaking, I couldn’t overlook these blatant glitches I encountered while trekking through the beautiful world of The Last of Us.
As I said before, I encountered way more glitches than I would have expected in The Last of Us, some of which entirely ruined the tension and mood being set by the game itself. I noticed that they tended to increase in consistency when I got near the end of the game, mainly the last sequence in the hospital. There were 3-4 instances where the background would completely cut out, showing Joel posing crouched in front of a completely blue background. I mean, Joel looks pretty sexy in that pose against the single-color background, but I would really prefer the hospital in the background. This happened 3 or so times while I was transversing the hospital, then one last time. This final occurrence had the biggest effect. As I was running through the hospital, holding Ellie’s unconscious body in my hands, I made a wrong turn and ran into some guards. They took Ellie from me, slammed my head against the pavement and shot me clear through my skull. This scene would have been a lot more tragic for me, had the background not completely cut out. There I was, being murdered by a gun with nobody attached to it, against a blue background. It was like a scene right out of Deep Black, or some other low budget shooter. Needless to say, I was disappoint. I had a few other glitches while I was playing, but they were much less drastic. They ranged from me hearing “above ground” sounds whilst underwater, glitching through underwater obstacles and having the game freeze momentarily, then speeding up to make up for the time lost. There were many more instances of small glitches, but I figure you guys get the point. For a Naughty Dog game, The Last of Us is full of glitches. They just speak to how unpolished the game is, something that I didn’t expect to come out of Naughty Dog’s production line. While glitches were one thing that led to the unpolished feel in The Last of Us, the AI had even more issues.
While the AI in The Last of Us were pretty damn good (for the most part), they were nowhere near perfect. There were some big issues with not only the enemy AI, but with your partner AI as well. That’s where I had the biggest trouble, anyways. Until Ellie gets her gun, she manages to do more harm than good when it comes to partner work. Instead of doing things like giving me ammo or supplies, she would constantly resort to blowing my cover and ignoring me when I was being gang banged by the hordes of hunters. In the sequence where I was running from the police, I had to hide behind a staircase in order to not be seen. I ran to cover, obviously. Then Ellie followed. She ran past me, pushing me to the point where I almost blew cover. I let out a sigh of relief, but that was short lived. Tess came over, pushed me completely out of cover and left me sitting there like a sitting duck to be picked off by the enemy force. Needless to say, I didn’t make it out alive. After that (and a few unfortunate events involving Tess), you meet the most annoying AI character I have ever met in a game (Yes Ashley, you have been defeated): Bill. Bill was by far the worst AI partner/character I have ever encountered. He made Bill’s Town much harder than it needed to be. I’m sure most of you can imagine this scenario: You’re garden. You’re surrounded by clickers on all sides. Of course, you’re Joel so this should be no problem. You’re just about broken free from the clicking bastards when you hear a shotgun shot. You turn around to see Bill fighting a clicker, for some strange reason. Then, before you can even process, a clicker comes up behind you and tears your head off. Did something like this happen to you? I’m sure it did. Bill has this weird fascination with blowing cover to get his ass kicked, and I will never understand it. Besides Ellie (post getting her gun), the AI partners in TLoU were pretty sloppy. They just have too many issues which directly contradict how the game is supposed to be played. In most situations, they can be overlooked. However, in a game like this where stealth is a major factor, I can’t get over these AI.
So there you have it, those are the major reasons why I think that The Last of Us is below Naughty Dog’s standards of quality and polish. You’re probably thinking something along the lines of “Okay idiot, The Last of Us is still an amazing game, so who cares about those minor issues?” I see your totally valid opinion, and raise you one question. Don’t these glitches kind of ruin a game like The Last of Us that focusses on stealth gameplay, environment and atmosphere?
The reason all these glitches and AI bugs matter is that they provide hiccups and blips in the perfect atmosphere and feel that Naughty Dog tried to go for when they made The Last of Us. Had these glitches been present in another game, I wouldn’t have noticed them as much. If I was running through Unchated 3, Nathan Draking myself around and the background cut out (which it did at one point, actually), I would casually run into the great abyss, jumping around with glee because of what I have discovered. If an AI partner pushes Nathan Drake out of cover, it’s no problem! Just give me 17 seconds to Nathan Drake myself out of the situation (that involves a lot of punching and shooting…..and witty one liners). Tiny glitches like that wouldn’t affect someone playing through a game like Uncharted because the focus is on gameplay and graphics instead of creating an atmosphere. Would you be as scared if you were wandering the woods of Slender, and right as Slenderman was about to get you the graphics cut out? I mean, Slenderman is still pretty scary, but if I can’t see him he isn’t as intimidating. When a game is putting all of it’s marbles into something like atmosphere, it needs to try really hard to polish things to the point where dramatic, tension filled scenes aren’t ruined by silly glitches. That becomes even more of a requirement when you are Naughty Dog, developers of some of the most polished and best games of this console generation.
Okay, okay, I kind of went on a “bashing The Last of Us” spree there. Let’s bring things back into perspective. The Last of Us is a great game. More than that, it is more than likey the best game that has been released so far in 2013 (sorry Bioshock Infinite, you got beat….). However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s flaws. As far as Naughty Dog goes, The Last of Us is below their usual quality and polish standard. This can be seen when you compare it to games like Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3. There are quite a few glitches and AI malfunctions that manage to totally ruin building tension, defeating the purpose of the atmosphere they tried so hard to create. It would be easy to overlook these things, but that’s just not how I roll. Now that we have that straight, who’s up for some The Last of Us multiplayer? That shit is tight, yo!