The Last of Our Complaints
It's been one month since Naughty Dog released its apocalyptic opus onto the gaming public. That's one month to scour every last inch of The Last of Us, one month to fall in love with Ellie and Joel through multiple playthroughs, and one month to poke a little fun at some of its microscopic flaws.
Before we dive in, remember that we loved The Last of Us for reasons we shared in our The Last of Us review. We only nitpick because it gives us an excuse to talk about one of our favorite games of 2013 (so far), and because even the greatest heroes have a few flaws.
And lest it not be said, the following is heavily laden with SPOILERS. Proceed with caution...
A little help here?
It didn't take long to learn Ellie was kind of a big deal and it was in everyone's best interest that she arrive at Boston's capitol building in one piece. Despite this, Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies, handed off the single most important package in human history to a pair of infamous smugglers, one of whom may or may not have had "murderous hunter" on his resume.
Maybe Marlene saw potential in Joel and Tess. Maybe she knew the promise of a weapons trade would keep them on task. If that's the case, would it have killed her to loan Joel and Tess a couple of those weapons? You know, to make sure they weren't braving enemy territory armed with just bricks, bottles, and a pistol? Surely, Marlene knew how dangerous it was beyond the city walls. And while overpowering players at the beginning of a game is a design no-no, she could have at least coughed up a smoke bomb or two.
You hear that?
Let's do an experiment. The next time you're out in public, try sneaking up on a stranger with a backpack of clinking bottles, cans of nails, and ammo, and see how far you get before the cops get involved. Our guess? Not that far--which is why Joel's "stealth" skills in the Last of Us appear to rely less on his ability to silently take down his enemies, and more on those enemies being either mute, deaf, or both.
We're not picking on The Last of Us' AI (at least, not yet). In fact, on higher difficulties, those clickers and hunters can be supernaturally effective at tracking us by the smallest sounds. What we are picking on is the fact that none of Joel's enemies seem to clue in to the fact their buddies are getting violently choked out just a few feet away, or that clickers have exceptional hearing except for when runners are getting their faces smashed into the wall behind their back. There were too many times when we were sure our cover had been blown by a noisy takedown, only to breath a sigh of relief when nearby foes seemed oblivious to the carnage going around them. We guess we're thankful, but it sometimes made all that sneaking around feel silly.
Out of my way!
Joel's survival hinged on his ability to slip by enemy hordes undetected--a skill that was occasionally gimped when one of his AI buddies played human blockade. It didn't happen often, but on the rare occasions his allies decided to take a knee directly in his path, it forced Joel to pop out of cover long enough to get pegged by a hunter or gnawed on by an infected.
Thankfully, Joel's teammates were treated like ghosts, meaning they could run around and mouth off all they wanted to and never give up the player's position. This was a saving grace, too, because they had a habit of hiding in plain sight and shouting words of wisdom like We need to be quiet in situations where, hey, morons, we really need to be friggin' quiet! would probably have been more appropriate.
Ellie the combat medic
The extent of Ellie's training with the fireflies is open to interpretation. And while we can buy into the idea that she's a natural shot and a military-grade assassin, we're not convinced she'd have had the muscle or medical know-how to keep Joel alive for three months after he gets his innards skewered at the university.
Remember, we're not talking about a little scratch. We're talking about Joel getting full-on impaled by a rusty, tetanus-laced bar and bleeding out for a good 10 minutes in a hostile battle zone. Assuming Ellie had the strength to rig Joel to their horse, the guile to avoid further conflict, and the luck to find a safe house before Joel went into shock, there's still the whole challenge of performing complex surgery, staving off infection, and keeping him breathing until winter. Joel's odds of surviving would have been sketchy with trained doctors in a non-apocalyptic world, so to wake up with little more than a cough and a tummy ache after a small sip of magic doctor juice is a stretch.
Ellie the anchor
Just so we're clear: Ellie can shoot like a soldier, heal like a field medic, and handle terrifying situations without breaking a sweat; but when it came to wading in a few feet of water, that's when she played the little girl card? In a world where mother nature has washed out a majority of mankind's roads and tunnels, you'd think the Fireflies would have at least found a kiddie pool and trained Ellie to tread water. Alas, as we're reminded time and time again, Ellie was first in line to do pretty much anything except get her hair wet.
We understand Ellie's aversion to water was Naughty Dog's way of breaking up long walks with the odd environmental puzzle. We can even understand that her sheltered upbringing meant she was never confronted with anything more threatening than a cup of water. Still, we'd think that after the first time Joel wasted precious time ferrying her across a 10-meter ocean that they would have spent at least some of those in-between months teaching Ellie to float. That, or scavenging for a life jacket.
Jumping ahead between seasons was a necessity. We get that. From a storytelling perspective, it allowed Naughty Dog to bookend the game's major plot points, and from a gameplay perspective it shaved hundreds of hours off our cross-country journey. So while we understand the need to fast forward, we're not so sure Joel and Ellie made the best use of their downtime.
Swimming lesson nitpicks aside, it's a little odd Joel began each new season with the exact same inventory. Somehow, in the span of months, we're suppose to believe Joel either used none of his resources or re-stocked just enough to reappear with the exact same supplies. If Naughty Dog's intent was to give us the ultimate survivor experience, it would have been more fitting to add or subtract resources based on the game's difficulty mode and/or the player's style. That way, dedicated scavengers would have been rewarded with extra med kits, while trigger-happy players would have started the next season with a few less bullets. Either way, Naughty Dog missed an opportunity to make its months-long breaks feel a little more meaningful.
Joel's nail bombs were handy for keeping mutants and hunters at bay, but the more we think about how they were put together, the fuzzier we are on how they were supposed to work. From what our demo experts can deduce, The Last of Us' nail bombs were explosives that could be programmed to detonate when it sniffed an enemy while letting the good guys pass by unharmed. That would almost make sense if Joel lifted them from a high-tech military compound, but not if he taped them together from second-hand blades and household explosives.
And what's with that magic can? Where did it come from? Were cans free with every craft? Were they made of melted scissors? Were un-crushed cans so common that they were always around in a pinch? We won't even bother pointing out how irresponsible it was for Joel to run around children with armed nail bombs and Molotov cocktails bouncing around in his backpack.
Doesn't anyone recycle?
Bricks and bottles were the bread and butter of Joel's "distraction" skill set, which is great because both were the most abundant resources in The Last of Us. In fact, if humanity could have found a way to extract nutrients from bricks or turn bottles into energy, there would have been no need for rations. True, the amount of available bottles and bricks made sense on a narrative level--there were bound to be a ton of each in all that rubble--but their appearance immediately tipped players off to the fact an action sequence was about to ruin their day. No bricks or bottles? You're OK to poke around. Loads of bricks and bottles sprinkled around the oddest of places? Get ready to fight for your life.
And wasn't there anything else Joel could have used as a distraction? Nails? Bullet casings? Books? Those self-replicating nail bomb cans? A little variety would have been nice.
(Not) cut from the same cloth
The Last of Us's crafting system was an inspired diversion. It made scavenging a game unto itself, and gave us an excuse to explore every last nook and cranny of Naughty Dog's brilliantly realized world. No doubt, hastily piecing together life-saving tools in real-time added to the game's suspense, but c'mon, is it really that hard to find a damn rag?
We'll go ahead and believe all those broken windows and sharp materials were useless for shivs. We'll even buy the fact that clean water only came in randomly discarded bottles. What we're stuck on is the idea that Joel could only forge medical aids and Molotov cocktails from super-rare "rags" and not, you know, the clothes, bedsheets, curtains, tablecloths, carpets, and pillow shams littering virtually every square inch of his world. Was it because Joel preferred sterile cloths for treating his wounds? Considering half the rags we did find came from corpses and dingy hotel rooms, we're guessing not.
Point of no return
This nitpick is for the completionists. The ones who get all hot and bothered at the thought of leaving any collectibles behind. There were moments in The Last of Us when taking a wrong turn (or rather, the right turn) eliminated the possibility of backtracking. This meant the only way to explore what we missed was to replay the chapter from the main menu or pray we saved our game before squeezing through that one unassuming hole in the wall.
This wouldn't matter so much if these transition points were marked in any way. As it is, The Last of Us broke up its levels without warning and used artificial barriers to prevent players from retracing their steps. Thankfully, we're 100% on board with replaying The Last of Us, but the anxiety of wondering if that untouched room hid a Firefly pendant made our palms sweaty.
What about Bill?
Ah, Bill. Where do we start with Bill? For a dude with a serious take-no-crap attitude, he sure spent a lot of time gluing the pages of male fashion magazines and pining for a friend who didn't seem like BFF material to begin with. It's like Naughty Dog didn't know what kind of character Bill was supposed to--
--Oh? Ooooh. Well then. That makes more sense. Never mind Bill, we love you.
The ending (and you)
We loved it. It honored the characters, it did justice to the themes, and it left things wide open for the inevitable sequel. We might not all agree with Joel's decision to sacrifice humanity's (last?) hope for a cordeyseps vaccine in order to keep Ellie around, but we understand why he made it and why it may not have been the best idea to give the Fireflies authority over who lives and dies in the new world.
No, our beef is not with Naughty Dog's ending--it's with you. Well, maybe not you, but definitely the guy beside you (yeah, him). The player who thinks developers owe it to them to give them authority over a game's ending and rants about it non-stop on game forums. Whether it's because BioWare gave in to fan demands for a better Mass Effect 3 ending, or because we've been trained to expect that degree of influence in other series, but there are a vocal few who genuinely believe Naughty Dog did a disservice in ending The Last of Us on its own terms. In truth, The Last of Us is stronger because it stuck to its guns. A choice of endings would have betrayed the specific tone and ideas Naughty Dog crafted over Joel and Ellie's journey. If you don't like it, that's perfectly fine--just don't whine about changing it. After all, no one likes complainers...
Time to reload
We came, we saw, we took potshots at an otherwise fantastic game. Granted, none of the nitpicks on our list are significant enough to lower our opinion of The Last of Us, but they're enough to raise a few eyebrows...even if it's all in fun. So how did we do? Let us know if we missed your pet peeve, or if we completely missed the point, in the comments below.
Want more tongue-in-cheek critiques? Read our Top 13 BioShock Infinite Nitpicks, or our recent list of the The top 7 things we're surprised Nintendo hasn't done yet.