Feature Article

The Test of Time: Looking Back at The Last of Us

Maybe not quite the last.

It's been a little over a year now since The Last of Us was released. Part of the last hurrah of AAA releases before the dawn of a new console generation, the game had tremendous expectations to live up to. Now that the dust has had some time to settle, and with the game's PlayStation 4 release just a few weeks off, join us as we take a look back at what The Last of Us represented at the time of its release, and as we look forward to what it might contribute to gaming's future.

Pre-release: Venturing Away from Uncharted

It was December of 2011. Uncharted 3 had come out the previous month, and though the reviews were glowing and the game was a huge hit, the level of excitement around it didn't reach the spectacular heights that accompanied the release of Uncharted 2. As successful as the exploits of Nathan Drake had been for Naughty Dog, there was a risk that the studio would be seen as falling into a rut if the next announcement from them revealed yet another swashbuckling adventure for the treasure hunter and his friends. It was time for something different.

The Last of Us looked different.

Revealed at the 2011 Spike Video Game Awards, the announcement of The Last of Us was accompanied by a trailer that introduced us to Joel and Ellie's struggle for survival in a world where society has collapsed and horrifying infected humans threaten those who survive. Another Uncharted game, this was not.

It would be 18 months before the game was released, but over that time, Naughty Dog kept interest in the game high with an intense E3 stage demo in 2012, and by slowly doling out information in the months that followed about things like the cause of society's collapse and the nature of the relationship between Joel and Ellie, who many initially assumed were father and daughter. Given Naughty Dog's pedigree with the Uncharted games and Sony's smartly understated handling of PR, by the time The Last of Us was finally released in June of 2013, it had become one of the most anticipated console releases of the year.

Release: The Reception

The Last of Us was met with near-universal critical acclaim. It has a 95 rating on Metacritic, and earned the highest possible review score from a huge number of outlets, with critics particularly praising the game's narrative and atmosphere. Some critics felt that the game was so excellent that it breathed new life into the sometimes-predictable action adventure genre. Awarding the game a 10 out of 10, Oli Welsh of Eurogamer wrote, "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; it has heart and grit, and it hangs together beautifully. And it's a real video game, too. An elegy for a dying world, The Last of Us is also a beacon of hope for its genre." Edge Magazine similarly felt that the game had more soul than you typically find in a big-budget mainstream release, saying in their review, " At times it’s easy to feel like big-budget development has too much on the line to allow stubbornly artful ideas to flourish, but then a game like The Last Of Us emerges through the crumbled blacktop like a climbing vine, green as a burnished emerald."

Other critics, however, felt that the game reflected the limits of its genre. In his ongoing video series Errant Signal, critic Chris Franklin said that the game is "very driven by the traditional complete-a-gameplay-section-and-be-rewarded-with-story-chunks mentality that games have been trying to move away from for years" and that it "pushes the... formula to its breaking point, taking it perhaps as far as you possibly can, but in the process showing its fundamental limitations." Polygon's Philip Kollar also felt that the game was compromised by its adherence to genre conventions, saying that it "achieves incredible emotional high points about as often as it bumps up against tired scenario design that doesn't fit its world."

The combat at the heart of The Last of Us owes a debt to the gunplay of the Uncharted games, but while those games went for a freewheeling, summer action movie vibe, the action in The Last of Us was meant to put you on edge, encouraging you to be sneaky and make the most of your limited resources to survive. Many critics felt the combat was intense and harrowing. In his review for IGN, Colin Moriarty wrote, "The beauty of stealth in The Last of Us is the incredible, uncomfortable realism you’re forced to witness each and every time you execute a silent kill. Watching a survivor fruitlessly swat at Joel’s arms as he strangles him to death is disturbing, as is quickly shiving a man in his neck and listening to him gurgle some parting breaths as he collapses to the ground. The Last of Us does a phenomenal job of making each and every enemy feel human. Every life taken has weight and each target feels unique and alive."

In the wake of The Last of Us, the real question seemed to be whether or not the conventions of its genre, which had developed over much of the previous console generation, represented an approach to game design that could stay relevant as we moved into the next generation.

For some, however, the game's attempts to foster a sense of dread were undercut by its unwillingness to make death meaningful. In his review for GameSpot, Tom Mc Shea wrote, "The Last of Us refuses to punish failure in a manner befitting the harshness of its world. Become overwhelmed and you quickly perish, but with checkpoints only a few seconds apart, the danger of expiring never dissuades you from recklessness."

In the end, however, while some admired the skill with which The Last of Us employed common elements of its genre and some felt that the game was limited by its adherence to those elements, most agreed that there had rarely been a more well-crafted, more narratively engaging example of the traditional action-adventure game. And the game was adored by players as well. It currently has an average score of 9.1 from Metacritic users, and an average rating of 9 from GameSpot readers. In the wake of The Last of Us, the real question seemed to be whether or not the conventions of its genre, which had developed over much of the previous console generation, represented an approach to game design that could stay relevant as we moved into the next generation.

The Impact of Left Behind

If The Last of Us was hemmed in by genre conventions, then its add-on chapter, Left Behind, found a way to push up against those conventions, both narratively and mechanically. While some, like Chris Suellentrop in the New York Times and Keith Stuart in The Guardian, had lamented that The Last of Us, for all of its narrative ambitions, was yet another game that was somewhat predictable in the ways that it was about men and violence, Left Behind focuses on Ellie, and uses its gameplay mechanics and its narrative to foster a real sense of connection between her and her friend Riley.

In his feature Coming of Age in The Last of Us: Left Behind, GameSpot's Tom Mc Shea wrote admiringly about the way that Left Behind lets us feel like a participant in many of the moments that bond Ellie and Riley together. "Though some of her personality building stems from the quiet cinematics where I was just an interested observer," he writes, "Left Behind doesn't end her development there. What really caught my attention was how the core of her change occurs while we're in control of her. It's the combat, exploration, and bonding activities she shares with her friend Riley that establish who she is, and who she'll ultimately become."

And in her piece for Wired entitled The Videogame That Finally Made Me Feel Like a Human Being, Laura Hudson praised Left Behind's characterization of Ellie, writing that she "got to be both vulnerable and dangerous, scared and brave, weak and strong. She got to be human."

Where The Last of Us Belongs

From a gameplay perspective, The Last of Us took a kitchen sink approach, cramming in zombie-like enemies, stealth action, cover shooting, quick-time events, simple environmental puzzles, and numerous other elements that had previously surfaced in any number of similar games. It truly was, as Chris Franklin astutely observed, "a greatest hits tour through the last decade of AAA action adventure game design by major studios." But as familiar as these numerous elements are and as many times as we've experienced them before, the care with which the story and the characters of The Last of Us were crafted elevated the game, making it something that, for many players, transcended the typical action-adventure game experience. The Last of Us took its place as the pinnacle of the genre. For all its excellence, though, it felt like the end of an arc, the crowning achievement in trends that had been building up for a long time, and not something that spoke to where games might go in the future.

With Left Behind, though, the legacy of The Last of Us has shifted somewhat. It is now a game that speaks to how the action adventure genre can evolve, how it can tell different kinds of stories from the kind the genre has typically told, and how, rather than treating story and gameplay as two alternating components, it can effectively fuse narrative and gameplay to strengthen our sense of connection to the characters. Because of this, it's immensely fitting that The Last of Us will be not just a late PlayStation 3 release, but also, come July 29th, an early PlayStation 4 release. It's a game that borrows shamelessly from so many games that came before, but it may also have much to offer the games that are yet to come.

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Discussion

744 comments
day3002
day3002

I clicked on Lord of Fallen trailer and came here... Sort out your website lamespot.

Scarf0
Scarf0

The Last of Us is simply THE BEST Video Game of the previous Generation. 10 or 20 years from now, people will still talk fondly about The Last of Us.  The love for this game is real. 

hitomo
hitomo

emotions are cheap ... like fishing fish from a barrel

Fallenlords69
Fallenlords69

What a stupid article. The Last of Us is a pivotal game in gaming history, because they achieved in that game what lacks in most games - real connection to the characters.  Regardless of gameplay mechanics, other issues etc.  You have real concern for the characters and the ending is a shock, because it jolts you into the realisation that you do actually care what happens to these characters.


Test of time - it will stand the test of time above and beyond ridiculous articles like this (have too much time on your hands).  It will do well on the PS4 - fans requested it.   Just admit Gamespot screwed up just like they did on a number of games, not recognising true potential when they see it.   Too late now to make amends.

analogjunkie24
analogjunkie24

Does anyone remember when all those Sony fanboys mauled Tom McShea's review of this game for giving it the abysmally low score of an 8.0? Boy did I lose a lot of faith in the Gamespot community that day. While almost all of the other gaming publications were giving this title perfect scores, Tom had the stones to come out and say that this game had some notable problems and did not warrant a 10. How dare he?

imajinn
imajinn

I love the game but seriously? The test of time? Its been a year, not a very solid title. I laugh more and more at the writing on this website.

delta5931
delta5931

The game was released a year ago.  A better game do for a test of time? A game like Half-Life, or AvP Classic 2000. Other high grossing and well received games, from a long time ago.

lizardlava
lizardlava

Still havn't forgiven Carol for her GTA5 review (didn't read article). 

alabtrosmyster
alabtrosmyster

I would say taht if you are to continue that series of articles you should only talk about games on consoles that are no longer on the market, or games that are at the very least 5 to 10 years old.... The Last of Us, especially with the PS4 release still has a lot of steam and promotion going for it.


However, many people are playing and re-playing it, so all signs point to this game being a candidate for an article like this one in 5 years or so.

spacecadet25
spacecadet25

How can a game be standing the test of time when only just recently it dropped to $30?  It is so new that it hasn't even gone on a good sale yet.  Budget gamers haven't even played it yet.  Talking about Titanfall standing test of time isn't even that far off from this premise.

udubdawgz1
udubdawgz1

@Fallenlords69 lol, "gamespot screwed up?" i truly hope you're not referring to it getting the generous 8/10 score on this site.

Fallenlords69
Fallenlords69

@analogjunkie24 'Had the stones'  the same guy gave 'I am Alive' an 8.0.  A mini-game with about as much substance and something with not much substance. You can't in all sense give the same score to both games. You have to be off your head.   And seeing as they were similar genres, you can have almost a direct comparison.   One game sells oodles, the other not so much.   Guess which one sold loads?  Don't know about had the stones, probably was stoned at the time.

fire897
fire897

@analogjunkie24 This is a huge problem with reviews in general. People seem to be personally offended whenever someone criticizes a game they like. So when hyped games like GTA V, TLOU, and Bioshock Infinite come out that come from high rated devs, reviewers are too afraid to criticize them. Theoretically no game should ever get collectively nearly the amount of perfect scores these games got as everyone has their own personal tastes and there simply is no such thing as a "perfect" game. 

repetitiousv2
repetitiousv2

Some ppl just get tired of fetching crates for ellie.

jecomans
jecomans

@imajinn Yeah, when I'm thinking, 'test of time', I'm thinking going back to the beginning of last gen, with seminal titles like Bioshock or Portal, would possibly even be premature.

jecomans
jecomans

@hitomo There isn't, if I recall correctly, a single pre-pubescent person shown in the game, and thus no one a pedophile would target. 

But, I would guess some pedophiles do enjoy great video games as well as children? 

RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

@eternal_napalm . . . You really make other PlayStation owners look bad, fanboys are annoying on any side.

udubdawgz1
udubdawgz1

@eternal_napalm lol, the only people bringing up consoles and resorting to typical adolescent comments are people like you and your anti-xbox nonsense.


go spew somewhere else or, at least, buy a clue.

scottpsfan14
scottpsfan14

@lizardlava Lol is she the one who gave it a 9 instead of 10? All of you who complained about that actually need a slap to the balls.

A8ADD0N
A8ADD0N

@spacecadet25 


Exactly, that's what I don't get about this. There is no "test of time" here. It's been a year, that's it. A year moves by incredibly quickly, especially if you're a person with responsibilities. I feel like I played this game just the other day and I got it launch week.

Afinati
Afinati

The anti-8 crowd is the most interesting phenomenon. Not a 10? Bad game.

udubdawgz1
udubdawgz1

@Fallenlords69 @analogjunkie24 i'm continually laughing at people who associate popularity and total sales with game quality.


btw, if i am alive's gameplay is good then it should deserve a higher score than the gameplay mediocrity that is tlou.

Afinati
Afinati

She needed to learn how to swim! They should have taken a couple days off and gotten that out of the way. XD

SphinxDemon
SphinxDemon

WoW is straight trash but I did like the rts ones

delta5931
delta5931

@SphinxDemon Compared to today, it's a little lack luster story wise, but other than that, its great.

repetitiousv2
repetitiousv2

You gotta excuse him, his console is his only successful decision in his life...

udubdawgz1
udubdawgz1

@A8ADD0N @spacecadet25 lol, no kidding.  my skyrim disc got ruined a half a year or so ago and i just got the legendary version as a gift a few weeks back and it's like the game just came out.


plus, since, i'm on the 360 i play the game with numerous and strict rules/restrictions (and, DiD) and so the content IS new.

jecomans
jecomans

@tableofjapan If you read the review there are a bunch of other problems Petit had with GTAV. One other issue is noted in the score section except for the misogyny thing, but throughout the review several character, story, AI and gameplay issues arise. 

udubdawgz1
udubdawgz1

@A8ADD0N @udubdawgz1 lol, but, young at heart.  someone brought up wing commander yesterday and it also made me think of my days playing descent, hehe.


and, pong, dukenuke, the doom's, etc, lol.......

A8ADD0N
A8ADD0N

@udubdawgz1 @A8ADD0N 


Oh wow, Descent. That was a good game. Personally, I was more of a Quake II / Tribes type of guy. Wolfenstein 3D was my first PC game ever, and it blew my mind. I had only played console games like Mario and Sonic up to that point, but when I got into Wolfenstein I just knew I had to get a PC of my own, and then Doom and Doom II came out and it was totally worth it! Duke Nukem was pretty awesome too :)

RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

@Fallenlords69 lol if you say so Mr Transparent. Never heared of them past your narrow palette?


Both won tons of rewards, review excellently, and beloved by its target audience but sold poorly. To many buying the annual Call of Duty over great originality.


Point, justified.

udubdawgz1
udubdawgz1

@A8ADD0N @udubdawgz1 a few weeks ago i asked my dad:) if he still had the descent and wing commander games AND his big ole joystiq, lol.


we couldn't find any of them, lol

Fallenlords69
Fallenlords69

@RSM-HQ @Fallenlords69 Good games.  Not what I consider to be great games.  When I think great games I think Metal Gear Solid 3, Resident Evil 4, Bioshock, Skyrim, Zelda, Red Dead Redemption, Portal, Minecraft, The Walking Dead etc.   Bayonetta or Mirrors Edge don't spring into my mind when I think of 'great' video games.


I mean if you want to argue that some games are under appreciated, yeah fine.  I thought Binary Domain was totally under appreciated.  I thought it was a terrific game personally. But I wouldn't say it was great, because I can see it doesn't have general appeal. 

A8ADD0N
A8ADD0N

@udubdawgz1 @A8ADD0N 


I was really into PC gaming for quite a while, but the past generation I've been more into consoles. I just got a little tired of upgrading my rig all the time, you know? And now that I'm a bit older I honestly just don't have nearly as much time for games as I used to, so consoles are a good choice for me.


I will say that GOG is friggin awesome though, and I've bought a fair deal of games off the service, strictly because of nostalgia. I haven't even gone back and played Thief or Deus Ex or Fallout, but I own them, because they were super cheap and maybe one day I will actually have the time to play them again. I think a few of the Descent games are on there as well if I'm not mistaken.

RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

@Fallenlords69 That's not my fault your taste differs from overall renowned claim.


General appeal disagrees, Metacritic favours Bayonetta overall 90 more than Skyrim for example, overall 84.


'Great game' overall. 'good' for you.


But seeing as you mentioned personal preferences 'acting as if ones taste defines all', I favour Little Big Planet over MineCraft. REmake over Resi4. Ultimate Doom over Bioshock. Metal Gear 4 over 3. Morrowind over Skyrim. Braid over Portal. Love Zelda (full agree). Monkey Island 2 over Walking Dead. & can't talk Red Dead, never tried it. Was playing Mario Galaxy 2 at the time.


On a personal level I also think Guacamelee, Disgaea 3, Dragon's Crown, and Ninja Gaiden Sigma are PS3 must haves. But that my view. Not what I mentioned with Mirrors and Bay.


They all renownedly great. & didn't sell!

RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

@Fallenlords69 Keep in mind you asked for great games that didn't sell well.


Not what games are great for 'you'. I don't know what games you dislike, no one does (what are we? Psychic). Sounds to me you only buy games heavily advertised on T.V. anyway. Everything else is just "ok"? >_> hmmm. . .


I forget why I'm chatting with you about games.

Fallenlords69
Fallenlords69

@RSM-HQ @Fallenlords69 I suppose the overall number of Metacritic reviews for Bayonetta match the number for Skyrim  ... give or take a few thousand overall. Not having checked I would imagine that is the case.  


You are still not selling me on your 'great' games.  Firstly to be great it has to have a balance.  Appeal to the target audience first and foremost.  Then have general appeal above and beyond that of the target audience. The games I mention do that. The Last of Us has that. 


Bayonetta, good game.  But never transcended past it's target audience.  Actually not sure it even hits the target audience. Hence the sales.  Some games are good regardless, but great ... no sorry.  Some have a cult/niche following, they may be considered great but only if you like the genre. Great within a genre isn't the same as great overall.   If you don't like the Bayonetta genre, after playing Bayonetta I don't think this game will change your mind.

RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

@Fallenlords69 Minecraft and Portal are cult/niche so your deluded logic is flawed. Namely when you contradict yourself.


But you can always change the rules right? You are making up as you go along how quality is deemed after all <_< 


Whatev. I go back to my prior commenting on why I bother. 


In future, don't ask questions if you refuse any answers. & don't kid yourself, you've never played Bayonetta.

Fallenlords69
Fallenlords69

@RSM-HQ @Fallenlords69 Portal sold over 4 million copies I think.  Minecraft something ridiculous like 30 million plus and climbing -  that in no way is cult/niche.They may have started life that way, but they have done what needs to happen in order to be a great game.  Crossed over from the targeted audience to a wider audience.  Bayonetta probably hit it's audience and stopped.  I played it, too Devil May Cry like and I didn't like that either.  Hack/slash fast paced no-skill button mashing action. Tedium at it's best, to my mind. 

RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

@Fallenlords69  Portal sold that number because Steam gave it for free lol. At one time they gave you it when you joined Steam xD Not to mention MineCraft is on every device known to man and on P.C. basically free. By that logic Angry Birds is the greatest game ever.


Well considering you praise games that sell well so much prepare to grant Last of Us a low rating.


God of War 3 outsold all Uncharted games and The Last of Us, Gran Turismo 5 trumbing every exclusive.


Yeah, Last of Us didn't sell well at all :)


"Devil May Cry; Hack/ slash fast paced no-skill button mashing"


This says it all. You're casual!


Also not to mention you compared user reviews for some reaon; Skyrim vs Bayonetta. . . . . 


Wasn't my point no one bought it? . . 


Why would it have tons of reviews if few bought the game?


I don't think you understand how big a thing marketing can effect sales, you know or giving it for free with a service :P


I'm done, hope you actually learned something kiddo.

Fallenlords69
Fallenlords69

@RSM-HQ Nothing is free, you pay for it in-directly - hope you learned something.

Angry Birds is a great game, but it's also a casual game in so far as main platforms have been mobiles/tablets etc...


The Last of Us was a single platform title, at the end of a console lifespan.  It sold exceptionally well with all those factors taken into consideration. Passed 6 million in sales.


Devil May Cry, Bayonetta etc, just don't like games that require little to no skill.  Any muppet can button mash. No offence to the muppets that like these games.  Personally rather invest a few hundred hours in something with a little more substance.


Metacritic - you said overall - I was taking both into account.


Overall I don't think you understand how game quality impacts sales.  People don't buy crap, plain and simple. People do buy great games.  Why some people seem to have an aversion to things being popular I don't know.