It is difficult to describe the anticipation one feels before the release of a blockbuster game. After months of rumors, unbelievable gameplay trailers, and massive hype from all forms of media, you expect nothing less than a masterpiece time and time again. Naturally, this inherent gaming mentality leads to disappointment. But, on some rare occasions, a game climbs the insurmountable mountain of expectation and receives universal acclaim from the entirety of the gaming community. The Last of Us was one of those games.
Never before have I seen a game so loved by both critics and fans alike, winning perfect scores and awards across the board. It seemed that the tales of gaming perfection would not end. When the time came, I picked up my copy from a local Blockbuster, put it into my PS3, and proceeded to dedicate the next 20 hours of my life to one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever experienced in any medium. Joel and Ellie became faithful companions who I grew to love through each successive hardship. We grew as a team, we faced adversity, and I dreaded the moment when I would have to let them go. But once that time came, I looked back on it all and realized that The Last of Us is on a level far beyond that of Bioshock or Grand Theft Auto. This game, this cinematic voyage through dilapidation and despair, was unforgettable in every sense of the word. The characters, settings, and flawless conclusion will never leave me, and I'm glad that such a wide majority of gamers had a similar sense of satisfaction.That all being said, it came to me as a shock when one day, while perusing Metacritic, I scrolled to the bottom of the list of positive reviews to find an outlier. Polygon had given the game a 75, stating that "It achieves incredible emotional high points about as often as it bumps up against tired scenario design that doesn't fit its world." In most cases, a 75 is a respectable score. However, in this day and age, the gaming community associates anything lower than an 8 as a disappointment. Naturally, this raised plenty of agitation and controversy from devoted fans, many claiming that Polygon was a Microsoft-sponsored corporation that was attempting to bring down the greatness of this PlayStation classic. This begs the question: Was Polygon's review justified?
The first and most noticeable line in the review states "The Last of Us made me feel sick to my stomach." This serves as Philip Kollar's main point throughout the review, trying to support his argument that The Last of Us is simply not a fun game to play. I can concede that the game's tone is far from cheery. You will be witnessing countless decapitations, lose several close friends, and constantly look back on your decisions with a tinge of regret. It shouldn't be a fun time. But it is.
The true satisfaction from The Last of Us doesn't come from the killing, unlike so many other modern games. The real enjoyment comes from the growth. Watching Joel and Ellie transform throughout the story, both slowly learning to inch out of their protective shells and learning to trust one another, is a luxury that can't be described in words. You learn to care for Ellie. Through all her awful puns, bitter swears, and sad questions about life before the apocalypse, Ellie becomes the reason you play the game. Unlike Elizabeth, who I felt was a useful game gimmick for extra life and ammunition, Ellie was a real person who I would protect from the deadliest of Infected. The more you struggle and the more people you hurt, the more you understand that Ellie is closer to the happy life she deserves. For me, that made all the violence worth it.
Another complaint that Kollar cites as a negative is the combat.
"Combat against the zombie-esque infected is especially frustrating. Not only are they faster, more aggressive and more unpredictable than human enemies, but multiple types of infected have an instant, one-hit kill if they get in melee range."
This, along with the shakiness of Joel's shooting mechanics, made Kollar look poorly upon the game, especially when pitted against unavoidable hordes of enemies. Again I feel conflicted. While the gunfights aren't the game's strong suit, it never detracts from the overall experience. The shakiness adds intensity to each battle and makes victories seem more satisfying, especially when you consider that a middle-aged man and a 14-year old girl took out a pack of armed thugs with limited scraps of supplies scattered throughout the world. As for the Infected, I also had no complaints. By making the contaminated enemies overpowered, each infested area feels like a chess board, requiring both skill and calculated risk to stay alive. Each version of the virus is unique, adding suspense through bone-chilling clicks and half-dead moans. Both of Kollar's arguments end up being a necessity to establish this unparalleled realism in such a devastated environment.
The rest of the arguments come from nitpicks, such as a somewhat shoddy AI system that ruins the immersion of Naughty Dog's post-pandemic world. For some, these can make or break a video game. For me, I could care less.
After all is said in done, I looked back on Polygon's review and wondered. "Is there any right way to judge The Last of Us?" In the gaming community, the scores of these esteemed publications can be either an alluring sales pitch or a disappointing detractor, and in order to truly strive there are certain numerical standards that must be reached. While The Last of Us received a 95 overall on Metacritic, mediocre scores such as Polygon's can cause serious doubt in the mind of an uninformed gamer looking for his next big purchase.
In the end, while criteria and opinions will always differ among the gaming elite, there will always be one constant theme: They don't matter. While Metacritic is a necessary consolidation of critical reviews, as well as a reliable indicator of quality, its scores should not serve as the final factor in a gamer's mind when considering buying a game. Variables and preferences differ too often between reviewers, and common misconceptions between "good" and "bad" scores can cause many solid titles to be left in the dust.
Beauty is in the eye of beholder, and nothing wowed me more than The Last of Us in 2013. While Polygon's review score was satisfactory, it did not represent my amazing experience and underwhelmed its brilliance as a work of art, a thrilling narrative, and an unforgettable game. However, it's just an opinion. Many gamers will find The Last of Us overrated, tedious, and far from the masterpiece other critics have made it out to be. The only way to find out is by experiencing it yourself and making your own judgments.
To grow as a gaming community, we must learn to accept that the vision of a critic is but one of thousands of different perspectives on a game. No matter how much we crave 9s and 10s to justify our love for a title, our love needs no justification. For that reason, I happily disagree with Polygon, but concede that their voice, as well as my own, are mere constituents of the double-sided masterpiece that is The Last of Us.