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So The Last of Us is finally here and it seems like everyone is pretty damn impressed. Our review (which you can read here) is very positive and the game is currently the highest rated release of the year so far according to Metacritic. It also seems to be selling incredibly well and looks like it may end up as the best selling PS3 exclusive behind Gran Turismo 5. This undoubtedly means we will get a sequel on the Playstation 4, but after such a strong first offering, how can Naughty Dog improve? I have a few suggestions.
The survival horror elements of this game were my favorite part of the gameplay. Early on when you find yourself entering darkened rooms, sneaking from wall to wall, desperately trying to avoid making any sound not to alert any nearby clickers is fantastic. The thrill of slowly sneaking behind someone only to shiv them in the neck is the type of violent stealth I haven't experienced since Rockstar Games' Manhunt. Unfortunately after a strong start these moments become few and far between.
As you progress we are heavily pushed into more and more gun battles with other survivors. These encounters are still fun, but carries none of the tension of the early sequences as the game seems to forget about these survival horror scenarios and almost turn into a cover based shooter if you are ever seen. Next time make the whole emphasis on these moments and keep the gun battles to a minimum. This game shines when the gameplay is as far away from Uncharted as possible.
Speaking of enemies, another part which can be improved upon is the variety you encounter. Outside of clickers which are absolutely terrifying, the other enemies just aren't as good and there are enough of them. The bloated enemies suck so remove them and add some completely different ones. Perhaps some that are incredibly fast, an enemy that suicides near you to cause damage or even more intelligent infected that are closer to other survivors. The possibilities are endless.
Now let's talk about stealth. Early on I became increasingly frustrated with the stealth elements which was mainly due to the AI of Joel's companions. Tess would just randomly start shooting enemies and alerting my presence to infected and also bump into them and do the same thing. However once it was just Joel and Ellie it actually worked rather well. I was able to beat entire sections without being seen and that felt awesome.
However some sections seem to be designed to be played as a shooter. Particularly the final sections are almost impossible to play entirely through stealth which is a shame. I don't think this game should be 100% stealth, I love that the game mostly gives you the choice. Just makes sure that choice is always there. Also regarding the stealth, listen mode is another thing I have a problem with.
For a game that strives for realism constantly and pretty much always nails it, this feature seems so out of place. Of course you don't have to use it but when its there it is extremely hard not to. It is not explained in the narrative why a guy can see someone's movements through walls just by sound and ultimately completely kills the tension you would have had when sneaking around, not knowing what's around each corner. In short, get rid of it entirely.
With the game being all about survival and in a lot of ways having some very hardcore game mechanics, one disappointment is how little the penalty for death is. If you die the game will restart at basically the exact same spot, with the same amount of enemies and with all of your resources intact. Due to this, you can play the game via trial and error and even though the characters fear for their life, the player doesn't fear the consequence at all.
Changing this in the next game I believe would be a huge improvement. Maybe don't have so many checkpoints to look after the player so you don't feel like you're missing out on anything by dying. If you have to restart from an earlier point it would hype up the tension considerably and would keep within the tone of the game much better. You could even remove all checkpoints entirely and rely only on save locations. Something which would annoy many, but as a fan of the old school games in this genre, I think it would be a breath of fresh air.
Something which hasn't been getting a lot of attention, but has been received well by players is the surprising multiplayer. Not just adding a tacked on Deathmatch mode like Tomb Raider did (and failed), what we get is somewhat unique. The overall metagame is very interesting and something that makes you want to keep playing beyond the usually levelling up. The modes themselves though could do with some more depth.
Extra modes in the next game would go a long way in improving upon a solid foundation in a sequel. Perhaps a mode where you and your crew enter a village to hunt for supplies whilst an opposing team of survivors try to stop you. Also everything you earn gets converted into medicine currently which helps keep you clan healthy. The option to chose what to spend match earnings on such as medicine, new weapons or food would also add another level of resource management which could be a fascinating twist on the regular multiplayer format.
Finally I want to touch on the story. This is arguably the hardest part to improve upon as it is already so strong. But where do they go next? Naughty Dog have said that this game tells Joel and Ellie's story and doesn't need to be expanded upon. This of course could change and after the phenomenal success of the game it would be crazy to abandon such strong, well loved characters after one game.
Of course the other possibility is to go like The Walking Dead and make the series about the setting, and that each game tells a new story within that setting. This could happen but I still think its doubtful. So many people would be disappointed if Joel and Ellie were completely absent so who knows where the next game will end up. Maybe they could show more of the initial outbreak and fill the 20 year gap between this event to where most of the first game takes place.
Really this has to be Naughty Dog's hardest task in their history in trying to expand upon what is arguably their best game to date. Whilst it didn't have the same impact as The Last of Us, when the first Uncharted was released many did question how it could be improved. Then Uncharted 2 came out and absolutely blew it out of the water in every area (and still Naughty Dog's best game in my opinion). If anyone can achieve this task, it is Naughty Dog. And I cannot wait to see what they come up with.