Video Game Level Reviews – The Last of Us Chapter 1 (“Quarantine Zone”)

And here we have the first, actual playable level of The Last of Us (the prologue is more like a short film). Characters are re-established, gameplay mechanics are introduced, and the player is set loose into the world. Honestly, I am not a fan of this level. It’s a bit too slow and uninteresting. The story and writing are still excellent but nothing substantial actually occurs here. See below for my incoherent thoughts.

Story/Atmosphere – 20/25

  • That prologue was such an emotional ride and the plot here does a good job of reigning things back while still being pretty top notch. Nothing much happens but it’s all executed great.
  • We meet Joel twenty years later and he’s gruff and not much of a talker which works well because I don’t think we needed a bunch of scenes showing him grieving for Sarah. He’s definitely hardened and is not exactly obeying the law. We see him barely (or not at all) flinching when Tess kills Robert but we do see a bit of his softer side when he’s concerned about Marlene.
  • Joel’s interactions with Tess are strong…its like Naughty Dog doesn’t even have to try when it comes to naturalistic dialogue.
  • Atmosphere is a strong point. The run-down buildings interspersed with the out-of-control foliage really helps the visual design. The world is of the crap-sack variety which has definitely been seen before in countless “end-of-the-world” stories. Still, it works, making everything feel bleak and hopeless.

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Joel reminisces about his time playing Half-Life 2.

  • The Fireflies and Marlene are introduced and we don’t learn much about them other than they are in dire straits, Joel’s brother used to side with them, and that they need some “cargo” smuggled out of the city.
  • Said cargo is Ellie who doesn’t get much development here but it does make you wonder how she got mixed up with the Fireflies. We also get the main thrust of the plot as Joel and Tess need to take Ellie to the Capitol building in return for their guns. Oh, and of course we know this is headed towards father-daughter relationship territory (not that this is by any means a bad thing…its just a bit predictable here. Its still handled masterfully throughout the game).

Level Design – 8/15

  • Here is where I think this level struggles. Its a slow paced level where we get reintroduced to the world 20 years down the line. This isn’t too big of a deal, I love me some slow paces. But, whereas the atmosphere is on point, the actual level design is very samey throughout. Nothing stands out. There isn’t much tension and it ends up feeling like a slog.
  • Only real notable areas in my mind were the docks/cargo area and the slums. Everything else blended together.
  • It doesn’t help that this game is just better (IMO) when dealing with Infected but in this level, other than one tiny encounter, it’s all human enemies.

Gameplay – 7/10

  • Nothing special about the gameplay, a couple of encounters with humans, one of which is strong and tense (the aforementioned scene at the docks).
  • I am never a big fan of that thing stealth games do where they set up two enemies with their backs to you and your AI partner so that you can do a double takedown. It’s there to make you feel badass but it’s in literally every stealth game where you have a partner. And it’s definitely present during the sequence when Marlene is leading Joel and Tess across the bridge.

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Why sentries constantly turn their backs to the only entrances to their lair is an age old mystery

Overall – 35/50

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