Recently, I played The Last of Us Remastered for the PS4. I guess a more appropriate word than recently would be finally because I never actually played the game before. My reasons for putting off such a highly acclaimed game are because I don’t really play zombie games and I rarely play shooters. This is the first zombie game I can remember beating since, like, Halo 2 if you count the Flood, which you shouldn’t. But truthfully I was never actually going to play The Last of Us if not for the constant and incessant prodding of others. You’ve heard and probably said it all before. “It’s the greatest game ever made!” “It got 10’s across the board.” Of course ignoring that 9.5 from Game Informer and 8 from GameSpot, but that’s apparently beside the point. For most people I’ve talked to on the subject, it’s considered the best game made during the PS3 era, of course overlooking gems like GTAV, Skyrim, Tomb Raider (2013) and God of War 3, quite possibly one of the best games ever made in any generation up to that point. Being both a skeptic and a pessimist, I’m always very leery of games and other forms of mass entertainment that are just too over hyped. I have no problem admitting, nay declaring, that I’m not a Harry Potter fan, I found Avatar to be overrated, and I regret purchasing Destiny still to this day. Usually things that the mass public says are amazing tend to be mediocre or ok at best. So I was avoiding ever playing this super hyped up game in not one but two genres I don’t like. It’s only because my cousin finally purchased the game for me and demanded that I play it that I finally took the time.
I’m happy to be able to say that I enjoyed The Last of Us. It’s definitely noteworthy when I praise a zombie game or a shooter. But I will not say this game is a perfect 10 out of 10 on the gaming scale. I believe this general score to be an exaggeration which has been propagated by uncontrolled hype due to a lack of self-control and realistic opinions from fanboys. I think it’s important to define what a 10 actually is or should be before having any further discussion about The Last of Us or any other games that have been rated a 10 over the years.
While yes, games are graded in comparison to other games, they must also be able to stand on their own merits when being judged in a vacuum. This is especially true when deciding what is and is not a 10. If it was as simple as being better than other games, there would be a lot more 10’s. But that’s not an accurate indicator of the maximum grade. If all the games released for a console are shitty and one of them is less shitty than the rest, that doesn’t make it a 10. That’s not to imply that The Last of Us is shitty or that there were no other not shitty games in the PS3 era. It’s simply to clarify why good by comparison is not enough to be rated a 10. A true 10 is unquestionably a 10 regardless of what other games were made that generation. Yes, the expectations to be rated a 10 change or get higher with each generation, but what makes a game a 10 always stays the same.
Graphics is a good place to start. This is one of the few parts of a true 10 that is generationally specific. The visual expectations and possibilities of games raise with each generation. If you go all the way back to the Coleco Vision or Atari-2600, obviously those games wouldn’t look like 10’s today. A game made in the graphic styles of those platforms today would never have a chance at being a 10. But at the time of their original release certain games pushed people’s expectations to the farthest they could imagine and at those times those games had the visual possibility to be a ten. Today the expectations for graphics are much, much higher which means achieving the graphical level needed to even potentially be a 10 is much higher.
Sound is hard to produce at perfect 10 levels, but it’s nowhere near impossible and not hard to understand. You know when a game’s sound is on point and when it’s not. And unless there are major problems, most games with a solid soundtrack and decent effects at the right time have the sound chops to be a 10.
Writing, which I believe is a necessity to be a 10, is difficult but not impossible. There are a number of developers that present games with great stories that have and will stand the test of time as games that were written perfectly.
Finally, there’s gameplay. One of the most important, if not the most important topic when picking a 10. All the areas of review are important and required to be excellent to be a true 10, but ultimately it’s gameplay that people really seem to value and remember. A 10 does not have good gameplay. It has perfect gameplay. It has mechanics that you wouldn’t change. The experience of playing the game is undebatable. It just is.
Not one of these areas of development, including gameplay, can produce a perfect 10 game on its own. It’s when these areas all come together along with replay value and have all been done perfectly that a true 10 is born. We’ve all played sevens. We’ve all played eights. We’ve even played nines, some of which were argued to be 10’s, but you know in your heart when a game is truly a 10. A 10 is perfect. A 10 is not debatable. A 10 is flawless. You finish the game and would change nothing. It doesn’t need to be better than any other game. It’s perfect all on its own. You know a game is a 10 because when you finish it you have no buts. There is no “it was good but.” There is no “I wish the graphics had of been like.” A 10 is a 10 and it’s not up for discussion.
I understand that many people don’t hold 10’s to as high a standard as this. I believe that’s wrong. 10’s must be held to the highest standard possible, regardless of what other contemporary games look like. I don’t believe there has to be a 10 in every generation. I believe 10’s come when they come and there’s no reason to settle for less. Many games have been rated 10/10 over the years by different companies but a number of these did not deserve such prestigious ratings. Undertale (2015) is a great example of a game undeserving of the maximum rating. Whether you loved the game or hated it, everyone can agree that the graphics were not worthy of a maximum rating in 2015. That alone makes IGN’s 10/10 rating for the game a false one regardless of how fun the game is. It’s by no means a perfect game and could absolutely be improved without debate and thus is not a 10.
Just to clarify, a game does not have to be a 10 to be good. I have played countless sevens, sixes, and even fives that were very enjoyable. We aren’t talking about what makes a fun game or even what makes a good game. We are talking about what it takes to make/be a perfect game. And in that mode of thinking, I do not agree that The Last of Us is a perfect 10.
The Last of Us is an excellent game. There is no debating this. But there are a number of issues it has that make it an imperfect game and thus not a 10. Some of my complaints are nitpicky and some might be considered subjective, but if you deem even one of my complaints about the game valid then you must agree that it’s not a perfect 10. The graphics are good but not perfect. I played the remastered version on PS4 and when I first started playing it I couldn’t help but stop to admire the visual character of the game. Everything is quite beautiful. But there are imperfections. I first noticed a chink in the armor when I walked up to a wall covered in ivy early on. From far away I was very impressed by the texture of the ivy leaves and they appeared to be separate objects all working together to form a wall of vines. Then when I went up to it to examine it further I realized that when you look at it from the side it’s just one solid object layered on top of the wall and skinned to look like individual leaves. Now this may not make the game worse, but when you consider the various games that were made before it that had individual leaves modeled then you have to admit that it could have been done better.
The sound in The Last of Us was questionable. Not the effects so much as the music. Specifically the eerie music. We all know the classic use of creepy music to foreshadow a zombie or monster coming. The game will have no music playing and suddenly you start hearing scary background music and that tells you that something bad is about to happen. Not so with my playthrough of The Last of Us. What happened to me was every time I would finish a serious encounter, eerie music would start playing after the fact leading me to believe another encounter was quickly about to start. This happened to me multiple times and yet that foreshadowed encounter never came. What did come were several moments of being on edge unnecessarily. Again, this may not detract from the game in a noticeable way, but it does show another flaw that makes this game imperfect and thus not eligible to be a proper 10.
I realize that the plot is one of the best things about the game, but I do have some major issues with it. Now, my issues with the actual plot are irrelevant to the discussion. But what is relevant is that there are multiple games that I’ve played that I have absolutely no complaints or at the very least, less complaints about with the plot. That is completely subjective but I want to argue here that a true 10 has a plot that not everyone may like, but those same people should be able to acknowledge its perfection in presentation with no changes being needed. I would argue the plot of God of War (the original) specifically is a game with such a plot. The plot from start to finish requires no changes. Everything that happens makes sense and is justified. Though there ultimately were multiple sequels made, none of them were required at the end of the first game. There are no unanswered questions that require more development for the plot to be comfortably left alone at the end of the game. For me, The Last of Us doesn’t do that. Even if you ignore my subjective issues with the plot, there are still many important questions that are left unanswered at the end of the game. For instance, what happened to all the other Fireflies? Did Joel eventually tell Ellie the truth? What happened to the rest of the world? These may not directly affect how you feel about the main characters at the end of the story, but I would argue that a majority of players did leave the game feeling a lack of closure because of these unanswered questions. A perfect 10 plot should leave you completely satisfied at the end of it.
Finally, we have to talk about the gameplay. The Last of Us plays very well, but I have a number of very valid issues. For instance, why can’t Ellie hold supplies? She has a backpack. She carries a shank. She carries a gun. Why can’t she be used to store excess supplies? This is a resource focused survival game after all. She should be able to carry stuff. And when the two get separated occasionally you should lose out on the other character’s stores. That would make perfect sense. But it’s technically forgivable because in other games a similar limitation always applies so while I do believe it is a valid complaint I can accept an argument for why it shouldn’t be considered a quality lowering flaw. But what is absolutely an undebatable flaw is the fact that you can’t switch partially used shanks. Shanks can be upgraded to three use durability. You can carry a maximum of three shanks. If one of my shanks has only a third of the durability left and I find a fresh shank on a shelf, why can’t I trade shanks? You can’t even drop the current shank altogether and then pick up the new one. You’re just stuck with the damaged shank until you use it. I had to leave behind a number of shanks because of this flaw. Another flaw is that you have a limited number of items that you can carry, but you have no control over the amounts of each type of item. In my case I never used smoke bombs. Literally, through the entire game I only threw one and it was an accident because I meant to throw the nail bomb. So for me I always had full sugar but often ran low on other things like rags and alcohol. Why can’t the player choose which items to carry and drop based on a maximum number of items or weight? The gameplay is by no means bad, but to call it perfect would be a lie.
None of the flaws in the The Last of Us are game breaking. The game has legitimate flaws that can’t be debated and it has minor issues that are more subjective. To say it is not an excellent game overall is bold faced lie. But to say that it deserves a score of a perfect 10 is no less a lie. Giving it a nine or higher up to even 9.9 is technically acceptable. I would give it a 9.6/7 personally. But when graded in a vacuum, this game does not truthfully stand on its own as a 10. Few games do. But sadly professional reviewers seem to be getting more and more lax about giving out 10’s and that does a disservice to the scale and to developers because it cheapens the 10 and lessens what should be considered the highest honor for a game developer; making a perfect game. The Last of Us is not perfect and thus it was wrong for so many companies to give it a 10.