In regards to TLOU, I'd like to preface the following impressions by stating that I'm generally harsher on Naughty Dog games than the average Playstation gamer. I think they're outstanding games from a technical and presentation POV, and while they are fun, i find them to be distinctly average in terms of gameplay mechanics. With that said, TLOU is typical Naughty Dog fare, it's sits comfortably atop of the heap where presentation aspects are concerned. While Bioshock Infinite remains perhaps my favorite game to gawk at, TLOU makes me gawk more than anything else.
It's absolutely saturated with a positively OCD level of world detail. While the backdrop is nothing new (post apocalyptic cityscapes), its never been rendered with this level of fidelity. It's easily the most convincing portrayal of a world flung into ruin that I've seen, and the sheer amount of unique locations and assets are staggering. From ruined cityscapes to beautiful forests to towering skyscrapers to dank subways, there's a LOT to see. The outstanding lighting and brilliant foliage absolutely pops as well, so it's not all next gen brown and grey. The world feels more seamless and larger than most game due to the lack of loading times and the game's slow traversal pace. I'm the type of person who likes to meander off the beaten path to take in the sights, so as of this writing, I am 9 hours and and the game reports me as having reached the 45% mark.
The characters are sharply written with very natural feeling dialogue and are very convincingly modeled. Most importantly though, they are brought to life with absolutely superb performance capture. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson in the roles of Joel and Ellie are perfectly cast. The itself game eschews all of the bombast of Uncharted and opts for a much more methodical pace. There are many moments where you are just traversing the cityscape/countryside and soaking in the atmosphere. These moments are in turn punctuated by pockets of terror and panic as you will come across infected and other human survivors hellbent on smashing your skull in.
Now the gameplay... this where things get interesting. As I've mentioned before, I approach ND games with an air of suspicion as they aren't class leading in this crucial aspect. The first several hours of this game had me rolling my eyes. The melee is a simple one button affair, chest high furniture abounds in the name of stealth, and the crafting system boiled down to collecting random doodads to make an assortment of items from shivs to molotovs to bandages. The AI isn't the best and is prone to moments of hilarious path finding errors as well as being completely oblivious to Joel and Ellie. The early segments are highly linear and enemies are relegated to wandering about, highly compartmentalized to their rooms. It all had me thinking Christ this game is ******* overrated.
A few hours later? A much different story. I'd HIGHLY recommend playing this game on hard. After the training wheels come off you're suddenly tossed into situations where you'll come across encampments and multi story buildings swarming with patrolling guards. There are many ways to approach these areas but suffice to say, between the howling, clicking infected and the jittery, unpredictable humans, if you aren't playing this game carefully, you will get your **** ****ed up. The game is at its best when you suddenly blow your cover after silently ghosting a slew of enemies. All of a sudden a mob of enemies can rush rush you, causing you to exhaust precious resources to keep them at bay.
The game does a good job of applying pressure in these scenarios as bullets and weapons are hilariously scarce. In the nine hours I've played, I've come across a total of perhaps 100 bullets for all 4 of my guns, including a handgun, revolver, shotgun and hunting rifle. Joel's aim drifts, and he has to go thru his backpack to switch handguns until you acquire enough materials to fashion a holster for a second weapon. You actually DON'T want to shoot anyone as the noise draw attention anyhow. Considering that ill only ever have about 15 rounds for my handgun at any given time, the panic sets in when it can take as many as four rounds to bring down an enemy, and that's if you don't miss! Brawling similarly takes ages, and bashing enemies with weapons (pipes, planks or bricks) results in Joel being unarmed as his weapons break after a few good swings.
All of a sudden, all of the simplified gameplay strikes me as being carefully calculated to result in a streamlined experience. You are open to attack when Joel goes thru his backpack, crafts, heals, or switches weapons. It's about being reactionary to the inevitable chaos and you can't think too hard when you're cornered. In this sense, the game reminds me of Demon's Souls in that you can not storm in and lay waste, you've got to carefully assess your environment and remain cautious above all else to avoid a frustrating experience.
I'm only 45% in, but if the game can continue applying this level of pressure (or even elevate it) and keep growing Joel and Ellie as characters? It's looking to be among the most memorable rides of the generation.