Video Game Level Reviews – The Last of Us Chapter 4 (“Pittsburgh”)

Note: I published a version of this post a week ago but WordPress makes it much too easy to roll back a post to an earlier draft without any chance of recovering the later version. Siggghhhh…which means most of what I wrote got deleted. First world problems are the worst. Here is my re-written review of Chapter 4 of The Last of Us.

One thing I’ve noticed about The Last of Us during my second time through is how well each Chapter tells its own story. Hometown showed Joel’s world before the infection, Quarantine Zone showed how the pockets of humanity are living, Outskirts showed what humanity’s response to the Cordyceps could do to a major city, and Bill’s Town told the story of how Bill has survived in a town where everything has fallen apart. Pittsburgh does something similar as it really drives home the point that humans can be utterly terrible to one-another.

Story/Characters – 42/50

  • The character work continues to excel in Pittsburgh. Sure, nothing major happens to alter the plot but Joel and Ellie’s relationship keeps on truckin’ along, developing layers. This is the first level where we see them at ease with each other. Whether it’s bonding during their roadtrip (Ellie has a sick sense of humor) or their banter when Ellie pulls out that joke book, their increased level of comfort with eachother is heartwarming.
  • Somewhat less heartwarming is the reveal that Joel shares some similarities with the Hunters. During one of his conversations with Ellie, he implies that this is a life that he has lived which is a pretty grim turn. Maybe Joel wasn’t as bad as these particular guys but the Hunters are still the kinds of people who hunt “tourists” for their shoes. Its a testament to Naughty Dog’s writing and to Troy Baker’s performance that Joel doesn’t lose any sympathy from me due to this reveal. It makes sense for his character that Sarah’s death may have driven him to worse things than just smuggling with Tess.
  • When Ellie saves his ass from the Hunter in the hotel, Joel becomes frustrated because it showed him that he was wrong to keep her away from weapons. Instead of giving in though, he lashes out and berates her for putting herself in danger. Joel is the type of character who stubbornly pouts when things don’t go his way but after cooling down, the he sees reason and gives in. This is handled brilliantly here as Joel, in the very next action sequence, gives Ellie the sniper rifle to help him out. I absolutely love this. Especially because he doesn’t acknowledge his bullheadedness or anything. Of all the things they do well, perhaps Naughty Dog’s greatest feat is how the moments of character development arise naturally from the character’s personalities.

    Who wouldn’t trust someone who looks so badass holding a rifle?
  • Sam and Henry are introduced at the tail-end of Pittsburgh and aren’t developed too much yet. Henry abandoning Joel does provide a nice little character bit as Ellie refuses to abandon him and puts herself back in danger just to stay together.
  • The Hunters are clearly bad guys. This is not in doubt….they are revealed to do utterly sadistic things just for their own amusement. However, its a nice touch to show that the Hunters were originally revolting against the cruel actions of the FEDRA who were hoarding rations while possibly murdering people when the Military Zones became too crowded.
  • The character work and the environmental storytelling was great as usual but in terms of actual plot, this level was a bit uneventful.

Level Design/Atmosphere – 18/30

  • When you read some of the notes from the poor FEDRA saps about their fears of being executed and then you see those same FEDRA saps after the Hunters got through with them….yeah that’s some grim shit. We’ve got lynchings, burned bodies, and a complete environment of cruelty. Every time you hear one of the Hunters talking about the tourists, it drives it home that they do this out of enjoyment at this point.
  • With that said, this is repeated a bit too often. There’s only so many versions of a lynched body you can see in one level before it loses it’s effectiveness.
  • Some of the dialogue between the Hunters is too on the nose. There is one exchange where a Hunter brags about killing an innocent girl and the other Hunter says something to the manner of “wow sometime’s you’ve got to earn your keep”. This line is clearly there to scream to the player “LOOK HOW HORRIBLE THESE GUYS ARE!!! THEY ARE EVULZ!” None of the subtlety that Naughty Dog normally exhibits.
  • The atmosphere of the city of Pittsburgh is a bit tired as well. We just had Joel traipsing through a city of sorts in the previous three chapters so by this point, there’s only so many variations of this that can be done. It’s not helped by the design of the different environments not standing out much other than the hotel section and maybe the first bookstore.
  • It’s a really bad sign that there is more than one bookstore you fight your way through in this level…kind of tells you that this level was way too long for it’s own good.
  • The aforementioned hotel really stands out, especially Joel’s solo trek through the building’s bowels. It’s the only section in the level where the Infected are prevalent and it’s a creepy and strong diversion.

Gameplay – 13/20

  • The major setpieces throughout this level are generally high quality. The initial fight through the convenience store immediately after the ambush is excellent in how frantic and chaotic everything feels. Then we are graced with some excellently tense stealth sequences both in the bookstore and in the hotel. The battle with the Infected in the hotel basement is short but is absolutely terrifying. And the final phase of the level where Joel and Ellie (and sometimes Henry and Sam) are being stalked by an APC is completely different than anything we’ve seen up to this point (though not if you’ve played an Uncharted game). Taken in a vacuum, these are all awesome.
    • Though that stealth sequence in the hotel is nearly undermined by Naughty Dog’s insistence on having these moments where enemies will spawn no matter what you do. I spent 19 minutes stealth killing everyone and almost died because some hidden trigger told four or five Hunters to come barreling at Joel despite the fact that I had made no noise.
  • It’s just too bad that in addition to the above, Naughty Dog decided to toss in about five too many set-pieces where Joel and co. have to sneak around and take out Hunters in nearly identical situations. The Financial District sequence is fun…but it’s less so because we’d already had several sequences like this earlier. The sequence where Joel and Ellie have to fight there way through two buildings with trip wires placed around the arena is less fun because at this point the level had been going on for too long already. And then imagine my outrage when after Joel and Ellie meet Sam and Henry, we have one more generic action/stealth sequence where they have to fight their way past the gate to get towards the bridge. This sequence was awful, not so much because of the quality of gameplay, but because I was just so damn tired of doing the same thing again and again.
“How many times do we have to do the same damn thing?!”

Overall – 73/100


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s