With The Last of Us still several months away Sony and Naughty Dog presented us with the opportunity to get some hands on time and we’re pleased to report that the upcoming PlayStation 3 exclusive is already looking in great shape.
The Last of Us blends survival and action to tell a story of a bleak future, where the world is decimated by a modern plague. Cities have been abandoned and reclaimed by nature. Those who managed to survive routinely kill each other for food, weapons and whatever they can scavenge.
A frightening fungal virus has all but wiped out mankind, turning those infected into grotesque creatures hell-bent on finishing off the remaining survivors. The military have managed to secure quarantine zones in an effort to curb the spread of the disease but this has been largely ineffective. Survivors are forced to fight each other for scraps while civilisation collapses around them.
The game’s main protagonists are Joel, a ruthless survivor, and Ellie, a teenage girl wise beyond her years. The unlikely pair must work together to survive their journey across what remains of the United States.
The demo dropped me into the game near the beginning, with Joel, Tess, and Ellie somewhere near the outskirts of Boston. Despite the end of the world scenario, Naughty Dog has created a hauntingly beautiful game environment with lush greenery and vegetation taking over a largely abandoned cityscape.
Naughty Dog has kept much of the gameplay a mystery — we knew that it was an end of the world type scenario, but until recently we had not seen exactly what players would be up against, other than gangs of roaming survivors.
In the demo there were two types of enemy: the Runner and the Clicker. The Runner is in the early stages of infection and still look fairly human. Runners are very aggressive, often travel in packs, and will gang up on you if you get cornered. The second type of enemy is known as a Clicker. These creatures are in the advanced stages of infection, blinded by the parasite that has grown inside their skulls. They make an eerie clicking sound that serves as a type of radar, allowing them to zero in on any nearby prey.
Naughty Dog revealed that the concept for the virus was based on a real disease that they saw in BBC documentary where a fungus infected an ant, taking over its brain.
Players need to employ very different tactics when dealing with these two enemy types — Runners have impaired vision and can be avoided simply by hiding. Clickers will find you, even in the dark, so you will remain still and throw objects to distract. Initially I chose to hide and was able to throw bricks and bottles to divert them and leave the area unscathed.
In The Last of Us, the darkness can be your friend. If the Runners detect you, they will attack in groups. To help players out, Naughty Dog has armed Joel with a special “Listen Mode”. Holding down the shoulder button transforms the game into a black and white state, allowing Joel to listen in on the sounds made by enemies in the vicinity.
In the next area there was no option other than to fight. The game’s combat mechanics again feel quite similar to Uncharted — you have hand to hand options and you can use firearms that you have managed to pick up in your travels. The Clickers can be dispatched with a series of headshots or with accurately thrown Molotov cocktail (which can be crafted from foraged items). The Runners were easier to deal with – hand to hand combat is a great option for them, especially if you want to conserve ammunition.
The game follows a fairly linear path, but there are multiple routes that can be taken. Searching off the beaten path will often lead you to supplies so exploration is definitely encouraged. In Uncharted, players often had plenty of ammo and supplies to see them through. This is certainly not the case in The Last of Us – every bullet, every scrap that you pick up potentially has value.
Though I only got to play though one level, it feels as if Naughty Dog has done a great job of pacing the game, balancing character development, stealth and exploration, with intense and often frightening gameplay. Naughty Dog has created a nightmarish world that is not easy to to survive, and a wrong move can quickly lead to death.
We now have to wait until June for The Last of Us, but fans will be able to get a taste when the demo arrives alongside the release of God of War: Ascension.