Presented in a dark and presumably abandoned old warehouse on Shoreditch High-Street, London, on Thursday afternoon, I got my hands on with Naughty Dog’s next game The Last of Us ahead of its June release.
While the moss-covered bricks, ambient lighting, thick piped-in fog and eerie screams and clicks definitely set the scene, The Last of Us really speaks for itself. It could have been presented in a completely white room, maybe in a swanky hotel, but regardless of setting my experience would have always been the same: fantastic.
Sitting astride a stool with an old oil drum for a table, I set about discovering the journey that Joel and Ellie embark upon as they try to survive in the natural wasteland that’s ravaged the world Joel once knew. With the choice of playing through two separate sections of the game, both with a very different feel to them, I started off in the leafy town – although everywhere is somewhat leafy now – of Lincoln before moving into the grittier city of Pittsburgh. It’s clear to see that Naughty Dog have really managed to create a world with an environment full of contrasts.
Starting in a sleepy, sun speckled woods just outside of a town in Lincoln, it’s soon obvious that The Last of Us is nothing like Uncharted. Already environments are open, allowing you to explore instead of being funnelled down a linear route. You’re still not left with no direction, as the real route is still rather obvious, but you aren’t funnelled down it. Nobody is there holding your hand, telling you where to go or what to do. You’re left all alone, just like any survivor would be.
Exploring is also crucial to making any meaningful progress as it’s here you scavenge key parts and items used to upgrade weapons or craft your own melee weapons and health packs. It’s a great system too as it means that not only are you always on the look out for potential life-saving pickups, but you have to make a decision between creating defensive or offensive items – naturally this completely shapes how you play.
While Lincoln is a rather sedate affair of problem solving, looking for a car from Joel’s friend and escaping crazed infected, Pittsburgh is a complete contrast that starts with an intense fight for survival as you’re ambushed by others fighting for their lives. It’s a great introduction into combat agains foes who aren’t so keen on just rushing you.
While this is a third-person title that features guns, it’s not about just going in with guns blazing. In fact, if you do approach combat situations like that you’re more than likely to die very, very quickly. Instead it’s about distraction, stealth and patience in taking down each assailant. Most of the time you’ll have little than a handful of bullets in a gun and perhaps a molotov cocktail or two at your disposal. The AI is also a heck of a lot smarter than you could imagine, reacting differently to you and your attacks based on what weapon you’re holding or how you’ve gone about attacking them.
The Infected aren’t as smart, at least not at the stage we’ve seen them, but they are certainly very deadly – if one gets hold of you then you’re pretty much dead. Your base-level infected are enraged and generally will just rush you wherever you are, but at the same time they’re conscious human beings and, while unable to control their actions, seem aware that they’re doing something they’d much rather not be. Clickers, on the other hand, are completely blind as the Cordyceps fungal spores have claimed their face by sprouting out of it. These former humans let out clicks to use echolocation to see their way around their environment. As you can imagine, it means you’ll be hearing some clicks and squeaks in the distance before you stumble across one – but when you do, you really want to run.
The AI that underpinnes Ellie is also something to behold, really creating a character that acts like you’d expect a distressed human to be doing. Instead of getting in your way like many partner AIs do, she’s always out of your way, always aware of when you need help and always there to provide warnings of enemies and cause distractions. When you’re pinned down in combat or being ambushed by a foe she’ll sometimes run in and deliver a blow to the back or help you pull them off you. She’s most certainly a welcome addition.
The evolution Ellie and Joel’s relationship also looks set to be another great aspect of The Last of Us as already you can see how the witty quips and snipes in Lincoln melt away into genuine and openly heartfelt concern in the streets of Pittsburgh. Lincoln sees Ellie run towards Joel when danger is present, but in Pittsburgh she’ll hide next to him while he sheilds her with his arm or body. They’ve become far, far closer than before. While this is a rather obvious change in our demo, I’d imagine that it’s almost an organic and somewhat unnoticeable change during the course of the game.
While there’s obviously a lot more to The Last of Us, with a whole host of areas we’ve only had a peek into seeing, I’ll save all the delicious tid-bits for our review which is set to be out in just a few weeks time. For now, all you need to know is that The Last of Us stands to be quite possibly one of the best titles amongst the PlayStation 3’s repertoire, even if it stands to be one of the last big first-party titles to be released on the console.