You might look at the character modeling, the animations and overall presentation and come to the conclusion that the game amounts to a darker, post-apocalyptic Uncharted - but spend just 30 minutes playing the game and you’ll realise that The Last of Us is anything but.
The world around the protagonist, Joel, and his companions - a former partner named Tess and a 14-year-old girl called Ellie - is grim and lifeless. Devoid of colour. Roads have buckled, segments of cities have sunk into the ground, and the buildings left standing are half-destroyed, masked in overgrown foliage. The landscapes, as depressing as they are, are presented in stunningly gorgeous detail.
What really stuns, however, is a dynamic lighting system which becomes apparent when Joel and company have to make their way through a dilapidated building. Seeing foreboding shadows swinging all over the place and reacting to your torch not only impresses, but adds a great deal of suspense.
And suspense is clearly what Naughty Dog is going for with The Last of Us. If Uncharted is your explosive blockbuster action flick, this is a tense horror-thriller in the same vein as 28 Days Later. It’s a punishing game, challenging you to scavenge dusty rooms for equipment and scrap, offering little health when facing enemies and pacing each set-piece with slow, morbid tension in mind.
It’s closer to a ‘survival horror’ than anything else, but Naughty Dog instead wants to use the term ‘survival action’. Maybe because of the quality of game series that have traditionally occupied this space. Maybe because you’re using quick-thinking and wits as much as a survival instinct. Either way, it’s certainly a departure from anything the studio has done before.
As well as standard aim and fire controls on the L1 and R1 triggers, L2 is set to make Joel run (which you’ll find becomes extremely helpful) while R2 offers a ‘Listen’ mode, making Joel crawl around rooms and helping you to detect the location of nearby enemies. These enemies, by the way, happen to be fungally infected humans. It sounds hilarious, but when you’re up against these fellows, it’s a totally different story.
There are multiple types of infected, and in my playthrough I encountered two. One is known as the Clicker - a blind foe that relies on sound to hunt its prey. As the name suggests, if a Clicker can detect your presence, it will start to make clicking noises, which can be absolutely heart-pounding if you’re trapped in a corridor with one.
Another is the Runner, which is the standard type of ‘zombie’ that you might find in Left 4 Dead - weak infected that have strength in numbers. Dealing with these bad boys in the wrong way will quickly result in your death, and in fact there are different tactics that need to be deployed when facing each kind.
At first you will deal with these infected enemies on their own, but later in the demo I encountered a large room containing a mixture of these different kinds of enemies. It took me a fair number of tries to complete, as I had to juggle stealth with blunt-force trauma whilst ensuring that I wasn’t spotted by either kind.
Ammo is useful when you have it - but if the demo was anything to go by, you’ll have a hard time finding plentiful supply. Items scattered about the environment can be picked up and used as makeshift weapons in a pinch, or chucked across the room to distract a troublesome infected. But what you’ll really need to do in order to survive is make good use of your inventory.
The Last of Us has something of an RPG element in terms of Joel’s rucksack. As you progress through the game, you can find scissors, tape, bandages and all kinds of other objects that can help you craft useful items. These objects come under a variety of categories - battery, blade, binding, rag, alcohol, explosive, sugar, and melee weapon.
All in all, it’s an intense survival experience that, at this stage, impresses both graphically and in terms of gameplay. If this becomes the PlayStation 3’s true swansong, I could see this being the perfect way to send the old girl off.
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