Ever since it was revealed at the VGAs in 2011, The Last of Us has been one of the PS3′s most-anticipated games, and definitely its biggest exclusive. A lot has changed since then though, with the PS4′s announcement making this game more of a God of War II-esque swan song for the system, much like that was for the PS2. Naughty Dog’s work on the Uncharted games raised the bar for graphics, animation, music, and cinematography, and The Last of Us looks to continue that trend with more an emphasis on survival.
As Joel, you’ll team up with Erin (controlled by the AI) as you try to survive after the collapse of society due to an infectious epidemic, leading to a world taken over by makeshift gangs. It’s just you two against them all, essentially, and continues a lot of things from Uncharted, but with a darker tone. There’s more violence and graphic injuries — you can see scarring on Joel’s arms, and it wouldn’t be surprising if that damage got worse ala Tomb Raider, as the game goes on. The gameplay continues the third person cover shooter style, but with some twists thrown in. Since you’re in a post-apocalyptic setting, access to things like grenades isn’t easy, so you have to make due with what you have around you.
Enter the crafting mechanic. If you have the necessary items, you can make a molotov cocktail to burn a group of enemies in one shot. Or, if it doesn’t hit them perfectly, you’ve at least done enough damage to set them all up for easier melee kills. Stealth remains a potentially important mechanic, with the small portion of the game shown at last year’s E3 showing Joel choke out a guy with a rear naked choke, so he’s either been trained in combat, or paid close attention to UFC broadcasts before things went to Hell.
The cinematic scope from Uncharted returns with some amazing views that showcase a strange beauty in a setting full of flaws. In the above shot, you can see tons of destruction, but with that comes a world that looks lived in. The cars are heavily damaged and rusted, but like Uncharted, those and all of the other obstacles combine to make your trek to the green bridge visible at the top of the screen possible since they all wind up giving you makeshift platforming sections. Those were a lot of fun in the Uncharted games, in part due to the sometimes ridiculous ways in which things would fall to create areas you could move through. Hopefully they’re a bit more organic in the game as a whole, which appears to be the case in the short sections shown off so far, so if that aspect stays consistent, The Last of Us will be easier to lose yourself in without those breaks in the reality of things.
As you can see here, the character models look amazing. Joel’s face is full of wear and tear — especially around the eyes. His salt and pepper beard is incredible, too. It’s a strange thing to say, sure, but a lot of character models this gen have had faces as a major weakness. If you view the full version of the image, you’ll see just how detailed The Last of Us‘s faces can be. After a couple of gens with character models looking good to great outside of the faces, it’s refreshing to see a game like this really push the envelope and give us a glimpse as to what we can expect for the next gen and beyond.
Environmental details appear high, as evidenced in the image from earlier with damage and vehicles all around. In this screen, you can see a fairly beautiful area with lush greenery surrounded by destruction. It offers up a glimpse of how things used to be, and perhaps how good things could be if the world wasn’t in shambles. The most impressive thing here outside of the greenery are definitely the cracks in the paint — they add to the feeling of the world feeling used and are a welcome change from perfect paint everywhere. Seeing flaws in the environment doesn’t just reduce the feeling of a copy/paste environment, but they make it easier to get absorbed into the action.
If you haven’t picked up God of War: Ascension (which came with early demo access), then you’ll be able to enjoy the demo when it launches on PSN on May 31. From every indication, Naughty Dog has used their time and experience with the PS3 to get the most out of it for The Last of Us. The game appears to contain pretty much everything that made the Uncharted series great – just with a grittier feel to everything, and a different cast of characters. In that sense, it will probably scratch an itch for that franchise while also making you crave new entries in both. In that sense, it’s the perfect game for Sony right now since they’ll be launching new hardware at the end of the year, and effectively closing out this gen with a game that makes you want a new one on brand new hardware is far from a bad thing for them. The full game launches on June 14 – a mere two weeks after the demo is made available to the public, and as usual, there are retailer-exclusive preorder incentives.
Gamestop appears to have the best overall value, since you’ll get in-game money and the Survival Pack, which comes with an XP boost and upgrades to melee attacks — something that could be potentially game-breaking — or at least hurt the feel of the game being you overcoming odds. The bonus in-game money to spend on multiplayer characters is nice, though, as are the extra skins for Joel and Ellie. The most appealing pre-order goodie is the Sights and Sound pack, which gives you the OST, a set of avatars, and a dynamic theme. If you’re looking to spend $60 on it anyway, you might as well get as much for your money as possible.
If you just want the OST and not the Survival pack, however, then other retailers like Amazon and Best Buy also have that available as a standard edition bonus. If you don’t mind spending a bit more, then you can get the Survival Edition pretty much anywhere, which comes with a hardcover artbook, a steelbook edition of the game, and a comic book along with the Sights and Sounds pack. That will set you back $20 more, but all versions sold at Gamestop come with those goodies, so if you want the physical extras, then the best value would be to buy the SE at GS and get those as well as the most downloadable content on day one.