When Mother Nature wants to take its planet back, humans will have no choice but to surrender. That’s just what’s occurring in Naughty Dog’s next big franchise, The Last of Us. Many games explore the idea of a post-apocalypse setting, but most of them deal with human interaction rather than nature taking its course. With less than a month from release, we were able to get some hands-on time with two distinct sections of the game in order to form a good understanding of the different implemented gameplay mechanics.
The first scenario is to find Bill in order for him to repay a debt and fix up a car for Joel, a piece of machinery that seems to be somewhat rare in the world. The first good chunk of this mission is slow paced with infected hidden in small sheds or trapped in their houses. It’s here that the humanizing of Ellie really begins as, if you decide to wander off and collect materials, which is highly recommended, she’ll start commenting on everything around her. Entering a music store, she will shuffle through the many records on display, only to mention how it’s sad there’s no one around to listen to them anymore. If you walk through the garden nearby, Ellie will then spot a handful of gnomes and express that she finds them cute and had a sketchbook full of them at one time. It’s these small interactions that make the characters so much more alive and give them a new level of depth you don’t see through all the violence and bloodshed.
This slower paced area is surprisingly enjoyable as it allowed the player to soak in the atmosphere and overall setting of the world. It’s eerie to walk through abandoned shops and businesses that you know were inhabited by employees and customers at one time, but is long past since. Little touches such as a gun under the register give the world an illusion of a previous life. Many of the locations in this first demonstration are completely optional, but the player needs to be on his guard at all times as there tend to be infected just waiting around the corner.
It’s only after getting ensnared by one of Bill’s nasty traps late in the preview that things began to heat up. Hanging upside down, Joel is essentially given an infinite amount of bullets to fend off the infected while Ellie tries to release him by cutting a counterweight. This moment was incredibly surreal not because waves of undead were advancing on Joel’s position and his aim is incredibly inaccurate, but because I lost my sense of space when being strung upside down. After being released from the trap, I had to regain my composure for a second because the area felt so new to me, even if I spent a couple minutes fending off flesh-eating humans.
The next part of the build is much shorter, but far more action packed. If you’ve been following the game for quite some time, you may remember an early CG trailer where Joel and Ellie are stopped by a seemingly injured man, only to be lead into ambush. After that, Joel and Ellie are stripped from their truck and are put into a battle for their lives with around ten men who are well-armed with handguns, shotguns and wooden boards. Ammunition is limited, so the player has to use it sparingly. While the more quiet setting was great in its own way, this area showed off some of the most badass and intense action scenes I’ve had with any game in recent memory. There’s something about rushing a hunter/thug after winding him with a well-aimed beer bottle to the head, and proceeding to slam his face into a cash register, that has a certain appeal to it.
Ellie can also be of assistance, but is not invulnerable. Right off the bat Joel has to come to her aid as she is squirming with a large hunter. After that she can practically take care of herself by finding items around the environment and using them to her and Joel’s advantage. She will chuck bricks and bottles at hunters to stun them while keeping out of sight and waiting for our hero to do his work. While you can’t directly command her, the sense of randomness feels refreshing mainly because the AI seems systematically smarter than any other game.
After the smoke had settled, we got to see what would have happened if our hero and heroine didn’t make it through the scuffle. Many dead were found piled in a single room while the hunters slept above and others burned just outside. The whole point of this section was to feed the player the gruesome and disgusting realization to how low humans have sunk to. Humanity seems to be lost for most people with even Joel admitting that he has been on both sides of the fence in his past. The infected are no doubt a significant problem in the world and most likely lead to the collapse of civilization, but it seems like it’s the humans who possess the worst traits.
The Last of Us isn’t your run of the mill third-person shooter, either. The gunplay feels more like a survival horror game than anything else as, not only is ammunition a rare commodity, but Joel doesn’t exactly have the steadiest of hands when aiming. Rightfully so, as in such serious and tense situations, I don’t expect anyone would be as well composed to take perfect shots. Not only are there guns but a bow can be picked up to offer a silent but deadly approach to some situations. It’s definitely something to look into as not attracting too many infected is always a good idea, but it comes as a risk because it’s much more difficult to aim and can give your position away. Outside shooting, there are various other gameplay mechanics to be found, such as modifying projectile-weapons on a weapon bench, or upgrading melee and explosive tools on the go. These are done by collecting objects around the world, such as rags, alcohol, sugar, and much more, giving you the ability to repair well used items.
The Last of Us is unlike anything we’ve seen before. There’s much more to the game than just bullets and bloodshed, and it all ties in with the grim storyline. The absolute disgust for the human race is prevalent, while at the same time, Naughty Dog was able to craft a fantastic setting to be better establish Ellie and Joel in the world. They aren’t just skin deep as Joel has been through some stuff he isn’t too proud of while Ellie seems to be an understanding, quick to learn girl who adapts to her surroundings. The Last of Us has no doubt been our radar for quite some time, but it’s good to know that everything is coming together nicely for its June 14 release.