Entering PAX East’s Expo Hall one of the largest displays visible from the upper entrance was the Sony PlayStation 3 area. Upon closer inspection this was not in fact a Sony booth, but instead a space dedicated solely to Naughty Dog’s upcoming game, The Last of Us. The sheer size of the space and its central location shows the faith, and perhaps hope, Sony has resting on the game. Having played The Last of Us for an extended half hour play session I can say Sony’s investment in displaying the game is well worth it.
The Last of Us, for those living under a rock, is a post-apocalyptic survival game featuring a small group of tight knit survivors. The world was ravaged by a plague that makes those infected turn into mindless zombies. To stave off the disease from spreading, many parts of the world were bombed or destroyed to kill those infected. As society collapsed, pockets of survivors try to make the best of life while avoiding infected creatures or roving vicious human bands. The game is equal parts The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Resident Evil (the earlier games), and some Silent Hill sprinkled in, all powered by the robust gameplay only developers of the Uncharted series could implement.
The demo we saw place midway during the game and the lead character, Joel, was accompanied by a young girl, Ellie, and another female, Tess. The instant the demo started I was blown away by the visuals of the game. There was a light rain starting as Joel was walking through the wreckage of the city. As he, Tess, and Ellie walked they conversed, and I found myself stopping and just looking at the destroyed city and the characters themselves. The last time I found myself stopping and staring at the environments in this way was in Ninja Theory’s Enslaved, and The Last of Us tops even that game’s visual panache. Everything was incredibly detailed, from garbage and debris strewn everywhere to grime and cuts on the characters clothes.
Gameplay started with exploration and path finding, much like the Uncharted series you could move quite fluidly, but unlike Nathan Drake, here one could not be single headedly scaling buildings by the tips of your fingers. These were hardened people, toughened by the need to survive, but not superhuman, they could climb what you think they would be able to and had to get around what they can’t scramble over. Before too long they reached a building and you were able to go from room to room collecting parts, scrap and what meager weapons there were in the building.
This introduced the crafting aspect of the game, as you traversed the world you could components that could be used to make medical kits, simple weapons or add-ons to weapons. Again in the aspect of realism you were finding blades to add to clubs, handles to make shivs with, or pills and bandages for healing. I was very impressed with the thought put into the items you find and the upgrade and crafting options that were available. Using items was sometimes not instant, healing for example had your character taking a few seconds to bandage themselves, this added to the realism and once combat situations were encountered, the tension of sustaining wounds only increased.
After some exploration it became apparent that there were some infected up ahead so Joel told Ellie and Tess to wait while he made sure the path was clear. It is important to state at this point that Joel did not come across as a true hero as of yet. He felt compelled to help the other two survive out of his sense of morality but there was obvious tension between the group that I cannot wait to explore in the full game. Entering another area with a single gun and only six bullets, Joel saw an infected that he could take out stealthily, I did so and made my first major mistake in playing The Last of Us — I approached it like Uncharted. After killing the first infected, I threw a brick to distract some others and once they grouped up around the noise, I started shooting. This was a huge mistake as once the four of them swarmed me I was quickly taken down. This happened a few times until I finally thought about this as a terrifying situation that I had to survive, not dominate.
I finally clued in that cover, distraction, and enemy comprehension would win this fight, not straight out shooting and hitting. I distracted a few, then snuck around the side and killed a newly infected (they could still see fully), then picked off the clickers who tracked by sound. It was a tense few minutes that I survived by being smart and thinking about this not as Nathan Drake, but instead as how I would react in this situation if I had the limited resources and human frailties that Joel and the human survivors had. See the elements of the early Silent Hill games here yet?
The Last of Us was easily the best and most captivating game I saw on the show floor at PAX East and will be one of the PlayStation 3’s last great games as they transition to the PlayStation 4 next year. Naughty Dog took a big gamble making a game in the oversaturated zombie genre but they have seemingly succeeded. What I played was a game with the Naughty Dog voice, it is a game about the people, not the zombies, and it is one I cannot wait to play again.