The Last of Us – Demo Impressions
The Last of Us
The Last of Us– the much anticipated new IP from Sony’s Naughty Dog- hits western shores in just ten days. While the game was first teased well over a year ago, very few people outside of the studio have actually had the opportunity to play any portion of the game. The average gamer has been treated to several trailers, but no demo- that is, until this past weekend. That said, the number of people with access to said demo is limited, as the demo is not available in the Playstation Store; owners of God of War: Ascension will find a link to it on the disc or via download code in the box. We had a chance to play through it (and play through it again and again), and we liked what we played. Be warned that the following will spoil the demo, but will not spoil the story or any major or minor events from the final product.
The demo begins will Joel, Ellie, and Tess making their way into an overgrown downtown Boston, Massachusetts (as evidenced by broken road signs for Interstates 90 and 93). Thunderstorms set the mood, providing low visibility interspersed with flickering lighting. The three travelers happen upon one of the most destroyed parts of the city as they head for the capitol building, and Tess explains that the city was bombed to kill of the infected. “It worked… for a while,” she says. The game lets the player take control of Joel, allowing for exploration of every nook and cranny. This searching usually yields nothing; the world has been this way a long time, and the remnants of organized society have been picked over many times. The fruitless searching is made all-the-more gratifying when there actually is something to be found- a box of bandages is practically diamonds.
The Outskirts scenario does a great job of showing off the enormous amount of dialogue that is included in the game without compromising any of the story. Naughty Dog has done well to reign in all leaks, and keep us in the dark about the story so that we can experience the game ourselves- the lengths they’ve gone to generate interest without spoiling anything carries through to the demo. As for the dialogue that is included, I was astounded. The characters interact with each other and comment on the environment and situations very frequently- without it being annoying. The team has struck an awesome balance between conversation and silence, keeping the player interested in the lore and the characters, but also allowing the setting to speak for itself. On top of it all, the voice acting is top-notch. It’s a very believable world that Naughty Dog has created, that much is evident even just from the 15-minute demo.
Continuing on, players will enter a tipped over building; Naughty Dog’s prowess for detailed set pieces is on display as players move from the desolate, lush, and moody exterior to the ransacked interior. The combination of civilization and overgrown vegetation combines the best of Naughty Dog’s previous work on Uncharted; imagine the lush forests of Drake’s Fortune crawling over destroyed versions of the detailed cities of Drake’s Deception. The building is devoid of anything useful, but there are still lots of items to be seen- the level of detail does not disappoint; there’s even a hand-drawn picture of a family, clearly done in crayon by a child, hanging over a desk in a completely ransacked room. It caught me by surprise, and started to invoke emotions that the full game will inevitably draw out of me.
The Last of Us‘ demo wouldn’t be complete without exposing the player to some of the enemies that they’ll meet in the game. Clickers are described in detail, and players are subjected to one of these blind enemies about halfway through the demo. Here, players have the choice to waste precious ammo (you probably have four or less shots at this point), or find a way around it. They respond to sound, so tossing a brick can divert its attention, and give players the chance to escape. We chose to avoid, and this set a really dramatic finish for the demo. Entering the final room, Joel approaches a man that is clearly in pain. The man turns, screams, and charges for Joel. Luckily, the player happens upon a new pistol and a lead pipe just before hand, so there are multiple ways to deal with this guy and his two buddies. It’s unclear exactly what is wrong with them, though our guess is that they’re newly infected and not in their right minds. We took to the pipe, which we had previously crafted to have scissors coming out of the end of it- fans of Dead Island will feel right at home here. The combat is extremely satisfying, if not cringe-inducing. Enemies in games like Dead Island all respond similarly when hit, and do little in response; there’s no real impact felt by the player, physically or emotionally. The Last of Us really steps this up, and makes the player feel each blow as the enemies are downed. And there’s no beating the zombie 50 times before he slumps over, no- one crack to the side of the head was enough to instantly lay these guys out. Just when we thought we had the hang of it, a Clicker comes out of nowhere. The game prompts us to use our shiv to defend, but it was too late. Dead. Game over. Scared me to death.
Some traditionally survival-horror franchises have been blasted lately for being anything but. This is mostly due to their newly-found focus on action and shooting, likely to blend in with other, popular games in those genres. Genres which, ironically, seem to be waning in popularity just as the likes of Resident Evil try to jump on board. The Last of Us is interesting in that it isn’t a horror game, but it’s more like traditional survival-horror than most recent entries in the genre. Even more to the point, there’s a major focus on combat, but it doesn’t take away from the feeling of futility and desperation. From what we’ve seen, the fights take place between very few parties, and they’re really without any sort of fanfare- they don’t leave the player feeling empowered. Naughty Dog has designed each of these situations to be a fight for dear life- simply a piece of the “survival” puzzle, which are much more thrilling and engaging than just plowing through faceless hordes.
Naughty Dog is simply doing what they do best; achieving balance. The Uncharted franchise is critically renowned because it balances exploration, combat, and narrative extremely well. The Last of Us seems to do the same, though with different goals in mind. We’re looking forward to playing the final product, and you should be too. The Last of Us launches on June 14th, exclusive to Playstation 3.