With the month of May slightly more then halfway over, Naughty Dog’s highly anticipated post-pandemic drama The Last of Us is almost here. During PAX East, I was able to play the first public demo build of the game and offered up both my positive and negative thoughts on it in my PAX preview article. I wrestled with the theory on whether or not this game was truly a unique experience or just another predictable survival horror title with infected creatures used in the place of zombies.
However, I finally got my answer last night when Sony was gracious enough to send me an updated preview build of two levels taken directly from the final game. After spending some extensive hands-on time with this new demo, I can confidently say now that The Last of Us is a hell of a good time. Naughty Dog took a gamble by doing something different from Uncharted and in my humble opinion that risk is about to payoff. My preview is split up into two sections detailing both my time in Lincoln and Pittsburgh. These events take place later in the game and involve the efforts of Joel’s friend, Bill, as they both attempt to smuggle Ellie out of a highly oppressive quarantine zone.
The Lincoln portion of the demo begins with Joel and Ellie navigating through the abandoned woods on a sunny day. The atmosphere remains very peaceful and you get the vibe of this being a “calm before the storm” type of moment. The pair are essentially hoping to locate Bill’s hideout and ask him for assistance in helping them obtain a car. Right from the beginning onward, the one thing that stands out the most in this demo is the engaging relationship being built up between the two characters and how it alters dramatically based upon the setting at hand.
Ellie is a character that is fully immersed in the world that surrounds her and thus tries to explore any and every aspect of it. Joel on the other hand, is a ruthless survivor who essentially takes on the role of an overprotective father figure and desires to protect Ellie at all costs. These two dynamic personalities result in an unbreakable bond shared between two survivors and will remain the driving force behind what will essentially be a deeply emotional narrative when all is said and done.
At its core, The Last of Us is a game where the player is constantly encouraged to scavenge to survive and the demo reinforces this point heavily. In collecting what appeared to be several obscure items, I was granted with the ability to craft new items, including health kits, shivs to open locked doors, and melee weapons to brutally dismantle enemies. These upgrades also provide opportunities to improve both crafting and healing speed skills as you progress through the game.
One aspect implemented that keeps things realistic and interesting is the use of a depleted resource system that kicks into gear as soon as you use a melee weapon. Knowing that weapons naturally deteriorate over time, you have to exercise extreme caution when deciding how to best approach enemy encounters. The game also does a great job of giving you tips on what you should do in the event that your plan of attack fails and your character is left dead as a result.This concept combined with the unique variation on infected enemy types will ultimately aid in providing grueling challenges for everyone who decides to pickup the game next month.
A few other things that were noteworthy about this part of the demo were the stunning presentation and use of a few explorative puzzles to navigate through obstacles. For example, to travel from rooftop to rooftop I had to employ the use of wooden planks to safely cross from one side to the other.
Once Joel and Ellie started getting closer to Bill’s hideout, a bleak portrait is painted of an abandoned city beyond relief and it truly is remarkable just how Naughty Dog is able to tell this story by only using the atmosphere as the centerpiece. This story is also conveyed through Bill himself who has become consumed by all the anarchy and places several traps throughout the area to remain safe. My word of caution while playing this would be to observe everything at your disposal because one false move could be the difference between life and death.
The conclusion of the Lincoln demo featured an intense action sequence that had Joel, Ellie, and Bill facing off against several clickers and hunters as they pursued the trio in hordes. One particular such scene that I found amazing was a sequence where I had to shoot enemies while being stuck upside down in one of Bill’s traps. Fans of Naughty Dog games can fully expect a lot of excitement and tension from this scene and it serves as a perfect backdrop to end off this aspect of the demo.
The Pittsburgh demo was brief in many respects, but went a long way towards establishing how combat and sound play a vital part in enemy encounters. When this demo started out, Joel and Ellie were driving down the street before being ambushed by a group of hunters. The attack resulted in a brutal car crash and a violent confrontation between Joel and the desperate, yet dangerous group of hunters.
Ellie plays an integral part as well by being able to hear and see where the enemies are coming from and warning you well in advance before they get to your destination. If you find yourself being overwhelmed by the enemies, the AI controlled Ellie is also smart enough to distract them and buy you some time to get your attacks in order. Gaining an early glimpse of these features definitely had me excited and I’m curious to see how they will be expanded upon in the final version of the game.
The one final aspect worth mentioning is the addition of a crafting table option once you gain several tools at your disposal. Joel finds a small room in one of the areas he is in at the time and is able to upgrade weapons accordingly using a bar gauge system to show results. This very much reminded me of how you are able to combine weapons in the Dead Rising video games and I can see how they were inspired by these methods.
After having played through this new demo, I can finally conclude that The Last of Us absolutely deserves all the hype and attention that it has been getting so far. The demo at PAX East was far weaker then this build and I personally don't think a game of this nature is meant to be played in a convention setting.
The Last of Us is very much a story-driven, self-contained experience that you will get the most out of by playing within the comfort of your own home. It will be interesting to see how the highly talked about multiplayer element can expand on this game and make it more of a social experience for others. In any event, this game is shaping up to be a certifiable game of the year contender and you would be foolish not to check it out when it hits retailers everywhere on June 14th. I would encourage you to check out the gameplay video at the very top of this post for more.
Did you enjoy this preview of The Last of Us? What do you think about the gameplay video above? Feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.