PAX Preview: The Last of Us


The Last of Us has already earned a lot of excited buzz in the gaming community.  It is a thrill ride that focuses more on the survival and much less of the horror.  When I stepped into Naughty Dog’s booth at PAX I had high expectations.  I love Uncharted and their phenomenal ability to take a story and create an amazing interactive experience. What would they show me about their latest game? They start by telling us that this is a story about two people.  It is the story of Joel.  He is a man with charm like Han Solo, that knows life before the fungal epidemic plague that devastated the world. He knows what he has lost and needs to find redemption. Ellie is a young girl who has never known a life without constant struggle to survive. The world has always been in ruins and she spends all day every day trying to make it to tomorrow. The host of our short visit set the tone right from the start. He confidently proclaimed that this not just the typical zombie horror game, this is a story of “love, loyalty, and sacrifice”.

The presentation then went on to show about 10 minutes of actual gameplay. Those of you out there wanting to be overwhelmed by zombie hordes as you mow them down with and insanely large arsenal of weaponry will be extremely disappointed by what I saw. There was not a single zombie or zombie-like creature during the whole presentation. It started with Joel and Ellie. They are slowly making their way through the devastated landscape in search of a safe haven.

The player plays as Joel. The two are a pair thrown together by fate. They have a completely different perspective on where they are. This is made clear as they enter a once elegant hotel that has been left in ruins. Joel has nostalgic memories of the awe he felt when he had seen the building in all its glory. Ellie sees only the destruction and ruin. The hotel is an opportunity for sanctuary, if only briefly. The pair use conversation to describe what they see, the dangers and the opportunities. Their dialog offers clues to how the player should proceed. Ellie mentions finding a ladder and that they could use this to get to the upper floors. A less than subtle highlighting of the object in question also helps guide the player.

The pair wade through the muck, climb to the upper floors where they must face the horror of people who did not make it through the plague. They see some that lost to other enemies and those that chose to leave this world on their own terms. Ellie takes it in with remarkable ease. She has been forced to grow up much too fast.

Once the pair navigate to the upper levels they face their first enemies. There is a group of survivors that feel the best way to ensure their survival is the eliminate the competition. This means eliminating all those infected by the plague as well as other living folks that would compete for food and other supplies. Joel and Ellie need to use stealth rather than strength to overcome their testosterone-drenched enemies. The demonstration showed several methods one can use to work their way through hostile environments.

The first technique was using items to create a distraction. The pair began the demo without any weapons to speak of. Joel needs to find a way to distract the enemy so he can grab a weapon and ammunition. He finds an old bottle lying on the floor and tosses it away from him and Ellie. The baddies follow the sound. Joel can then circle around to grab some supplies. More baddies come in the room and Joel must use his newly acquired weapon to thin the herd a bit. The problem is that there is a very limited supply of ammo. Once the ammo is gone Joel must find a new way to survive while keeping Ellie alive as well.

One method the player used in the demo was to grab one of the big baddies and use him as a human shield. All of this action plays out while weaving their way through a maze of hotel rooms. This is all about survival but the player needs to use methods to ensure the safety of himself and Ellie. She is a very tough girl but she is still a kid.

Joel is a survivor and a black market dealer that will do anything he can to make sure they both find sanctuary from the plague and its aftermath. The idea for this plague epidemic came straight out of reality. The BBC documentary Planet Earth  told of ants infected by the cordyceps fungus. This fungus took over the ant’s brain and growths formed on its head. This science fact has been stretched to science fiction with humans as the victims for the infection. The shred of reality in the story adds to the potential horror.

This glimpse at the gameplay strengthened the game’s appeal for me. The story is strong and the characters have a complex quality that keeps the player interested in their salvation. It this interactive movie/game technique that Naughty Dog perfected throughout the Uncharted franchise is used again in this game. The graphics are gorgeous, if a bit unnerving. Overall it was a real treat to peek into this new  world. Sadly  the time here was far too short.

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Author: Melisa Snyder View all posts by

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