The Last Of Us : Hands On Preview – Part One
I recently attended a The Last of Us media event for VoxelArcade, which included two playable levels from the upcoming PS3 game: Lincoln and Pittsburgh. While footage from both these levels has been seen before, this was my first hands-on with the game.
Before we go into the preview, here is what we already know about The Last of Us:
The Last of Us is set in the US 20 years from now. A disease/fungus, similar to the Cordyceps fungus that can infect ants, has destroyed society as we know it. Those who are not infected live in closed colonies protected by the military, similar to the situation in ’28 Weeks Later’, and undergo rigorous testing and ‘cleansing’ to ensure they remain infection-free.
The game’s story follows protagonists Joel and Ellie as they set out on a journey to smuggle an as yet unknown object into their community. Joel, who the player takes direct control of, is a black market dealer within his community, and he experienced the breakdown of society first-hand, and has had to make some tough decisions which have left their mark on him. He knows how bad life on the outside is, and while community life isn’t ideal, it’s a damn sight better than life on the other side of those walls. Ellie, on the other-hand, was born just before the infection, and so community life is all she’s ever known. While she can’t be described as innocent – she’s seen people being ‘cleansed’ since she was little – she appears more human than Joel, and so its easier for players to build up an attachment to her, and care about her well-being.
The environments look even better when playing
The ‘infected’, as they are currently known, are controlled by a fungal disease/virus, that slowly strips away at their consciousness and humanity. Currently we only know of two infection stages: stage one, referred to as ‘runners’, are recently infected. These enemies still possess their humanity and cognitive ability, and when they run at you and attack they can be heard crying out in protest at their actions, displaying how the ‘infection’ is forcing them against their will. Their appearance is similar to humans, albeit blood-splattered. Stage two, known as ‘clickers’, have been infected for a longer time, and as a result they have lost all humanity and have begun to lose their senses. They are known as ‘clickers’ because they rely on echo-location to track the player, having lost their eye-sight to the infection. These are the enemies that appear to be sprouting fungus from their faces and appendages in screenshots. They are incredibly fast and dangerous, and are best avoided.
Hands on Preview – Part One, ‘Lincoln’ Level
The level begins in a forest environment. We’re surrounded by lush, green foliage and scurrying wildlife. We’re here to meet with Joel’s smuggling ‘friend’, who can supposedly supply the duo with a car, which is a rarity in the current climate. This was my first glimpse of the interactions that occur between the characters – they continue to chat after the cutscene, and while most of it is just filler, such as Ellie being fascinated by fireflies for the first time, it helps make the characters appear more human.
We quickly get out of the forest and into the town of Lincoln. As I turn the corner at the bottom of some stairs I get my first shock: a clicker staring straight at me – not 5 feet away. I begin to panic, but realise it hasn’t seen me (it no longer has eyes), and so regain my composure and put it down quietly with a shiv to the head. One thing is for sure about the combat in The Last of Us: it’s very brutal and bloody, with the clicker going limp with a satisfying sound, and a pool of blood beginning to form around the body. I gather some supplies and move on through the town.
After a little teamwork getting a gate unlocked, I emerge onto the main street of the town, which is littered with abandoned vehicles and blocked-off either end by make-shift barriers topped with barbed wire. The level of detail in the environments really adds to the feeling of desertion and the decay of the surroundings. Shop windows are either boarded up or smashed, newspapers litter the streets and guttering is rusted and hanging-off the buildings – it really creates a foreboding atmosphere. I explore more of the town, scavenging items and listening to the two characters chat; Ellie commenting on a disused arcade cabinet and how her friend has told her all about it, Joel telling Ellie that her fear of fairies is stupid. It’s a clever way to humanise the two and show how their relationship develops.
Aiming can be quite tricky to get the hang of
Further into town I discover that Joel’s contact is rather ‘safety-conscious’, and has laid a series of traps throughout the alleyways. I also discover that if you are standing too close to one of these traps when you trigger it with a brick, you still get hurt. That is a mistake I will not make again. As I continue through the alleyways, I acquire a bow and arrow, and am then presented with the perfect opportunity to use them to silently take down an infected. At least I thought I was, until I tried to use the thing and missed with all three arrows and two bullets afterwards. I will say this now: aiming in this game is difficult – more so than Uncharted, Naughty Dog’s previous game. I consider myself a decent gamer, yet without fail I missed shots in every conflict I had in the demo, which is incredibly frustrating when ammo is so limited. I will put this down to unfamiliar controls, and a sway of the reticule which, while realistic, is not present in most modern shooters.
After eventually dispatching the foe, and suddenly found myself upside down. It appears I had triggered another of my ‘friend’s’ traps, and was now left incapacitated. I was stuck relying on Ellie to free me. What made matters worse was the sudden appearance of a large mob of infected. The following encounter, which involved me having to dispatch the infected with a pistol and inverted controls, was frustrating due to my inability to hit a target with the aiming. However I was gifted with unlimited ammo and did manage to eventually dispatch the entire mob (and later I noticed I was not the only one to struggle with this). Once down I was rescued by the contact, and after a tense chase sequence through a dry cleaners, I was rewarded with a second cutscene and the end of the level.
I would like to point out that I chose to play on the Hard difficulty setting, which definitely earned its name. I imagine that with more practice, and a slower introduction into the mechanics, I would have found the game less frustrating. Any frustration that is apparent in this preview is simply due to the large number of deaths I experienced.
Want more? You can check out part two of our preview, where we look at the ‘Pittsburgh’ stage here: The Last of Us Preview Part Two.
Read all of our The Last Of Use coverage at our Central for Naughty Dog’s latest!
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Hailing from 'The Grim North'; Joshua is about to graduate and enter the real world - and so has decided to throw himself into talking about the one thing he knows best: video games! As money is tight, he's ploughing through the plethora of retro games present in his student house. Just as soon as they pay the electricity bill.