The Last of Us Leaves A Positive, Strong First Impression Across The Board

Basically, it’s good, REAL good. And scary, VERY scary.

As we get closer to the release of Naughty Dog's latest and greatest, The Last of Us, members of the press are finally getting the chance to test drive what many are already calling the PlayStation 3’s game of the year for 2013, as well as the system’s last truly great game. Unless The Last Guardian decides to actually come out on the platform, instead of waiting for the PS4, as some are expecting, provided it comes out at all.

The demo took place last week, at a PlayStation event in Hollywood. And, going by the reception from all the major game blogs, it appears that all the anticipation will be validated. The key detail how it was everyone’s first chance to finally witness the infected human beings that drive the game's narrative and much of the action.

For those who aren't hip to the details: a fungus has devastated all of human civilization. Twenty years later, survivors primarily dwell in quarantine zones, which are overseen by the military with an iron fist. The game stars Joel, a grizzled smuggler, and Ellie, a 14-year-old girl; the goal of the player is to guide the pair across America, or what's left of it, away from a quarantine zone and towards some kind of safe haven.

There are two primary threats: the infected, and scavengers that have also chosen to leave outside the quarantine zones. In all of the trailers seen thus far, we've mostly seen the duo dealing with latter, so once again, the demo was everyone's chance to see finally witness the infected in action.

The demo actually featured a third person: Tess, who is Joel's partner in crime. Taking place in the early stages of the game, the demo followed the trio as they navigate the outskirts of what used to be Boston, after it had been ravaged by the US government, via their attempt at containing the fungal outbreak. Here we have Joystiq describing the mood, as well as some of the tactics that the player will be able to employ:

Joel, Tess, and Ellie scavenge supplies as they progress through the slanted, decimated office buildings. Pieces are collected, collated, and combined in a continued effort to survive, Joel stuffing his backpack with anything that could be of use. Alcohol, scissors, blades, batteries, binding and consumables are littered throughout the world.

Joel can reach into his backpack and combine elements to create new tools or medpacks for survival: the blade of a knife and tape creates a shiv; a bottle of alcohol and a rag creates a Molotov cocktail; blade fastened to a pipe or wooden plank gives it the strength for more killing blows. Everything breaks over time; resources are finite, surviving seems like just another road to an early grave in this world.

As noted, the real stars of the demo were the Infected. And they are a most formidable threat. Here we have Polygon's description of the two types: Runners and Clickers:

Runners are humans in the early stages of infection. They can see you, they can chase you and they often work in packs. If they see Joel, they'll charge, flinging haymakers until they connect and — if other Runners are nearby — overwhelm him. As the fungus takes over, the infection blinds its host. Faces explode in a blossom of gore. They become Clickers, "a fate worse than death"…

Clickers use echolocation to scan their surroundings, emitting sharp rapping sounds that can help them pinpoint Joel's location. If they hear the sound of his movement or gunfire, they'll hone in. Being attacked by a Clicker is essentially instant death. With powerful, snapping jaws, they'll rip out Joel's throat in a spray of blood and artery.

The one thing that is constant stressed by all the hands on reports is the sense of tension that is pervasive everywhere. According to Kotaku, much of it is due to the ultra effective sound design:

With my demo coming to a close, I'm able to steal a quick breath as I lead Joel, Tess and Ellie to safety. Still, thanks to some of the most immersive sound work I've experienced this generation, The Last of Us never lets me truly relax; from the Runner's pattering feet to the Clickers tell-tale tongue twitch, the air always seems to be carrying some unsettling sound.

Even non-threatening audio cues, like deafening shotgun blasts and the finger-nails-on-chalk-board screech accompanying the movement of environmental objects, has little trouble shooting a chill down my spine.

Is it raves across the board? Not necessarily. Destructoid actually had a few issues as it pertains to level design:

Moving to the meeting point wasn't easy. Controlling Joel, I worked to move through the ruins of a bombed Boston, crawling up and over debris in the pouring rain as Tess and Ellie followed. A roadblock redirected us through partially collapsed buildings in downtown, but simply walking through them was not possible. Damage from the bombs caused the building to lean, and internal structures were blocking our way.

It seemed as if Naughty Dog drew from level design experience gained from the Uncharted series. Of course, the ruins of a post-bombing modern day Boston are a bit different from ancient ruins, but there was still plenty of crawling and ducking and climbing going on — Nathan Drake would feel right at home here. Exploring is always fun, but an inordinate amount of room changing through twisted, maze-like paths felt like they went a little overboard, like they couldn't shake the Uncharted vibe starting out. I couldn't help but thinking that any buildings this messed up would have collapsed. 

Still, the overall verdict, from everyone, is that The Last of Us is a very scary game. And at time in which virtually all so-called survival horror games have apparently forgotten the "horror" part. It appears that Naughty Dog's goal was for a game that genuinely creep players out, which they've managed to do in just a 30 minute long demo. Imagine what the whole game will be like?