The Last Of Us Preview
Stepping into an overgrown warehouse, full of rusty barrels, crates and smoke, I knew very little about The Last of Us. After arguing with cloakroom attendants about how to hang my coat, and wrestling with a toilet attendant to actually allow me to relieve myself, I put my hand in a box full of an unknown substance to be rewarded with a cocktail…
Just to clarify now, this isn’t usually what happens at gaming events, and these strange occurrences were explained to us during the presentation – they were psychological tests. Almost laying the smack down on a girl in the loo, and then proceeding to use the clean sink rather than the dirty one – in doing so breaking the rules – most likely meant I would survive in a world of mutants, right?
The presentation, kicked off by entomology expert – Dr David Hughes, was one of the most interesting yet nauseating experiences I’ve had whilst learning about a game and it’s antagonists. Crickets drowning themselves to release parasitic worms, ants with fungi growing from their corpses, and the slightly disturbing information that toxoplasmosis effects so many people across the world were just a few fragments of information we were to learn about. Ideas from fungal and parasitic infections have been pooled together to create the mutations you see in The Last Of Us; thought-altering, body-modifying cordyceps-type fungi that make these enemies all the more deadly. It’s not something any of us would like to experience, let’s put it that way – neither being one of the infected, nor being on the receiving end of their rage.
Game director, Bruce Straley, and creative director, Neil Druckman, took to the stage, detailing some of the key ideas within The Last of Us. Playing as Joel, you are charged with aiding Ellie, a girl of 14, on a journey to reach a resistance group. Their interaction is something rarely found in games; Joel, a man who has seen so much, and fought his way to where he is now, together with Ellie, born during the two decades of infection, only knowing the world as it is now, makes for interesting collaborations. Ellie often follows suit: if Joel crouches under a trip-wire she will do the same, if he ducks behind cover she will follow and whisper any helpful hints for the surrounding area.
Keeping both Joel and Ellie alive is a daunting task. The locations are often larger than you might expect, with small supplies littering alleyways and abandoned buildings, used for crafting. Streets are desolate, cars abandoned by the road-side, and plants, unkempt, cling to buildings inside and out. Encounters with the infected are at times quite limited, but with this comes an overbearing suspense that keeps you on edge at every turn of a corner. I found myself crouching when opening doors, when looking around walls, when peaking over the edge of a building. During the times I let my guard down, walking into a garage without scouting it out first for example, I died. The Last of Us is unforgiving to those that forget how dangerous the world has become, even for a moment. There is no respite.
The infected come in different stages of development – I came across runners, that literally do just that, and clickers. Runners sense you by sight, and will grab you if they get close enough. A mash of a button later and the game will aid you with an auto-aim headshot if you chose to use your gun. Clickers, however, are not so forgiving when confronted. They run too, but often at an odd pace, stopping occasionally to seek you out by sound; their faces have mutated so sight is limited. If they grab you, there is no escape. You die, and that’s that. In a world where you have to fear everyone, including non-infected survivors, this is a harsh reality, but one that works so well. It makes you question every decision, worry about veering off course to seek out more supplies. It makes every encounter feel like an actual fight for survival.
A section of the demo we got to play included a search for a friend of Joel’s that owed him a favour. We’re told the guy, Bill, wasn’t particularly forthcoming at the best of times, so seeking him out and asking for aid probably isn’t the best option, but one our characters have to do. After ducking under and disabling several of Bill’s trip-wires, Joel ends up swinging by his ankle on a weighted trap, while Ellie tries to cut the rope to free him. The commotion alerts nearby infected, so protecting both yourself as Joel and Ellie while hanging upside-down is your only choice. As mentioned, the runners aren’t too hard to face; once they’ve grabbed you, the game helps by offering a quick head-shot. The clickers, however, while the wrong way up, while swinging, while trying to aim several headshots to take just one down is enough to make your heart race. I’m not ashamed to say I died a few times during that scene.
Whatever else is out there for Joel and Ellie will no doubt be tougher than what I faced. It’s a harsh world, and one that should be treated with respect. Within it’s beautiful, overgrown façade lies death, sickness and very little hope. The connection between the two characters is something most games strive towards but fail, and I can’t wait to see how their bond develops over time. The Last of Us is definitely one to pick up at launch, and won’t be a game you can put down easily.