The game itself is set twenty years after a fungal plague takes its toll on the world and creates cities filled with zombie-like humans, ruthless survivors, unkempt vegetation, and military law. The story revolves around two characters, Joel—a blackmarket dealer—and Ellie—a fourteen-year old girl born into the survivalist life. It’s an interesting duo that feels almost father-daughter like—though they aren’t. The characters seem to understand and care for one another as they work together to live another day. You play as Joel, with Ellie a character who stays by your side in much the same fashion as Sully does with Nathan in the Uncharted games.
The demo begins with the two nearly escaping some enemies (Infected or not? We don’t know.). They’re inside of a small, trashed café that is gorgeously rendered, with hazy light pouring in between planks of wood that board up the door and windows. Glass covers the floor, moss climbs the walls, and already we know that the world is a very different place. Joel ventures out onto the street (which is more of a swamp filled with grass and abandoned cars) and Ellie follows. The player looks up at the sad, long-abandoned buildings along the road before turning in the other direction and listening to Ellie talk about a movie poster she notices. There’s an option to interact with the poster (i.e. listen to some more dialogue between the characters) but Joel moves on. He climbs up onto a rusty bus and Ellie—still close behind—asks how they’re going to make it to the bridge visible in the distance. Joel sighs, unsure of the plan, and the player continues through an open window into a lavish hotel.Ellie makes her entrance and the two talk about the building, giving us a little more insight into their personalities. We learn that Joel was never a rich man and that Ellie has little sense of the world before the plague. They make their way up a ladder and some crumbling stairs before finding themselves on the roof. Men’s voices are heard very close by, and Joel tells Ellie to be quiet as they hunker behind an A/C unit. The music gets dark for the first time, with a heavy humming that emphasizes the seriousness of the situation. The two characters try to go around the group of strangers, climbing through a window ahead.
Joel sees an enemy just a few feet away, and we realize these are uninfected survivors scrounging for supplies; they’re armed and dangerous. In a stealthy fashion, the player crouches up to the guy and silently puts him in a choke hold. The camera moves to an intense angle facing the main character and his victim, and all we hear is heavy breathing, heartbeats, and helpless gasping as Joel suffocates the man. He finally goes down, and Joel’s character shows no sign of regret as he picks up the dead man’s ammo and loads his gun. Right then and there, we know that The Last of Us is a game about survival by any means necessary. It’s not just another zombie shoot ‘em up, but an intense look at how far people will go to survive. In this way, it’s very reminiscent of stories like The Walking Dead and The Road (which Naughty Dog, in fact, cite as artistic inspirations).
The demo continues. Joel is spotted and there’s a slow but intense firefight in the hotel hallway that looks and sounds realistic. The enemy AI is smart, and the player takes a few gunshot hits that send Joel back a little and splatter drops of blood on the minimalist HUD. Joel gets into a melee fight with a big guy carrying a heavy pipe. He beats him down and uses the man as a hostage for a short period of time. Right when the player runs out of ammo and the last enemy cockily inches towards him, Ellie runs into the room and sends a brick flying at the enemy, giving Joel enough time to tackle him and breathe a sigh of relief. At this point in the demo, everyone cheered and clapped enthusiastically for the two characters and for the brief break in all the tension.
The two soldier on and Ellie starts talking before we hear more enemies up ahead. Joel moves to cover in an open bedroom, and for the first time in the gameplay we see something very fresh. The player opens up a menu on the screen that shows inventory of ammunition and items. Scrolling through the icons the player builds a Molotov cocktail and equips it. The menu suggests that creating items will be a very large part of the gameplay, just like in the similar survival games Dead Island and Dead Rising.Joel goes on to use the Molotov to set one of the enemies on fire (which even disturbs Ellie). He knocks down the second enemy before being blindly clubbed by the last guy in the room. Ellie comes to his rescue again and the demo ends with the music becoming progressively more twisted until Joel viscously fires a shotgun at the man’s face and we cut to the game’s title. It’s spine-tingling, to say the least.
The Last of Us looks like everything you could want out of a post-apocalyptic survival game: an engrossing story, cinematic visuals, tense gameplay, and characters with real humanity. Naughty Dog seems to be using a lot of the same formulas from Uncharted, but this game looks to offer an entirely different atmosphere; one that’s much darker and a little hard to handle at times. I for one look forward to some genre-defining experiences with this game, and can’t wait to squeem as Joel and Ellie narrowly escape more threats (whoever or whatever they may be) in the storyline.
The Last of Us is set to be released for the PS3 some time in 2013.