The Last of Us is a survival-horror, action-adventure game available exclusively for the PlayStation 3. The game has been highly anticipated since its announcement trailer at the 2011 Spike Video Game Awards. While information about the game has dripped out slowly since its original announcement, The Last of Us fittingly got a release date at this year’s VGAs.
This is Naughty Dog’s first PS3 game that is not part of the Uncharted series. The game clearly bucks the carefree, blockbuster style of Nathan Drake’s games in favor of a grittier, starker tone and a more severe atmosphere. For those that have chosen to stay in the dark about the game, here is a primer to prepare for the game’s rapidly approaching May 7 release date.
No, We are Survivors
Joel has had to do unsavory things to be a survivor in this world. Now, he has a nearly impossible job to do. He must smuggle Ellie, a young girl born in the ruin, out to a place far from the government’s control. The journey will be full of peril; not simply from the fungal infected monsters, nor other survivors, but also the U.S. government.
In The Last of Us, the game will build upon Joel’s relationships with other survivors, but more importantly strengthen and deepen the bonds that form between him and Ellie. For instance during the E3 demo, as Joel and Ellie explore a flooded and destroyed street, Ellie sees a poster for a werewolf movie. She comments that she has seen this before and it keeps popping up. This prompts Joel (the player) to head over and interact with it. He mentions seeing the movie before the fungal outbreak, meaning he remembers what it meant to have leisure time and he has seen the world crumble while enduring terrible things. Ellie asks him who took him to see, as he puts it, a teenage movie and Joel sighs before saying he doesn’t know. However, due to the recent story trailers, it is reasonable to say that Tess dragged him along to the movie.
Part of what players will need to do in the game to move the story forward is revealed in the Bill’s Safe House Cinematic. Joel and Ellie need a car and Bill is the person who can help them. When they reach Bill’s house, the three of them are running, presumably from the infected. In the interaction between Bill, Joel and Ellie, it is easy to see how little survivors trust each other. This is why the journey the protagonists are undertaking is so fraught with danger. They don’t need to fear the infected so much as they need to fear their fellow man.
Bill’s Safe House gives us more dialogue loaded with subtext and allusions to a mysterious past where terrible deeds were done in order for survival. In a conversation between Joel and Ellie, she asks him how he knew about an ambush. “I’ve been on both sides,” Joel responds. To which, Ellie can only say, “Oh…” That shows the divide between these two characters. The gap will become imperceptible by the end of the journey as Ellie and Joel endeavor to survive.
Make Every Shot Count
At the beginning of the E3 demo, Ellie asks, “Did we lose ‘em?” Joel answers, “Yeah” and Ellie smartly surmises, “But we’re not in the clear, right?” Joel responds, “Not while we’re in this city.” However, Joel could simply say, not while we’re still breathing because in The Last of Us, those pursuing the player will not stop until both main characters are dead. The two have run and successfully avoided an unknown threat. Now, Joel and Ellie have to find a new path through the city.
The gameplay will have players exploring ruinous cityscapes where nature is violently taking over with water flooding and submerged areas with bombed out cars and destroyed buildings. Joel has to find paths to move forward. As he does, Ellie will follow him and often asks questions. For example, when they enter a fancy hotel, she asks if he ever stayed there. From this, the player learns more about who Joel was and that information helps to understand who Joel is now. Through the gameplay, the side dialogue helps flesh out the characters, which is precisely what Naughty Dog intends to do to strengthen the bonds between the player and the characters.
By thoroughly exploring various areas, the player can discover paths forward and when paths are barred, they can see items like ladders that will help their progress. Often the item will be out of reach for Joel, so moving ahead in the game will require closely working with Ellie. Much like Uncharted, the game will feature some platforming and puzzle-solving elements.
When out of combat, the screen will be clear, but when players encounter enemies, a HUD display will pop up with health and weapon/ammo. Gameplay puts an emphasis on stealth. Ammo is at a premium so, every shot matters. The game encourages players to avoid shooting in favor of using an item found around the area. Distraction is an important element to employ. One example would be throwing a bottle in a far away room to force an enemy to investigate, allowing the player to sneak past them.
Even when choosing to sneak up on enemies, choking them out is intensive and they struggle as Joel strangles them. It is clear that Joel is not a killing machine, he is simply a man trying to survive and complete a job. The player can hear the strain in Joel’s voice, the struggle as he climbs and the labored breaths after taking a life.
The enemies are not dumb in the game, and their patterns do not seem as discernible or predictable as in other games. They will flank the player and, much like the player, enemies can grab items on the fly. Players cannot simply count on enemies having a gun. They could instead have something much different, like a Molotov. Again, avoiding combat when possible is beneficial.
We Don’t Have to Do This. You Know That, Right?
The game more so than other Naughty Dog games is a game of systems where actions have weight. Directors Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley wanted to make a game where violence has consequences and the decisions that players make in regards to violence actually matter. That is plainly seen when witnessing combat in The Last of Us and the strain it takes on Joel. As a result of such visceral and harrowing violence, gamers will probably not play The Last of Us the same way as they would most modern games. Instead, the game encourages more creative decisions.
“[The Last of Us] has shown itself to be a game about contrast,” Straley said in a video blog for Gamescom. As well in the video, the Straley and Druckmann state they drew influences for the game from more than just video games, instead looking to other mediums. The game draws inspiration from notable sources like Children of Men and the Road (film and novel), in addition to other popular post-apocalyptic fare such as The Walking Dead, Y: The Last Man and 28 Days Later. As is evident by the videos and trailers released thus far, The Last of Us is pushing for a game about differing morals and points of view among the survivors in this ruined America. This goes with Straley and Druckmann’s desire for an evocative game where players feel something by playing as characters that have such depth and are dealing with such a tense world in which the struggle for survival is so palpable.
The Last of Us seems like a much more mature game than Naughty Dog’s previous efforts and a culmination of what the developer has learned in developing three Uncharted games. It does not appear that the directors of the game want to be content in letting players revel in violence and want to force off the autopilot that so many games get stuck in. That is a commendable direction for a AAA game and it seems like The Last of Us will shape up to be a hell of a game. If this is the last year of the PS3, Naughty Dog is giving it quite a swan song.