Naughty Dog, most famous for their acclaimed Uncharted series, are changing tack with a deadly apocalyptic adventure due out for PlayStation 3 in June.
To say I knew nothing of The Last of Us before I played last week is really only a slight over statement. In fact, I had seen just a single cinematic and the original reveal trailer, somehow managing to avoid much of the rest of the hype and buzz around the game.
It’s something I like to do for the games where I have near faith that the developers are going to get it right, so that I can sit down on release day and let it all unfold for me as I’m playing. A sentiment which I’m sure that many out there share, and for those that feel the same way as I do and are yet still reading this, I’ll sum it up very succinctly:
This is almost nothing like Uncharted in any way, but rather takes Naughty Dog’s technology and experience and applies it quite brilliantly to a new genre, setting and characters.
- From Naughty Dog.
- PS3 exclusive.
- Comes with multiplayer modes.
- Out in June.
For the rest of you, let me tell you some more. During my time with one of the early stages of the game, I picked up the controller as Joel, Ellie and Tess start the inevitably dangerous journey into the heart of a city, with Tess helping to guide us towards the state’s Capitol Building.
It should come as no surprise to you that this game looks absolutely fantastic in motion. With decades passing since the world fell apart, there’s a huge skyscraper leaning over onto another and cavernous, gaping holes in the ground. There are obvious parallels, at times, to the kind of destroyed beauty which we saw in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, but it was only on show for a handful of moments during my time with the game.
Instead, much of what I played took place as my trio passed through the shredded innards of one of these skyscrapers. With very little illumination aside from a flashlight, there’s a distinct closeness and confinement exactly when there needs to be to really deepen the atmosphere.
As we delve deeper into the skyscraper, I came across my first infected enemy of this post-apocalyptic world, the ‘clicker’ – named so for the way they will make clicking sounds as they’re hunting. As Tess explains to Ellie, they no longer have the use of the eyes of the host, and so navigate by sound, like bats or submarines.
If you make too much noise as you move from cover to cover, or their characteristically jerky movements have them clicking in your direction as you creep around, they’ll be after you in a flash. When they get in an attack, that’s you dead, no matter what. So you’ll either want to distract them with the throw of a brick, time your movements carefully, or sneak up behind with a shiv in hand to stab them in a weak spot.
By contrast, the ‘runners’ are from earlier on in the fungal infection. Their joints aren’t so rigid so they can still run at you, and they still have the use of their eyes, but they’re also quite a bit easier to take down. They’ll take fewer bullets, or you can suffocate them rather than using up precious shivs, or even brawl in what felt like a more polished fighting system from Uncharted 3.
The real challenge comes from the various situations you get dropped in, and for my first real encounter I was tasked with clearing out an area with a handful of infected. Helping me out was the fact that you can rely on Joel’s ears as well as your own.
The majority of people won’t have 5.1 surround sound or directional headphones, to really immerse you into the world and help you pin point where the barrage of sounds and horrendously guttural clicks are coming from, but by holding the R2 trigger, the screen will wash out, Joel will slow down, and you’ll have white outlines for nearby infected.
So I was able to keep track of enemies quite well as I tried to sneak around and grappled with this section. I quickly discovered that it’s best to take the infected down one at a time and in isolated areas. On top of that, you have to be aware of which is a clicker and a runner, and find the best way to take them down.
You might be brawling with runners, but as soon as a clicker gets to you, you’re a dead man.
In many cases it will be best to save your bullets. Some of the infected had movements that were all far too fast and erratic for me to get the multiple headshots I’d need to kill them, and with too few bullets and impaired motion when aiming, this is clearly not going to go well for those who want to shoot stuff without forethought.
It’s very much to your advantage to make proper use of the scavenging system, then, to give yourself a better chance in a tight scrape. As I crept around, I was picking up pretty much anything that wasn’t nailed down for use later on. As I grabbed pairs of scissors, tape, batteries and so forth, everything was neatly shuffled into easy to understand categories.
This all filters into a simplistic but flexible crafting system.
So a pair of scissors might give you half an item point in the blades section, which when combined with more blades, duct tape and a rusty pipe gives you… a spiky pipe! Easy to understand and a handy creation for dispatching runners quickly, though items will degrade quite rapidly with use.
You’ll also need to keep yourself stocked up with important items like shivs and health kits or at least keep all the ingredients handy so that you can quickly dip into the crafting menu and whip up what you need. Just be careful to do it in a relatively safe place when you know you can relax for a moment, because the crafting menu doesn’t pause the game.
My second major encounter was a very different affair to the first, thanks in part to getting to grips with the crafting. This time we were forced to pass through a subway station filled primarily with clickers, with the added worry of having Ellie right on my heels.
I personally went for the stealthier approach, dispatching the first clicker with a shiv, using Joel’s awareness to keep track of the others and sneaking through undetected, once I got it all right. If I’d felt up to the task, I could have gone for a more battling approach, chucking a molotov into a doorway for the blinded clickers to run through and burn themselves up, whilst grabbing a shotgun from the floor to cover whatever else came at me. Clickers might take multiple pistol bullets, but they’ll go down nicely to a shotgun blast or some fire.
After finally emerging out into daylight once more, heading towards a bit of a cliffhanger moment to end my play time, this game definitely has me excited. I’ve seen just a tiny glimpse of what it can do with a subset of enemies, weaponry and environments, and these will naturally be mixed up with more elements throughout the game.
I think what really caught me most off guard was just how easy it was to die, and the fear and trepidation that comes with this fragility. The graphics were impeccable, the animation superb, and the little moments of incidental dialogue exactly what you’d expect from Naughty Dog, but the game drips with a very different atmosphere compared to their most recent work.
Whenever I was spotted, with the volume of clicking and shouting louder in my ears, I knew that my almost inevitable death was coming. Knowing for those few seconds that you’re probably going to die very soon, before seeing your throat get ripped out just makes it feel that much worse. It made me want to live just that little bit more.