This Is “The Last Of Us”

When the world ends, we’ll know what to do. Naughty Dog’s “The Last Of Us” fuses survival instinct and overwhelming odds with Nathan Drake’s nose for exploration, highlighting a diminishing population desperate to stay alive.

the last of us

Uncharted territory.

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The Last Of Us’ singular trick, its subtle sleight of hand, is that although it looks, and even moves, very much like Uncharted, it still manages to feel completely unique. Yes, it has that similar, solid character modeling and texturing that is reminiscent of Drake and friends, and yes there’s the same level of carefully positioned interaction between the lead characters that Nate and Sully would no doubt riff off, giggling away, if this was some kind of late night comedy show instead of a desperate struggle for the survival of the human race.

Except here, in Naughty Dog’s last PlayStation 3 title, there’s none of the bravado and silliness that Sully projects, and long gone is the gung ho attitude that permeates the Uncharted series.

The Last Of Us is altogether more dour and foreboding, with a sense that everything that can go wrong will.

The Last Of Us is altogether more dour and foreboding, a slightly colour-drained, progressive trip that can only really end up one of two ways. It’s this – the sense that everything that can go wrong will, if it hasn’t already – that the developers have managed to squeeze into every frame of the game. Joel and Ellie’s tale is tragic from the off, but it only gets worse.

But the relationship with Uncharted is, of course, a very good thing. Even the environments here have a feeling of gentle, almost subliminal familiarity. In Uncharted, you traveled to ancient civilisations, often partially destroyed by disaster and well reclaimed by nature. In The Last of Us we see our own great civilisation in the relatively immediate aftermath of some great disaster, and in the throes of being reclaimed by nature. In another few hundred years, these might be the ancient relics that a future-Drake would be plundering through.

Those environment designs and backdrops are, predictably, just as beautiful as anything Nate and Sully adventured through and although the gameplay is very different, it still feels wonderfully familiar because of the existing relationship many of us have with that visual style.

the last of us

The Last Of Us:

  • From Naughty Dog, the developers behind the Uncharted series.
  • Exclusive to PS3.
  • Lengthy single player with multiplayer as an added bonus.
  • Releases in June.

Pinning down a genre.

The gameplay, though, is markedly different. It’s more conservatively paced in The Last of Us and there’s obviously less “adventuring” than in those other Naughty Dog games we all know so well. Your jump button is contextual, for example, so it only works when you’re standing next to a ledge you might reasonably be able to hop up on to.

The gunplay is also far less prevalent, with an emphasis on scavenging and conserving ballistics while using objects to distract and crafted or found melee items to bludgeon your foes.

More careful and considered forward momentum is essential to making progress through the rather linear stages that will, in spite of their bright appearance, host several jump scares and tense moments. Indeed, The Last of Us is something of a hybrid. It’s not a third person action adventure game. It’s not a cover based shooter.

It’s not a light action RPG. It’s not a true survival horror game.

It’s not a light action RPG. It’s not a true survival horror game. It is all of these things at once and, perhaps as a result, might need a little more explanation.

The demo will soon become available to those who own God of War: Ascension and we got early access to preview the two sections of gameplay it provides. The first, Lincoln, is the meatier and more interesting of the two so we’ll get to that in a moment. The second section of gameplay, Pittsburgh, is only brief and exists to show off the action elements of the game.

the last of us

Into the game.

You’ll start with a brief cut scene that sets up the action but the actual gameplay centres around a kind of base-defense or siege situation. You’re stuck in a location with human enemies attacking your position and you must fight them off. It’s not particularly difficult, although the enemy attacks from behind, without warning or indication, are a little cheap.

You might find that you run a little short on ammunition but that’s a recurring theme throughout the demo. Aside from that, it’s fairly typical cover-based third person action. It’s not particularly imaginative and it’s not doing anything new but it probably doesn’t have to. The Pittsburgh section is probably included in the demo to reassure Uncharted fans that there’s still plenty of ducking behind cover and shooting to be found in their new game.

Lincoln is the section you’ll probably play first, and it shows the most promise for The Last of Us. It slots into the storyline just before the Pittsburgh shoot out and it demonstrates the game’s stealthier, more thoughtful side as well as its familiar-feeling set pieces.

the last of us

In Lincoln, you’ll learn how throwing bottles and bricks can distract enemies long enough for you to sneak up and dispatch them without a struggle or possibly even sneak past them completely without interaction.

You’ll learn to crouch and cover, you’ll be shown the seemingly light crafting system in operation and you’ll be encouraged to explore and forage for useful items. You’ll also encounter the most interesting thing about this demo: the Clickers.

But the interaction with the Clickers isn’t perfect, and here’s the elephant in the room.

How could a moment so carefully established, its piecemeal, serial setup spanning far more minutes than I had bullets, be so utterly ruined by the presence of just one button? The Last Of Us’ ‘listen’ mode, an option that systematically destroys all but the last remnants of any tension, is a dumb, pointless addition seemingly added once an arbitrary focus meeting determined that the Infected were too deadly unless they were highlighted with a big glowing white outline.

It’s optional, of course, but the game’s built around it. Joel’s gruff, Rick Grimes impression serves to illustrate that he’s grizzly and earthly, having survived a zombie (if we’re allowed to call them that) outbreak and all manner of hinted-at-but-not-quite-obvious-enough past endeavours, and yet he possesses some kind of magical ability to predict the future, painting anything that moves in an ill-fitting aura. It works through walls. Again. It works through walls.

Before that, we’re treated to a delicately poised, taut, miniature slice of Uncharted’s jungle escapades and a cute little plank of wood puzzle, enabling the two leads to play off each other physically and vocally. It’s a surprisingly balanced collision of two disparate individuals, depending on each other to survive, and acted with a level of care and control that’s all too absent in the industry.

the last of us

Hey, listen!

And there are moments of sheer delight. At one point, Ellie stops to admire fireflies, and you can’t help but go over and see for yourself. Games rarely manage to so subtly push the player in a given direction, but The Last Of Us does it with such grace.

And yet the first encounter is spoiled by knowing exactly where the danger is. Don’t use Joel’s ability and you’re likely to be sprung upon, and these things – dubbed Clickers due to the way they hunt with woodpecker-esque noises rather than sight – hurt. In fact, if you’re caught by one it’s game over. Your natural instinct then is to try to predict when they might appear, and that means getting more than a gentle cue – so much so that it’s possible to just navigate around them, their AI needfully unintelligent and their vision null.

Thankfully, Joel’s ability to down a Clicker with a rifle is sketchy at best – Drake he’s not, and that re-instates a little balance to the gameplay. Naughty Dog have had to juggle plenty to get The Last Of Us to work, and whilst the first preview level doesn’t necessarily demonstrate that their persistence has worked completely, it’s clear that listen mode will be divisive.

the last of us

What does work, though, is the game’s ability to keep you on your toes. Whilst some areas of the game feel somewhat lethargic in their pacing (for good reason) there are others that are downright frantic, and terrifying to boot.

It was the same in Uncharted (the second and third games, at least) – when Naughty Dog take the reins and control the speed of a section it can be relentless, and one section of the demo, where you’re suddenly charged with protecting Ellie under unexpected circumstances, is great fun.

The moments after this standoff are superb, too, a high speed chase against unbeatable odds, the perfect tonic to the plodding, all too gentle fifteen minutes that proceeded it. Naughty Dog know what they’re doing with set pieces, Drake’s recent adventures can attest to that, and things are no different in The Last Of Us.

In a sense, that familiarity is reassuring and comforting: the weighty animation, the jump-right-in controls, the abandon of a rollercoaster sequence that gets the heart racing. And yet, there’s hope that The Last Of Us will find its own path, one untrodden by a wisecracking treasure hunter. Joel and Ellie’s goals are much more grounded and human in The Last Of Us, their needs less greedy, more a necessity, and that works well from what we’ve played.

Naughty Dog are masters of the hardware – this looks breathtakingly good.

The danger is that the pockets of intensity outweigh the areas that demand more from the player in terms of tactics and instinct, and that the silly white glow doesn’t overshadow what should have been nerve-shredding creeps down alleyways and sudden jump scares, both of which are largely removed unless you’re dedicated enough to not utilise the feature.

The Last Of Us is intelligent, though. There’s a neat crafting system which encourages a little scavenging and exploration, a near future dystopian setting that evokes a tangible sense of fear and a couple of characters that the player will instantly connect with. Naughty Dog are masters of the hardware – The Last Of Us looks breathtakingly good, if not a little aliased – it’s just down to how the full game will play out over a much broader spectrum of areas and level types.

We’ll find out soon enough. The demo will be released at the end of May.

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29 Comments

  1. Sounds great. I like the idea of the listen mode button thing. Nothing worse than a game being frustratingly difficult so it’s good that it’s there as an option. Perhaps it’s not available on the higher difficulties?
    Anyway sounds like I’ll be getting this.

    • Yeah, to me the Listen button sounds like a plus. I don’t want to repeat whole sections of a already long game because a stupid enemy one shotted me.
      I guess it might be comparable to the detective vision in Batman Arkham Asylum. Even Deus Ex had such visual cues and to be honest, I loved them.

      • it’s optional, at least. I do think it’s a real shame they felt the need to include it though.
        Here’s a game that tries so hard to foster realism and be emotive but then there’s a big “PRESS HERE TO WIN” button that kicks you in the balls and reminds you that this intricate, believable world is just a videogame after all.

      • Peter, does the demo have a choice of difficulty? Tony might be right, and on higher levels you just don’t get that option or it’s severely limited.

      • I understand your point but at the end of the day it’s still a game (not a simulation) and it’s supposed to be fun. Only real hardcore gamers will shout for a removal of this feature.
        It’s a current trend, though, isn’t it? The Batman games had such a feature, Desu Ex: HR and Hitman Absolution even showed you where your enemies were going to walk.
        I’m not sure if we are able to realistically reproduce accurate sound directions even with surround sound projected to virtual interiors that do not correspond to the layout of your living room and even if we could, a majority of players probably couldn’t experience like that.
        This is simply a way to translate what you would be hearing if you were really there and I don’t see how that’s such a big problem. Like you said it’s optional. So just don’t press the button. It is an additional challenge you can set for yourself. That doesn’t mean 95% of the rest of the gaming population has to play and enjoy the game the way you do.

      • Yes, KeRaSh, I completely understand why they included it and it is an example of a recent trend (Tomb Raider, too). I just feel that it’s a shame they didn’t stick to their guns and completely follow through with the world they’re creating – they added a cheap “get out clause” to it.
        So, like I said, it’s part of modern homogeneity in games and I get the reasons for its inclusion, I just don’t like it.

        @kjkg & Tony – there are three difficulties in the preview demo (Survivor mode is greyed out) and they all have Listen Mode available. You can dig into the options menu and disable it for any difficulty though, so that’s handy if you want to eliminate the temptation on a “No Listen Mode” playthrough!

      • That will end up being a trophy to encourage people to give it a bash.

      • Oh and having it as a disabling option is good. Absolute nightmare when you are trying a playthrough on a game without using a feature, and then use it by mistake.

      • “You can dig into the options menu and disable it for any difficulty though, so that’s handy if you want to eliminate the temptation on a “No Listen Mode” playthrough!”

        Perfect, that’s what I wanted to hear! Want to play it “properly” but I can resist anything but temptation :-P

      • I sense a trophy. Deafening – complete the game without listening.

      • “You can dig into the options menu and disable it for any difficulty though, so that’s handy if you want to eliminate the temptation on a “No Listen Mode” playthrough!”

        There, problem solved. I’m glad they added this. :)

      • That cheap get out clause means that lesser gamers can still enjoy the game and normal gamers (like me) can have a little help when I feel like I need it. Either way, the game is entertainment and I’m sure Naughty Dog want people to play through the entire title as oppose to falter half way through like so many do with most games.

        If someone is daft enough to spam the option to death then they may well not be the right sort of player for the game anyway.

      • Nice Read!
        re assistance. Aslong as it’s optional, that’s cool, it caters for everyone. Although I think if games include such a feature, disable needs to be its own option, *not disabled only by picking the hardest difficulty. (options menu should mean just that, options.)

        If not removable & done in a visually dramatic way, as oppose to a symbol/text prompt, it needs to fit the games theme imo.
        Yes D.Ex, Batman.
        No Last of Us, Hitman(only disabled, by increasing diff.)

        I remember when I first came across ingame prompts, a PS2 T.Raider title. I was like no, I want & like to figure those things out(used to be part of the titles charm.) A minority, thankfully not all of this gen games, lack overall general difficulty, compared to way back then. (Latest God of War, patched for being hailed to hard. You never used to hear such thing a from youthful gamers, I enjoyed the challange.)

  2. Can’t wait to play the demo. It’s a day one for me regardless, I’m really looking forward to this game :-)

  3. this sounds excellent. I’m well up for this.

  4. Looks and sounds great. It’s coming out at a good time too. If they have a TV ad saying ‘from the makers of Uncharted’, this should do very well.

  5. Great read.

    This will definitely be my first proper game of the Summer. Hopefully the multiplayer isn’t just a horde-mode bolt-on. Would love to see a unique competitive experience.

    • Will be my first proper game of the year! Bought tomb raider but still only half way through… Possibly less.

  6. Oh dear, the Listen button sounds awful. Why on Earth did a great dev like Naughty Dog throw that in? Sounds like Tomb Raider’s “let me solve that puzzle for you” button all over again.
    I’ll still check the game out but not until the inevitable August/September price drop.

    • I played through the demo the first two times without even really knowing it was there (I’m notorious for not bothering to read the control maps…). Then I played third time, using the Listen Mode button a bit and it kind of breaks the illusion. It’s entirely optional, of course, but you’ll need to discipline yourself not to use it!

    • I think you are judging it to hard. I played the preview also and found the listen mode useful, but defiantly not a overkill feature. I used it, but you still have to plan and think ahead.

      Also if you don’t like it, it can be turned off.

  7. Just placed my pre-order for this yesterday, and the last PS3 game I will probably need to buy before the PS4 arrives.

    • Beyond? I know its not to everyone’s tastes but personally it’s the game I’m looking forward to most this year :-)

      • Me too. Beyond is definitely my most anticipated this year. This looks nice enough, I’ll get it when its $20.

  8. Another great article Alex, can’t wait for my pre-order to land on my doorstep.

    • Worth pointing out that Peter wrote half of it. =)

  9. The listen button sounds “cheap”. I’ll be switching it off as I like a scare now and again. :p
    Can’t wait for this and Beyond to release. Oh, and GTA V.

    • I thought, maybe pound & dollor signs play a bigger part, now more than they used to. Make everything accessible, to the widest audience. Then I thought, well the audience used to purchase & be very content, so i’m lost lol. Like Peter said, “a trend,” I just can’t figure out why it came about:)

  10. “Give it to me baby!”

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