Published on March 22nd, 2013 | by Darik Kirschman4
Hands-on with The Last of Us at PAX East
On heading out to the show-floor after arriving at PAX East 2013, I was shocked to learn that Naughty Dog’s latest, The Last of Us, was available for the public to play for the first time! As a huge fan of the Uncharted series, I leapt at the chance to take the studio’s newest title for a spin. I had an open mind, having made a conscious decision to avoid almost all the incremental updates regarding the game. Nonetheless, from the little footage I had seen previously I expected an action-packed romp similar to Nathan Drake’s exploits. What I got was something else entirely.
The demo began with a dramatic cutscene between Ellie, Joel and an older woman named Tess — a former love interest of hardened survivor Joel. While I can’t really comment on the story itself, as the slice of gameplay shown was given no real context, the characters themselves were well acted and the motion capture work was rather impressive — to be expected from Naughty Dog, but a delight to watch nonetheless. Even from the short time I played it’s clear that The Last of Us will be driven by its narrative.
On taking control of Joel, our small group began traversing the city, which had been slowly but aggressively reclaimed by Mother Nature after whatever horrid events transpired. We were tasked with the singular goal of heading to City Hall, a large golden domed structure looming in the distance. Simple enough, but things are never as easy as they appear, and the path leads Joel, Tess and Ellie to cross paths with all manner of Infected — the game’s particular brand of mutated nasty bastard — with the most deadly being affectionately referred to as Clickers. More on those in a hot minute.
There was some trepidation around the internet that the game would be all about guns, action and exploding barrels, but players fearing The Last of Us would emulate the run ‘n gun style of play from Naughty Dog’s previous series should rest easy. This is a game that encourages stealth, sneaking and avoiding enemies at all costs. Infected are stronger, faster, and more vicious than Joel and friends, and will have no trouble removing your organs from your pathetic human shell. Stealth kills and hiding are your greatest weapons, as guns do more to alert other enemies than actual problem solving.
The Clickers are the most dangerous of all so far, despite being unable to see thanks to a rather unfortunate case of head-fungus. Using a form of echolocation (hence their adorable name), these terrors stalk the post-apocalyptic city in search of delicious necks to chow down on. Much to my chagrin, I was more than happy to oblige. To my surprise, The Last of Us seems to be an incredibly challenging game, perfectly content with putting players through the wringer a fair few times before they succeed.
Like free samples at a supermarket, the demo was over as quick as it began, leaving me aching for more. Naughty Dog have crafted an incredibly solid mechanical foundation for the game, so much so that I was able to get to grips with the world and gameplay with a total lack of narrative context. I was suitably tense and gripped by my short experience in the grassy streets, even surrounded by thousands of other people. The Last of Us is set to be one of the Playstation 3′s last true exclusives before its successor bursts onto the scene, and it’s looking to be a fitting send off. I personally can’t wait to see how Ellie, Joel and Tess’ adventure starts — and ends.