Hands on with The Last of Us

You are so, so close to the old garage. You’ll be able to take shelter there, even if it’s only for a few days. You’ll all be able to rest…or that’s what you thought.

Just as you’re about to raise the shutter, one of the infected comes out of nowhere and heads straight for little Ellie. You want to rescue her, but that means getting down and dirty with the undead.

Quick, what do you do? Shooting it would be the quickest, the cleanest, but the noise of the bullet will lure dozens more out of the shadows. Smack it on the head? Sure, that might work for the two who’ve emerged from alley and are now heading for you, but it won’t even discourage the thing that’s got its sights on Ellie….

A terrifying scenario straight out of a zombie flick? In The Last of Us, this nightmare is actually your everyday reality. The latest from the creators of Uncharted is a prime example of survival horror games, but it also demonstrates a depth that’s not the norm in the genre. After playing for just 45 minutes, we could see that this game is going to be a guaranteed hit on the PS3. Despite the fact The Last of Us is linear, it’s got fantastic graphics and an intensity that’s sure to make it a gaming experience that’s really worth your time.

Getting around the city isn’t easy

On the mean streets of Boston

The demo Sony showed us took place in Boston, the city where The Last of Us begins. As you creep around the city’s streets, you’ll play Joel, accompanied by Ellie, the teenage co-protagonist of the game, and Tess, another survivor. You and Tess were once very close, and now is probably a good moment to point out that she’s not exactly the traditional damsel in distress!

In this level, your objective is to find a safe place. Unfortunately, Boston is in ruins, so what was once a matter of crossing the street and walking a few blocks is now a dangerous trek into the depths of the city.

No Nathan Drake

In order to overcome obstacles like fallen walls and to reach high places that need to be accessed, Joel can crouch and jump, but he’s not exactly as lithe and agile as his Naughty Dog stablemate Nathan Drake. This is reflected in the animation of the character – you’ll see the realistic movements of a strong young man, but also the clumsiness that you’d expect from someone who is decidedly not a superhero.

Joel’s not quite Nathan Drake

This realism means that you could well stumble off a building (although this kind of thing isn’t too common, as some unwise moves are blocked) or you might require the help of your friends or objects in your surroundings to progress in the game.

Joel isn’t Drake when it comes to fighting, either. A few hits and your protagonist will die, although if we’re talking about violence, it’s worth pointing out the different kinds of enemy you’re likely to encounter in The Last of Us.

Runners and Clickers

If you’ve been keeping up with us, you’ll realize that the major problem with Boston as depicted in the game is that it’s teeming with the infected. These undead are largely decent people who have degenerated into bloodthirsty zombies…but you’ll find that some are more dangerous than others.

As far as I could see, The Last of Us features two types of infected – Runners and Clickers. There are different ways to kill them or, obviously, you could just run. This is one of the game’s major pluses – it’s not just about hacking, slashing and pushing forward. Let’s take a closer look….

Runners still have a trace of humanity about them

Runners are the recently infected. Because they’re not long gone, they still look relatively human, but that doesn’t mean they’re shy to attack. As the name suggests, they run, and that’s their main strength – when they see you, they’ll try to jump you, something they like to do in groups. On the up side, they hit and push, but don’t actually bite, so it’s enough to dodge them and fight back with whatever weapon you can find.

For your own good, keep away from the clickers

The really dangerous ones are the clickers. These are the phase 2 infected – they’ve lost their human aspect and will try to attack at all costs. A tiny nip will kill you, so you’ve been warned. Unlike the runners, however, clickers are slow and blind, and rely on their sense of hearing to hunt you down. This can be used to your advantage – although they’ll be attracted to the slightest noise you make, it’s also easy to distract them by making a noise far away from you for them to follow. For example, if you throw a bottle, they’ll head for the site of the impact, giving you an opportunity to flee or shoot them. As usual, when you’re dealing with the undead, a headshot is required to really make sure they’re dead.

Make and find

The Last of Us isn’t a game that will allow you to become a hero or an everyday Rambo. If you plunge in without a strategy, runners and clickers will have you finished in minutes. Instead, the game tests, not your fighting skills or weapon mastery, but your resourcefulness and ability to plan an escape from any and all situations.

Objects are central to this planning. Luckily for you, they’re all over the game. On one hand, you’ve got classic weapons, from firearms and ammunition to weapons like sticks and bats. Be careful with the guns, though, because ammunition is really scarce (when I managed to find 5 measly bullets for my pistol, it was like winning the lottery), and weapons deteriorate over time, so you need to use them strategically.

Keep exploring to discover resources

You’re also going to find projectiles. You can’t use them to attack, but they’re still very useful. In the demo, we found several bricks and bottles that were perfect for throwing near the clickers and taking advantage of the resulting distraction to launch a surprise attack or flee.

Finally, you’re going to find objects you can use for crafting. Got band aids, scissors, water and bandages? You’ve got the materials there for anything from a first aid kit to a Molotov cocktail. You can also create a range of combined weapons, something that was possibly inspired by zombie saga Dead Rising.

A very real terror

The Last of Us has excellent graphics. Super-realistic protagonist animations were created using motion capture, and characters have faces that are way more convincing and characterful than ones we’ve seen in Uncharted or Heavy Rain.

The portrayal of a ruined Boston is also scarily real. The texture of buildings and structures looks great, and effects like running water are very believable.

The game’s soundtrack also deserves a special mention. In the level we played, there was very little dialog and no music, making the special effects even more chilling. Weird echoes in the subway, the shrieks of the runners, and the indescribable guttural grunts of the clickers pushed the tension and terror through the roof in a way we’ve never felt in other zombie hits.

Unidentifiable shrieks add to the terror

The next PS3 hit?

From what little we saw of The Last of Us, we can confirm that the game does indeed deliver on its promises – a huge dose of excitement and playability wrapped up in a game that asks more of your brainpower than of your skills with a gamepad.

While it’s true that it’s a scripted game, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The dialog keeps your interest, and you’ll never lose the feeling that there is more than one way to reach your goal.

Sony launches The Last of Us on June 18. Will Joel and Ellie gain the respect of fans, like Nathan Drake did before them?

Via OnSoftware ES

And you, do you think you’ll be buying the game, or have you had enough of the über-popular zombie genre?

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