Home opinion-and-analysis Radioactive-IT Hands On Preview: The Last Of Us – Modern survival horror

The three grubby people crouch behind a desk, outside the rain patters against what is left of the glass, but it is not enough noise to drown the movement of the people.  The attention of a Clicker is aroused, and it will take more than the two bullets left in their revolver to stop this infected horror from trying to chew their necks.


The Last Of Us is a new IP from the developers of the Uncharted games, Naughty Dog that whilst somewhat familiar at first glance to the adventures Nathan Drake takes part in, ultimately is a different beast to Uncharted entirely.

Uncharted takes the Indiana Jones approach to swashbuckling adventure gaming, here however; in The Last Of Us things are somewhat more grim.  A human version of the extremely nasty (to insects) Cordyceps fungus has made a mess of many folks and their complexion.

Essentially a significant portion of the US population has either been killed or turned into the ‘infected’.  The military has taken matters into hand, bombarding some major cities, and setting up quarantine zone no-man lands.
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We sat down with the game for what was supposed to be twenty minutes to half hour of the game.  Instead, the forty five minutes or so that it took me to complete the play through reinforced the view that I would be a hopeless member of any Walking Dead group, nor last long in a real Day Z or 28 Days Later style zombie apocalypse.

Dropped into a stormy Boston we take the role of Joel, a bearded typical video-game gruff hero-type.  One thing is clear however from the start, it is not Joel leading the trio that make up the focus of this portion of the game.

Whilst getting young Ellie to safety is the Joel’s ultimate quest, it is the accompanying Jess that is doing the leading through this part of town.  Our goal is the capital building downtown, and through the rain clouds and collapsing skyscrapers we occasionally glimpse the target building like a golden beacon of hope.

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In between there and here however are a number of frightful dangers.  Very early on we meet one of two types of ‘infected’, the Clickers.  Blinded by the Cordyceps fungus, these unfortunates hunt like bats, using a clicking sonar and expert hearing to track their prey, that’s me in this case.

If they get close it’s all over, even armed with a somewhat deadly crowbar, a Clicker will literally make a meal of you.  So we instead started by making our way through a wrecked office building by distracting the Clickers with thrown bricks.

The game does not provide glowing travel target points; the HUD is kept to a minimum, and while there are items to be found, they are none to plentiful.  Looting bodies and rooting around in darkened corners will reveal some supplies, and having four bullets in your only revolver is better than one.

Jess takes the lead, directing the party towards the ultimate destination.  There is ample opportunity to explore though, at one point I thought I would look around a bit, but soon found that what I imagined to be an investigatory reconnoitre, was in fact the right way to go.  You will need an explorer’s gene pool to make progress in The Last Of Us.
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Rounding a piece of shattered concrete we happen across a second enemy type of the day, a Runner,   this one with his back to us allowing a sneak attack with our shiv.  Equipment in the game can be built from scavenged parts, a shiv is a one use item built from scissors and tape, other pieces of equipment need to have there “recipes” learned, with the right ingredients found.

Melee weapons can be upgraded with scavenged bits, but usually it is a trade-off between damage and durability.

Beyond the now dead Runner is a wall.  We turn on Joel’s ability to, well, listen; pressing R2 results in a kind of X-Ray vision (think Dishonered’s Dark Vision) which shows the movements of infected behind the wall.  There are a lot of them, Runners who can see you, and move very fast, as well as a tough to kill Clicker.

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Four bullets in the revolver are not enough to take down the Clicker, particularly when two fly wide of the mark.  Naughty Dog was criticised negatively for the shooting in Uncharted, but here it feels better integrated despite the rarity of ammunition.  The Clicker is rushing towards me, as are two of the Runners.  I swat one Runner away with a brick in my hand, but the Clicker rips open my neck.   Reload time.

A number of attempts later I hand the controller to the patient Sony representative.  I told you I would be no help come the zombie apocalypse.  He knows how best to handle the situation, where to find a bigger stash of bullets and also the understanding, which I sort of had, to take out that Clicker first, the Runners can be dispatched in melee combat.  There will certainly be some trial, error and exploration required.

Eventually, after clambering around the broken history of mankind, we make our way down to ground level and realise to get across a barrier of rusted buses.  Again, after wandering around some Jess drops a hint that perhaps we need to move something close to the buses to climb onto.  Pretty obvious really, but having to clear a room of runners first is needed in order to move a wheeled table into position.

The final part of the demo sees the trio sneaking through a darkened train station waiting room, we need to get to a ladder on the far side, but the room is infested with Clickers.  However, there are also many bodies, and one unfortunate has dropped a shotgun – the stable weapon of zombie games/movies/tv shows/board games.

Our Sony representative says that nobody has approached this part of the demo the same way, meaning some folks sneaked through the level (like I am), distracting Clickers with hopefully well timed and directed tossing of items.  Others somehow survived by herding the Clickers into a group and dropping a home-made Molotov Cocktail into their midst.

We sneaked at a pace until confronted with a Clicker standing at the ladder base, not really looking like moving.  Behind us, the other Clickers were homing in on our location.  Time for action, I whip out the shotgun and blast the guard Clicker into oblivion, climbing the ladder swiftly.  Looking back I see the AI driven Jess and Ellie making for the ladder also, with a hoard of Clickers in close pursuit.  Time to empty the revolver from the safety of height.

Thankfully, this is the end of the demo, for I am none too equipped to face the horrors ahead now that my ammo pouch is empty.  I will need help, our Sony rep confirmed there will be multiplayer in the game, but at this stage the make up of these modes, and in particular, if there will be co-op in the game has not been detailed.

The Last Of Us will pick up on the vibe of in-vogue IP’s such as The Walking Dead and Day Z, it is a return to video game survival horror tropes that other franchises have abandoned in the search of more action.  If, like me, you play through these kinds of games in a cautious fashion (Low Chaos run through Dishonored for example) and have that rather unique personality trait combining patience with quick decision making and action skills, then this game should excite you.

Tension is constantly high, graphical detail is superb and audio plays a big part in the game.  Hopefully weaponry remains scarce, which feels odd to say.  We play video games often to feel empowered, the Last Of Us is stripping this back (in confidence, one Sony representative, said, behind a smile; “I hate it”) exposing us to game-play that will require survival wits, resourcefulness and planning.  Players will need an enhanced level of brains and action ability; this will mean a sliming of the potential audience brought up on many hand-holding video game experiences.  But I for one think this is more the fault of developers than the audience, and that there is a substantially group of buyers out there looking for a title like this.

 

The Lst Of Us is due out June 14th on the PlayStation 3

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Mike Bantick

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Having failed to grow up Bantick continues to pursue his childish passions for creative writing, interactive entertainment and showing-off through adulthood. In 1994 Bantick began doing radio at Melbourne’s 102.7 3RRRFM, in 1997 transferring to become a core member of the technology show Byte Into It. In 2003 he wrote briefly for the The Age newspaper’s Green Guide, providing video game reviews. In 2004 Bantick wrote the news section of PC GameZone magazine. Since 2006 Bantick has provided gaming and tech lifestyle stories for iTWire.com, including interviews and opinion in the RadioactivIT section.

 

 

 

 

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