The Last of Us Preview: Emotions of Apocalypse
In addition to its superlative storytelling, Naughty Dog is also known for its gorgeous, detailed environments. In Uncharted, sweeping vistas and exotic locations provided a sense of wonder and excitement. In The Last of Us, the approach is different: “The game is about contrast between the brutality and the beauty of the world,” according to James.
This contrast was immediately apparent in the demo gameplay, which the studio also showed off at Sony’s E3 press conference. Joel and Ellie start off in a ruined street, overgrown with vegetation and strewn with rusted cars. Despite the devastation, every leaf seemed carefully placed for aesthetic effect, and the whole scene was bathed in a soft, angelic light. Puddles of flooding made the area seem like some kind of uncanny post-apocalyptic oasis.
As Joel passed by a movie poster on a long-dormant bus shelter, it glowed yellow, and pressing a button triggered a short conversation with Ellie. Thanks to the fungal plague, she’s never seen a movie, and the interplay between her natural inquisitiveness and Joel’s bemused explanations was well-written and thoroughly believable. The developers, Straley pointed out, hope to “create character moments as you investigate more and more of the environment.”
By clambering onto a bus, the pair gained access to a nearby luxury hotel, which, like the street outside, was in a state of glorious disarray. Piles of luggage lay unclaimed, and twisting vines had begun to infiltrate. By searching the area, Joel discovered a glowing, yellow cart that he pushed against a nearby wall, enabling Ellie to reach a ladder which she then dropped down, giving Joel access to the level above. It was a rare instance of rote, familiar game design in a demo full of original ideas.
More brutal beauty awaited on hotel’s upper floors, including the grim tableaux pictured above. The corpses in the bathtub triggered another brief dialogue between the two characters, as Ellie and Joel discussed suicide in the context of the plague. Again, it was sharply written, and deepened the audience’s understanding of both characters. As the pair continued to scavenge for supplies, the conversation continued, even when they began searching different rooms — a natural human behavior that never seems to appear in video games.
This idyll was interrupted by the sound of other voices. A gang of rival scavengers had appeared on the scene, portending trouble. Joel immediately took cover, displaying a series of supple sneaking animations. By creeping in and out of the maze-like hotel suites, he managed to get the drop on a lone enemy, putting him in a sleeper hold that resulted in a frenzied, realistic struggle. Ellie was nowhere to be found, but this didn’t seem to be a concern.
With one scavenger down, Joel grabbed a lead pipe off the ground; picking up and using found objects is a key element of combat in The Last of Us, whether they’re used as projectiles or melee weapons. An enemy ambush triggered another furious struggle. Attacked from behind, Joel eventually managed to wriggle free and down another adversary.