The Last of Us Preview: Emotions of Apocalypse
The third scavenger was hiding somewhere, and Ellie suddenly reappeared, taking cover intelligently and offering whispered advice. By following directional sound cues — another combat feature — Joel drew a revolver and took cover behind a door frame, ready to open fire when the final enemy emerged from his hiding place. This he eventually did, brandishing a Molotov cocktail. Two shots stopped the scavenger in his tracks; he dropped the Molotov and spent his last moments wallowing in its fire.
As Straley pointed out, this sequence “played wildly different than on the stage” at the Sony press conference. The Last of Us emphasizes tactical choice, allowing players to decide between stealth and aggression and encouraging them to use scavenged materials to turn the tide of the fight or to complement their playstyles.
The developers also worked carefully to make the combat feel weighty and realistic — almost slightly unwieldy. Firing the revolver looked heavy and awkward, and the fisticuffs resembled a bar brawl more than they did martial arts. “It’s more personalized and more intimate,” Straley explained. “All the guns need to have the same sense of impact. Same with the melee — it’s personal.”
Naughty Dog also created specialized combat AI to deal with the wide variety of tactics. AI in The Last of Us works on a “balance of power” principle. Straley compared it to a poker hand — a full house of firearms beats a pair of broken bottles. “When I expose that I have a gun, that’s going to change [enemy] behavior,” he explained. Rather than bring a knife to a gunfight, intelligent enemies will take cover, hide, or alert their comrades.
To the casual observer, The Last of Us might look like “just another zombie game.” Based on my experience at E3, it’s anything but. Naughty Dog has drawn on storytelling and design experience earned on Uncharted to create a world that is more somber, more atmospheric, and just maybe more compelling. Sharp textures, smooth animations, and clever AI evince technological innovation, but it’s the emphasis on character that both shines and intrigues. Joel and Ellie are two people worth spending hours with. 2013 will provide the chance.