Looting, Crafting and Stealth-Kills: Hands on with The Last of Us
Check out the rest of our The Last of Us preview coverage: Ross Lincoln’s Generation 7 Ends On A High Note: The Last Of Us Hands-On, and our interview with Lead Designer Jacob Minkoff about players’ relationship with the character of Ellie.
A twisted, overgrown Boston downtown rears up before us as rain pours down from overhead. My small party is still arguing — Joel, my character, thinks this is all a really bad idea. His partner in smuggling, Tess, thinks it’s still doable and will all be worth it. And then there’s Ellie, 14, who is swept along for the ride.
This is The Last of Us, and it’s the first time I’ve seen the game in any sort of action outside of trailers. It’s also the first time anyone in the games journalism community has had a chance to actually play it. We’re early on still — in the story of the game, Joel and Tess are tasked with smuggling Ellie out of the fascist Boston Quarantine Zone, which is protected under martial law by the remnants of the U.S. military. They’re now outside that Quarantine Zone, looking to rendezvous with the people who wanted Ellie brought from that place and removed from the military’s control.
We don’t know much else, but our team of three is hoping to make it to the State House, a gold-domed building in the heart of Boston. To get there, they have to cross the wreckage that was downtown: overgrown in the 20 years since humans have been beset by plague, bombed into ruin in the early days of the infection.
The infection, of course, is a parasitic fungus that has the effect of basically turning anyone who breathes its spores into a zombie. The fungus grows in the skull of those infected, causing them to become murderous monsters — both attempting to feed, as they are still living animals, and attempting to infect more humans with the disease. They roam these buildings, and stand between us and our goal.
Searching to Survive
Water trickles down the concrete in another typically beautiful Naughty Dog game. The Last of Us is impressive as Joel, Tess and Ellie crawl through buildings and over streets, looking for a way forward. The playthrough introduces me to a few quick elements of The Last of Us handles: first, it’s third-person and over-the-shoulder, so the gameplay feels very much akin to Resident Evil 4 and the Dead Space series. Second, your defensive options are quite limited, allowing you to fight with fists or pull a weapon, again with the same controls you’d expect from survival-horror titles.
In fact, I think the best way to explain how The Last of Us felt as I was playing it was a combination of Dead Space or Resident Evil 4, I Am Alive and Splinter Cell. The opening portion of the 30- to 40-minute demo had Joel climbing over things and sliding boxes into place to help his companions scale obstacles, as well as propping open doors and otherwise working to get through the destroyed environment. During this, there was a heavy emphasis placed on scavenging. The world has ended, after all, so every granola bar, bottle of water and pair of scissors you can find is essential equipment. Checking drawers and shelves for this gear occupied much of this early part of the game.
Then we started finding dead soldiers. Apparently, a military patrol had cut through the building and found itself overrun. Notes discovered on bodies illustrated a bit of their story, but their ravaged, bloodied corpses told a lot more. As we climbed further into the building, the sounds of distant enemies seemed to grow.
Finally, we saw them: the infected. A door burst open as Joel rounded a corner and suddenly it was on him, still partially human but unable to articulate more than a few gutteral sounds, its face and eyes obscured somewhat by the beginnings of the fungal growth. Tess shot it before it could do any damage, though, and handed Joel a medkit. I pulled it from my inventory — which consists of six or so slots accessed by the D-pad — and spent a few seconds holding buttons down while Joel applied a bandage.