The Last of Us Preview: Dangers Seen and Unseen
But the relationship between Joel and Ellie is already getting complex, and much like Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite, Ellie is a useful AI character rather than a persistent escort quest. When a runner I didn’t see coming barrels around a corner and grab Joel, snapping jaws in the direction of his jugular, Ellie wastes no time in burying a pair of scissors in its shoulder, giving me time to bash its head in a moment later.
Their conversations aren’t quite so cooperative, though. Joel takes on the air of a put-upon caretaker. He begrudgingly hoists Ellie over a fence when the way is barred, but reminds her to do nothing but open the way for him. Later, when Ellie asks for the opportunity to carry a bow Joel finds so that both of them can be armed, Joel turns her down, and it’s tough to say whether it’s because he doesn’t trust her aim or that he thinks he might end up on her list of targets. It’s made all the worse when I proceed to break three arrows immediately after the exchange while trying to hit a mostly unmoving Clicker.
There’s another poignant moment later, after Joel and Ellie are ambushed by hunters, a group of humans who trap and kill other people to take their supplies. After Joel sees the ambush coming — it’s started by a man staggering down the center of a Philadelphia street, gripping his side and begging for help — he imparts a crucial bit of information: He knew what was happening because he had been on “both sides” of the situation. Ellie asks if Joel has killed a lot of innocent people during his time as a hunter, a question he doesn’t answer.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Ellie says.
“You take it however you want,” Joel spits back.
This moment conveys a level of danger and ambiguity in Joel I hadn’t yet seen presented. Sure, he’s been harsh before, but he’s also not thrilled about the whole “crossing a zombie-infested country with a mouthy teenage girl” bit of his situation. This is the first time we really get a sense of who Joel is in a way that extends into his past: He is a man who has survived 20 years of the pandemic, after all.
The question remains: What kind of man is Joel now? That’s something none of the hands-on time we’ve spent with the game has really answered, and something to look for as the story of The Last of Us continues to unfold.
Lincoln itself is a mostly quiet place as I continue to explore it, with the biggest commotion being a Clicker that starts to chase Joel down an alley. That ends abruptly, though, as the Clicker runs into a tripwire that triggers an improvised mine. Bill has placed traps for the infected (and maybe the uninfected) all over town, although for a thinking human, they’re mostly easily circumvented. Joel guides Ellie under trip lines and out of harm’s way when he has to shoot the mines off a doorway.
For the most part, Lincoln takes it easy on me. I find a bow, with which I am a horrible shot, but which offers a less noisy way to take down the sound-sensitive infected. The trip is uneventful as we continue to move past and trigger Bill’s traps, ignoring his signs warning against trespassing and that he will shoot on sight. It’s only when Joel opens a door and finds his foot in a snare trap that I start to regret not having a little more respect for Bill’s setup.
The culmination of the Lincoln level has Joel ensnared in the trap, hanging upside-down in a garage, with infected pouring over a nearby fence while Ellie climbs onto the trap’s refrigerator counterweight hoping to cut Joel down. At first, Joel is totally exposed, so it’s up to me to use his six-shot revolver to fight off Runners as they come sprinting toward me. It’s not easy, but more dangerous are the late-coming Clickers, who execute one-hit kills if I can’t take them down before they get too close.
It’s here that I die a few times and get a reminder of how unforgiving The Last of Us can be, even on Normal difficulty (though its generous checkpoints mitigate the punishment a great deal).
As Ellie works to cut Joel free, the fridge tips and suddenly the tables are turned — Joel is hoisted out of harm’s way, but Ellie is trapped on the ground and fully vulnerable. Still upside-down, the fight takes a desperate turn as Clickers and Runners close on Ellie, and I’m forced to make quick shots to keep her safe.
Finally, with the infected at bay and Ellie cleared of danger momentarily, she cuts Joel down. Suddenly a Runner closes and just as it looks as if it might have Joel’s number, a gas mask-clad Bill appears to rescue him. Now the battle turns into a desperate, running fight — Bill leads us through crashed trucks and over barricades toward his safehouse, as infected continue to flood over fences and into the buildings we duck into. As we clear into a building and close the door behind us, infected stream in through an open wall on the other side. I use the opportunity of Bill and Ellie’s distraction to get behind a Clicker and bring it down safely, and then we’re off again.
At last, we make it to Bill’s safehouse as the demo moves from in-engine antics to a pre-rendered cutscene. There, Bill and Joel have it out, and Joel convinces Bill to provide a vehicle. It just requires Joel and Ellie go track down parts from around town, but the demo kicks over to the next stage before we have to do that.