The Last of Us Preview: Dangers Seen and Unseen

City of Brotherly Love

The next portion of the demo starts with Joel and Ellie driving a truck down the highway, headed toward Philadelphia. It’s not long before they find the road blocked, and Joel makes the (knowingly bad) decision to turn into the city proper. As he continues down a Philadelphia street, he and Ellie catch sight of the wounded man mentioned above, staggering toward them and begging for help. As Ellie asks, “Should we help him?” Joel sees through the ruse: “He ain’t even hurt.”

He floors it, and the man pulls a pistol and opens fire.

As more of these “hunters” explode from hiding places all over the road, a bus careens down a side-street and slams into the truck, sending Joel and Ellie through a closed metal gate and into a storefront beyond. Hunters are on them almost immediately, but Joel fights off one in a short quicktime event that has the player smashing the square button to avoid being impaled on a piece of glass, then saves Ellie from her attacker.

A second later, gun-wielding foes are fanning out into the store, searching for Joel and Ellie. With the chance to be sneaky, I stay low and head behind the nearby counter, grabbing one of the hunters from behind. I have a chance to use him as a hostage, and do so to take down another foe before things go bad.

Unlike the infected, the hunters are coordinated and a great deal smarter. They don’t make nearly the same bad decisions; they stay out of the line of fire, they pay attention to when you’re reloading, and they actively flank you. The mix of men carrying firearms and melee weapons makes them even more dangerous, as those with the more powerful weapons stay back while those carrying two-by-fours do the active searching. There’s nowhere for me to go as one of the melee guys crosses toward my hiding place, and reluctantly, we trade blows with boards before I take him down.

Saved By Rubbing Alcohol

My cover isn’t great, but it affords me a second to combine some of the many bits of stuff I’ve picked up along the way to manufacture a new health kit and save my own life on the fly. There’s no regenerating health in The Last of Us, only what you manage to scrounge up from the world, and my diligence in gathering useful supplies of alcohol and clean cloth seems to have paid off. Using a bottle, I distract the last couple of gunmen, putting a bullet in one and sneaking up behind the other. It seems impossible, but between me and Ellie, who continues to be helpful in a pinch, I’ve dropped eight or so armed thugs in the convenience store.

The demo ends shortly thereafter, but not before we’ve had a chance to experience a couple of elements that were mentioned by developers at our last preview of The Last of Us but not shown outright — the equipment progression system. In exploring both Lincoln and Philadelphia, I eventually came on two new, key elements: a tool kit and a work bench.

There are five tool kits you’ll find across the game, or at least that’s what the demo indicates, and they seem to each allow for better upgrades to your equipment. Toolkit 1, the one I found, allowed for some solid upgrades to the pistol and revolver I had in my inventory, but I’d need Toolkit 4 to make adjustments to the bow, for example.

Upgrading weapons was done at a workbench, which seem to be few and far between in the game, and done with generic “parts” found through scavenging. You need a certain numerical value of parts and the right tool kit to upgrade your stuff. We’d heard before that you can add holsters to your equipment for faster switching between different kinds of guns (if you don’t have an additional holster, Joel has to stop and unsling his backpack to switch between two of the same gun type), and that you could make your guns better over time, but it wasn’t clear before how that could happen. Now it seems that system has been laid bare, and the kinds of improvements you can make include clip size, reload speed, and more accurate sights. Because of the limits on supplies, though, which upgrades you make and which you forego will be an important, strategic choice.

We still don’t know how Joel’s character progression will work, but I also discovered a couple other things during the demo we’d only heard hinted at before. One was a training manual that conferred an instant bonus to a single ability: in this case, it made medkits 33 percent more effective as Joel’s first aid knowledge was improved.

The second item was a smoke bomb made by the hunters. Finding the item gave it to me in my inventory, and also allowed me to see how it was made, by combining sugar and explosives. Finding that first smoke bomb allowed Joel to learn to make more of his own, and that’s a system, that will continue to impact Joel’s abilities throughout the game.

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