The Last of Us Preview: Dangers Seen and Unseen
It’s fair to say that there wasn’t necessarily a huge amount of combat or serious content in this demo, even though it took me a little more than an hour to complete. Though I covered a big part of Lincoln (the Philadelphia portion was much smaller), most of that time was spent exploring and searching for gear, not fighting enemies. I’ve read a few other previews of the demo, one or two of which complained that it was “bad,” or at least not especially engaging.
But taken together in the context of the Boston level we played earlier this year, this new demo illustrated a lot of key information about The Last of Us. It’s been noted by Naughty Dog that players should never approach an encounter with enemies the same way twice, because the context is always different: This demo showed that even from level to level, The Last of Us is going to present different contexts and different pacing. You might spend half a stage not doing much but looking around, taking in the world, and taking to Ellie, and that’s not necessarily bad, and it doesn’t mean you can drop your guard. The tense moments are there, like hanging upside-down and trying to land headhsots, and this demo and the last did well to demonstrate several different gears The Last of Us will play in at different times.
The game is also unabashedly difficult, even at its Normal difficulty. You often have to act quickly and skillfully; encounters with Clickers, in particular, are rough because they’re hard to take down and they kill Joel in one hit. This might lead to a little frustration at times, especially because ammo is limited and Joel’s not necessarily great with his weapons (like that goddamn bow), but it also requires a lot of care on the part of the player. You can’t bumble into every room expecting to bad-ass your way out of it, and being cautious and highly aware of your surroundings is a requirement all of the time. It exactly mirrors what you’d expect a zombie apocalypse to feel like, and if you find it frustrating, I’d argue that you’re playing it wrong or expecting The Last of Us to be something other than it is.
It’s refreshing in a way that the game expects you to get good at it and to use your head to stay alive, rather than to allow you to make your way through more or less carried by the fact that you’ve got a bigger health bar than the enemies. Just how good The Last of Us is at handling difficulty long-term remains to be seen, but its balance of stealth, combat, difficulty and strategy are certainly interesting after two hands-on sessions with it.
My second chance to play The Last of Us continues to keep me excited for the game. A slower, more thoughtful demo this time out presents some of the more intriguing story elements we’ve seen, and it seems the things the developer has been touting all along — namely, the development of the relationship between Joel and Ellie, and therefore between we players and Ellie — are coming together nicely. And the road trip across a desolate America is presenting a lot of great opportunities for the varied smashing of fungal-zombie heads and shooting of looters.