The Last of Us is one of our most anticipated titles of the year; personally, it may be at the top of my list. So I was beyond thrilled to receive a preview code of the game, of which I will be giving my impressions right here.
Upon starting the ‘beta demo’ as it’s been designated, the first thing I did was scope out the Options. Yeah, I know…’gets his hands on a game he is so excited for, yet he dawdles around in a text menu’. But, there are indeed some interesting options included here that you may want to learn about. Aside from the usual Display/Audio options, in the Game sub-menu, you have the choice of turning Violence (assuming that refers to blood), Lock-On Aiming, Listen Mode, Melee Prompts and Tag Popups on or off. Essentially, you can limit the occasional HUD elements to make your experience more visceral and organic and also add another degree of difficulty if wanted.
Starting off the gameplay in Lincoln, Joel and Ellie begin their trek to find Bill – a ‘friend’ (the term may seem looser once you meet the guy) whom the two hope can provide a working vehicle as payment for a favour Joel did him years back. Transitioning from a cut-scene control is given to the player as the characters a woods-like area on the outskirts of the main town. At any time, you can pause the game to look at the controls, change certain settings and access Tutorials. These tutorials are unlocked as you encounter situations related to their use. For instance, once I picked up a bottle for the first time, the “Bricks-N-Bottles” tutorial became available.
It’s immediately evident in the feel of the controls that this is a Naughty Dog game; there’s a weight and speed to Joel’s movement that feels natural, but not hindering. As you walk through the wooded area, Joel and Ellie enter into a conversation about why he didn’t leave her with a friend. And while scouting the area for resources, Ellie could be heard mimicking the instrumentation of a song (although I’m not sure it qualified as beat-boxing), showing that she is a kid and even in this dire a situation, her mind and her focus strays. She’s also easily fascinated by every little thing; a product of her never knowing a world before the infection spread.
We break out from the trees and shrubbery to reach the town. Smoke can be seen from a distance – possibly signalling Bill’s location as he is seemingly the only man left here. Unfortunately Joel and Ellie are fenced out. Upon some exploration, I see a large plank that can be lifted and carried by pressing ‘triangle’ – the overall action button. Moving it over and setting it against the wall of a small building, I climb to the roof, pick it up from the edge again and then set it down between rooftops to pass over, then jumping down inside the town’s perimeter. Ladders can also be utilised in similar fashion throughout the game.
But we’re not through just yet. This back-lot area is blocked off as well. But before finding a way onto the abandoned street, I hear the distinct sound of a clicker, who is standing inside a nearby shed and has the ability to kill the player with one bite. This is the first instance where I used a bottle (or brick, they both work the same) to distract an infected. Pressing down on the d-pad will equip the item, of which you can only carry one of either, not one of each. Aiming with ‘L1’ and throwing with ‘R1’, I launch the bottle at a wall, leading the clicker to quickly advance on the point of impact. I took the opportunity to go up behind it and kill it with a heavy pipe, which can be executed by pressing ‘square’, the melee button.
Speaking of melee weaponry, much like the bottles and bricks, only one can be carried. To swap with a newly found weapon you must hold ‘triangle’. Each pipe, 2×4, baseball bat, etc., has a durability rating that is signified by white bars below the melee weapon’s icon. They can also be upgraded via the crafting system (as seen above), which is a very important part of the gameplay and can be accessed by pressing ‘select’, which acts as your inventory button. You will scavenge for different items, such as blades and binding to create shivs that allow you to break through locked doors, which is what I did in this section. In this case, the use of resources was very worthwhile as the unlocked room held a stockpile of various pick-ups.
Aside from the crafting components, there are also tools and parts that can be used in upgrading your guns at a weapons bench and pills, which add up and can be put towards enhancing your skills, e.g., decreasing weapon sway or increasing maximum health. Moving forward, before boosting Ellie over a shorter fence so that she may unjam it and allow me onto the streets, I enter an abandoned building in the same block to find a note. These notes will be strewn around and give bits of information and back-story to the player. Straight after, and now on the main street, I do a little exploring and enter a dead bar and record shop (surely dead before the epidemic in the latter’s case).
It’s in these two locations that Ellie once again brings a human element to the proceedings, reminding me of Elizabeth from Bioshock: Infinite in the way that she spots something of interest before investigating it. In the bar, she notices an arcade machine. A ‘triangle’ button prompt appears over her head, allowing the player the ability to engage her further on the subject. In the record store, she walks over to the racks, flips through some vinyls and laments on how sad it is for all this music to go unlistened to. Even if we could, we had to move on to find Bill. It doesn’t take long before we encounter one of his wired booby traps; a clicker turns the corner, trips the wire and sets off a mine right in front of us.
Some of these can be ducked under by pressing ‘circle’, while others need to be set off by throwing an object or shooting them out (if you can afford the ammo). We find a station on top of a truck that Bill looked to be using to shoot from with a bow, which I acquired. Eventually we fall right into a trap upon opening an old warehouse door. Joel is strung upside down by his feet as Ellie attempts to cut the rope of the counterweight fridge. As you’d expect, but not hope, infected swarm on you, requiring you to shoot from your unfavourable and disorienting position. They soon target Ellie as you are lifted out of their reach by the tipped over fridge.
Protect her well enough and she will cut you loose, but Bill still has to save the day, rescuing you both and leading you to safety. The Lincoln portion of the demo ends in a cut-scene where Bill directs the two travellers to points on a map where they can gather parts in order to fix up a car. I then leap straight into the Pittsburgh section of the demo, which sees Joel and Ellie driving said car through an ambush that the savvy Joel sees straight through, although that doesn’t mean they escaped it unscathed. This section is much shorter than Lincoln and showcases a heavy emphasis on human-to-human combat.
These ‘hunters’ as Joel refers to them as, pull the two out of their crashed car. I escape the grip of the assailant, who was attempting to force Joel’s neck into a shard of glass, by mashing ‘square’. Joel gives him the same treatment, but is successful. The man gruesomely spikes his throat and bleeds out on the floor. I race to beat down the other attacker, who backhands Ellie on the other side of the room. Smashing his head against a small cabinet, Joel grabs Ellie, but the two have to take cover as more scavengers appear, this time with guns. And so a large gun fight ensues.
Taking cover is built into the animation system as you may have seen; simply ducking behind an object will lead to Joel pressing up against it with Ellie cowering in-between. Sprinting is achieved by holding ‘L2’ and ‘X’ is used to climb or vault over waist high objects. The gunplay, even with lock-on enabled, isn’t a cakewalk. Enemies are intelligent when it comes to finding cover and will actively progress in flanking you if possible. When this does happen, if Ellie has line of sight of the perp, she will alert you to turn around, or even help out by throwing a brick/bottle if one is around.
As this section is further on in the timeline of the game, Joel is carrying a handmade mine – practically a can with nails stuck into it. This can be equipped by pressing up on the d-pad. They can be thrown almost like a grenade, or dropped by pressing ‘R1’. Moltovs can also be crafted at this point. Once the first wave of guys are cleared out, more appear. At any time, the player can enter Listen Mode by pressing and holding ‘R2’, which turns the screen black and white, slightly slows the game down and highlights enemies through walls and structures. It is very useful in predicaments like these where you are outnumbered with an obstructed line of sight caused by shelves, debris or what-have-you.
Health kits are life savers here too…if you have/crafted any. I had one by default. They do take time to apply, requiring you hold down the allocated button for a period of time. Finally, when all the bad guys are cleared, we raise a garage roller door and get inside, finding a heap of mutilated bodies. I turn on my flash-light by clicking in ‘R3’ and rummage around, finding a Smoke Bomb and a Training Manual, which act almost like bonuses; this one in particular offers health benefits. When in the Collectibles menu of the inventory, reading the manual, I notice a hose in the Artifacts sub-menu, apparently given by Bill to allow us to siphon gas from cars. I am not sure if this is intended as a game mechanic in itself, or if it would take place as part of a specific cinematic down the line.
I also saw a collected Comic Book entitled “Force Carrier”, Book 3. You can not read the whole thing; only the front cover and the blurb on the back. Something interesting to note is, when I flipped the book by pressing ‘triangle’ I discovered the logo of Dark Horse – publisher of The Last of Us: American Dreams comic – on the bottom right. We carry on upstairs and outside to spot the Fort Duquesne Bridge in the background behind some more buildings. This is where the Pittsburgh demo abruptly ends. I wish it continued…
My time with The Last of Us lived up to expectations and even surpassed them. The tone and visual design of the world around you is so perfectly bleak. The overgrown nature adds a little colour to the proceedings, but it doesn’t make it feel any less desperate. Combat is visceral, but my favorite part of the whole experience is what many may consider the filler or typically boring and transitional parts. Learning about these two protagonists and their relationship, travelling together, scavenging together and surviving together – that’s where the heart of it all lies. I know what I’ll be playing come June 14th. We hope to have our full review closer to that date, so keep it locked to Capsule Computers.