One of the most notable things about this year’s E3 has been the high level of quality around brand new IPs. Generally E3 is filled with sequels and new franchise iterations. That was certainly true at this E3 too, but some of the best games were all original IPs: Dishonored, Beyond: Two Souls, Watch Dogs, and more. And at the top of that list is Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us.
The game originally debuted at the VGAs in December, and since then people have been left craving for more. More details, more gameplay, more trailers. Just more. Sony and Naughty Dog heard, and they answered in a big way.
At the Sony press conference, the game was highlighted with a playable section that saw the protagonists Joel and Ellie chased into Pittsburgh and left to scavenge for supplies. The duo came across a once beautiful hotel and decided to check it out.
The graphics are top notch, but it is more than the pixel count that makes The Last of Us look so amazing. The game is set several years after the world has essentially ended. The details on the disaster are still being kept under wraps, but whatever happened, humanity left the cities in a hurry and nature has crept back in to begin the slow process of erasing mankind. Streets have become rivers, cars are rusted obstacles, and the skyscraper filled horizon is a sad reminder of a dead world.
But Naughty Dog knows the proper distinction between realism and art, and so the city still contains enough vibrant colors to constantly be lush and worth stopping to take a moment to look around. It is also though little pieces of pop culture—things like movie posters–that you will learn more about the characters. Joel might mention he saw the movie years ago, while Ellie’s dialog betrays her ignorance of all things that came before the fall of humanity.
Ellie is very much a child of this new age, having lived her life almost entirely under the new order. Joel on the other hand, is a bit older and was at one time a member of the “hunters,” the name given to the groups of scavenger gangs willing to do anything for supplies. How Joel changed his ways and met up with Ellie will unfold in as part of the story.
As the pair examined the hotel, there were areas that required Joel and Ellie to work together to overcome obstacles. You will always play as Joel, but this is not an escort mission. Ellie is a capable and remarkable character in her own right that can take care of herself, and more often than not will probably end up saving your life.
After making it deeper into the hotel, the pair stumbled across a group of hunters. Joel and Ellie quietly snuck around and plotted their next move. This is where the demo at the Sony press conference and the demo at the behind closed door sessions diverged, and it is also where the game showed off part of what makes it so appealing.
In the Sony demo, Joel attacked an enemy and took him down but was seen. That led to a firefight. The enemy is responsive and smart, and will react to how you approach them, as well as your situation. If you turn it into a gunfight, they will take cover and wait until they hear the click of an empty chamber, or wait for the shots to end then charge. If you attack with melee weapons, they will become more aggressive and attempt to swarm you, or wait for their guys with guns to appear.
Ammo and weaponry will be scarce, so trickery will be key. You can distract enemies looking for you by throwing bottle in the other direction, for example. It isn’t the first time this has been seen, but it is done to near perfection here.
You will also have a crafting system that allows you to combine items you find. Come across a bottle, liquor, and a rag and you have a Molotov cocktail. Find bandages and a stick and you have a splint.
In the Sony demo, the combat was fast and fierce. When the horrible click of an empty chamber sounded, the enemies rushed. Ellie stepped in and threw a brick at a charging enemy, stunning him long enough for Joel to take him out. They then moved to a hotel room where they were again attacked by a man with a shotgun. Joel grabbed the weapon and used it to bludgeon one attacker, then after a struggle he turned it on the final foe who screamed for mercy, but received none as the shotgun blast was the final sound of the demo. The guy playing it for the crowd then dropped the controller, raised his fist in the air and walked off stage and into E3 legend.
After being spotted, Joel finished off a few enemies, but soon was out of ammo. This caused the enemies to charge, and a fierce struggle ended after Ellie jumped on the enemy’s back and stabbed him, allowing Joel to take him out. The final enemy then began to charge, but when Joel began to reload, the bad guy saw the reload, skidded to a halt, then turned and ran. It was incredible.In the closed door demo, Naughty Dog deliberately wanted to give us a different look at the game. In this run through, Joel and Ellie decided to move with stealth through the level, and took out one enemy quietly to get passed. Naughty Dog confirmed that you could make it through the level and most of the game with minimal combat (minus a few scripted parts designed to heighten the tension), but in this instance they chose to again show the combat.
Joel gave chase and began to hunt for the enemy. A sound gave the baddie away, and Joel soon had him trapped. After a few exclamations, the enemy decided to try to charge. Joel finished him off and the demo ended shortly after.
The differences in the playthroughs were subtle, but speak volumes. The enemy AI is not just smart, it is as good as any game ever made. They will react based on your tactics and situation, and can change their strategy on the fly. When the enemy about to charge Joel skidded to a halt and then turned and ran after seeing him reload, it was a beautiful moment of gameplay.
There is still much we don’t know about The Last of Us, but what was shown seems to confirm that the cinematic form of play featuring numerous moments of scripted action, blended with gameplay that just feels cinematic to begin with that Naughty Dog is famous for thanks to the Uncharted games, is very much present here.
The new setting of a post-apocalyptic world is a melancholy work of art, and the combat is more than just a shoot-em-up, it is a life and death struggle every single time. And we haven’t even seen gameplay with the mutants that roam the land yet.
Although the PS3 is nearing the end of its life cycle, if you don’t already own one, The Last of Us looks to be great excuse to consider buying a PS3. It is going to be a long wait until this PS3 exclusive debuts sometime next year.