The Last Of Us PreviewPlatform:
Sony Computer Entertainment
The Last Of Us is about scarcity. It’s about making do. That’s not just key to the way combat’s designed, it’s true of the entire development process. Seemingly The Last Of Us is about discovering what else you can provide in a game besides shooting another human. Figuring that out makes the moments where killing is inevitable stick out that much more prominently.
It’s probably not a coincidence that this echoes the setting. It’s a Cormac McCarthy-esque post apocalypse where only remnants of the current world still stand, ravaged by time. The majority of the population have been wiped out by a plant-borne infection that turns them rabid, but they’re only a portion of the threat to those that are left. Bandits roam the world trying to survive in less than admirable ways. There’s little to find in the world but danger.
Our preview build showed two brief slices early into the game’s narrative. The first contains an extended walk without seeing a single human that isn’t your character Joel or companion Ellie. They intend to meet with a friend holed up further into an abandoned town, in an attempt to barter for a car. The player is totally denied any sense of threat along the way, making it incredibly disturbing as the tension ratchets up in anticipation of what will inevitably come.
Along this walk there are a few puzzles. You have to get over a fence but it’s covered in barbed wire. You’ll notice a long plank of wood leaning against a wall which sure enough you can pick up. By climbing atop other nearby structures you can use the plank to create a bridge. Easy.
However, dropping the plank just slightly out of range of the correct position means that Joel will lay it down on the ground next to him. It's a peculiar break in the sense of immersion; one minute the world feels real and malleable, the next you realise you've encountered something akin to a quicktime event. For a game that presents itself as so cinematic to suddenly remind you of the medium’s flaws makes them all the more notable. Hopefully in the full game these moments will be the exception rather than the rule.
While on your travels you can scavenge for supplies along the way. Everything you find is a consumable and mostly they’ll be converted into more useful materials. There’s a crafting system that you can access at any time, but terrifyingly it doesn’t pause the game. As such you’ll want to make preparations when you think you’re safe, especially as the equipment you’re crafting is important during combat.
On top of the risks of creating in real time, you'll also have to choose carefully what you craft. Many items can serve multiple perhaps and be combined in a number of different ways, such that you could create a health pack or a molotov cocktail, say. For example, you can duct tape a pair of scissors to your melee weapon for two instant kills with it before they snap off, or you could fashion a shiv that can either be used for a single silent kill or break open the lock on a door. Even the weapon you’ve selected needs to be considered before a fight breaks out. You’ve a variety in your pack, but you’ll need to lay it down and root around for the one you’ll grab when necessary. That’s your choice and you don’t have the luxury of knowing what you’ll need for the situation, nor the time to decide once you’re up against it.
We do take umbrage with some of these decisions as it's just as "unrealistic" that you wouldn't think to fashion useful holsters for key weapons, or keep items in pockets, rather than have them all tucked away in a bag. Likewise it's nonsense that a shiv should be single-use. Again, it'll be interesting to see how these slight irritations feel in the full game.
When, in this preview, you’re finally attacked you’re vastly outnumbered and your only option is to run, briefly thinning out attackers who get too close to you or Ellie. Here she runs the risk of being too dependant, in stark contrast with the way that Bioshock Infinite
handled the secondary protagonist of Elizabeth. Whenever she's attacked she'll require your help. This does of course make sense as Ellie is a young girl without the ability to rip holes in spacetime, but still. At best this’ll force you to be more bold in your combat to save her and make for better gameplay, but if it follows most other games the entire game runs the risk of feeling like an escort quest. It’d be a shame, because through dialogue Ellie is made about as great a character as only Naughty Dog appears to be able to provide. She’ll win you over the first time she calls someone a Motherf*cker, trust me.
The second glimpse of combat, a little later in the story, focused specifically on an attack by a manageable but still massive number of bandits. The combat is brutal and meaningful. It’s not something that you’re going to want to get involved in and you’re going to have to think carefully about how to handle yourself. Breaking line of sight and catching an attacker unawares is the only upper hand you have. You’ll run out of bullets if they aren’t used sparingly and you’ll be beaten bloody in any melee encounter if there’s more than one person around. You don’t want to get in fights, but you will. You’ll have to deal with the consequences when it happens.
Overall we're so far impressed with what The Last Of Us has to offer and if the full game lives up to the preview build it'll be well worth picking up. As one of the last major new titles for the PS3, before the PS4 arrives, it could make for a superb swansong for the console.