Pax East 2013 : The Last of Us Playable Demo Impressions

joel ellie looking up

At this year’s PAX East convention, Naughty Dog made quite the ripple in the exhibition hall with its newest title, The Last of Us. For the first time, the developer debuted a playable demo of the game, allowing show-goers to experience the dark adventure for themselves. I was lucky enough to get a chance to play the game, and I can see why Naughty Dog netted multiple Best in Show awards during the event. Had I not placed my only Best in Show sticker on an adorable bulldog just outside of the convention center, I would have slapped it up across their booth myself.

The game sets the tone with an introduction of its main characters, Joel and Ellie, as they traverse the terrain of a decimated cityscape. I quickly became aware that things were not going so well in this town, as most thriving cities are not crumbling, littered with abandoned cars, and partially submerged underwater. Even in a pre-alpha build, the game looks amazing. The city is alive, though death lingers in the air. Walking through the destruction with rain falling, wood creaking, and….what the hell was that sound? There is an enemy in the game that uses sonar, and when I first heard the clicking noise that it uses, a million horrible ideas flashed in my mind as to what could be making it. I try to make it a point not to freak out while I am in public, but when I was accosted by my first Clicker, I wanted to throw my headphones at the screen in an attempt to destroy my enemy with real life projectiles.  Audio will play a large role in The Last of Us, from what I can tell. Knowing where your enemies are, and whether or not they know the same about you, will be extremely important to your survival.

 

So...I found out what that noise was...

So…I found out what that noise was…

 

Naughty Dog is no stranger to dynamic movement, and Joel has been blessed with the ability to run, jump, and climb with the best of them. However, he is not at the level of the studio’s other beloved treasure hunter, making this character feel much more human, which is one of the game’s greatest strengths. A game’s tension can only get so high when there is a constant understanding that the main character is nearly invincible. Joel is just a man in a bad situation, and he will need to do whatever it takes to make sure that he and Ellie survive. This draws the player into the experience much more than usual, because every move counts.

Never was this clearer than when I found myself in a room dotted with multiple types of enemies like the blind, but aggressive Clickers, and the weaker, but more aware Runners. My first instinct was to brute force my way through the room, punching infected enemies left and right, hoping to simply knock them down with my big bad man fists until I emerged victorious. This proved to be the absolute worst tactic. I know, because I quickly had a Clicker biting out my neck parts. Let me make this clear…Clickers are not to be trifled with. If you turn your back on them, they absolutely will murder you. Five failed attempts later, I looked around at the other players’ screens and noticed that most of them were in the same spot as I was. Survival in this game is about more than strength. The player is forced to assess his or her surroundings, consider available equipment, and approach each situation with care. Five more failed attempts later, I finally put my man fists away, grabbed a brick, and use a combination of misdirection, stealth, and brick to dispatch my enemies while arousing minimal suspicion. The resulting sense of satisfaction surpasses that delivered by any title in recent years.

 

I say you he dead.

I say you he dead.

 

The Last of Us is, at its core, a game about staying alive. Resource management plays a large role, because like any post-apocalyptic situation, supplies are not as readily available as we may like. I can barely ever find the first aid kit in my own home, let alone in every third desk drawer of an abandoned office building. The game does one thing that I found to be extremely conducive to really keeping the tension high and players smart. It severely limits the amount of bullets that can be found. Most games just expect you to believe that every corpse you come across is that of someone who was attacked just after leaving the gun store with a freshly wrapped box of bullets for each one of your exact firearms. Surprise! They picked up a few grenades, too. Guns are very powerful weapons, but when you only have four bullets to go around and know that you may only find one more, you start to consider when you absolutely need to use them. The safety net of just blasting away at your enemies from afar is gone, and it is replaced with the need to get up close and personal. Sneaking up behind a bandit and strangling him while he claws at your forearms and grasps toward your face is quite a visceral experience. It is almost sad in a way, but you know that it is something you must do to keep you and your party safe. Their situation is not glamorous, and this game does not pretend that it is. To supplement your inventory, The Last of Us features an in-game crafting system through which players can use the resources that they have scavenged from the environment to assemble everything from bandages, to shivs, to the trusty old 2X4 with a pair of scissor blades through it. Unfortunately, I was gorged upon by Clickers and ran out of time with the demo before I got the chance to wield such a glorious armament. Maybe next time.

 

We can lose them in the skies!

We can lose them in the skies!

 

The Last of Us does a lot of things right, and one can only hope that the game will only get better from this point. As one of the more anticipated titles of the year, there is much hype to live up to here. The game has already been delayed to further polish the product, so we will see what the studio can accomplish with this bit of extra time. The Last of Us is scheduled for release on the Playstation 3 this June directly following E3. You can expect a review of the game from us around that time.

 

Jon Malloy

Jon Malloy

Senior Writer & Editor at What's Jump?
Jon is a writer and co-founder of “What’s Jump?” With a passion for gaming, comedy, and discussion, Jon works to bring his unique views, along with a bit of humor, to his writing. With a background in information technology and development, his interests lean toward the newest trends and technological advancements. Reporting for “What’s Jump?” he is at home both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.
Jon Malloy
Jon Malloy

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