Variations of phrases with the words "Uncharted" and "zombies" in them have been the fuel for any casual observer's excitement over The Last of Us, Naughty Dog's first major body of work that doesn't feature with a wiseass adventurer trying to find lost treasure.
While the Uncharted series is known for its sense of adventurous whimsy and fun, Naughty Dog's aim is to turn The Last of Us into an emotional, survival-focused pressure cooker. It appears to be less about finding out the ultimate answers to the world's problems and more about finding ways to last another few minutes. The game's true essence, the developers believe, is that it reflects how catastrophe affects the people left behind, and what they do to move past it. The infected, zombie-like beings seem to be treated as a mere spoke on the game's wheel of experience. Naughty Dog drove this point home during Sony's closed-door demo at E3: There was nary a zombie in sight.
The game's driving forces are Joel and Ellie, the former being a hardened badass who remembers what life was like before everything turned to hell, and the latter being a relatively sheltered but tough 14-year-old girl whose whole life has been spent in a destroyed post-outbreak zone. The duo are the embodiment of Naughty Dog's effort to create "real humans" in the world, with banter, organic reactions to the situations around them and a sense of real emotion in their actions and words. From what we saw, players will spend the bulk of their time as Joel, with Ellie acting relatively independently based on the situation at hand. Growing up in this world has given her the ability to watch after herself and be smart, so she won't aimlessly wander into the path of incoming death or sprint in front of Joel while he's trying to shoot some fool in the doorway.
The demo expounded on how other people in the world around you react to whatever the player chooses to do, which is what Naughty Dog calls its "balance of power." Much of the demo was a game of cat-and-mouse in an abandoned hotel, with thugs yelling "He's got a gun!" when Joel started firing. As a result, enemies take extra care in not exposing themselves to possible gunfire, deftly hiding behind corners and avoiding hallways. They also seem to have as much ability to fight as Joel does; one managed to get the jump on Joel and try to hold him in position for his friend to blow him away before Joel managed to shake free, turn the tables and take out his attackers. However, he didn't end up going room-to-room and cleaning house. Players will have the choice to simply elude and move forward to safety instead of trying to pile up the bodies anytime a group of unfriendlies shows up.
From a visual and technical standpoint, The Last of Us places a heavy concentration on ambient light, which makes sense since the mysterious "outbreak" has rendered nearly anything tech-related practically useless. Light will flow through the windows, bounce off the walls where appropriate, and generally add to the sense of quiet wasteland we've grown accustomed to in catastrophe-survival entertainment. Players will also be encouraged to scavenge for items to use either as weapons or pieces to craft helpful items, like a Molotov cocktail or health kit. A simple bottle was used as both a distraction to draw enemies away as well as a method for Joel to buy a split-second of time so he could gain the upper hand against an armed foe. Many of the enemies we saw Joel kill left a chilling pool of blood on the floor when shot to death. Others died when Joel smashed them in the head with a thick pipe or brick. We were told that even your choice of weapon affects how surrounding enemies handle you. Those paying attention will notice some direction design similarities to Uncharted, such as cameras zooming in on key points or any time there's some climbing to be done.
There is also Naughty Dog's signature of creating characters we actually like, and it appeared in the demo that the evolution of Joel and Ellie's bond from complete strangers to a father-daughter dynamic would be the real imprint the game attempts to make upon anyone who plays it.
There is no official release date announced for this PS3 exclusive, but many project The Last of Us will hit store shelves sometime in 2013.
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