After actually playing The Last of Us, it’s not the beautiful graphics, the brutal violence, or the approachable crafting system that stands out to me. It’s the sound. The Last of Us isn’t Uncharted, with its happy score wafting over every moment of gameplay. It’s a slow, suspenseful crawl through a world that can kill you at any moment. As such, it’s quiet – eerily quiet. You have time to listen to the rain pitter patter on windows and each breath of the infected you’re creeping up on to shiv in the neck.
But that’s just part of the 20 minutes I played through. If you’re the visual sort, my quick fire impressions are available in a PlayStation Conversation below — as well as in theinterview with developer Naughty Dog Creative Director Neil Druckmann — but if you like these here written words, let’s hit the highlights.
I don’t know if I’ve had a demo where sound was as crucial to the experience as this go with The Last of Us. Like I said at the start, this is a game about survival. You creep into rooms and listen for trouble — it’s how you survive and progress. The little music found here is for mood. Naughty Dog clearly thinks it’s more important to use sound effects — or the lack of them — to set players on edge, to keep them engrossed.
It works. Every time Ellie, Tess (Joel’s smuggling partner) and I entered a new area, I stopped and listened. Part of this is “Listen Mode,” an amplified ability of Joel’s. Holding down a shoulder button puts the world in this black and white state and outlines enemies that are making noise through walls. It’s an at a glance way to get the lay of the land, to see what you’re up against.
It’s key to fighting off the infected – two types of which I’m now very familiar with.
There were two types of infected in my demo. If you’re just joining us, a fungal virus is infecting humans. It grows through their eye sockets, takes over their minds, and makes them into distorted monsters.
Type one is an early stage of infection – the Runner. This monster still has a sense of its humanity. It knows that what it’s doing is wrong, but it can’t stop. Just like the ants in the original teaser video for The Last of Us, the Runners body language almost shows an internal struggle between the virus and the person – one of them pulling back while the other pushes forward. The Runner travels in packs and (not surprisingly) runs.
The second stage of the infection is the one we saw in the debut trailer. These guys are called Clickers. The virus has taken over, and it’s grown into massive structures through the eye sockets. This blinds the Clicker, but that disability gives them hyper-sensitive hearing. As such, the Clickers make a clicking noise with their mouths and see via echolocation. The sound bounces off objects, comes back to the Clicker, and creates an image.
These two types made for an intense play session. For starters, and I’m sure I sound like a broken record, there’s sound. When I’d enter an area with these guys, they’d let me know they were there. The Runners – losing their human selves by the second – wander around moaning these guttural cries. Meanwhile, there’s constant clicking as the Clickers try and figure out what’s going on.
- It’s screwed up to be on one side of a table, hiding for your life, and have a Clicker on the other side spinning about trying to find you. Meanwhile, sneaking up on a wiggling, moaning Runner is just as messed up – to the point that shiving them in the neck or choking them out seems humane rather than necessary.
But it was never a choice in my demo. I needed to take these things down to keep the group safe. My favorite part came when Joel went to scout ahead and dropped into a room with three or four Runners and one Clicker. I loved it because I kept dying. I kept making a bit of progress and then getting hung up on the next part. I’d choke out the Runner, but the Clicker would see me. I’d time my shiving of the first Runner to miss the Clicker, but then get seen by this other Runner wandering from room to room.
Sure, I could try and shoot the monsters rushing me, but I only had a few bullets and nailing headshots on the bobbing and weaving animals isn’t easy. The Last of Us rewards planning and patience – and that’s what I love about it.
In fact, later in the game, I came into a room filled with creatures and was given a shotgun. I threw a bottle at the floor, the baddies rushed me, but the shotgun gave me a big ol’ radius for the headshot. I killed the three coming at me, picked up ammo off their corpses, and then killed the next batch that came my way. It was nowhere near as fun as the strategizing and scrounging from before.
I talked to Naughty Dog developers about this, and they said my first experience was more what they were going for – that the shotgun and ample ammo drops I found toward the end were just for this demo, to give the press an idea of later in the game.
I certainly hope that’s the case.
- Naughty Dog’s been talking about this crafting system for quite a while now, and I haven’t known what to make of it. How complicated will it be? How plentiful are resources? Turns out: 1) It’s not complicated. 2) They’re all over the place, but they’re not all equal.
So, typically, Tess will get out in front of you and go toward the objective you guys are looking for – a door, some stairs, etc. This is your cue to go anywhere but there. See, staying off the beaten path will lead you to drawers with scissors in them, duct tape at a dead end, and so on. When you pick these items up, you’ll see that item’s icon with a pie chart. That shows you how much the item is worth in that item category. Fill in one of the pies, and you have a whole item. Then, you need to look at the recipes you’ve collected thus far – stuff like a med kit, moltov, or board with scissors in it. If you have the needed pieces, a button tap makes it for you.
It’s a breeze – a lot like Dead Rising 2’s crafting with a bit of ZombiU tossed in. (When you craft, you’re digging through your backpack and vulnerable to attack.)
- You start in a Quarantine Zone in Boston, then move into the unprotected city, which was bombed in an effort to stop the infection. (It didn’t work.)
- Joel and Tess are trying to take Ellie to a group known as Firefly.
- Notes found in the game are three-dimension objects that feature handwriting. They’re not text that pops on your screen.
- Collectables listed in this demo include: Notes, Comics, Firefly Logs, and Training Manuals. Your menu shows you how many are in a level and how many you’ve collected thus far.
- Crafting materials listed in this demo include: battery, blade, binding, rag, alcohol, explosive, sugar, and melee weapon.