(there are no spoilers here)
The demo contains two levels. One is very short and is all about combat. The second, hopefully, is much more indicative of what the game really is about. This demo level is a slow paced, athmosperic and powerful sequence of affairs.
The crunch at Naughty Dog has apparently been pretty epic on this game (first Naughty Dog to ever have been delayed from it’s original launch date), but it always has been. The quality of this demo feels superb, but is probably even higher in the final product.
The “end of the world” theme and zombies are very tired themes and things to explore. That was my first reaction upon hearing about The Last of Us. That was of course preceded by excitment for an brand new IP from Naughty Dog. Still, it’s about the story and if you can offer something interesting from a drama and character point of view, where you set it, doesnt matter as much.
This is clearly a game where you want to avoid spoilers and watching too much footage since it really seems to rely very much on the story. It simply has to – a game with these sort of themes: survival, being alone and so on, to differentiate from The Walking Dead, Enslaved and others out there – the story has to be powerful. But it’s also probably that like in the Walking Dead, not much will explained at the end, why the epidemic has happened, so there’s probably not going to be a “proper”, explain-it-all ending. So, I assume The Last of Us really is about the journey that the two lead characters are taking. But I really do hope it offers proper closure at the end of the journey.
The demo sells this really well. The dialogue between Ellie and Joel is lively and believable. The voice acting is great and the chatter has a lively feel to it (even if it sounds sometimes too much like it’s been recorded in the studio) and there is a lot of it. There is a lot of sequences where Ellie will comment on Joels comings and goings. It’s a pleasure to hear form her – there’s a very organic feel to the game.
The feel really is what sells this to me. The visuals are often incredible as is the lighting. Just imagine what you will see on the PlayStation 4 three-fours years from now, when compute shaders are being fully utilized. The world in The Last of Us feels lived in, dead, yet alive. We’ve all seen barren streets with wrecked cars and dead-ends with large school buses etc in so many games and movies, yet here they feel fresh.
There’s just a great feeling of being there, which is something the technically far less efficient (and of course having been made on a much smaller budget) The Walking Dead did not have. The world in The Last of Us seems like something I want to know more about and also I want to know more about Joel and Ellie.
I really do not want to see more of this game before I have the final game and can sit down and play it by myself, turn off all social media so I can just sink myself into this world. Though having said that, this is a game that is also entertaining to watch as somebody plays it.
So the fears of the themes being very worn out, I do not have anymore after having played the demo, but of course, the demo is less than an hour of the game, which apparently offers something like a 15 hour single player story. That’s my only worry really – the game sounds too damn long.
I really do think one of the biggest problems developers and publishers now have is that they make single player games way too long. I think that actually turns people off (no from The Last of Us though, I feel) from buying certain games. We just do not have the time these days to spend 15-20 hours with single player games. I understand that developers and publishers are afraid of losing revenue to rentals and afraid that gamers thikn they are not getting enough value for 50 dollars, but we are. We definitely are.
The gameplay in The Last of Us, especially in the slower paced Lincoln-level, like I said, I really hope this is what the game is about – very careful, slow-paced exploration where avoiding the enemies is really necessary. Basically whenever the infected saw me and rushed me, I would die. There’s no hammering the buttons or a QTE offering escape – you get caught, you die.
That I think is already a bold move in current climate of video games where the fear of death is non-existent. Shooting does not have the clinical finesse of Call of Duty and on purpose. There’s some realism to the shooting here with shaky hands and inaccuracy in the aiming. Again, this is a great, refreshing move and hopefully the game sticks to it’s guns until the end so to speak.
So in the slower-paced level, one has to climb on top of a building and use a wooden plank to get across to another building. This mechanic repeated itself a few times. Now, when everything looks so damn realistic, it’s stil a game, so you can only interact with a few things. So the plank is resting across a chainlink fence and I figured I have to get it up to the building’s roof, but how can I climb up carrying it? Ellie was of no help. Took me a while to realize I had to rest the plank across the building’s wall, then climb to the roof, then grab the plank to hoist it onto the roof and place it across the chasm between the two buildings. Makes sense.
Another critical thing that the game will have to do to be succesful and realistic is to have scarce resources. If there’s too many bullets available, then even though killing the infected is tough, you can just use a lot of ammo to survice. We are so used to the fact in the video games these days that there’s never a lack of resources because designers are too scared to lose players because the game might be tough or require strategy. It’s a very, very fine line. Clearly, there’s a lot of small rooms behind locked doors that you need to build shiv’s to open them. Spend resources to build shivs and you can access these “resource rooms”, but by spending some resources. How all of this will play out, it’s super hard to balance out so we shall see.
I do assume this is a game that one should play without any of the multitude of helping functions like pointers and HUD elements showing things that you can interact with. Of course then, you will end up hugging everything in the enviroments kinda like in an old school adventure game to figure out what you can use and what you cannot. The game feels so real and tries to be real that logical solutions to problems are what come to mind, but of course, this is not a simulation, it’s a game so it works in a certain kinda way.
The graphics, the feel and tone of the game are huge parts of The Last of Us just as they are in Uncharted – they really are the building blocks of the game. Also, this is kind of like in Grand Theft Auto – it’s about…enjoying the athmospere, soaking it all in and enjoying it. Even if it’s all about insane people, death and bacteria.
I’m pretty sure that any criticism the game will face, the rather dour answer will be that “at least we are trying to push the envelope in story-telling, so never mind the little details”.
Kind of what the Bioshock Infinite has experienced. It’s a sign of a great game that it’s merits generate so much discussion and columns. Now, I think Bioshock Infinite is an amazing game – I dont mind the gamey aspects of it like stealing everything everywhere you got and emptying ever nook and cranny in front of non-reactful NPC’s. That what you do in video games and there’s so many technical challenges in making video games that in Bioshock, Irrational chose to concentrate on the story and other things rather than getting rid of basic gameplay tenets.
Now yes, it did annoy a little bit that I sort of had to get the “stealing resources” out of the way in every building and gameplay sequence of Bioshock Infinite to enjoy the rest of it, but I can live with that.
Same with The Last of Us, there’s some gameplay elements that might jar with the realism, but only concentrating that is losing the bigger picture – that a developer is trying hard to do something new, a new IP and trying to explore mature, adult theme’s and drama.
Also, I have to push the point that The Last of Us looks absolutely stunning.