Impressions of the Judges Day preview for ‘The Last of Us’
I gotta say, I was pretty bummed to not have been able to head to Judges Day this year (as I am every year.) So just imagine my surprise when Sony sent the same build to us today. I basically have about 6 hours for this preview before the embargo lifts, but this is an incredibly small section of the game’s campaign, taking place in 2 distinct areas. I have no idea where this transpires in the story, and as we always do, this will be completely spoiler-free.
The goal for this preview is to detail the gameplay, environment, and pretty much everything BUT the story elements. I’ve opted to turn the lights on as I boot this build up, and actually, I’m pretty stoked that I get to play this on my huge plasma with surround sound, instead of a small monitor and headphones. Let’s get to it!
The first section available is in Lincoln, PA. You start out on a road, but jump into the woods right away. The lighting hits you right away too, as the sun creeps through the tree branches (the sun is at the point that photographers call the “magic hour” which is a great touch for the mood). You can tell immediately that there will probably be a good deal of exploration, as you can search around for items to pick up and add to your inventory. Controls are very responsive, and feel pretty different than those in the Uncharted series. Also, I noticed that I don’t think that you can fire your weapon unless you’re holding L1 to aim (no run and gun.) This probably isn’t a bad thing though, since ammo is scarce.
I come to a fenced-in area, with a small shed off to the side. As I climb to the top of the shed, I find a pipe with scissors taped to the end. This can act as an upgrade to my normal melee attack, and a tutorial pops-up to let me know that I can upgrade any melee weapon, bit that use is limited because items damage when used. For example, I can craft an upgraded melee weapon if I have scissors, a roll of tape, and a Baseball bat. It’s a good use of crafting, especially since it seems pretty simple (unlike some RPG’s I’ve seen.)
I scope a plank resting against a wall, and it seems that’s what I’ll have to use to get farther in to the area. This was tricky since there wasn’t any type of tutorial. I figured that I could use the plank to walk across to the shack that’s inside the fenced area, but I didn’t’ know how to so. I tried a few different things until I put it in the right place, dropped it across the gap between the two shacks, and headed across with Ellie.
At this point, I enter the town, and something spooks Ellie, so we duck into a building. I scrounge a bit, and man, the lighting! The sun is actually heading down into the horizon, and beams shoot through the windows with a glow the permeates anything in its path. Stunning! We go outside, and then I see what spooked Ellie, a zombie-thingy. It doesn’t see me at first, and being me, I shoot at its head (instead of just going past it or melee’ing the hell out of it. My aim sucks, and it grabs me, tearing at my neck… and I’m dead! Yup, this isn’t one of those “I can shake the zombie thingy” type of games. I restart at the checkpoint, and this time, I take the bastard out with a couple of headshots, but another is nearby and makes a run for me. This time, I’m ready and take it out with ease. I can tell already though, that you definitely want to avoid conflicts at all costs.
The town is deserted, and plants have started to grow over everything. As I’m searching a garden for items, I noticed that if there are more than one item in arms reach, you pick everything up at once instead of each individual item (THANK YOU!) There’s nothing going on here though, and the lack of movement is downright creepy. It’s one of those “it’s too quiet” feelings. Then, a slight music cue and I freak out! Of course, nothing was there. Damn you Naughty Dog.
Ack! Another of “the infected.” Since I’m a wuss, I waste a molotov cocktail on it. I’d crafted a couple earlier just in case. I’m sure that I should have just melee’d it to take it out, buuuuut that molotov did the job. I’ll regret this choice later on, or at least I expect that’s the case.
I fall into a trap set by the man we’re looking for, and all hell breaks loose as you defend Ellie while she attempts to cut you down. The infected move in from all around, and running away makes a LOT more sense then trying to kill them all. The action is crazy, and yeah, I died a couple of times along the way. This requires a lot more finesse than straight-up gunplay, so obviously it’s not normally what I play, and that’s a good thing.
There are a few stealth elements at your disposal. You’ll have the ability to pick up things like bottles and bricks, and instead of throwing them directly at someones head, you can throw it in an opposite direction to distract them, allowing you to slip by. Also, there’s an ability (deemed ‘Listen Mode’, which can be disabled) to hold R2, making the screen fade to black & white, and activating a sort-of sonar. You’ll be able to see outlines of your enemies through objects and walls. You’ll be relatively vulnerable while doing so, but it’s an excellent way to strategize what you’re going to do next. As seen in past demos, the enemy AI is completely contextual, so if you show that you have skills with your gun, they’ll actually back-off and either run away, or attempt to regroup and flank you. From what I played, this feature is the real deal too. They reacted quite differently in the two playthroughs.
On to Pittsburgh now. It starts at a point seen in one of the trailers, with a man acting as if he’s injured. Joel guns the truck to get away only to be rammed by a bus. The action gets intense immediately, as Joel and Ellie are both accosted before they can get out of the truck. A lucky headshot on another enemy, and they quickly back off to rally themselves. This gives me time to creep a bit and get into a better position. I only have 2 shells in my shotgun but I figure that if I take one out with it, the others may scatter.
After I take them all out, Ellie and Joel explore a couple of the buildings, and we find a workbench, offering me a chance to upgrade my weapons etc. The crafting system is very straightforward and easy to use, which makes me happy. That ends the second area of the preview.
What ‘The Last of Us’ is not is derivative. It’s not simply Uncharted with infected enemies, it’s not Resident Evil, and it’s not the standard “Zombies” game. The gameplay is much more deliberate, requiring you to scrounge for supplies as much as possible. There’s a good deal of exploration, and unless you hold L2 all the time, you won’t be running everywhere by default. The dialogue between Joel and Ellie doesn’t feel forced, and fits the mood of the situation nicely.
In the short amount of gameplay that I experienced, it hits every note in terms of pacing and mood. The use of sound has a drastic impact on your psyche as you move through the overgrown areas that you need to traverse. Sounds are used sparingly though, which actually affects the player even more. The action is visceral and impactful, and the brutality of your situation makes you feel the . ‘The Last of Us’ plays with your head, and as a hoard of infected race toward you, just try to remember that shooting them is the last thing that you’ll want to do, especially when you realize that you only have 2 bullets.