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Preview: Fighting Against Nature In The Last Of Us

I recently had the opportunity to attend a Press Event in London for Sony and Naughty Dog's upcoming title, The Last of Us. The following information is written to give you guys a better grasp of what you should expect from Uncharted Developers next big game!
Upon entering the venue, the building was made to look like a falling apart, post-apocalyptic wreck. Vending machines were open for hungry journalists to raid, leaves and plants were all over the place, with old barrels, small carts and vintage looking furniture dotted about the place. On top of this, the ceiling looked as though it was falling apart, areas were made to look as though nature was reclaiming the land, and there was even a room with sound effects of insects, plant life and light beaming through what looked to be an old ageing window pane.

Desensitised - Ellie has grown up with this level of violence.
At around 4pm, I and all other attendee's were called into a conference room. I don't think any one of us could honestly say we were prepared for what we were about to see, but after a couple of trailers, a Professor of Entomology and Biology by the name of Dr.David Hughes stepped on stage to give us an informative and disturbingly accurate educational talk on the realities of mind control within the natural world.

For our viewing (dis)pleasure, those of us not squeamish enough to remain in attendance were presented with two video's showing both an ant infected by a fungus, and a cricket with a worm almost the same in size and mass, living inside the back end of it. This helped us to gain a better understanding of what Naughty Dog was trying to convey and the direction they were taking with what you would essentially encounter in The Last Of Us.

As Dr.David Hughes stepped down from the stage, Game Director Bruce Straley accompanied by Creative Director Neil Druckman, stepped up in his place. Talking about the enemies of the game, the two at Naughty Dog went on to explain that the creatures you face in The Last of Us aren't Zombies but are in fact infected humans, effected in a way much akin to how the aforementioned parasites control their hosts. This infection however, is a highly advanced strain of the ant killing and human infecting (Toxoplasma) parasitic problems and to make the story more believable, they wanted to show us the harsh, possible and plausible reality of it all.

Like any infection, there are multiple stages within the host. The first stage was explained as a runner. These guys run at you relentlessly, not stopping until you're dead, with clear inspiration taken from the rage infected people of 28 Days Later. If the infection were to break out in reality, the consequences would be horrific. Regardless, later stages of infection cause the host (in this case human) to lose sight and force them to navigate using something called Echolocation. It's all very interesting.

The Last Of Us is based around a dystopian, post-apocalyptic future where having been abused by the destructive nature of our race, mother nature has taken up arms and has decided to fight back, and in a lot of ways sets out to reclaim what it rightfully owns - Humanity.

Nature always finds a way.
The Last of Us is a visually stunning game to look at and it was instantly clear to me that a lot of work had gone into the visuals alone. Still in the presentation, Bruce and Neil said that everything they'd learned previously from titles such as Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter and the Uncharted series had to be scrapped so that they could offer a fresh, brand new experience to everyone who plays their upcoming game.

Primarily set in an urban City, you take on the role of Joel - A 40 year old man with a heart turned cold, due to the atrocities and hardships he has had to face and witness over the years. Accompanying him however, is Ellie - A 14 year old girl (resembling actress Ellen Page, now changed to closer resemble Ellie's voice actress, Ashley Johnson) who was born into this post-apocalyptic world and as such, the violence and quarantine zones are all she knows.

Having been raised in an environment that lacks value and morality, Ellie is often rash and impulsive, using violence when necessary due to her desensitisation to everything around her. She is also intelligent and witty however, and will often help to suggest ideas, airing what's on her mind to Joel at any given opportunity.

This paves way for what has the potential to be one of the most interesting relationships between two characters in a title this generation. With Ellie being so impulsive and Joel being a broken man, it's apparent to me that Ellie will serve to bring back Joel's humanity, while the 40 year old protagonist is looking likely to become a father figure to the young girl.

This is just one of many quarantine zones you'll no doubt discover.
What should be noted is that there is no co-op present in the game. Naughty Dog wanted to create strong bonds between the two characters, and as such, I feel this was their reasoning behind their decision. Ellie is controlled entirely by an intelligently designed AI and will aid and react to you when you need her to, but ultimately has a lot of character to show off and I feel the experience Naughty Dog wish to share would be lessened with the addition of Co-operative play. The Last of Us does have multi-player support however.

The section of the game I played had me escaping enemies, avoiding traps and finding my way to a warehouse where through a scripted event, I found myself hanging upside down, having to pop off quick headshots to survive the waves of approaching enemies. Quick time events were also present, requiring you to shake off enemies with repeated button presses, so you could put them down (for good!), moments later.

To me, The Last of Us felt as though it had a decent challenge. Enemies varied vastly in difficulty, with truly disturbing spore infected humans often killing you instantly. Platforming elements included finding and using planks not just as weapons, but also as a means to clamber on top of rooftops and to bridge gaps you otherwise couldn't reach.

On top of this, a tools and weapon creation system has been implemented, allowing you to create grenades, different melee weapons of varying efficiency and even health packs. While it has been stated that how you play the game is entirely up to you, stealth takedowns are inclusive for those of you who wish to run through the whole game virtually undetected, while guns are available for the more gung ho fans amongst you.

Ellie and Joel, patiently waiting for the opportune moment to strike.
To summarise, what I experienced is something fresh, new and exciting for what I feel will appeal best to those of you who can enjoy (and appreciate) an engaging and well designed story. This isn't another Uncharted and isn't a response to the recent reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise. This is a new game with a huge amount of potential to offer a fresh new Survival/Horror experience to gamers around the globe and is one title I'm very much looking forward to playing in full.

The Last Of Us is scheduled for a worldwide release on June 14th exclusively for the PlayStation 3.

Had a chance to play the demo? Maybe you have a different opinion? Let us know in the comments section below! Or tweet me - @CaptainCortez

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