The Last of Us - Preview

the Last of Us preview for PlayStation 3 at GAME

Naughty Dog, the developer behind the rip-roaring Uncharted series and a team that's become synonymous with the PlayStation brand, has elicited many emotions from its players in the past. With Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter, it charmed us, and with Nathan Drake's adventures it excited us and, if you've a certain investment in Uncharted's well-realised cast of characters, warmed us and touched us.

The Last of Us, the all-new game that's coming to PlayStation 3 this summer, does something a little different. It sets out to scare us, and a chance to play through an early level reveals that it's horrifically effective in doing so. This is no longer the matinee adventure of Uncharted, and it's several hundred miles away from the Saturday morning whimsy of Naughty Dog's earlier games. This is a gritty, murky tale set across a post-apocalyptic America that's portrayed with a chilling touch of authenticity.

True Horror

The premise is simple, and a little too believable. An infection based on the real-life fungus cordyceps - otherwise known as the zombie fungus - has wiped out much of the population, turning them into savage and monstrous husks. They're only half as savage as many of the survivors, though, and it's up to you as one of them to travel across the country with some precious cargo in tow.

the Last of Us preview for PlayStation 3 at GAME

That cargo's the teenage Ellie, and in the relationship between her and the player character Joel there are signs of the game's heritage. Like Uncharted there's a human core to The Last of Us, and it's played out convincingly through some stellar writing, affecting incidental moments and strong motion capture. It's interactive cinema at its most powerful, and certainly at its most visually impressive.

Just as convincing are the encounters between Joel and the infected, and it's this part of the game that was the focus of the first section Naughty Dog allowed anyone to play. You're escaping Boston with Ellie and your partner Tess in tow, working your way through destroyed office blocks as you step away from the relative safety of the quarantine zone.

Uncharted Territory

There are touches of Uncharted in the way that Joel bounds across the scenery, and in the way he hulks behind cover, but in every other way The Last of Us is very much its own game. Descending into the depths of the ruined city, it takes on the gnawing tension of a true horror game, and strings that feeling out across its encounters.

the Last of Us preview for PlayStation 3 at GAME

The infected are a gruesome and powerful bunch, and getting too close can send Joel down in a grimly observed death scene that makes for truly unpleasant viewing. And so slow and steady stealth is the best recourse, the player left to pick their way through cover and dart through the shadows in an attempt to avoid detection.

The encounters, when they do come, are as savage as so much else in The Last of Us's world. Joel can craft shivs and other makeshift weapons from items left discarded around the scenery, although resources are scarce and make such devices a precious commodity. It's essential to fight smart, to make every single bullet count and to isolate enemies so as to make the most of your deliberately limited toolset.

Over the course of 20 minutes of play The Last of Us reveals itself to be almost unbearably tense, delivering the kind of real horror that many feel has been lost to video games since Resident Evil went wayward. But it's just part of the emotional palette of the game, says Naughty Dog, suggesting it'll be painting with other shades of dark as well as throwing in some much-needed light. If they're delivered with the kind of conviction seen in this early look, expect The Last of Us to be something very special indeed.

Published: 14/02/2013

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