By Miguel Concepcion
Ok, for some reason I forgot about the zombies in “The Last of Us” until last week. Were there zombies at Sony’s E3 press conference last year? I suppose the consumer in me, having thoroughly enjoyed Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, imposed an unconscious media blackout for the last year. Yet, Sony had other ideas as they recently sent over a preview code that featured two of the game’s settings. Aside from this reintroduction of zombies, here 9 other things I learned from playing “The Last of Us”.
10. Ellie really hasn’t been out a lot
One area, titled ’Lincoln’ started in a tiny wood and Ellie’s never seen anything like it. Where has she been cooped up all these years? It’s endearing to hear her greet a bunny, interact with fireflies for the first time, and even marvel at the sight of a garden gnome.
9. Replay incentives through dialogue
When marveling at a broken-down arcade machine, Ellie had something different to say with each of my two playthroughs. It’s reminiscent of the multiple dialogue tracks in “Gears of War: Judgment”, through I suspect this feature won’t be as expansive in “The Last of Us”.
8. Rewarding scavengers
If you’re a game completionist by nature, you get to kill two birds. Weapon crafting plays a major role in “The Last of Us” which is enough of a motivator to search every accessible building. Even something as harmful as a shiv can serve purposes beyond stabbing someone, like opening door.
7. Naughty Dog grit
Every since I had Nathan Drake kick his first bottle in the trash-laded buildings of “Uncharted 2″, I’ve had a profound appreciation for the extra work Naughty Dog puts into the dirt and garbage of their games. Much of the world of “The Last of Us” looks old, worn out and lived in, like the stacks of office boxes and half-filled open suitcases.
6. Puzzling ladders
If there is an element of puzzle solving, it’s very much grounded in urban obstacles. The level in Lincoln featured some rooftop platforming, aided by moving ladders and long planks. Hardly brain-teasing stuff, though I wouldn’t put it past “The Last of Us” to have slightly more complex puzzles.
5. Upside-down shootouts
If you played this year’s “Tomb Raider”, then you know this scripted event. Main character gets caught in a classic rope trap, is flipped and engages in an upside down shootout. “The Last of Us” takes it up a notch with more aggressive villains and Ellie to protect.
4. Who cares about Ellie’s voice?
Some folks take minor issue with Ellie’s low pitched voice. Are these the same people who find high pitched voices among Japanese women appealing? It’s much easier to care how she kicks ass, despite her age, size and voice. If you thought she displayed backbone during the E3 2012 demo, wait until you hang out with her through a full chapter.
3. Enough character to care
The voice work and the fleshed-out script results in some of the best game dialogue I’ve ever heard, making this pair of survivors sound natural and realistic. Ellie’s endearing with her spontaneous humming and Joel sounds convincingly over protective.
2. Uncharted comparisons are valid
Even if Naughty Dog and Sony discourages Uncharted comparisons, I find that comparisons can only complement “The Last of Us”. Headshots feel more effective as opposed to the sponge-like bullet impacts in “Uncharted 3″. You can also sense Nathan Drake’s melee DNA in Joel’s mechanics and animation. Joel swings his fists very deliberately and there’s a weightiness to those movements of desperate survival.
1. Combat is a puzzling playground
What got my heart pumping were the moments I used the levels as combat playgrounds. Some of Uncharted’s best moments came when I felt surrounded and escaped to another cover point to get a better offensive position. There’s was a taste of that in this preview build, where you want to have the Jason Bourne-like sense of knowing where all the escape routes are while reacting and improvising based on how the enemies are attacking.
Look for “The Last of Us” June 14 on the PS3.