Naughty Dog showed off its highly anticipated PlayStation 3 game, The Last of Us today. The game is one of the biggest titles of the year from the team that brought us the award-winning Uncharted series.
It is a cinematic experience that represents some of the finest visual storytelling in the industry. In a preview for journalists ahead of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Naughty Dog leaders Neil Druckman (creative director) and Bruce Straley (studio game director) described the game “as our take on the survival action genre.” The game is set 20 years in the future, after an outbreak has decimated the world’s population and left a bunch of stragglers surviving any way they can.
The human faces of the characters, as you can see above, are among the most realistic you’ll see in synthetic digital actors. The world, decripit as it is, looks absolutely beautiful, with realistic lighting and realistic animations.
“All of it is in the name of making the player feel immersed in the game,” Druckman said.
The demo scene showed how Ellie, a 15-year-old girl, and Joel, a wizened veteran, drive into a trap. They pull into an abandoned city that is being retaken by nature. On their left, stacks of cars block their way. Joel drives to the right, and he hits the brakes as a wounded man comes out in front of them, pleading for help.
Ellie asks him what they should do, and Joel says, “He isn’t even hurt.” Then he steps on the gas. The man pulls out a gun and shoots into their windshield. Joel runs the man over and others come out of hiding to attack. The car advances past a barrier and then a bus rolls down and hits a glancing blow on the car, cutting off escape. All the while, a religious country song is playing on the car CD player. The thugs close in on their prey. The fighting is visceral, full of curses, grunts, broken glass, and horrific killings.
One attacker pulls Ellie out of the car and Joel helps her, only to be waylaid from behind by another attacker. They have a brutal fight and then Joel comes out on top. Ellie bites one attacker in a desperate bid to get away. After they clear out the enemies, a huffing and puffing Ellie shouts, “Mother fucker! What’s wrong with these guys!”
The hand-to-hand melee is fierce. Joel picks up one of the attacker’s guns and then picks off rivals while hiding below the counter in an abandoned restaurant. He creeps down aisles and hops over barriers to get the drop on the bad guys.
The pacing of the fighting is slow, and the tension is high as you peer around corners. The action moves from melee to stealth. “Hey fuck face!” Ellie yells as she heaves a brick at the side of a guy’s head. Joel sneaks up on an attacker and strangles him.
As more and more of the bad guys fall, the remaining thugs get nervous and scared. Finally, the last of them panics and Joel becomes the hunter, running him down and killing him in a most brutal fashion.
“We want these characters to feel real,” Druckman said. “These people are trying to survive just as Joel and Ellie are. They work together and behave differently, based on the circumstances.”
The two flee the scene, only to find a bunch of bodies of others who have been ambushed and weren’t so lucky. It’s clear that Ellie and Joel are still learning about each other. “How’d you know that guy wasn’t hurt?” she asks. “I’ve been on both sides,” Joel replies.
Ellie says later that must mean that Joel has ambushed innocent people. Joel tells her to go on with collecting loot from the bodies. “I’ll take that as a yes,” she mutters.