The Last of Us was the first new game to be revealed at the Spike TV Video Game Awards last night, and with good reason. The game looks like it could be another masterpiece series from Naughty Dog, the maker of the Uncharted series of Hollywood-style blockbuster action-adventure games.
The trailer that debuted last night contained enough of a tease in it to keep me engaged. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to stand out among the 12 original games that were revealed at the show in Los Angeles.
The first scene, pictured right, starts out with an image of sunlight beaming through greenery swaying in the wind. This kind of graphics quality is one of the signatures of Naughty Dog, and among the game consoles, only the PlayStation 3 is capable of this quality of animation. The camera view started with a scene of beauty, moved back through an open window with billowing drapes, only to pan across a blood-stained wall and then focus on a hand dripping blood onto the floor. It’s a juxtaposition of beauty and horror, in a very movie-like style.
Then it focuses on Ellie, the teenage girl. The close-up (pictured at top) shows the fear on her face, the sparkling and watery eyes and the furrowed brow. You can see the freckles on her face and other details that make her seem like a real person. Again, that’s a Naughty Dog specialty, particularly the eyes.
The girl hears a fight above and rushes to it. The tension is palpable as she nears the door where the struggle is happening. She pulls out a switch blade and enters just Joe, her companion, smashes the head of an enemy with a blunt weapon. “You OK,” Joe asks. Ellie replies, “Better than that guy.”
That’s funny. And humor is such a rarity in most shooting games. Naughty Dog figured this out, making its scripts much more like Hollywood movies, with humor, some romance, and characters that are appealing to a wider group of people than just young men. With just a look at both Joe and Ellie, you can see they are ordinary people caught in an extraordinary, horrifying struggle for survival. Then the real enemies arrive: the wolf-like humans with monstrous heads. They’re like zombies, but they’re fast. Thank god game developers have figured out that zombies don’t have to be slow. There is no explanation for these creatures, but their deadly menace is evident as Joe tangles with one and shoots it point-blank in the face while Ellie stabs it repeatedly in the back with a switchblade. They run off into the city, overgrown with nature, to escape.
As Ellie narrates, “This is our routine, day and night. All we do is survive.” The horrific scene that we’ve just witnessed is a way of life for them. That’s a compelling way to introduce a story about the last human survivors after a devastating plague has wiped out most of humanity.
“He tells me about how these streets used to be crowded with people, going about their lives,” Ellie deadpans in closing. “Must have been nice.”
How’s that for a strong female character, particularly where you would least expect it, based on the way that Hollywood and the video game industry have depicted young teenage girls? Ellie’s calmness as she talks about the horror shows a certain cynical, fatalistic bravery, beyond her years.
Now that’s a game that I want to play. Evan Wells, co-president of Naughty Dog, said the team has been working on the title for some time and hopes it will be a step forward in cinematic gaming and storytelling. Developers include game director Bruce Straley and creative director Neil Druckmann. The Uncharted series has sold more than 13 million copies to date.
Is it going to be an outstanding game? That is very hard to tell from a video that lasts only two minutes and 23 seconds. But if you look closely, you can see that it has all of the elements that Naughty Dog is known for in the cinematic style. We’ve been tricked before, which is why Sony noted in the video that the images were captured from a PS 3 console. The Dead Island trailer turned out to be a lot better than the game, and the Killzone 2 demo was great but the game arrived years later. If the 10 to 15 hours of the game that we haven’t seen are just as good, then Naughty Dog and Sony have another spectacular game coming.