Game Review: The Last of Us Demo

The Last of Us Cover“The Last of Us” Official Website

Rated “M” for Mature; Reviewed on Playstation 3

This is a short review of the playable demo of “The Last of Us” released on June first.  Here I’ll be focusing on the environments and characters.  Visit our sister site, MoreBrains.com, for our thoughts on the game’s enemies.  I had previously discussed thoughts on the first trailer for the game in E3 Comments: “The Last of Us”.

As you may already know the game takes place 20 years after a world-wide plague has all but destroyed society.  Uninfected humanity survives in rigidly controlled militaristic quarantine zones while nature reclaims vast expanses of human achievement.  Our anti-hero Joel has promised to smuggle a fourteen-year old girl, Ellie, across country to a group working to break the military control.

The (sadly all too short) demo is part of “The Outskirts” level of the game which takes place in Boston.  Having spent nearly 16 years in Boston I was really looking forward to see Naughty Dog’s take.  While the level takes place almost completely indoors there are several shots of the crumbling city to be had – we see our goal, the “Capital Building” in the distance.   (A pedantic aside: nobody would ever call this “the Capital Building”; it’s the New State House.  Built in 1798 it’s only called “new” because the old State House, built in 1713, is still standing.)

It was oddly thrilling to see the fallen road signs for Interstate 95 immediately upon starting.  Unfortunately very little else struck me as “Boston”.  The environments were undeniably gorgeous but seemed rather generically urban.  I still have high hopes for the game itself based on Naughty Dog’s proven reputation for amazing set-pieces and the fact that the demo was very short with perhaps only 30 minutes or so of gameplay.  The visuals were subdued and dark but it still reminds me, favorably, of the amazing  “Enslaved: Odyssey to the West“ which had many similar themes.

The demo focused on Joel, Ellie and Tess making their way through a partially collapsed high-rise office building.  Character animation, movement and interaction is exactly as good as you’ve come to expect from the makers of “Uncharted”.  The tone is radically different than that game, much more desperate and serious.  The controls are, with a few minor exceptions, exactly as you’d expect and tuned to perfection.  There’s a focus on realism here that most games lack.  Joel checks his (highly restrictive) inventory by kneeling and removing his backpack – a dangerous activity with enemies around.  You can carry multiple firearms, but only one can be “holstered” at a time for immediate use.

There’s an emphasis on searching and collection.  By gathering various bits and bobs Joel can craft new weapons or enhancements to existing ones and support gear.  This is given only the most basic introduction in the demo but there’s clearly a lot of room for expansion. Combat is nuanced but, at least with the taste given in  the demo, pretty much par for this generations course.  The melee system from Uncharted seems to have been given some upgrades but the cover system has all but vanished.  Enemies seem to wander pre-determined paths which gives the stealth portions the same puzzle game vibe of “just know which order to kill them in” that you’ve seen in many other games.  Again, this may change during the rest of the game but I’m guessing it won’t.

In the demo, at least, character interaction was limited to small talk and several instances of “you wait here, while I clear the next room”.  Having seen the more cooperative elements of combat in gameplay videos I’m not as worried about this but it was disappointing not to see any of it on display.  The demo gave us a little exploration and essentially two examples of combat, one brief and one extended.

I think, like most demos, Naughty Dog likely had trouble finding a sequence that was contained enough to navigate easily, didn’t require any real story background and didn’t require players to have advanced skills.  Once all of these limitation are taken into account the resulting can be, as in this case, rather disappointing in it’s simplicity.  Considered strictly as a taste, however, there’s nothing bad to be said here.  Honestly nothing it did could heighten my excitement for this release and nothing it did lessened it.  In the larger scheme of things isn’t that really the best you can hope for a demo?

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