The Last of Us preview

The Last of Us shocked the gaming community when it made its surprise debut at the VGAs late last year. Having just shipped Uncharted 3, no one expected developer Naughty Dog to have another game in the works so soon. The home of Nathan Drake was no longer a one game studio, it was revealed. After the end of Uncharted 2, the studio split into two. Ever since its reveal, The Last of Us has been shrouded in some mystery. While the developers have talked up many of the game's ambitious goals, little is known about how it actually plays. Finally seeing the game in action, it's easy to sum up Naughty Dog's latest as such: Uncharted in hardcore mode. focalbox Anyone familiar with Uncharted will see the similarities immediately. For example, at the start of the demo, the game was paused during a cinematic. The menu is identical to that in Uncharted, giving you the ability to skip the cutscene. During gameplay, many elements of the HUD are ripped from Drake's adventure, including QTE prompts for opening gates, ammo indicators, aiming reticules, and more. At one moment in the demo, the player has to bash the circle button as he holds a gate open for Ellie to sneak under. It's a scene that's been ripped out of every Uncharted game ever. For better or for worse, the similarities don't just stop there. While the tone is very different, The Last of Us is yet another cover-based third-person shooter. The aiming and cover mechanics should be more-than-familiar for anyone that's played one of Naughty Dog's recent games. However, there are key differences that will make you approach the gameplay differently. Ammo is very scarce, for example. At the start of the demo, Joel has four bullets in his gun--and won't really get much more at any given time. Encounters are a lot more deadly, as well. There's no regenerative health. Enemies go down in one or two bullets--meaning each bullet becomes a lot more valuable. BOOM video 12779 While it's a bit disappointing to see how rooted in Uncharted The Last of Us is, there's still plenty to get excited by. Naughty Dog's strengths in storytelling and performance are evident yet again in this post-apocalyptic universe. Joel and Ellie are far grittier and edgier than anything the swashbuckling adventure world of Nathan Drake can offer. Yes, there's cursing (and a lot of it). But, it's the odd commentary here and there--"I've seen much worse"--that make these characters feel worn. The dynamic between the two is fascinating to see play out in gameplay. While you are Ellie's "protector," she is clearly capable on her own. Not only does she manage to get out of the way of danger, but she finds opportunities to help out, throwing objects at enemies when you've managed to get cornered, without ammo. Characters are especially chatty in The Last of Us, including the enemies. Encounters against other survivors--people who are equally as desperate for supplies as you--feel far more human than ones against nameless cronies and goons. They will taunt, they will flank, and most satisfyingly, they will run away when overwhelmed. After Joel manages to shoot a few guys, and stealthily kill a few others, one other remained. He ran away, and Joel called out, taunting him to come out of the shadows.

The environment is compelling and invites exploration

More so than in the Uncharted games, the environment feels like a character of its own. Unsurprisingly, The Last of Us is a beautiful game, and the lush overgrowth makes it one of the most technically impressive efforts on the PS3 ever. Walking through the ruins of Pittsburgh, the environment tells its own story. Stores that have been looted ages ago have long-dead bodies strewn about. What happened here? These carefully constructed sets invite players to simply look around and absorb. Given how bombastic games are becoming--with more enemies and bigger explosions--I find myself very intrigued by the more intimate gameplay offered by The Last of Us. It may not be an entirely new and original experience, but Uncharted is certainly a great blueprint to jump off of. I'm definitely looking forward to more.
Watch the Shacknews E3 2012 page to follow all our coverage of this year's show. This preview is based on a hands-off demo shown at a pre-E3 event.