The Last of Us preview: surviving horror
Get bitten once, and it's game over. Fire a bullet from your gun without thinking, and you may find yourself overwhelmed, eaten alive by a horde of infected, attracted by the sound of the gunshot. Take too many punches, and you'll desperately search the environment, looking for anything that will heal you. For many gamers, this will sound like an absolute nightmare. For others (myself included), we've been looking for a return to classic survival horror. We want every bullet to matter, every encounter to be threatening, and we want to be scared, dammit.
The Last of Us is a refreshing retread against modern gaming conventions. While it may have the same presentation and mechanics of Naughty Dog's Uncharted games, the tone is completely different. You won't be making daring leaps of faith, nor will you be hiding behind cover, waiting for your health to regenerate. Heck, you'll barely use your gun unless you're fully aware of your surroundings. Playing it like Uncharted will--as various journalists and myself discovered--undoubtedly result in your death.
It doesn't take long until your survival instincts kick in. You realize that going guns-blazing isn't really a great strategy. Instead, you have to be far more methodical. Don't go for a stealth kill, unless you know that absolutely no one can see you--and more importantly, no clickers can hear you. Environmental objects, like bricks and bottles, become invaluable tools, letting you distract hordes of infected, and kill stragglers one by one. You'll pick up every thing of value from the environment, if only because you need the materials to make one more shiv. (And you need those shivs--they're the only way you can quietly kill a clicker.)
Stealth is absolutely vital to surviving The Last of Us, and Joel has an ability to listen to his surroundings. By holding down the right shoulder button, the screen will go dark, showing off silhouettes of nearby enemies. It's similar to the radar effect in other games, like Batman: Arkham City, but with a shorter range of effect. It may feel a bit cheap to use, especially because it is such a useful tool to use. In fact, it may be too useful, because knowing exactly how many infected are behind a wall makes it much easier to plan for.
I found myself moving through the environment quite slowly, terrified of what could possibly be in the next room. Sure, getting killed in one hit is motivation enough to be careful, but it's the horrific shrieks of the clickers really gets under your skin. Once again, The Last of Us shows off more of Naughty Dog's technical and artistic mastery. I found myself wanting to just look at the environment: the haunting urban overgrowth is absolutely gorgeous to look at (and really shouldn't be possible on a seven year old console). And, as should be expected, the performances are captivating.
"Survival horror" has devolved into mere shooting galleries in games as of late, so it's refreshing to see Naughty Dog put such a strong emphasis on the "survival" aspect of the genre. Coupled with the production values of an Uncharted game, The Last of Us is quite a daring game. I'm glad to say that after playing the game for about half an hour, it remains one of my most anticipated for this year.