Written by Michael A.
The Last of Us, releasing June 14th, is a game that I’ve been excited for since its announcement back in late 2011. Developed by the creators of UNCHARTED, The Last of Us pits survivors Joel and Ellie against a modern-day plague in a deteriorating Pennsylvania.
God of War: Ascension, a game that released back in March, awarded everyone who bought Ascension a The Last of Us early access demo the following May. I hadn’t bought Ascension back in March, but I happened to purchase it last month because the demo was just a week from release and Ascension had dropped in price. With or without The Last of Us I planned on buying Ascension, so I figured it was a win-win on my part. I’d get a cool game and an early access demo to my most anticipated title of the year.
On Friday, May 31st, the demo for The Last of Us released and those who bought God of War: Ascension were able to download the early access demo . I didn’t think it was quite possible, but the demo left me more excited than I had ever been before. The creators of my UNCHARTED, my favorite video game franchise, had done it again.
After you choose your desired difficulty (varying from Easy, Normal, Hard, and Survivor), you can jump right into the demo. The demo itself begins with a black screen and one of Joel’s companions, Tess, having a conversation with Joel. Tess assures the group – Joel, Ellie, and herself – that if they move now they can make it to the capitol building. It is never revealed why. As of this moment, moving around feels very different than the UNCHARTED titles, as it was revealed early on that the portion of the development studio that made UNCHARTED 3: Drake’s Deception would not work on The Last of Us. A bummer at the time, but the game is looking great and gamers have been able to get past that fact. New aspects like crouching have been added to the experience, and sprinting. It’s a much slower paced title than any of the UNCHARTED games. If I had no idea about the game’s development, I’d never assume the same people made The Last of Us. It was shortly after this quick cutscene you take the wheel as Joel, running through a street that is overflowing with water. As you make your way through the street, vaulting cars and climbing destroyed road, you hear the sound of a clicker. If you haven’t seen any gameplay or know nothing about The Last of Us you will be clueless as to what exactly that noise was. But if you’re like me and have stayed hot on the development trail of the game you will know immediately that the distant sound you heard was the sound of a clicker.
Clickers can be easily mistaken with zombies, but the developers of the game have made it very clear that the plague you face does not involve zombies. Very early on the development process, the developers released a video of an ant. The ant in the video clip crawls up a branch, and essentially withers up and dies. But the video speeds up, and soon there is an antenna that erodes from the ants head as it becomes a part of the branch. In reality, this is very real, but only for ants. In The Last of Us, however, this infection has begun to affect humans. And thus, Clickers. Clickers get their name because of the unsettling noise they make as they blindly navigate Pennsylvania. The infection has grown on their face entirely, giving their faces a very cauliflower-like look, blinding them. They rely on their ears, and if they hear you, they’ll come running. The gameplay in the game allows you to decide whether to kill or to sneak by them; the choice is yours the entire game.
Soon after this noise Tess suggests the group hurries up. Climbing up a destroyed, slanted piece of road, the player – Joel – is allowed to point out the capitol building in the distance to the group. Something I noticed immediately after this sequence was the debris you must get around to continue towards the capitol building. I’ve discussed the choice to either sneak past clickers or take them down, and even this small piece of environment gave you a choice. You could either crawl through one, dark crawl space where you should probably turn on your flashlight to see through. Your second choice is to crawl through a space that is light enough to see, and your third choice is to climb over the debris entirely. Choice may not seem like such a big deal, but decision making is one big thing that keeps players playing the game over and over because they will ask themselves, “Oh, what if I did this this way?” or “Oh I wish I did this another way.” It makes the player feel like they have total control, something that has proven to bode well with gamers. Namely, The Walking Dead: A Telltale Game Series, a game that has you making literally all of the decisions. You watch as your decisions effect the game, including the choice of whether or not to kick a group member out if their actions are beyond acceptable.
As you’re about to enter the building, there is a Firefly Pendant up in a tree, very much like the blue pendants in Resident Evil 4. You can either shoot it down or collect a bottle/brick to throw at it. Circles appear as you grow closer to things you can interact with; it proves very helpful in the heat of combat. Bricks and bottles are two things that you can either throw, or keep with you to use as a melee weapon. A couple of weeks ago the developer of the game held a contest where people would submit cool The Last of Us fan art, fan film, or cosplay. The winners would have their name put on a Firefly Pendant that anyone who plays the game can collect. This is the only one I’ve found in the demo.
When you walk up to the building there is a door to your left that can be opened which will lead you into a pitch black room. Turn on your flashlight and a white circle will appear over the desk at the wall of the room. Nothing is in the drawer, but luck is a big part of scavenging. Exiting the room and entering the building, you will see a dead body lying on the floor. By pressing triangle you can enter a short dialogue with Tess and Joel. The interactivity in the game is immersive and – I can imagine – will keep people playing. The overall atmosphere of the game cannot be put to words, and is something I didn’t expect. You feel like you’re there, in that world, surviving; it’s a feeling many Hollywood filmmakers can only envy.
For a good chunk of time you are traveling through the building, finding useful items like ammo, and then you get to a door where Joel needs the help of Tess to open. The door bursts open, making a noise that alerts the nearby Clicker who – unexpectedly – jumps on Joel. A quick time event breaks out where you’re mashing square to get the Clicker off of you as it takes a swipe at your face and makes contact, and your health bar decreases. Tess kicks the Clicker to the floor, putting her boot down on it and swiftly gunning it down with her pistol. Once the sequence ends Joel stands back up and a healing tutorial pops up on the screen. By pressing up on the control pad and holding down R1, Joel bends down and begins wrapping medical cloth on his arm, as seen in past gameplay reveals. I felt these controls were nicely set up, but there’s a challenge you might face later in the game, as you cannot move as you wrap the cloth around your arm. This is a lot like Resident Evil 4, where you cannot move either when aiming down your weapon’s sight, or in Dead Space where you cannot move as you scroll through your inventory. It increases tension, as you may need to heal later in the game when up against a horde of Clickers.
While scavenging, there are loads of items to find. There is a door in the demo which is locked that you can shiv open. It opens the door for you, sure, but you lost a shiv. These shivs will prove useful later when you’re up against Clickers. The door is an optional path, of course, but inside there are tons of items for you to collect. Rather than tapping triangle for all of the individual supplies, you can hold down triangle and Joel will collect everything. It’s a quick and easy way to get what’s on the shelf and proceed. After searching through the rest of the building, you boost Tess up on to an out of reach floor above you. Tess makes sure the coast is clear, and then proceeds to pull both you and Ellie up. Almost instantly as all three of you are up, a Clicker shows itself. The group stumbles to find cover in a short in-game cutscene, where the Clicker comes very close to the group but continues to walk past them (I mentioned before how blindly these things travel). Tess throws a bottle so that the Clicker scatters in the direction of the noise as the bottle cracks on the floor, giving you the opportunity to swoop in and take the matter in your own hands as the sequence ends. A pistol is in your inventory, and there are also bricks and bottles scattered (those of which will respawn after a short amount of time after being picked up) all over the area if you choose to take the Clicker down forcefully. But, if you’d rather sneak past the Clicker, you can do just that. I’ve played the demo six or seven times now and I’ve killed it every time. I strangely enjoy crouching and just watching it twitch and make those noises that honestly made me cringe. When I got too close, the Clicker spun around in the direction of my footsteps and started to smack its arms around in all different directions as it struggled to locate me. By tapping square numerous times I smashed its head in with my brick. Keep in mind doing this action breaks the brick, and it is no longer available in your inventory. Another approach would be to shoot it several times with the pistol you are given in the demo. Lastly, if you are not quick enough and it grabs you, you can use a shiv you have and stab it in the neck. This will only kill it if you have stabbed it with shiv once already, however. And if you’re out of shivs, well, it will take a nice bite into your neck and you will die instantly.
Proceeding onward, you will jump down a stairwell (the stairs down are blocked by debris) and pull a desk out to reveal a path below. Ellie and Tess jump down after you, only to find yourselves at a dead end. Your only option really is to walk on the alignment of window washer platforms on the outside of the building. When you walk outside it gives you a really nice look at the city, and even makes sure to include the capitol building, giving you a sense of distance. Luckily, there is an open window at the end of this short, dangerous void, and you can continue through the building – only to hear the spine-chilling noise of numerous Clickers below. If you walk into a room to your right you will see a plank of wood that you can pick up to use as a melee weapon. Now that you’ve picked this up, it will replace your fists when you press square to punch. It cannot be stored in your inventory like bricks or bottles. If you’ve scavenged well you can modify the weapon in a very handy crafting aspect of the game. By pressing select, Joel will pull off his backpack and a menu will pop up for you to scroll through. Keep in mind this menu, like healing, does not pause the game, therefore you are at risk of dying. By simply pressing “X” on the plank of wood’s tab in the menu, it will be modified with things you’ve collected. In this case, spikes. Continue on the main path and you will see a Magnum on the floor. Joel bends down and picks it up, checking it has ammo. A tutorial then pops up, explaining how you can switch between different weapons. Joel tells Ellie to stay with Tess as he jumps down and is about to take on the Clickers (there are five or six, I believe). When you get down there, there is a pipe which you can swap with the plank of wood if you’d like. The pipe, however, cannot be modified now that you used the supplies on the plank, so it’d be smart to keep what you’ve already tampered with.
The Clickers are not aware of your presence; in fact, one has its back completely turned to you so you have the choice of what to do to him. You can run to him and press square, using the plank of wood – with spikes – to take him down with one hit (the spikes will then fall off; makes sense, right?). OR you can get behind him quietly and grab him, here it breaks off to two different options: strangle or shiv (if you have shivs to stab him with). You’ll notice that this Clicker seems to be rather fresh, and does not have the cauliflower-like look to him, nor does he “click”. His face is quite human looking, only his eyes and face are a blood red and blood surrounds his mouth. You can also shoot the thing, of course. Lastly, you can ignore that one, and go a different way. I attempted going this way a few times but it just didn’t seem to work, as there are Clickers that roam that area and it’s just too hard not to get spotted by one. When they see you, they’ll scream and charge at you like you’re some kind of quarter back about to throw the football. You’ll notice that, while in combat, Joel sprints at a much faster pace than he does normally. From there it’s really your choice; you can pick them all off with your pistol, smash your plank of wood over one of their heads, or even have some fun with them by running the border of the area (something I decided to do on my fifth or sixth playthrough). Joel yells up to Tess and Ellie that it is now safe for them to proceed, and the demo fades to black as Tess whistles and tells Joel “she’s impressed.”
It’s a rather short demo, but I didn’t mind at all. I’d love to go into the game knowing as little as possible as it will keep the final product (which I’ve got pre-ordered) fresh and new. I just couldn’t help myself with this demo; I have a chance to play my most anticipated game of the year and I’m going to choose to not play it? That’d be silly. Though the demo is a quick completion, it manages to fit a lot – possibly every, who knows – of aspects in. I like the game even more now that I’ve gotten a chance to get my hands on it, and I can assure those who don’t have God of War: Ascension, this title is more than worth the wait.
The Last of Us releases on June 14th. A public demo release date has not been revealed as of right now, June 4th.