|Dev: Naughty Dog|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Josh Wirtanen
When I first played the original Resident Evil back in the 1990s, I found myself completely caught up in its world of "survival horror." What fascinated me the most about that game was the emphasis on survival, low ammo counts making every encounter a battle of wits. "Should I shoot or should I run?" This was a question I had to ask myself every time I opened the door to a new room with a new group of undead foes to either mow down or cleverly circumvent.
It's no surprise, then, that I was a bit saddened by Resident Evil 4's steering the series away from that. But there was a part of me that held onto the hope that we would eventually see something that took that idea and modernized it, while focusing on well-defined characters and the psychology of survival in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It's a tall order, to be sure, but one that I was confident would be fulfilled someday. Well, the game I have been secretly waiting a decade and a half for is finally a real thing, and it's being made by Naughty Dog. That's right, The Last of Us is here to scratch an itch I've had since I first heard the term "survival horror."
Naughty Dog has been careful with the details of this project, as they tend to be with their games these days (remember the way Uncharted 3 details slowly leaked into the media last year?), but we got to see about seven minutes of gameplay during E3. And it was hard to walk away unimpressed; Naughty Dog is truly onto something here, a fact evident in even some of the smaller details of the footage we saw.
The gameplay begins with protagonist Joel and his companion Ellie walking through a crumbling city. The sense of decay is truly impressive, especially considering how many post-apocalyptic games eschew bright colors for a boring wash of grays and browns. The Last of Us, though, doesn't shy away from color, being especially fond of green, from the foliage that's managed to spring up everywhere to the fading wallpaper of the building interiors.
As Joel and Ellie enter an abandoned hotel, a quick snippet of dialogue occurs between the two. Ellie says, "It's fancy. Ever stay in a place like this?" To this, Joel responds: "Nah, this is too rich for my blood."
It's a simple exchange, one that a lot of people would see as merely a throwaway piece of ambient dialogue. But there is insight to be gleaned from this: Joel was a working class man before this catastrophe befell mankind, and perhaps this is one of the many factors that ultimately contribute to his hardened demeanor. These characters have only been on screen for a couple minutes at this point, and we're already given some hints at Joel's past. This serves as just another example of Naughty Dog's mastery over storytelling, which we can be confident will be fully on display in the Last of Us.
Later, we were shown a bit of combat, and worth pointing out is the fact that Joel has a green health bar. While health bars are certainly nothing new in video games, they've been falling out of favor, replaced by more dynamic methods of displaying player heath. (The screen being tinted red as the player takes damage, for example.)
Additionally, Joel's health doesn't regenerate, which is a pretty strong indication that Naughty Dog truly understands survival horror. With regenerating health, players can play a bit loose, using run-and-gun tactics before taking cover and waiting for their health bar to refill. That's not the case in The Last of Us. You will have a set amount of health, and once that's gone, your character is dead. Of course, we can be sure there will be some sort of healing items to replenish lost health. But, judging from the scarce amount of ammo Joel has throughout the gameplay footage, we're willing to bet that we won't be finding exorbitant stockpiles of it.
Speaking of scarce ammo, when the combat segment begins, Joel has a revolver with only four bullets in it. Over the course of combat, he is tasked with bringing down far more than four people. It's the classic survival horror situation. So how does Joel manage to bring down his foes? He uses whatever he can find, at one point strangling a man from behind (Joel managed to salvage only two bullets from the body) and at another scaring off a would-be attacker with an empty pistol. Yes, enemies react to having a gun pointed them, an impressive A.I. feature that's sure to add strategic depth to this wasteland world.
Another neat feature we saw in action was the way Joel's backpack functions. He carries around a plethora of items that can be combined to make more useful things. In the footage we saw, Joel was able to combine a cloth binding and a bottle of alcohol to make a Molotov cocktail, which he threw at an enemy to set him ablaze. I don't know about you, but I'm reminded of Resident Evil's herb mixing a bit here. Whether this is a nod to the originator of survival horror or not, it's a nice touch.
So how does Ellie factor into all this? Well, she's an unplayable NPC that follows Joel around. Now, at this point, I'm sure several gamers are worried about The Last of Us being nothing more than an extended escort quest, having flashbacks of stuffing Ashley Graham into trashcans in Resident Evil 4. But fear not, Ellie can take care of herself. In fact, she aids Joel in battle at one point by hurling a brick at the head of an attacker. Nice work, Ellie!
The Last of Us is a title that keeps getting more and more exciting as we uncover more details. There's no confirmed release date yet, but it's starting to look like we won't see this one until next year. Until then, maybe we'll go back to replay the old Resident Evil games to brush up on our survival horror skills.
Date: June 14, 2012