First Time Gaming: ‘The Last Of Us’

The Last of Us will be on the shortlist of every Game of The Year 2013 list. It’s that good in every category. The writing, the feel, the graphics are all the absolute peak of gaming for what is rumored to be the last cycle of the Playstation 3. I’m basing all of this off of about a 15 minute demo I was allowed to watch while at a Playstation Media Showcase that conveniently coincided with the first day of the 2012 New York Comic Con. It’s a bold statement, sure. But it’s a statement that I know I won’t be doubling back on.

The Last of Us creates a world where the apocalypse has arrived, every building is covered in waste and foliage, and hope seems grim; you have to wonder if this kind of experience is really conducive to players enjoying themselves. You’re playing as Joel, a perennial survivor with 14 year old sidekick Ellie acting as your conscience. While the dynamic works, worrying about an AI child on top of whatever survival sequence you’re put in front of adds to the stress level in my eyes, not the fun.

Naughty Dog have built a name as a developer by making quality games dating back to the platforming standard with Crash Bandicoot before really making their mark in the industry with the instant classic Uncharted series. The Last of Us takes the idea of Uncharted and completely flips it around. There’s little ammo, there’s much more stealth interaction, and you’re thinking about the most logical and safe way out of a situation instead of running in guns blazing.

Even though I’ve seen multiple walkthroughs from behind a computer screen on YouTube from E3 and PAX, I was privy to the ‘alternate route’ walkthrough that’s been written about previously on gaming blogs, and last week was my first time seeing it IRL. The game up close and running in real time looks way better than it could on a computer screen, and the idea of actually getting some kind of pleasure out of this stress-fest was still a big question for me. Luckily, my nerves were eased.

While the walkthrough itself has been described to perfection previously, what I truly paid attention to was the experience of the gamer. While the demo I saw wasn’t hands-on, it was the player’s hands that I paid attention to. Controlling the hardened Joel seemed intuitive and easy. The action prompts were simple enough: one button was designated to environmental interaction, one button was designated to interactions with Ellie, one button designated to an item quick-use (like bandages), and one button designated for hand-to-hand or combat.

The shooting mechanics were the tried and true top bumper schemes, I found that The Last of Us is trying to make the experience as simple as possible so you can focus on the story line and what is happening within the game rather than playing it. Instead of getting stressed like I originally thought, you’ll be invested similar to the way you watch a movie. There’s instinctive stealth and AI sequences, which was explained to me as: “If all your enemies know that you have a gun, they’ll rush you. If they just think you have a brick and are sneaking around: they’ll adapt to that.” Simple left and right analog stick push-downs seemed to trigger crouching movements and the “stealth” aspect of the game, once again defining the ideals of simplicity.

The impressive part about this is that the game itself looks WAY more complicated on screen. Maybe it’s due to the graphics (which are definitely pushing the PS3 to its limit), maybe it’s due to the story line  or maybe it’s just me: nevertheless, The Last Of Us is an absolute must-play, and will be a game changing experience when it hits store shelves at some point in 2013.

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