Today marked the release of a The Last of Us demo included with every copy of God of War: Ascension. A nice touch for God of War fans, but hopefully no one went out of their way to pick up the game just for demo. After having played the demo I feel comfortable saying that it was quite disappointing, half because of its length and half due to the fact that it was completely unwilling to broach anything beyond the most basic aspects of the game's themes and gameplay. What's included isn't bad, it's actually quite exciting, but it's nothing more than the briefest of tastes before the full meal arrives in just two weeks time.
Protagonist Joel's goal is to reach the capital building and he's accompanied on this adventure by his young companion Ellie and Tess. Who is Tess? As far as the demo is concerned, she's just an extra AI that clearly has some history with Joel (yikes). Ellie gets little to no screen time here, which is unfortunate because how she and Joel are tied together is a big point of interest for me. Obviously all three have put themselves into extreme danger for an ambiguous purpose -- notice the thread? There's no plot in the demo, no character building whatsoever! Who are these three people? They're pieces on a checker board, but not all's lost.
Instead of mixing in cinematics or exposition, the demo focuses on introducing players to the gameplay of The Last of Us, along with some of the atmosphere and savagery of the game. Basically, the demo consists of three small areas, one based around a bit of room to room exploration and item collection, one on avoidable infected enemies known as "clickers" and one final room where combat is inevitable.
Altogether, the basics of movement and combat should be immediately familiar to player of Naughty Dog's established Uncharted franchise. Third-person movement, single button prompts for running, crouching, climbing and picking up items -- it all feels very intuitive and natural. Some of the more complex systems include combining the assorted items collected into tools like healing kits and shivs. Nothing inherently positive or negative until you begin to understand how interesting the idea of collecting junk in a post-apocalyptic world can be, well, life and death. Add in realizing you're out of health potions when stuck in a room of infected, so you pull out your bag and have to rush through a quick crafting recipe -- it promised to be an intense experience.
Players arrive at the second room after having established the existence of the infected "clicker" subtype. Ellie questions why a dead infected doesn't have eyes and Joel explains it locates by reflecting sound with its clicks. It's only fitting the next room has a a couple of clickers. Here it's as simple as dropping Joel into a crouch, sticking behind cover, and throwing bricks or bottles found in the environment to distract the enemy. I thought the clicking would introduce unique gameplay, but really it's the same semi-stealth we've seen before. Stay out of sight, distract the enemy, run past them before they return from their patrol path.
Really I wish I had failed the stealth section, as hard as it would be to do, because the combat room was by far the best part of the demo. Combat itself wasn't anything particularly different beyond one thing -- I got killed... lots. Yet it wasn't as a result of say, simply being poor at the mechanics since I'm adept at third person shooters, and it wasn't overly punishing much like say Dark Souls. I think instead it was just appropriately savage, and that came through in the combat mechanics. Infected don't die to a scant gunshot or loose blow with a melee object. They take a clip of bullets or several melee hits -- you have to mean it when you try to kill one of these things. Then, if they get into melee range, they can kill you so quickly. A simple bite to the throat is plenty. They're not human, they're not constrained to swat at you until you give up, they want you dead. It was exhilarating, but also sort of uncomfortable. I wasn't used to being so vulnerable in this sort of game. Also, it doesn't help it has the same sort of punishment for dying -- reloading from a checkpoint.
Then the demo ended and I was left wondering if I had really experienced enough of the game to really give some honest impressions. It certainly wasn't enough to make up my mind on the quality of the game, despite forwarding me to the PlayStation Store immediately after the demo ended. A bit presumptuous, I think, Naughty Dog! Yet here I am, and there are my impressions. They are what they are, and I is what I is. All I can really say to summarize my thoughts is that The Last of Us will be out in two weeks, on June 14, and I doubt this extremely short demo will have any effect on whether you're interested in purchasing the game or not.
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