When The Last of Us was revealed at the Electronic Entertainment Expo last summer, we saw how the game’s human enemies, survivors just like us, were ruthless. Like wild animals trying to eke out an existence they were as likely to kill you for your shoes as talk about the weather. For the first time, though, we were about to confront the creatures that justified the use of the word “horror” in descriptions of the game.
The adventure video game from Naughty Dog (most recently developer on Sony Playstation’s exclusive Uncharted series) is scheduled for release on May 7, and at a press event Los Angeles on Thursday, January 31, media were finally given an opportunity to play another early stage of the game. Even in an alpha stage of development, the controls were responsive, the world fully fleshed.
Even abandoned, Boston looked beautiful. The buildings were in various stages of destruction, sure, but nature had begun to take back the environment, so what used to be the city centre was almost verdant.
We’re told it’s been about 20 years since a pandemic fungal infection nearly obliterated the human race. I’d become Joel, a black market smuggler in one of the last quarantine zones remaining, in a section of what used to be Boston. The zone, run by the military, was under martial law, and punishment for violating the rules was execution. My partner, Tess, and I had been tasked with delivering Ellie, a 14-year-old who’d never been outside the quarantine zone, to a militia somewhere. Out there. Beyond the safety of the protected zone. Beyond the Outskirts.
There was a downpour as we picked our way through the streets of what was once the downtown core. Soon after the fungus began to spread, the military bombed this area in an attempt to eradicate the infected. As Tess told Ellie, the tactic seemed to work. For a while. Water cascaded through a ruined office building as the three of us carefully picked our way down through floors and walls all canted and askew. The deeper we travelled the quieter it became, save for the sounds of dripping. And clicking.
The fungal infection takes control of human bodies in stages. Stage one victims, what Tess and I call Runners, are not in control of their actions. The last vestiges of the people they once were can only be sensed in their cries of pain and anguish as the fungus makes them chase after new hosts for spores. Stage three infected are referred to as Clickers because the creatures, barely recognizable as former humans, navigate by echolocation.
Runners may be fast, but at least you can punch your way out of their clutches. If a Clicker touches you, you’re infected. Game over.
Scavenging supplies, like blades and binding, alcohol and rags, sugar and explosive materials, is critical to survival. As is crafting those raw materials into things like medical kits, shivs, upgraded wood planks and crowbars. Ammunition for firearms is scarce, so I used melee and stealth attacks whenever I could.
My “focused listening mode” enabled me to detect infected in the near proximity and to anticipate their movements. We stay low and hidden from the Clickers, distracting them by throwing bricks and bottles away from where we are. But when we’ve descended to what used to be a subway station there are just too many. Time and again we are overwhelmed by the Clickers and Runners, unable to find a way through to safety.
Of course, in The Last of Us, safety is a relative term.