Hands-on with The Last of Us: the past, present, and future of survival horror
(continued from previous page) ...a rhythm. By this time, the third Infected has moved quite some distance away. I stay crouched, closing the distance inch by inch. All three foes have been Runners, an early stage of Infected that is partially blind and will move to strike you with ferocity and reckless abandon. As I sneak up behind my third foe, pausing hesitantly every time he turns, I hear a shrill shriek to my right that signals my doom. A Clicker has spotted me, and I'm dead before I remember how to sprint.
I approach the room a second time, determined to focus my attention on the fully blind, echo-locating Clicker as soon as time allows. I'm stunned to see that only one Infected – the first – is in the same position. As I inch closer to the point where I died, I spot all three remaining Infected in the next room. This time, I pull my pistol – bullets are valuable, but I've got this Clicker's number. I carefully line up a shot to the head – and I miss. The loss of a single bullet has me in a frenzy. I feel stupid, worthless, unfit for survival in this world. I summon the confidence to sprint forward, to a ledge that will take me where the Infected can't reach me. I'm wrong to underestimate them: the Clicker climbs after me, and I swing a wooden plank wildly. Holstering my gun was a mistake. I watch in vain as the Clicker grabs Joel's shoulders and violently sinks its teeth into his neck – my neck.
My third attempt through this section of the demo is a success, but I've learned my lesson. The Infected in The Last of Us are an aggressive breed of absolutely frightening creatures that, perhaps worst of all, behave unpredictably. Stealth and combat in Naughty Dog's latest is a highly organic affair, and every victory over the Infected – even a single mutant – feels like a product of intelligence, resourcefulness, and luck. Suspenseful and absolutely frightening, The Last of Us is survival horror that once was, and, somehow, survival horror that has yet to be. Moments of respite are a welcome relief and a treasure to cherish, and in these lulls, I mourn the loss of every bullet.
That last point is important, for it was with a spent bullet that the demo's most powerful moment hit home with me. A large, pitch-black room houses god-knows-what. I've got a wooden plank with scissors jammed through the tip, a molotov cocktail, an empty pistol, and a shotgun with three shells. I resolve not to use the shotgun unless my life depends on it, but what begins as one lone Clicker becomes a charge of four that pin Ellie, Tess, and I at the end of a narrow hall. It's a free-for-all. I seize one Clicker's occupation with Tess to bash its skull until it falls. Ellie's screams echo in my ear: “JOEL! BEHIND YOU!” I wheel around in time to fire off a shotgun round into an oncoming Runner. Two more Infected turn the corner. Without thinking, I fire off another round. Only one Runner remains. My wits are about me, and I whip out my molotov cocktail before the near-human terror can pinpoint our location. The flaming bottle sails just past the Runner's feet. Desperation kicks in, and I turn to run with Tess and Ellie in tow.
The light of day gleams down from above. A ladder – our only chance of escape. I don't dare to turn and look for my companions; self-preservation is my only concern. I reach the ladder and bound upward. I'm out, but my friends are not. I turn to see Tess and Ellie directly below me. Tess fires a round at the pursuing Runner, but I suspect it's her last. The Infected is only a few feet from tearing into Ellie's flesh. Without a second thought, without knowing the in-game consequence of ally death, I fire my last shotgun round into the oncoming Runner. He's down. I've saved Ellie's life.
In my hands-on time with The Last of Us, a game that has challenged me like no other before it, that single shotgun round was the most valuable thing I scavenged. In a moment's notice, I ... (continued on next page)