Game Overview – The Last of Us

Game Overview

The Last of Us – PS3

Naughty Dog

Published by Sony Computer Entertainment

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140827220802

Mechanics

What systems are in place to dictate the ‘rules’ of the game? What kind of constraints do players operate within? What do players interact with?

Hearing 

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140827213003
Joel can listen in from a significant distance.

Joel heightens his sense of hearing to locate entities behind solid surfaces and objects. The improved hearing mode changes everything on-screen to greyscale and depicts other beings as silhouettes outlined in white. Movements that generate more sound (i.e. footsteps) will make the silhouettes more visually apparent (e.g. Outlines become thicker and brighter).

Hearing is disabled on Survivor and Grounded Modes (The hardest two difficulties in the game); this increases the game’s difficulty since it makes finding enemies and predicting their movements harder.

Stealth

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140813005645
Staying hidden from enemy units.

It’s pretty clear that the game isn’t meant to be played with the player running into rooms filled with bad guys guns blazing. Joel is given tools to sneak around and eliminate foes without alerting other baddies of his presence.

These tools include grabbing a victim and strangling them, or taking them out instantly with a shiv. You may also move an enemy around while you have them in your grip, which gives the player an opportunity to keep a body out of sight. Enemies in your grip can also be used as a human shield; other foes will cease fire if they see you using this method, but this can backfire as your victim will break out of your hold after a period of time.

Bricks and bottles are fairly abundant and can be thrown to distract enemies or stun them briefly. Bottles shatter and make more noise than bricks, which makes them more useful for redirecting attention away from the player. Bricks can be used alternatively as a powerful melee tool if the player is able to catch an enemy that is unaware of their presence.

The Hearing mechanic described above serves to assist with stealth play in this game.

Scavenging and Crafting

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140827214621

The crafting and scavenging system encourages map exploration. Ammo and crafted items are both extremely useful aids for progression.

Joel will find a variety of items, including rags, blades, and alcohol, explosives, and sugar which can be used to craft handy items such as health kits or molotov cocktails. Crafting is done in real-time.

Food items are also placed throughout the map. These function as instant heals when Joel picks them up.

List of Crafted Tools and Required Materials

  • Improved Melee Weapon = Binding + Blade + Melee Weapon
  • Shiv = Blade + Binding
  • Health Kit = Alcohol + Rag
  • Molotov Cocktail = Alcohol + Rag
  • Nail Bomb = Explosive + Blade
  • Smoke Bomb = Explosive + Sugar

Some crafted items require more materials to complete in The Last of Us’ multiplayer mode, Factions.

Updated Factions-Only Crafted Tools and Requirements

  • Molotov Cocktail = Alcohol + Rag + Binding
  • Melee Weapon Upgrade = Melee Weapon + Binding + Blade + Rag
  • Nail Bomb = Explosive + Sugar + Blade

Combat

Well, crap.
Well, crap.

Joel has access to tools for both ranged and melee combat.

Melee brawls consist of continuous button taps, with an odd prompt to dodge an enemy’s blow. Joel also interacts with the environment to generate some lethal finishing blows (e.g. slamming an infected’s head into the wall or kicking them off a ledge, etc.).

Ranged combat is a little more difficult in The Last of Us. Not only are bullets limited and scarce, but actually shooting an enemy with pinpoint accuracy can prove to be difficult with weapon sway and movement. Shooting may also alert people of your presence, which only makes things harder.

Varied Weaponry

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140813000334

There are many different tools that can be utilized to dispose of enemies in The Last of Us.

Melee Weapons – These are scattered across the map and can be picked up and used as a stronger alternative to the player’s fists. Melee weapons don’t last long, as they have a depleting durability bar, but they provide better reach and deal improved damage when Joel strikes an enemy with one. Hitting a staggered enemy results in an especially powerful blow.

Melee weapons can also be upgraded with crafting items, turning them into one-hit killers. Some melee weapons such as the hatchet or machete naturally kill enemies in one hit, but their durability is generally lower than other weapons, which limits their number of uses.

List of Melee Weapons

Your hands are probably your most reliable weapons.
Your hands are probably your most reliable weapons.
  • 2×4 – A blunt piece of wooden lumber. The most common weapon in The Last of Us. Has 4 uses before shattering.
  • Baseball Bat – Swings faster than a 2×4, and shatters after 6 uses.
  • Pipe – Slower than a baseball bat, but faster than a 2×4. Shatters after 9 uses.
  • Machete – Rarest bladed weapon in the game. Instantly kills almost any enemy but breaks after 3 strikes and lacks range.
  • Hatchet – Second rarest weapon in the game. Instantly kills targets, boasts a longer range than the machete, and maintains 5 strikes before shattering.
  • Shiv – The shiv is a unique tool that functions differently from all of the other melee weapons in The Last of Us. The shiv does not replace Joel’s punch button, but is rather used for a host of other purposes such as quickly taking out an enemy that the player has in their grasp, defending against Clicker lunges, and opening optional locked doors filled with loot and equipment.
  • Switchblade – Weapon specific to Ellie. It’s her default tool of choice, and also the only melee weapon that she can use. The switchblade works like a hybrid between a standard melee and a shiv. It functions as Ellie’s standard melee attack,  but also allows for finishing moves like the shiv.

Ranged Weapons will be gradually picked up by Joel throughout the campaign, allowing him to gain access to additional pistols and rifles as the game progresses. These all function fairly differently and require different types of ammo.

List of Ranged Weapons

Anything Joel currently has equipped will be visible on his back.
Anything Joel currently has equipped will be visible on his back.
  • Bow – A silent ranged weapon, the only one with ammo that can be recovered after shooting an enemy, though sometimes the arrows are shattered upon impact and cannot be reused. Arrows deal more damage to enemies that are unaware of the player’s presence. Unlike guns, the bow’s shots follow an arching trajectory, similar to real life.
  • 9mm Pistol – Compact and quick; the 9mm does less damage than most other pistols, but it’s accuracy, recoil, and clip capacity are above average. The majority of human enemies in the game carry a 9mm.
  • Revolver – A standard 6-barrel revolver. Does more damage than a 9mm, but it has more recoil.
  • Shorty – A powerful one-handed shotgun with high burst and spread. Not as powerful as a standard shotgun, but has less recoil.
  • El Diablo – It’s a strengthened revolver with a scope. The pistol deals a staggering amount of damage, it’s capable of taking out a standard foe within one or two shots.
  • Hunting Rifle – A rifle with high armor penetration, especially powerful against armor-plated bloaters and ballistic vest-wearing human. The hunting rifle can be upgraded to include a scope.
  • Shotgun – The shotgun is a close-range gun with a good amount of spread. Useful for taking out armored enemies up close.
  • Flamethrower – Short range, but extremely powerful against the infected. Flamethrower ammo is scarce and depleted quickly.
  • Assault Rifle – Does the same damage as a pistol, but carries a 30-round clip and high rate of fire.

Multiplayer-Only Weapons:

  • Enforcer – Shots are weaker than a revolver’s but stronger than a 9mm. Boasts high accuracy and fire rate.
  • Burst Rifle – Like the assault rifle, but can only fire in 3-round bursts.
  • Semi-Auto Rifle – Similar to the assault rifle.
  • Military Sniper – Highest damage output in the game, low recoil.
  • Specter – Silenced Assault Rifle
  • Double Barrel – Riskier Shotgun
  • Launcher – Area of effect damage, but has extremely long reload times.

Life Bar

The life bar is very apparent and easy to understand.
The life bar is very apparent and easily understood.

The player is given a life bar that depletes and does not recover without healing items, this mechanic strays away from the current norm of action-based shooting games since it does away with automatic health regeneration.

Flashlight

Helps you see, not much more to it. Many areas are purposely made dark to encourage using the flashlight. Infected Enemies ignore it.

Upgrade System

The upgrade system in action.
The upgrade system in action.

Guns can be improved at workbenches using specific materials found throughout the playthrough.

The upgrades are restricted to individual guns and each upgrade is permanent.

Gun Upgrades Include:

  • Reload Speed
  • Clip Capacity
  • Spread
  • Fire Rate
  • Recoil
  • Range
  • Scope
  • Armor Piercing
  • Power
  • Draw Speed (Exclusive to the bow)

The player can also upgrade Joel’s skills using a currency of pills collected throughout the single player campaign to make things easier for the player. The available list of skill upgrades is shown below, they all have 2-3 tiers of upgrading, with each tier being more expensive than the last.

  • Maximum Health
  • Listen Mode Distance
  • Crafting Speed
  • Healing Speed
  • Weapon Sway
  • Shiv Master (defending against Clicker attacks with a shiv).

Enemy Types

...and over to the left, you'll see a runner being strangled.
…and over to the left, you’ll see a runner being strangled.

Humans – Enemy humans have a variety of reasons for attacking the protagonists, but they all fall into one of two categories. Heavily Armored and regular units.

Regular Units consist of standard enemies using a variety of weaponry. These are foes that players encounter the most. Regular units can sport melee weapons, guns, and even molotov cocktails.

Heavily Armored units have extra protection against standard weaponry. They can take more damage and their helmets can save them from headshots. They are usually equipped with a powerful shotgun or rifle.

The Infected – These are special units exclusive to The Last of Us. The infected are human-turned-monsters without any remains of a human conscious. These are walking creatures that look only to attack and kill humans that cross their paths.

Runners are the weakest of the bunch. They have low hearing but still retain some vision. Runners will chase after players with frightening speed if they spot them nearby.

Clickers are dangerous creatures that have lost their sense of vision. They move based on their acute sense of hearing. Clickers are especially dangerous to players since they will kill the player instantly if they manage to physically touch the player. Shivs are the only way to avoid instantly dying if a Clicker lunges at them.

Bloaters are super infected lumbering giants that have been festering with the fungal disease for a lengthy period of time. They boast a thick outer layer that protects them from incoming bullet damage. Bloaters may also shoot projectile spores that linger and damage players within the area of effect. These monstrosities are the most powerful units in the game and require a lot of effort to take out. Bloaters will also kill players instantly if they manage to get within reach to grab Joel.

Item Scarcity

Not a particularly new or innovative mechanic for a horror game, but it lends to the tension when the player realizes that their equipment is finite and prone to breaking.

Collectibles

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140813211143

A plethora of optional collectibles are scattered throughout each map. These come in the form of:

Weapon Upgrade Materials – Used at work benches to improve  guns. Weapons cannot be upgraded if the player is not at the proper ‘Tool Level’, which increases from in increments of one from 1-5. At Tool Level 5, Joel has the ability to fully upgrade each of his guns.

Skill Upgrade Materials – These come in the form of pills, which can be spent to purchase various character improvements.

Notes/Maps – These usually have text available for the players to read, and provide a bit of insight into the stages of the infestation both during and following the outbreak. Some notes provide lock combinations that will grant access to safeboxes.

Voice Dialogue – The Last of Us will have optional dialogue sequences that players can activate at pre-determined times throughout the story.

Firefly Pendants – These are simple collectible pendants, placed in odd and oft ignored areas of the map. Firefly pendants encourage exploration for the collector-at-heart.

Comic Books – Similar to the pendants, comic books can be picked up for Ellie to read during her travels starting after Chapter 4.

Voice Recorders – Sample voice-recorded dialogue can be found throughout the stages in the latter half of the game. These recordings assist in fleshing out more of the game’s backstory.

Puzzles

That's quite the puzzler.
That’s quite the puzzler.

Puzzles most often consist of moving an object to gain access to a new area (i.e. placing a ladder below a high ledge). The solution to these puzzles are often straightforward and obvious, but help to change up the pace.

Negative Space vs. Tension Sequences

The Last of Us’ campaign places players on a track of sorts that does not allow for much exploration beyond what is crucial for the story. As such, Naughty Dog is able to manipulate the sequences of events that the player experiences. The devs chose to mix up areas with negative space (this is where players can scavenge freely without worry of potential monsters attack), and high tension spikes (usually when the enemies attack). Doing so allows the intensity from the high-tension phases to elicit a different feeling/emotion from the player. The Last of Us’ campaign is devised of mixing up these two types of sequences.

Game Modes

Campaign Mode is the standard storyline gameplay mode that The Last of Us is famous for. Difficulties are listed as Easy, Normal, Hard, Survivor, and Grounded. Finishing the game unlocks New Game +, which allows players to begin the campaign anew with all of their previous equipment in tact. Naughty Dog even goes so far as to introduce a New Game ++ that lets players experience the game a second time with all of their equipment after beating it twice.

Some tips for the 'Factions' multiplayer.
Some tips for the ‘Factions’ multiplayer.

Factions is the PVP Mode for The Last of Us. It features two major competing clans from the game’s main campaign, the Hunters and the Fireflies. Players must choose a faction to play for a set number of weeks (weeks are dictated by the number of rounds you play) and attempt to survive until the final week. Factions mode also incorporates a Facebook link that essentially transforms your social media friends into members of your virtual clan on The Last of Us.

Conditions for Victory

The Last of Us comes packed with a lengthy story to experience first hand. Completing this story will satisfy this title’s condition for victory, as well as bring forth some compelling questions of human ethics and psychology.

In Factions mode, the players must survive each week of either the Hunter or Firefly campaigns. In order to survive, players must meet certain objectives to keep their clans alive.

Dynamics

Gameplay elements derived from the game’s mechanics that provide direct feedback to player actions. Often developed by players as they play. What strategies emerge from gameplay? How do players interact with each other?

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140827214850

  • Stealth over Shots – Players will realize very early on that stealth play is crucial to maintaining a healthy supply of ammo and crafting materials. The most efficient way to dispose of enemies in The Last of Us is to quietly take them out one at a time using Joel’s strangle maneuver, rather than using your valuable ammo. Shooting is often counterproductive since it alerts the enemies of your position, causing you to waste more bullets/lose additional health.

On occasion, the best course of action may even be to avoid the majority of the mobs in general and simply sneak past them.

  • Allure of the Bow – Bows are powerful tools in both single and multiplayer modes since there is a chance of players recovering their bolts after firing them at an enemy; people tend to favor the bow for this reason alone. This is especially important in scenarios where ammo is limited and can’t be obtained easily.
  • Slow-Crouching – Think crouching is enough to get you past the infected? Wrong! Clickers have an extremely sensitive sense of hearing and can locate moving players even if they’re crouching. To prevent being eaten by Clickers, players have adopted a slower movement speed in crouch position to remain undetected; the speed of the player’s movement is determined by how far they’re pushing the left analog stick, so many players opt out of pushing the stick to the edge. This technique is especially important in higher difficulty levels.
  • Exploring – The scarcity of ammo and useful resources provides great incentive for players to search the nooks and crannies of each given area to scrounge for things that might come in handy later.
  • Distraction – Players can redirect attention by strategically throwing tools found in the environment like bricks and bottles. Though this is a standard mechanic, players use these tools in clever ways to secure the upper hand.

Aesthetics

Player Experience; is the game fun? Why and why not? Is the play emotionally/intellectually engaging?

Oh, so beautiful.
Oh, so beautiful.

The Last of Us was praised with positive reviews all across the globe. The title was heavily acclaimed, and for the most part, exceeded the expectations of game critics and players alike. To avoid spoiling anything, I will refrain from going into too much detail with regards to the story.

One of the dominant niches in The Last of Us is the notion of ‘Nature reclaiming its lands.’ The bulk of the game takes place twenty years following the initial outbreak of a cordyceps fungal disease, resulting in an abundance of evacuated towns and abandoned cities. Within the two-decade span, Nature has taken its course and has grown unimpeded. Naughty Dog cleverly uses this  trope to its full effect by ornamenting desolate urban and suburban districts with various types of vegetation and greenery, creating a seemingly wild atmosphere within an environment that was once a fully functioning society filled with citizens. Naughty Dog’s crafty use of music and sound effects heightens this experience with eerie and tranquil tones.

Simply put, the combination of the title’s story, characters, dialogue, atmosphere, gameplay, visuals, and sound come together to create a rich and emotionally engaging experience that extends past the title’s conclusion. The Last of Us uses an excellent what-if scenario to touch upon some serious issues of human ethics, morals, and psychological though processes. The Last of Us is a thrilling adventure that straps the player onto a nerve-wracking emotional roller coaster from start to finish.

Design Goals; Were They Achieved?

Concept art of the stages of infection.
Concept art of the stages of infection.

– The development team went through a fairly heavy iteration process while trying to pinpoint the ‘ideal’ infected model. Here are a couple of points regarding the key design concepts:

“We went through quite a process of trying to figure out what the infected were going to be, a very big directive from the beginning was that they were not zombies.” -Phillip Kovats (Development Series #1)

“This isn’t some decaying corpse on the ground, this is a living thing that’s going to be coming after you in the world.” -Mark Botta (Development Series #1)

Although Naughty Dog had taken extensive measures to stray away from the zombie trope, The Last of Us was still widely considered a zombie-based survival game by the general public. Any mindless bi-pedal human-turned-creature generally falls under the ‘zombie’ category, and no amount of effort can prevent this generalization from happening. Also, the infected ‘Runner’ class behaves like the standard zombie that most of us see in regular media. It didn’t help that Naughty Dog emphasized being bitten as the most common method of transmitting an infection in The Last of Us; doing so only served to facilitate the zombie structure even further. Supposedly, inhaling contaminated spores or consuming infected crops would turn people just as easily as a bite, these concepts could have been fleshed out more in the story.

– Combat was intentionally brutal and grounded. “You feel the consequences, you feel disgusted with yourself when you take these actions, but you should feel the desperation that you have no choice but to take these actions.” -Neil Druckmann (Comic Con 2012 Panel)

This doesn't bode well.
This doesn’t bode well.

Combat is very tight and up-close, the angles and movement from the camera were adjusted in this way to engage players, thus making the experience more personal. Players will often find themselves interacting with both enemies and the environments around them during a combat sequence.

“We want to make you feel for these enemies, we want to make you hate them, feel sorry for them, be afraid of them, make you feel kind of bad when you shoot them.” -Travis McIntosh (Development Series #4).

The Last of Us does an exemplary job of reminding players that they are in a world of survivors. From the onset of the game, the player is thrust into a world where trusting the wrong person is fatal. People only look out for themselves, strangers are nothing but prey.

Players take the role of Joel in a world where the concept of ethics is near non-existent. You do what you must to survive in this dog-eat-dog world, and that’s all there is to it. As a result, players are exposed to some extremely heavy scenarios that, in reality, would be morally reprehensible. Naughty Dog facilitates this effect with gameplay, Joel will shatter skulls and deal lethal blows quickly and without a second thought, these finishing blows are purposefully gruesome, which adds a particular weight to the experience. This is what you must do to preserve your own life. Some enemies even beg for their lives, but the player feels that disposing him is obligatory; after all, he tried to kill you once, what’s to stop him from trying again?

– “The Last of Us truly has been a story of contrast. There are some pretty dark themes, but they’re juxtaposed against an aesthetic that we find very beautiful.” -Druckmann (Comic Con 2012 Panel)

Contrast is a key element for both the story and gameplay in The Last of Us. Ellie and Joel are stark contrasts as characters, and the story is built around their relationship with one another. Gameplay elements also receive this treatment. As you progress through the game, you’ll visually witness the interplay between nature and human civilization as they juxtapose with one another to create stunningly varied environments. The infected swarms and human factions act in unique fashions as well, with human units working in groups and moving intelligently, while the infected charge at things based on instinct.

General weaknesses, What would I fix?

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140827221022

Puzzles in The Last of Us seemed completely unnecessary. These sequences in the game often consisted of moving an object (i.e. ladder, dumpster, wooden plank) from one area to another to gain access to a new area. These linear, simple tasks tended to slow down gameplay, effectively breaking player immersion. Joel would literally go from an intense firefight with numerous infected mobs to moving a ladder from one side of the room to the other. Pair that with the fact that nothing is a threat to Joel during these sections (there are no enemies, ever) and the player is taken out of the experience completely. There should be a constant fear of enemy attacks, the players shouldn’t feel comfortable while setting up a ladder or moving a plank wooden plank.

I firmly believe that The Last of Us should have either made the puzzles more challenging, or removed them from the game altogether. The current state of these segments only serve to break the pace and hinder a player’s experience.

I had also noticed that the flashlight was largely ignored by enemy units. I find it odd that people, including the infected

User Interface

The UI is minimal, doesn't impede vision, and shows everything you need.
The UI is minimal, doesn’t impede vision, and shows everything you need.

Button Layout

Lastofuscontrols

Bonus Tidbits

  • The light on the PS4 controller is defaulted to green during a playthrough. It will shift to white when using Joel’s improved hearing skill.
  • Pressing play on the voice recorder on the PS4 version of The Last of Us Remastered causes the recording to play from the Dualshock 4 rather than the TV.
  • Supposedly, the game was originally a new Jak and Daxter game, but it was cancelled and formed into The Last of Us.
  • Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception has an in-game reference to The Last of Us during the opening chapter, The Pelican Inn, with a newspaper headline that reads, “Scientists are still struggling to understand deadly fungus”. This reference was intended to be removed prior to the Uncharted 3‘s launch, but Naughty Dog simply forgot to take it out.
  • If attempted in real life, Joel and Ellie would have traveled over 3,400 miles (5,400 kilometers) from the start of the game (Boston), to the end of the game (Jackson).
  • The PS4 port, The Last of Us Remastered, has improved visuals, native 1080p display at 60 frames per second (a 30fps lock is also available), new advanced audio options, in-cinematic director commentary, in-game Photo Mode, and bonus downloadable content, such as the Left Behind single-player expansion chapter, the Abandoned Territories multiplayer map pack, and the Reclaimed Territories multiplayer map pack.
  • The Last of Us Development Series Part 6 – Fantastic look at some of the game’s concept art. Watch after finishing the game for the best experience.
  • The Music of The Last of Us
Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Game Overview – The Last of Us”

  1. Very well done, as always. I agree about the puzzles. I groaned nearly every time that I had to swim a pallet over to Ellie and then ferry her around. Although I never got to touch the multiplayer and there were some spots of gameplay that I didn’t enjoy very much, I loved the campaign mode overall. The bonus tidbits are a nice touch and make me want to try out the PS4 version even though I finished the whole story already.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s