E3 Snap Judgment: 'The Last of Us'

The Game: A survival adventure tale that follows two survivors — a man named Joel and a teenage girl named Ellie — through a post-apocalyptic America populated by dangerous plant people and even-more-dangerous regular people. The Last of Us is a darker evolutionary step for Uncharted, and it instantly became one of the most anticipated trailers at E3 after a thrilling trailer played at the Video Game Awards. (Available for the PS3, Release Date TBD)

What We Saw/Played: We got a look at an extended version of the sequence that played at Sony’s press conference, in which Joel and Ellie fight off a gang of human survivors inside a ruined hotel. They even let us play a short part of the sequence. The part that we played focused on the interaction between Joel — who you control — and Ellie, who is both a helpful assistant and a potentially imperiled sidekick. (Think Ico, but with banter.)

The Good: There have been many, many videogames set in a ruined America, but it’s hard to remember a time when the post-apocalypse looked so…beautiful. The sequence we saw sent the characters through a city — Pittsburgh, of all places — that has been reclaimed by nature. Plants grew out of broken windows; the streets were flooded with green-blue water. The developers claimed that the part of the visual inspiration for The Last of Us came from their fascination with the painterly way that light falls through leaves — or, to use their technical term, “subsurface scattering.” The game’s Thoreauvian aesthetic marks a decisive step forward from the bruised monochrome of the Gears of War era.

We saw two versions of the level. The first time, Joel directly challenged the attacking survivors. The second time, he snuck around. The stealth-vs.-attack gameplay guarantees replay value. It also proves that The Last of Us is more than the horror version of Uncharted. Although the game does feature one trademark of the Uncharted series: The main characters’ dialogue is believable. Good dialogue in videogames can never be underrated.

The Not-So-Good: The developers insist that the game is more about the characters than it is about the apocalypse…but we’ve seen this cross-country-post-apocalyptic-zombie-road-trip story a lot lately. And since there wasn’t much to see of The Last of Us beyond this single sequence, excitement around the game is premature. Common sense insists that we manage our expectations.

Excitement Level: Oh, to hell with common sense! The Last of Us looks like a vivid adventure game with big ambitions, and the relationship between Joel and Ellie — a surrogate father-daughter bond — shows that Naughty Dog is aiming for some genuine emotional maturity after the rakish charms of Uncharted. Let’s give this a 9 and hope that a release date gets announced soon.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Read more:
E3 2012 preview: The Wii U, ‘Call of Duty’ goes to the future, and the return of Master Chief and Lara Croft
Microsoft introduces ‘Tomb Raider,’ ‘Halo 4,’ ‘South Park,’ and more at E3
‘Halo 4′ gameplay trailer: ‘I don’t think we’re the only ones in here.’ What tipped you off?

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