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The Last of Us lets players set the pace of their survival experience

The Last of Us and player agency

Naughty Dog's survival action game, The Last of Us, lets players set the pace of their experience through dynamic stealth and action, according to game designer Ricky Cambier.

Speaking to Polygon, Cambier said The Last of Us differs from many other survival action games because it doesn't bombard players with a constant stream of action. There are moments where players can reflect, make plans and assess the situation they're in, and when chaos breaks loose, "it's not going to be [about] stealth anymore," and they may need to fire a few bullets or run.

Cambier said the studio struck a balance between the game's action and stealth by "creating one of the most emergent gameplay styles that we have at Naughty Dog," which is systemic and allows player agency to determine the pace of the game.

"So if you had found a bunch of supplies, or if you managed to sneak through a previous area, you might have six or seven bullets, and that's going to be a lot," he said. "So you're going to be able to deal with a situation differently, and at that situation you might have permission to be a little more aggressive because you know you can grab somebody and hold them and use them as a shield and then shoot a couple of people."

However, if a player knows they don't have any ammo, then they might have to approach a situation more stealthily and do whatever they can to avoid a confrontation. And even if a player carefully plans their approach, if something unexpected happens, the AI will respond accordingly.

"So we throw it back at you ... What's your pace? How are you gonna do it?"

"I was watching someone play, and they went and grabbed somebody and used them as a shield," Cambier said. "What they'd forgotten was they'd run out of bullets. So it's a great tactic ... if you have ammo. And so what's great and also systemic is if you try to fire when you're out of ammo, the AI now knows you're out of ammo and their tactics are going to change. If they were under cover, they might now charge at you because they know you're dry."

According to Cambier, the game's crafting system gives players another tool to affect the pace of the game. In an example he gave, if a player finds some bullets and additional materials, they can craft a Molotov cocktail, which can be used to get them out of tight situations. But Molotov cocktails are also hard to come by and require players to scavenge for lots of bits and pieces, so how a player decides to use it will affect the balance between stealth and action.

"Because Molotov cocktails are hard to come by, you really want to try to get two people with it if you can, so you really have to strategize about it and think, 'OK, how can I now take the most advantage of it to set myself up further down the line?'"

Players can just toss the Molotov cocktail at one person instead of waiting for a more opportune moment, but this will also lead to different results further down the line.

"So we throw it back at you: 'What's your pace? How are you gonna do it?'"

The Last of Us will release on the PlayStation 3 on June 14, 2013. Read our hands-on preview here.

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