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'The Last of Us' is a dark, grimy step for Uncharted devs

I've been on both sides. Joel, The Last of Us

the last of us
the last of us

The Last of Us may be a third-person adventure game from the people that brought us Uncharted. But this is not Uncharted. It's something much darker.

The Last of Us may be a third-person adventure game from the people that brought us Uncharted. But this is not Uncharted. It's something much darker.

At a press event in Santa Monica, Naughty Dog showed off about 10 minutes of gameplay from The Last of Us. The demo began with a drive through a post-apocalyptic city. Joel and Ellie are two survivors, just trying to stay alive in an America that seems to have been mostly wiped of life. Joel is about 40 years old, gruff, bearded. He's got a southern accent and not much of a sense of humor — a far cry from Nathan Drake. Ellie, on the other hand, is younger, with a slightly brighter take on the world. At least as bright as one could manage in a world like this.

The pair traverse a city's highway in a truck, weaving through abandoned cars. At a certain point the freeway becomes too blocked and they're forced to leave the freeway via an offramp, driving into narrow streets beneath an elevated subway line. It's far from safe.

They drive up to a man, staggering in the street. Joel's not stopping.

"What about the man?" asks Ellie.

"He ain't even hurt," says Joel.

Joel's right. Their truck is quickly surrounded by raiders. Not the wasteland-type raiders. These raiders look like they're just a few years removed from the apocalypse. They look like survivors from the world of The Walking Dead. Realistic.

Joel and Ellie's truck speeds through narrow alleyways, trying to get away. But they don't get far. A bus crashes into the side of them, shoving them into a nearby storefront. From there it's a fight for survival.

The gameplay in The Last of Us appears similar to Uncharted in that it's third-person and cover-centric. As Joel and Ellie hide out in the store, raiders stream in, attempting to flank them. They shout instructions to one another as Joel takes pot shots with the limited ammo he has in his handgun. He quickly runs out of bullets as one of the raiders charges. Ellie hurls a brick at the charging raider, but there are more still coming.

Joel opts for a two-by-four, brutally bashing the face of another raider while calling for Ellie's help. The snide remarks of an Uncharted game are replaced by heavy breathing and a pervasive sense of dread. Joel and Ellie are vastly outnumbered and there's no rocket launcher in sight. Stealth and well-timed melee attacks are the only way for them to get the upper hand, and slowly they whittle the raiders down to a final one. The hunt for him is tense, searching every aisle in the storefront as cans rattle mysteriously behind Joel. It ends with the raider taking a shot, charging at Joel, leaving him with no choice but to use his final round for a deadly headshot. The raider goes down. A brief time for rest.

The Uncharted games are about recreating the feel of Indiana Jones. They're fun, silly romps where a dozen enemies can be quickly dispatched. The Last of Us is not that. In Joel and Ellie's world, where guns and ammo are extremely rare commodities, a face-off against three enemies can prove deadly.

With the raiders dispatched, Ellie and Joel explore the area on foot. There's a predictable grit to the world. Unlike the postcard-worthy vistas of Uncharted, The Last of Us seems to be all about recreations of what cities and towns would look like after an apocalypse. Once again, the look of The Walking Dead springs to mind. It's all very grounded. Believable. Which makes it all the more terrifying.

As they delve into a nearby building, Ellie asks Joel how he knew the man in the street was faking. "I've been on both sides," says Joel. He's clearly not a hero — why is he defending Ellie in the first place?

The demo ends as the pair approaches a military base. It's surrounded by rusted out cars filled with corpses. They died while waiting for their own salvation behind fortified walls. Joel and Ellie are looking for just that, but when they approach, crows stream out of the base's front gates. They hide behind a burnt-out truck just in time. Three men appear at the gates, standing atop a bus. Friends or foes? In this world, there's really no way to know. The demo fades to black.

The outlandish, comical world of Uncharted has garnered plenty of fans. But with The Last of Us, Naughty Dog is trying something else. Gone is the bravado and bombast of treasure hunting — when it comes to surviving the apocalypse, you really can't afford to be that loud.

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