The Last of Us is not just an Uncharted game with added zombie. It's something far more brutal and unsettling. The preview build gave me a tantalising peek into the traumatic, perilous and frankly depressing world of Joel and Ellie as they struggle to survive in a United States ravaged by a mind controlling killer cordyceps-like fungus which has turned normal humans into the deadly Infected, hell bent on killing and "infecting" the entire human race.
The whole experience is frequently horrifying. With decapitations and the liberal spraying of blood straight out of a Quentin Tarentino movie, this is unashamedly an 18 rated game. Sure, it features the same uber-polished environments, simple control system, quick-time events and spectacular sequences we've come to expect from Naughty Dog, but this game conveys a feeling of complete abandonment and desolateness I've not experienced in any their previous titles.
Joel, the older and more battle scarred of the two, is suspicious of absolutely everything and everyone. Controlling him, I had to navigate my way through abandoned cities to locate a resistance group called the Fireflies. Booby traps, the Infected (who sound like someone slowly strangling a bird) and other survivors stood in my way. There were few instances in the demo where I didn't have time to think, I just attacked. I figured that sorting out who is friend or foe could wait until after I got in the first blow. That said, figuring things out later was never actually necessary – the world is filled with foes.
The Last of Us also introduces a crafting mechanic which requires you to collect items littered though out the game. When you combine items (e.g. alcohol + rag = med kit) you can make new items or modify weapons, making them even more deadly. However, if you want to upgrade things like your overall health or weapon handling then you need to track down hidden skill caches, which resemble jars of pills.
The emphasis on both survival and item collection – that's not just another gun or ammo – sets this apart from any of Nathan Drake's adventures. The pace of the game is noticeably slower when exploring new areas. There was the odd occasion where I was scrambling for my life from the Infected hordes. Then I was in full-on panic mode, looking for anywhere to hide.
Through beautifully-realised townscapes and forests The Last of Us slowly builds up the a picture of a post-apocalyptic world. This is embellished with stories from Joel and particularly Ellie, who is voiced beautifully by Ashley Johnson, with her impromptu singing and unbridled excitement when she spies the awesome-sounding "The Turning" 2-player brutal action arcade machine. Thankfully, Ellie is more from the Half-Life Alex Vance mould than just a walking lunch/Infected magnet. She kicks ass and swears like all 14-yr olds do.