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The Last of Us

Naughty Dog Debuts The Infected Horror

Previous demos of The Last Of Us have centered on the danger that Joel and Ellie's fellow survivors present as the pair scraped their way through the dangerous streets of Pittsburg. All the while, a more sinister threat has loomed in the distance, seen only in glimpses until now. Our newest look at the game has the protagonists on the outskirts of Boston, and unveils two of the infected enemy types – and Naughty Dog handed the controller over to me to experience the terror first-hand.

Joel and Ellie are accompanied by a new character, a middle-aged woman named Tess. Tess is Joel's partner in crime; the two make their living by supplying weapons and items to the black market inside one of Boston's oppressive, military-controlled quarantine zones. In this instance, Joel and Tess have been hired to smuggle Ellie out of the city to the Fireflies, a resistance group trying to establish a new society that isn't run by a brutal police state.

Escape from the city requires cutting a path through a partially collapsed building. As I turn on my flashlight to survey the area, Tess points out a mutilated corpse next to an adjacent doorway. The building is overrun with the infected.

The survivors have mapped out the complete life cycle of humans infected with the deadly, cordyceps-like fungus, and each stage serves as a different enemy type. Runners are in stage one of the infection, and as their name suggests, they're fast on their feet. Clickers are in stage three of the infection, and trade speed for considerable strength. Clickers have been completely blinded by the infection, and instead rely on echolocation to identify targets. If you hear a clicker's distinctive call, you had better be behind cover.

My first encounter with the infected aptly demonstrates their deadliness. While Tess and Ellie hang back behind cover, I run into a pack of runners and my action game sensibilities get the best of me. Shooting the first enemy alerts the other two to my presence – before I know it, the six bullets I've scavenged thus far are gone. I sprint out of the room in desperation, knocking my attackers out of the way only to run straight into a fourth runner in the hallway; mashing on the square button pries him off of me, but not before being brought to the brink of death.

I blindly run through a maze of rooms, sliding over desks and bouncing off of doorways as I attempt to lose my attackers. I finally duck behind an overturned cabinet and take stock of my situation. A lone runner wanders into the room and this time I manage to sneak up behind him and slowly choke him out as the camera slowly pans and zooms in to highlight the brutal action.

After scavenging a few items from the environment – including a helpful-looking two-by-four – I try pushing aside a cabinet that's blocking the exit, but the noise sends the remaining infected scrambling to my location. The first runner goes down with a few hits from my new melee weapon, but the others are close behind him. I run back into the darkness, retreating to the room where I was first ambushed. I scavenge a few more bullets off of the corpse I killed earlier, and grab a nearby brick as the pursuing runners burst through the doorway. I down the first one with my two-by-four, but it breaks in the process, and I'm forced to use precious handgun ammo on the final attacker.

Joel calls out to Tess and Ellie, telling them the coast is clear. After looting some more items, I stop to examine the simple but incredibly helpful crafting system.

Unlike most crafting systems, items looted from the environment feed into several generic categories, so you're never looking for a specific item to complete a recipe. After looking over the options, I craft a health kit, a Molotov cocktail, and upgrade a baseball bat I found moments earlier. Opening the crafting menu doesn't pause the game, however, so you want to make sure you're in a safe place before restocking.

I continue through the dilapidated building until I come upon an open office teeming with clickers. With my upgraded bat in hand (which now has a pair of scissors taped to the end of it), I sneak my way into the hall, only to bump into a runner feeding on a corpse. I take him down with a single, gruesome blow of my bat, but a clicker kills me with equal lethality; the camera zooms in to show the deformed creature pull back a mouthful of skin and tendons from my neck just before the screen goes black.

During my next attempt, I use a new ability Naughty Dog calls "listen mode." By holding down the right trigger, Joel is able to identify nearby figures and footsteps through walls and objects, while moving at a greatly reduced pace. I also take advantage of the bottles and bricks strewn around the environment to lure enemies out of the way, but severity of the situation quickly becomes apparent; the room is a maze of desks and cabinets, and the terrifying calls of clickers echo all around me as they grope in the darkness for my location. I find a shotgun and three shells by one desk, but using it would be suicide given the odds.

A tense game of cat and mouse unfolds as I zigzag through the room, always one misstep away from certain death. None of the action feels scripted, and there is no clear path through the environment. Unlike last time, Ellie and Tess have been at my side the entire time, effortlessly navigating the environment and avoiding enemies as I scour the darkness for a way out, a reassuring sign that Naughty Dog has crafted competent AI for the characters accompanying Joel.

Salvation comes in the form of a ladder in an adjoining room at the far end of the complex, but a final clicker stands in our way. Throwing a bottle to distract it would run the risk of attracting the other enemies we've managed to sneak by. I desperately weigh my options, but there is no time – another infected is approaching Tess from behind and she's forced to open fire. I quickly switch to my shotgun and take down the other clicker, as Tess shoots down her assailant. The three of us move to the ladder, but more infected are streaming into the cramped room; we have no choice but to make a stand.

I use the last of my shotgun shells on two more clickers and effortlessly switch to my bat to take down an approaching runner. More clickers appear, and Tess proves the better marksman as I take a few wild shots with my remaining revolver bullets. I hurl my one and only Molotov at two infected climbing through a broken window, who collapse to the floor in flames. Tess shoots down the remaining creatures. The three of us capitalize on the ensuing moment of silence and climb the ladder.

I take one more look below. The rush of surviving the standoff is dampened by the realization that I've used all of my supplies and ammo. I contemplate going back down for the few glowing items lying at the base of ladder, but decide to push on.

Naughty Dog has proven itself a master at creating tense setpiece moments in its games, which translate particularly well to scripted demos. My hands-on time with The Last Of Us only has me more excited. The world feels alive and loaded with details, the characters are engaging and believable, and the gameplay is a tense mix of stealth, strategy, and explosive action.

This preview originally appeared in issue 240 of Game Informer.

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