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The Last of Us: ‘human antagonism plays a much bigger role than the infected’

Submitted by on Sunday, 15 January 2012One Comment

More details on The Last of Us, on how it will play and some of its themes, have emerged over the last few days. An interview from Official PlayStation Magazine France with Neil Druckmann, creative director, and Bruce Straley, Game Director is on YouTube, and you can view it above.

In it, Druckmann says the team has done a lot of work on character development and took a “lot of inspiration” from the work they did on Uncharted 2. He says, “It’s the story of the relationship of Joel and Ellie surviving through this world. “ He lists a series of questions they wanted to ask, which puts a strong emphasis on Ellie’s perspective:

“What does it mean to live in this world? What does it mean to not know if someone is infected? What does it mean to be a teenager in this world, without shopping malls, iPhones and internet, and all that stuff? What kind of personality would she develop?”

Straley says they took inspiration from other dystopian narratives in films, books and comics, with regards to how The Last of Us will portray its dreaded future.

 “It’s not about the zombies or aliens, or whatever the government conspiracy about how they’re creating some sort of super-mutant that accidently got out the lab because somebody’s mishap. None of that really matters in 28 Days Later, in Children of Men, in this book City of Thieves. It’s just the setting. It’s just the backdrop.”

He adds, “What compels us is the decisions they are forced to make? What would you do to survive in this world?”

Druckmann challenged the current focus on survival horror, from those who have commented on the VGA trailer. He says,

 “That’s actually something we feel people have just focused on too much. How do we get bigger and badder monsters that spit acid and fly from the air, and are giant bats or giant snakes or giant spiders? To us that doesn’t help anything. That doesn’t help at all with the story? All it does it take you out. It might be fun and it’s easier to design the gameplay around that stuff. But from a narrative standpoint, it actually hinders you quite a bit.”

The survival horror aspect is a theme I picked up on in an earlier article, and I think he shows some signs of confusion here, in his failure to distinguish between splatter and monster horror with survival and thriller horror — there is a greater focus on suspense, terror and the psychological effects that come from extreme situations in the latter genres. These are things The Last of Us certainly aspires to represent.

Joel shoots an infected in The last of Us

There is a clear expression of fear in Joel's face

Druckmann is reluctant to reveal too much about the gameplay, but he points to the clues in the VGA trailer:

“What we really wanted to show in the trailer is someone barely surviving.  The first person he’s fighting, they’re fighting for their lives. That’s another human, not an infected. He barely rips that 2×4 from his hand, and then he finishes that guy, because he knows if he doesn’t that guy will finish him in order to steal his supplies. “

Another example:

“When Joel and Ellie got into the bathroom, the thing that was important, the thing Troy (the actor) portrayed really well is actual fear… Here is a single infected and Joel is scared for his life, and scared for Ellie’s life.”

Straley also explains the reason for the violence:

“He’s doing what he has to do to survive, and we want the player to feel that… the M rating isn’t because we want gore and effects, and to go over the top, and to say, ‘now we’re doing an M’. It’s because we’re trying to tell a story and this requires a certain amount of lethality and danger.”

The story is not about the infected says Druckmamn, “the story is not about them. The story is about Joel and Ellie and the pressure they’re feeling, and actually, the human antagonism plays a much bigger role than the infected.”

What impact does this have on the gameplay? Expect limited ammo and possibly a great focus on hand-to-hand combat than gunplay. Even better would be the inclusion of Heavy Rain-style difficult decisions, but that is unexplored territory for Naughty Dog, so it may be too much to ask. However, The Last of Us is shaping up to be the studio’s boldest title yet, and the secrecy surrounding the gameplay raises hopes for something different and unique. Let’s hope. It’s looks fantastic nonetheless.