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The Last Of Us: disappointing demo syndrome?

Friday, 17th May 2013 08:00 GMT By Dave Cook

The Last of Us publisher Sony recently sent VG247′s Dave Cook a demo build. He genuinely didn’t enjoy it, but could see greatness forming. Was it just a bad demo, or is there cause for concern?

The Last of Us

Developed by Naughty Dog, The Last of Us launches on PS3 worldwide from June 14.

The game recently received a new TV spot ahead of its release. You can watch the commercial here.

Naughty Dog released a ‘Meet the Infected’ trailer that shows off the game’s freaky mutated bad guys in action. Give yourself the chills here.

Back in December I had a big chat with the game’s voice actors and the team at Naughty Dog about how they acted out and recorded the game’s cut-scenes. You can read it here.

The game will launch with two special editions. See what you get in each of them here.

Right now I feel like a kid who wanted some LEGO for his birthday, only to discover that his parents had bought him Mega Blocks instead.

I think I was expecting one thing in my mind, thanks to being excited for the game for so long, that what I eventually got felt almost entirely out of sync. It was a rookie error on my part.

Recently I had the good fortune of playing Naughty Dog’s beta build of The Last of Us, and although I’ve been seriously excited for the game for many months, I came away disappointed.

I’m not even remotely convinced that The Last of Us is a bad game, but I do think that the studio has come down with a case of the ‘shit-demos’. To me, it didn’t feel like an effective showcase of the title’s potential

There’s no doubt that this is an emotional game. The strained father-daughter relationship between Joel and Ellie made that abundantly clear from day one of the marketing campaign.

If I were a betting man I’d predict that the plot is going to pull the rug out from beneath you many times across its span, making you think that the pair are going to get separated for good, fall out irreparably or get themselves killed. It’s going to be a heart-breaker that’s for sure.

The opening scene takes place in a forest by the abandoned town of Lincoln, and the eerie calm, coupled with a hazy sunset, the sound of a lazily plucked guitar and Naughty Dog’s trademark lush visuals made the apocalypse look almost beautiful.

You forget for a second that you’re playing a game about the remnants of humankind, but then the reality starts to flood back to you once you enter Lincoln. It’s a fairly open area, and as Joel you’re free to scavenge for crafting ingredients, ammo and food at your own pace.

There are two sections that see you faced with an impasse, so off you trot in search of a big plank of wood to bridge the gap. There’s a slight puzzle vibe to these sections, but I use the description loosely as they really were monotonous in their simplicity. The same goes for giving Ellie a boost over fences – something I’m utterly sick of doing in games.

Where things get interesting is when the infected enemies show up. You usually hear them before you see them thanks to the creepy clicking sound they make, and in most cases you can skirt around them without triggering a fight, or distract them with hurled debris.

I tested their ferocity by firing my gun randomly at a wall. Within seconds a pair of infected spawned in nearby and ran towards the sound. Panicking I fired off my remaining bullet and barely dented one of them, which then killed me instantly with one bite.

There’s potential for these insta-deaths becoming a real issue for some players, especially once the enemy count rises. I’m guessing that there’s a bit of Dark Souls mentality at play here, in that you must pick and choose your fights. If true, then it’s something I could really get in to, but I just didn’t get enough evidence during this section.

One neat scene saw Joel snared in one of his friend Bill’s traps. Hanging upside down you have to shoot advancing infected while keeping them off Ellie. I’m not a fan of escort missions, so there’s another potential problem right away. It raised the tension of the scene at any rate.

Ellie doesn’t die instantly either, so you do have time to protect her once cornered. This really became important in part two of the beta build, which sees Joel and Ellie ambushed by a gang of raiders in Pittsburgh. You have to fight your way out of a derelict shop swarming with them.

I just found the encounter to be really scrappy in parts. When creeping up behind enemies you can break stealth unexpectedly, while you can murder a man right behind one of his mates without alerting him. The rules felt inconsistent throughout.

As an immense fan of the stealth genre, I’m all for being sneaky instead of going in guns blazing, but this felt weak compared to the likes of Mark of the Ninja or even Tenchu. Stealth is dependent on Joel slinking around cover in a low stoop and hurling bricks and bottles to confuse enemies, similarly to Rockstar’s Manhunt games.

But ultimately, it felt like I was playing a cover shooter with only four bullets. Joel can also enter a focus state that lets him hear his attackers and visualise where they are, which is essentially Instinct Mode from Hitman: Absolution, letting you see through walls. I’m expecting many a debate about this at release.

People will likely say that The Last of Us is not a stealth game. But if that’s true then what is it? It’s certainly not a shooter, and it’s not an action game in the same way Uncharted was. Perhaps Naughty Dog wanted to make it unique and beyond pigeon-holing, but I genuinely felt the demo was spread thin across all areas.

Where the Pittsburg stage succeeded was in Ellie. She’s a great companion even if I loathe escort games, thanks to her contextual chatter flagging up enemy positions, or for her ability to batter enemies with any debris she finds lying around.

She’s helpful like BioShock: Infinite’s Elizabeth, and occasionally an encumbrance like Resident Evil 4′s Ashley, but ultimately she’s a brilliant character whose tough exterior melts away as she becomes enamoured by the wider world. Chances are you’ll want to save her throughout the plot, instead of simply feeling obliged.

Both sections of the demo weren’t that long but they give a baseline understanding of what The Last of Us is all about. Superb visuals, plot, acting and cut-scenes aside, I’m now cautious that Naughty Dog has cobbled together mechanics and several genres without making sure they fit first.

We’ll know more about how well the formula has worked out once The Last of Us launches on PS3 worldwide from June 14.

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40 Comments

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  1. tenthousandgothsonacid

    If it looks pretty and keeps me occupied for a few hours whilst I wait for the ps4 then I’m in :)

    #1 1 year ago
  2. Dave Cook

    @1 It is lovely-looking, and I’m so excited to see how the story pans out. I just felt this demo didn’t show off what it was capable of. It includes a really slow bit with poor sign-posting and a lot of talking, then that neat upside down bit at the end.

    Then part two has the shop battle, which I found to be scrappy. But still I can’t fault it too badly as I really do think it will be brilliant in the end. This was labelled as a beta build so it may have been touched up further since then.

    End result, I still think it’ll be good :)

    #2 1 year ago
  3. tezzer1985

    I’m on a media blackout on this title, so I didn’t really read your preview Dave, I skimmed it (soz).

    I’m really looking forward to this game, so I hope it does live up to it’s potential, I hate demos and I usually don’t play them. I feel ND should have did what Bioshock: Infinite did and just released the game, I would hate to think people will be down on this game due to a demo.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. Dave Cook

    @3 no problem. Yeah I think you’re right, the demo wasn’t all that great but as I said though I can see vast potential for the game, I really can. I think the story is going to be incredible, a real gut-puncher at points.

    Roll on June!

    #4 1 year ago
  5. Beta

    Don’t crush my dreams Dave! O.O

    Seriously though, I played the Uncharted 1 demo. Thought “my God this is boring”. Ended up loving the game. I just don’t think Naughty Dog games are well suited to demo’s what with them being heavily story driven. :)

    #5 1 year ago
  6. Dave Cook

    @5 Yeah I agree man. The bits with story were interesting, although it often felt in the first section that all I was doing was walking and talking for a good 5-10 minutes before anything happened.

    I like a strong story and I’m – again – massively excited to see how The Last of Us plays out, but yeah I needed more gameplay to back it up.

    I’m sure it’ll be full of excitement, emotion and neat combat. I just didn’t see enough of that in the demo.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. Beta

    Fair enough, that’s the problem I have with demo’s. They don’t always give an accurate representation of the game. Regardless I still have my fingers crossed for this. Never been burned by Naughty Dog before :)

    I can only hope that the focus mode is optional or disabled in higher difficulties.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. iSh3rlock

    new user here (just registered). I like VG247. I’m following this site for a long time now :)

    keep up the good work…

    #8 1 year ago
  9. Joe Anderson

    This is why I don’t play demos generally.

    I loved the demo incidentally. I appreciate what you are saying about the opening, however once the action started I think it was pretty ace. Loved the part where Joel was handing upside down shooting at the infected. Spectacular.

    I also love the new direction in terms of the weapons and the more fight or flight feel to the action, rather than having to take down everything that moves. I have a feeling there is a lot more to see here. The demo certainly didn’t even scratch the surface.

    #9 1 year ago
  10. Dave Cook

    @8 Thanks, welome and we hope you enjoy your stay :D

    @9 Yeah that bit hanging upside down was good, and yeah you’re right about the demo not scratching the surface. That’s why – while I found the demo a bit dull – I could see what Naughty Dog is going for.

    I’m seriously going to play the shit out of the final code. Can’t wait.

    #10 1 year ago
  11. RocknRolla

    Well we will find out for our selves when the game hits the shelves :) thanks for the effort Dave!

    #11 1 year ago
  12. Dave Cook

    @11 No worries :) I’ve seen a lot of hype based on the preview code today, but I played through it several times with diminishing returns. I tested different approaches to combat, movement. It genuinely didn’t gel with me.

    But again, I have to say again, I’m certain the final game will be brilliant. I want to know the whole story :D

    #12 1 year ago
  13. Djoenz

    @Dave Cook

    Ty for your honesty. Great article. I havent read everything because I dont want to be spoiled too much.

    I am saddened by the fact this game has no co op. I am not a big fan of third person shooters in multiplayer mode. Is there anything you could tell us about the MP?

    #13 1 year ago
  14. Dave Cook

    @13 no worries chief, honesty is all you’ll ever get from me on this site :)

    I have nothing to add on MP sadly, it was a purely SP demo. I’m sure that it’ll be interesting though.

    #14 1 year ago
  15. Lengendaryboss

    Great thoughts Dave, I guess your playthrough wasn’t what you expected, maybe you came in with exceedingly high expectations or maybe there could be more potential to the story/gameplay come June 14. The Uncharted Demoes didn’t sell me the game but if i didn’t take the plunge i would not have played one of the best games of this gen: Uncharted 2.

    #15 1 year ago
  16. Dave Cook

    @15 Yeah that’s it exactly man, I think the overall story will drive progression so well that you can’t really get a sense of that in a short demo. I really did find the controls to be clunky during combat, but it was a beta build. It could have been improved before it went gold.

    I hope it has been anyway.

    #16 1 year ago
  17. Mus42

    Did you give feeback to Naughty Dog after you tried the demo? i.e. are they actively listening to people’s concerns?

    #17 1 year ago
  18. Dave Cook

    @17 I sent it to my local Sony PR, I don’t have a direct contact for ND any more unfortunately :(

    #18 1 year ago
  19. Erthazus

    “Instinct Mode from Hitman: Absolution, letting you see through walls”

    this is this generation “health regeneration” issue.
    I’m sick of this bullshit.

    Why make games at all then? What’s the point? Just make a movie and be done with it. Even Diablo III now have a DODGE mechanic on consoles.

    No wonder why most of the PC gamers just pissed off about all of this.

    #19 1 year ago
  20. hives

    It’s not a stealth game, but it is adventure game with stealthy combat – I think that is the good way to put it. In all previews people are saying that you must sneak often in combat. I personally love the idea.

    But… I think some people who expect Uncharted (and who don’t follow news and previews) will be dissapointed.

    #20 1 year ago
  21. Djoenz

    You know if they allowed Ellie to die permanently it would make her so much more important and would intensify the game even further. Unfortunately if she dies its game over and try again. .

    #21 1 year ago
  22. Johnny Cullen

    I’ve also played the demo and personally loved it. So much potential.

    Two things i want to make note of that I didn’t in my writeup (not gonna link it because I’m sure Pat will kill me if I did, even now as an ex full-timer!):

    One – The lighting tech in the game, based off the demo, is just utterly stupendous. Brilliant stuff. You’ll spot it at its best when in Lincoln. So gorgeous.

    Two – The snippets of Gustavo Santaolalla’s music from the demo is utterly fantastic. Like, really incredible. I was excited when I found out he was involved, having been a fan of his work from Babel. He hasn’t disappointed going by what I heard.

    Simply put, CAN. NOT. WAIT.

    #22 1 year ago
  23. Dave Cook

    @22 Aesthetically and in terms of plot yeah it’s brilliant, but aesthetics alone don’t make for a solid game. I found the actual gameplay to be awkward, archaic and clunky.

    The rules of stealth felt inconsistent as well, and it’s essentially a cover shooter without the gunplay in terms of slinking around cover to hide. The only other stealth mechanic in the demo was the ability to throw bricks and bottle to distract enemies, and the x-ray vision/hearing mechanic.

    Nothing felt new in terms of the raw gameplay. But I have to stress – again – that I’m very excited to see how the full story plays out. I think it’ll be a stellar narrative that will drive progression regardless, I really believe that :)

    Each to their own as usual though, opinion respected as per.

    #23 1 year ago
  24. OmegaSlayer

    Since Dave liked a lot one of the biggest piece of crap this year (DmC), I’m very very positive about The Last Of Us :p

    #24 1 year ago
  25. Dave Cook

    @24 DmC really wasn’t a piece of crap – objectively speaking. Absolutely wasn’t.

    #25 1 year ago
  26. rbevanx

    @24 Just because it wasn’t your sort of thing doesn’t mean it’s poor.

    I don’t like the original Star Wars but I wouldn’t say it’s pants.

    I will be renting the game either way and the same with Beyond. I think both games will be short esspecially this one with it’s level of detail I have seen so far.

    Looks great though but I can see Bioshock still being the best game for me this year so far.

    The best looking game so far is Routine. Can’t wait for that!

    #26 1 year ago
  27. OmegaSlayer

    @25 and 26
    http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m6oaosRkai1qaxdql.gif
    short cause we all know the long one.

    The combat system in DmC was so wrong…a game must be fun and thrilling before being innovative.
    If it’s not fun and thrilling every innovation is worth nothing.

    DmC is absolutely the kind of pie I like most and was burnt by the cook and the ingredients were low quality ones.

    I see myself more thrilled to stay in cover with few bullets than see colored coded enemies.

    By the way, mine it’s not an accusation to Dave, I just wanted to state that tastes are different and I didn’t agree with his reasoning about DmC being good and The Last Of Us feeling clunky.

    If we would have the same tastes there would be only one game in videogames history

    #27 1 year ago
  28. Beta

    Looked through a couple more previews, all very positive. I’m not saying that you were negative at all Dave and I greatly appreciate your honesty. Just saying that I feel slightly reassured ;)

    #28 1 year ago
  29. Blue Oni

    Will they release a public demo?

    #29 1 year ago
  30. Gekidami

    ^ With God of War Ascension. I think it comes out in like 2 weeks, or something.

    #30 1 year ago
  31. Beta

    On the 31st of May I believe :)

    #31 1 year ago
  32. Blue Oni

    @30:ok then i guess they will release it for everyone one-two weeks after GOWA players have been able to download it.

    #32 1 year ago
  33. Moonwalker1982

    A very good and honest read. It has me a bit concerned though, cause as much as i looked forward to this game…that kinda went a bit down when they started introducing those infected. I guess it makes sense, but i would’ve digged a I am Legend approach more. Or hell, let’s say I am Alive to name a example for a game. Let me just fight human enemies. But it is what it is. That part about hanging upside down:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=TkonjtDO9qk

    I can see stuff like that getting on my nerves and annoying me very very quickly. Especially when the character dies too quickly. Honestly very sceptical about it now.

    #33 1 year ago
  34. DrDamn

    Listen Mode, Melee Prompts and Tag Pop Ups can all be turned off in the options.

    http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=558842

    Which is nice :)

    #34 1 year ago
  35. Beta

    @34 Excellent I was hoping for that, cheers :)

    #35 1 year ago
  36. Gekidami

    Pittsburgh & Lincoln demos:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=V2FuIQdG1e0

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAC-DMsYm0s

    #36 1 year ago
  37. Rosseu

    Thanks for the preview Dave, seems like I’d get the bioshock infinite feel in it like you say. I’m very excited to play it :D

    #37 1 year ago
  38. sg1974

    My brother has refused to read any article or watch any video on this since the day of the reveal. His preorder went in on the day it went up, and he’ll start the game knowing only what was in that first reveal.

    I don’t think I’ll mention this to him…..

    #38 1 year ago
  39. BLD

    It’s not a stealth game. It’s a survival/adventure game with something of horror.(according to ND) So the stealth sections are there to let you survive… I mean, how can you survive, with few supplies, to deadly enemies who can reach(and kill) you easily? Being hidden.

    #39 1 year ago
  40. kunal

    dave..a good work..you know you are brave enough ..and see these other guys they are leaving the comments in favor of game coz they are blind ,,they cant face the truth..good work ..keep it up..i will laugh on these guys after the game will release ..coz they r so blind,,they will feel that you were right .. let them play and face the truth

    #40 1 year ago