“Good job with all the, uh, killing and stuff…” says Ellie after Joel ruthlessly and realistically kills five assailants in the gameplay demonstration of game studio Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. The game follows the path of Joel and Ellie, two survivors of an infectious outbreak that ravages the world and produces hordes of zombie-esque, plagued enemies to fight. But the men Joel suffocated, took hostage, and shot were soft, warm, and mammalian. They were just some enterprising humans, trying to get by.
Such is the brutal world portrayed in The Last of Us. Naughty Dog, a studio known for the massively successful Uncharted series, takes full advantage of their gaming engine’s exceptional graphics and artificial intelligence. Each scene plays like a sequence from a cinematic production. No games are as immersive and visually stunning as those made by Naughty Dog. Using their experience with theatric production, advanced motion capture, and stellar voice acting, Naughty Dog creates a gritty and awful post-apocalyptic world.
Joel is a middle-aged man who has seen his battles and knows how to handle himself in this brutal landscape. Ellie is a 15 year old girl who knows of no other world than the malnourished and broken one she was born into. The experiential distance between the two characters allows for powerful dialogue. In the beginning of the video, the two walk through a ruined luxury hotel. Ellie asks Joel if he ever stayed in one “before, you know, the world went to shit.” It’s a tough pairing to swallow but when there are so few people left, companionship is the fulcrum of identity.
In the hotel, the Joel and Ellie hear voices and Joel instructs them both to duck down. “What do we do know?” Ellie asks as Joel slowly creeps behind another human survivor, takes him down, and strangles him to death. The death is slow, and labored, and painful to watch. Where life is so scarce, each one lost resonates and burns. The rest of the other group sees Joel and begins to open fire. Again, this happens slowly with each gun shot echoing and ringing. The fire Joel returns is violent and abrasive.
Joel runs into an adjacent room. Ellie follows and picks up a brick. Panting, out of breath, she leans against the wall and says “Okay. Now what?” Joel slowly walks into the next room, where another enemy surprises him and begins to beat him with a metal pipe. Joel takes the man hostage and with an arm around his next and a gun to his head walks into the next room. The other survivor in the room hides behind a table. In the moment Joel takes the gun off the hostages head and aims at the man behind the table, the hostage struggles to free himself. The other man begs, “Let him go.” Joel kills them both. Slowly. Joel ducks behind a table as another survivor walks into the room. Joel aims, pulls the trigger. Click. “Shit” he whispers to himself. “I know that sound. I’ve got you now, motherfucker,” yells the survivor, voice rising all the while. “Hey asshole!” Ellie screams as she throws her brick across the room, directly into the survivors face. The man is blinded and Joel body tackles him into the wall, then kills him, with his hands. Slowly. The motion stills over the dead mans body. Joel is panting, out of breath.
The duo walk into the attached hallway, hear voices, and duck into an open door. Joel opens his backpack, pulls out a bottle of liquor and a rag. Peering our the doorway, Joel aims the Molotov cocktail at the two armed men entering the hallway. He throws. “Holy shit, Joel,” Ellie says while one of the men in the hallway burns. “Keep it together,” Joel spits back darting behind a dresser next to an open doorway. The second man is waiting in the next room. With a shotgun in hand he walks toward the room where Joel is waiting. Joel springs. The two wrestle for control of the gun. It fires a single shot. “He’s in here,” the survivor yells. Joel overpowers him and caves in his face with the stock of the shotgun. Out of nowhere, another man breaks a board over Joel’s head and knocks him to the ground. Joel is pinned and the man has his hands around Joel’s throat, choking out each labored breath. Joel claws at the man’s face but he doesn’t relent. Ellie lands on the assailants back and drives a knife into his shoulder. The man recoils. Joel kicks him in the chest sending him tumbling to the ground. Joel hit him in the head with the barrel of the gun. Joel aims. The man shields his head with his arm. From the pit of his stomach, the man yells, “Don’t!” Joel fires.
At this point in the demo given during the Sony press conference at the Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3), the man playing the demo drops the controller and walks off stage without saying a word. The crowd served rapturous applause.
The scene is rich and brutal beyond the scope of any video game title currently on the market. Naughty Dog is creating an absolutely cinematic gem. Of the 15 major studios that Sony owns, Naughty Dog constantly puts out hits that excel in their ability to tell stories in an interactive manner. It remains to be seen how the cinema and intelligence of the characters, from their smart dialogue to actions like picking up bricks, will translate into the full title. If the studio successfully translates the experience from the demonstration to gameplay, Naughty Dog could be producing not only of the of best video games, but also the best stories.