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Impressions of The Last of Us Beta

A taste between Pittsburgh and Lincoln.

We could have already enjoyed it on our PS3 consoles for the holiday season, or last month, but The Last of Us it had to delay its release to be perfected, refined, like the studio N had in mind. Thanks to a code Preview provided to us by Sony Playstation, we are ready to reveal our impressions of a very particular title, one of the most anticipated of the year.



Unlike the Alpha, in which it was only possible to attend a game session by the development team and then try it in small doses in a situation already known to most because it was shown at E3 2012, from which we drew our Preview, this version Beta brings two fragments of much larger missions in which to assist the protagonists Joel e Ellie run into a series of unprecedented situations. Both have the name of the cities that our protagonists will go through to reach their destination, of which the purpose is still unaware. A journey that touches the cities of the United States through the human condition, its weaknesses, narrating the particular relationship between Joel and Ellie in search of a free zone, a place to start living again, instead of fighting, looting corpses, finding hope for every day and night.


There are Pittsburgh e Lincoln, different both in type and in content, in order to allow the player to try out the different aspects of the title.

Note that the Demo, which will be available later this month for PlayStation Plus users and for those who have purchased God of War: Ascension, will contain other missions in place of those present in this Beta.


Naughty Dog left the last difficulty level inhibited, Survivor, while you can try that Easy, Normal, Hard. Not only that, on the menu options it is possible to activate or deactivate certain aids or information on the screen for each of the different difficulty levels. For example, you can omit the suggestion on what to do (usually visible by pressing L3) or disable the “Listen Mode” feature, which is already dividing the community of players. In practice it is the ability to Joel to better listen to the sounds that surround him to understand the position of the opponents, which are shown on the screen with transparent shapes marked with a white border. This function is not always foolproof, in fact it may happen that an opponent is not warned that he takes us behind because he is walking crouched or low in silence. It also has a limited range due to its effectiveness, so it is not possible to detect the position of an opponent very far away, but only in the vicinity.



The voice Audio allows us to choose the most suitable acoustic type. The choice, after making a first lap with the Standard setting, fell on the mighty DTS 5.1 capable of transforming one's room into an immersive auditory enjoyment, full of defined and well-defined environmental sounds, with the voices of the characters that make them even more charismatic, full of every distinct effect for each tool from the blades to the guns' guns, all completed by a musical carpet that raises the tone at the right moment, emphasizing the gaming experience properly.

Lincoln

The screen opens with Joel and Ellie on the edge of a wooded path, between a small river, the vegetation moved by the wind, and some animals peeping out; a feeling of a lively and cared for environment, in which the two main characters do not remain impassive, on the contrary, they almost attempt a certain interaction, like Ellie with a rabbit first and then with butterflies. The conformation of the environment leads you to follow a certain path, but you can wander around in search of details and perhaps the first object to put in the backpack that Joel always carries with him.


A few bottles of detergent are discovered, which are collected for future use via the interaction button Triangle, and continue reaching an area closed by a gate. Each object that can be collected has a certain refraction of light, as in the productions of the Californian team, while for those with which you can interact you have to be really close.


Here one of the typical characteristics of Naughty Dog productions applies, namely solving small puzzles. In this specific case, we understand that a long wooden board can do for us. We take it and place it on the small structure that looks like an office, all armored, and externally equipped with ventilation ducts that can be used to get on the roof by pressing the button Cross. Here we see a tube on the ground to which a pair of scissors tied with ribbon have been attached. So a hint appears on the screen on how to upgrade the collected items so that they can be used in melee combat.


We approach the ledge where we left the wooden plank and take it. Joel performs these movements with perfect animation, without any smudging. Obviously it can't run, the button L2 it is inhibited as well as the other buttons, simulating the impossibility of doing anything else. We approach the edge in front of the other housing structure that can allow us to cross the obstacle and drop the wooden plank as a bridge.


Throughout this short turn and act, the two protagonists talk and exchange jokes, never leaving the scene to itself. The player can then carry out his game operations and at the same time get involved in the dialogues that reveal something more about the two.


Lincoln is a town without people, desolate. The various signs displayed inviting citizens to head to other destinations while those who remain must remain in quarantine, are evident signs of the devastating effect that the spores of the Cordyceps fungus have caused.

The feeling of linearity and at the same time being able to explore the playing area is tangible. It is up to the player to choose whether to go to the next point, or look for objects and discover something new inside the few houses left open. Ellie enjoys watching what she finds special. By interacting with her, we can find out what she thinks and see her leafing through LPs in the record store or pretending to play a coin-up in the bar. In one of these houses, Joel finds gun ammunition, bandages, shop supplies, and notes written by someone. These messages are used, once they have all been collected, to discover background on the story. Joel can also collect items for use at the moment such as a bottle or brick. One determines the loss of the other because his backpack has a certain capacity. The digital directional keys are used to choose what Joel should use. At the top we have the medi-kit, at the bottom the brick or similar, on the left a primary weapon such as a rifle, a bow, and on the right a secondary weapon such as a 9mm pistol or a revolver.


Once you have collected a lot of objects, you can choose to combine them to make something useful at our discretion. With the key SELECT we enter the menu from which we select the item crafting. Available are the various objects as shown above. Each of them shows the possible expansions and improvements, applicable only if you have the right items. For example, you can opt to create an additional medkit or use alcohol and bandages together with a bottle to make a banal but lethal "Molotov cocktail". If you have the right items, just hold down the Cross button to see Joel do what you have selected. Only the workbenches, we found only one on the map, allows you to develop upgrades for firearms. If a tool is worked on and used sooner or later it loses its upgrade. For example, the tube to which the scissors were tied loses the latter once it is thrown violently against the enemy on duty, and can no longer be collected as they are broken.

For every action that the two protagonists perform, we cannot help but notice the care of each expression, the different movements related to the situation, such as stretching an arm after an effort, stretching the back for having been too long in a lowered position, and similar things. Added to this is Joel's ability to perform different actions based on where he is. Remember Nathan Drake in Uncharted 3 when fighting with enemies he took a bottle to break it against the opponent because he was near it? Here the same thing happens. Now a trademark of Naughty Dog productions.

After this brief exploratory phase, Joel encounters the first infected, a person like the others only taken by a strong desire to suppress his unfortunate. Taking advantage of some well-aimed punch, we see Joel knock him out with a certain degree of subtlety. An entirely different story, however, is the encounter with an infected person in the final stage, a Clicker. With the head almost disappearing, without eyes, and the open skull in the shape of a mushroom. This type of opponent is very lethal. You absolutely cannot come across a hand-to-hand melee, you have to keep it at a safe distance. One bite and we're dead. So we try a first time to use the revolver, and it turns out how difficult the aim is, there is no help that can assist her, and to miss a shot increases the tension and the fear of being killed seeing the infected advance and shake his arms. furiously. Shooting in the head can serve two shots while it takes at least four if you shoot the body in general. Trying again on Hard difficulty, the reloading of weapons is much slower, the auditory sensitivity of these infected is much more pronounced and the resistance to opposing blows is lower. We dare not imagine what Survival mode can expect!


Joel can rely on the “Listen Mode” feature (by pressing the R2 button) to understand the position of the opponents and Ellie so that she can move when crouched by sensing how one can stay hidden and avoid direct confrontation. The same system can be used to outflank the less difficult enemies and surprise them from behind. The trip to Lincoln has as its objective the meeting with Billy, a friend of Joel, a type skilled at setting traps. One of these troubles Joel who finds himself hanging upside down as a series of infected approaches threateningly.


While Ellie is intent on cutting the rope to free Joel, the player must shoot, with the camera upside down, in order to avoid being killed and at the same time safeguard the life of the small and young companion of adventure.

Once Billy appears to rescue them, the situation becomes uncontrollable and escape remains the only solution. At the end of this phase of the game we witness the following scene:

Pittsburgh

Leaving Lincoln's experience aside, choosing Pittsburgh we see the two protagonists in a van as they drive past the city, but something forces them to take a detour. Suddenly a man appears in front of him in the throes of asking for help for some injuries sustained. Joel does not trust and does well, because in reality the man is a scavenger, those who rummage and steal food and objects to survive other people, and with him there are others who ambush.

The place is anything but desolate. Here, moving easily is almost impossible. Joel and Ellie are prey and must act accordingly. The conformation of the map allows you to move between building structures, some illuminated by sunlight, others dark and to which we must use our torch (R3) to be able to see better.

In this part of the adventure, Joel discovers many other items and tools that greatly increase the use of Crafting, leading to more wisely upgrading weapons. For example, by mixing some of them, a rudimentary explosive device can be created, useful for keeping street sweepers at bay and able to stay well sheltered. Some of them are not really geniuses, for example leaving a foot to protrude from the cover and therefore being easy victims of Joel's blows.

The protagonist has to move often, seek shelter and attack, take cover, refuel, create another useful object, to be chosen between medikit or Molotov, and return to fight. Unlike Lincoln's experience more devoted to approaching the infected, here in Pittsburgh Joel and Ellie have to face people who have chosen a lifestyle to plunder other citizens, to take everything they have.

Each weapon highlights its different recoil, always and in any case pronounced and never banal. Shooting is more for defense than offense. This is what it feels like to play and replay the level. And it is the feeling that pervades along our test.

Discovering other weapons and using them is not easy. In fact, to pick up a weapon, you must hold down the triangle button for about three to four seconds and this is not always easy to do if the situation is hot.

Technology

Clickers, partial infected, scavengers, each one has its own way of behaving, from aiming straight at to trying to dodge the blows while advancing to others looking for a reasoned approach, and adapts to the situation of the moment witnessing the high care taken by the team in realizing artificial intelligence.

The graphics engine that drives The Last of Us gives its best in situations where there is no particular depth of field on the screen. The absence of an anti-aliasing filter is felt even on the shadows, jagged when outside, soft and misty when inside. Same thing for the features of the objects, marked by the typical white dot on the outside, more defined and cared for inside. Rotating the camera quickly produces a blur effect that takes us back to the first Uncharted. The framerate is solid and fixed at 30fps. The facial expressions and attitudes of each character, both good and bad, are applause.


The color palette is perfect while the textures alternate between very detailed and just enough others. Particle effects such as smoke and debris also denote their contribution to physics, favoring the crumbling of a brick or the breaking of a bottle or glass. Returning to physics, it allows a good level of interaction with the surrounding environment to the protagonists by mixing fixed and static objects with other furniture. The collisions between polygons appeared to be handled very well except in rare cases, see for example the wooden board in the first part of the game that passes through the branches of the trees without moving them. Nothing that cannot already be solved (the title is ready for the Gold phase) or that can be solved via the “day one” patch on the day of its debut in stores.

Lighting is the icing on the cake. The environmental one as well as the dynamic one of the torches or other light sources are excellent. A little of everything on screen loses detail when the scene includes a very large depth of field, while it returns to optimal quality levels in the most closed and collected areas. Too bad for the shadows that lose detail on the outside in a very evident way compared to the phases inside.

The animations are exceptional and allow the visual impact to obtain a good result, but it is the sound sector that is the excellence of the Naughty Dog production. Nothing is left to chance. Each effect from the noise to the voices is reproduced in an impeccable way and with a timbre that fills the atmosphere and involves together with the exciting soundtrack by Gustavo Santaolalla.

Final comment

Our proof of The Last of Us establishes the belonging of the title to the survival genre, which has almost disappeared in recent years and re-proposed in a less invasive and stressful but still interesting and compelling form. Being a Rambo means ending up agonizing in a pool of blood. Ammo is in short supply as are medkits. You have to think about yourself and to save Ellie's skin. In this near future in which cities have been victims of the Cordyceps fungus, the relationship with the other characters you meet is never easy, let alone who is a patented enemy. Trying to play the same level paying attention to everything, you discover little things, you focus on some details and this increases the playing time almost double. The wait is about to end. In a few weeks the title of Naughty Dog, a real alternative to the adventures of Nathan Drake, which lays the foundations for a more evocative, mature gaming experience, focused on fears and the values ​​of life, will be available and the conditions for doing well are there. all.

Certainties

- Naughty Dog graphics engine pushed to its limits

- Charisma and characterization of the characters

- Sublime, divine audio

- Well calibrated Artificial Intelligence

Perplexity

- Such a well structured single-player could make you forget the multiplayer mode

- Loss of general detail in areas with a large depth of field of view

- How long will this wonder last?

The title is expected to be released on June 14, 2013 exclusively on the Playstation 3 console.

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