Naughty Dog’s upcoming Playstation 3 title “The Last of Us” is a step in a grittier direction for the company.
Inspired by the film “No Country for Old Men,” Naughty Dog Community Strategist Arne Meyer said the game came from the distinct idea that the company wanted to “go to a darker place.”
“There’s really no music in that movie,” Meyer said. “It’s all about the tension. We wondered how we could invoke that in the player. We wanted to create a game where the player feels the same emotions of the characters in the game. We want you to empathize with them.”
A survival/adventure game, “The Last of Us” takes place during a time when a rapid virus spreads all over the United States. With no cure and the virus killing countless people over 20 years, nature begins to change the landscape of the country.
Those not infected are held in quarantine zones and the military personell are the only ones who can get in and out. But when Joel, a smuggler-for-hire is entrusted to take 14-year-old Ellie across a barren wasteland that used to be the U.S., an epic journey begins.
For nearly 20 years, Santa Monica-based Naughty Games has made its mark in the video game industry through innovation. After they created the first 3D platform superstar in "Crash Bandicoot" in 1996 on the original Playstation console, they upped the ante with the massive "Jak and Daxter" series in 2001 on the Playstation 2.
In 2007, the developer unleashed "Uncharted" on the Playstation 3; two sequels later, the Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider type gameplay still works well. With their niche in the industry all but cemented, Naughty Dog still wanted to show the world they could learn a few more tricks.
“We felt that it would be a shame that if we just stuck with one game and didn’t push our boundaries,” Meyer said. “After ‘Uncharted 2,’ our developers wanted to explore new game genres with the technology they had.”
“The Last of Us” takes the graphical engine and style of gameplay of “Uncharted” and adds a surrealistic element not found in the company’s previous games. Over time, Ellie and Joel become completely dependent on each other for survival. Depending on how they interact, enemies will approach them differently. The way the game is played changes, depending on the player.
“The AI was very important to us,” Meyer said. “You’re always with Ellie and sometimes there are other characters, so we wanted to make sure every one behaves realistically. We wanted those characters to be helpful and not drag you down. We wanted to create an interesting style to the combat gameplay, where there’s a balance of power."
Unlike the zombie plague in video games, movies and television shows, this virus changes over time. Certain “infected” are slow and mindless. Others have a more progressed version of the virus, which causes their face to split down the middle and go blind.
These victims, “Clickers,” use their sense of sound in order to find their prey (similar to a bat) and are much stronger than those newly affected. Joel and Ellie also have to deal with survivors, who aren’t affected but are forced to attack due to a lack of supplies.
"If a human survivor is carrying a gun and sees you only have a 2x4, they’re going to be aggressive. If they feel you can hurt them, they may be sneakier and try to flank you," Meyer said. "The same thing goes for the infected. There’s a different way to approach all of them. If there are a few different types of them in one area, you really have to think about what you’re going to do.”
With Ellie’s care always your highest priority, advancing through the level isn’t always done by killing. Knowing the terrain and making sure the teenager is always safe is more important.
“We’d love for this game to be remembered as something you’ve made an emotional connection with,” Meyer said."We want you to invest yourself in the story and the characters."
“The Last of Us” is scheduled for a June 14, 2013 release and is rated M for Mature.