'Last of Us' takes violence to brutal new level

"The Last of Us." (HO)

Steve Tilley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:41 PM ET

LOS ANGELES -- Video gamers are accustomed to playing the roles of swaggering digital warriors who shrug off mortal wounds and gleefully exterminate legions of faceless bad guys. But what if death was a constant threat, bullets were as scarce as gold and the enemy looked you in the eye and begged for his life?

The developers of the massively successful Uncharted series are approaching virtual violence from a harrowing new angle with their post-apocalyptic action game The Last of Us, which garnered heaps of critical acclaim at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. It's set to be released next year for the PlayStation 3.

The Last of Us takes place 20 years after a plague has wiped out much of humanity. As a grizzled survivor named Joel, players must go to extremes to not only gather resources and ensure their own safety, but to protect Joel's 14-year-old charge, Ellie.

"The violence had to be this brutal for you to buy the stakes," says The Last of Us lead designer Jacob Minkoff, of Santa Monica-based development studio Naughty Dog. "The stakes are so high for these characters."

In a demonstration of the strikingly cinematic game, Joel and Ellie come across a crumbling hotel in the ruins of Pittsburgh, where they're ambushed by a group of bandits. Working together, Joel and the computer-controlled Ellie fight off the attackers, including one who Joel ruthlessly bludgeons with a shotgun before firing it point-blank at the helpless man, ignoring his pleas for mercy.

Minkoff says films such as The Professional and No Country For Old Men were inspirations for the game's melding of believable characters with unflinching harshness. "These are movies where violence is brutal and realistic and final. But it's all in service of character and emotion."

While also clearly influenced by films such as The Road and I Am Legend, the look of the game's world was the result of research into real-world urban decay.

"There are all these urban exploration websites that have what people call 'ruin porn' -- all of these amazing abandoned buildings," says Minkoff, citing the urban ruins of Detroit, post-Katrina New Orleans and an abandoned hospital in Los Angeles as places that helped Naughty Dog capture the game's visual vibe.

But crawling around abandoned buildings in the name of video game research can be dangerous in its own right.

"We got permits, but then they were like, 'OK, sign all these waivers, and if the floor collapses beneath you and you get skewered on a piece of rebar, it wasn't our fault.' "

 

 


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