With their reputation confirmed after two of the most critically acclaimed series over the last decade, "Jak and Daxter" and "Uncharted," video game developer Naughty Dog has done the unthinkable.
They've created a completely new genre.
Dubbed a "survival action" game, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based company's newest title, "The Last of Us" is set in a post apocalyptic United States and centers around Joel, a smuggler, and his cargo, a young girl named Ellie who he must transport across the country. After a rare fungal infection kills millions and mutates millions more, militarized zones enforce martial law, making the journey a difficult one.
Trekking through flooded Boston and looking for car parts in Virginia among their myriad of stops, both Ellie and Joel develop a relationship that Naughty Dog says separates the game from other titles.
"Throughout the game, Ellie will interact with the environment and you'll get to watch their relationship grow," Naughty Dog Community Strategist Eric Monacelli said. "This is a complex story and there are a lot of layers. We want people to buy into these characters and hear their story."
While the narrative is a compelling one, the amount of attention to the artificial intelligence is where Naughty Dog thinks the game stands out. Enemies respond to everything from sounds and light. One enemy in particular, The Clicker, an advanced form of the mutated humans, uses echolocation, similar to the way a bat finds its prey. If they "click" and you're in the direction of the shriek, they'll find you. And they will make you pay.
Even on the "easy" setting, "The Last of Us" is a challenge. During a gameplay session last week, Monacelli himself made sure to avoid confronting enemies whenever he had the opportunity.
"We've been working on the A.I. since day one, perfecting and honing it," Monacelli said. "We want it to be a challenge. We want the game to have this unique feel from moment to moment where anything is possible.We feel like we've developed a new genre here.It has elements of survival horror and adventure, but it's unique to itself."
With the promise of additional downloadable content to fill out the massive story, Naughty Dog promises "The Last of Us" will be their "most ambitious game to date. Monacelli said that the average run-through could take over 12-16 hours, but could be much longer after DLCs and more thorough exploration.
"We've been working really hard over the past few months to put as much spit and polish on this game as possible," Monacelli said. "We're known to be perfectionists and we've worked really hard on this. We think we nailed this one."
"The Last of Us" is scheduled for a June 14 release on the Playstation 3.