It’s the humans you’ve got to look out for. Yes, the Clickers are terrifying, and you certainly won’t forget that last encounter as one desperately scrambled to dig its teeth into your cheek, giving you a front row seat to its twisted, disfigured infected skin as you tried to push it off. But now, as you’re ducked behind a desk with a group of psychopaths hunting for your blood, you realise who the real enemy is. You hold your breath and grip the metal pole in your hand even harder as you hear glass crunch under a foot just inches away. You look across to Ellie, her eyes meeting yours as she holds back the panic. You take a deep breath, and come up swinging.
Sadly it looks like the stars aren’t quite going to align on a virtual reality (VR) port of Naughty Dog’s 2013 masterpiece, The Last Of Us. Yes, Joel and Ellie’s adventure is coming to PlayStation 4, but likely long before Sony Computer Entertainment’s (SCE) Project Morpheus VR headset will be released. We had hoped that VR support could be integrated into last generation titles much like 3D had been for some PS2 to PS3 ports. It’s certainly a missed opportunity, as the title’s incredible mix of intense, calculated action, thrilling horror and environment-driven narrative would seemingly go hand-in-hand with VR.
It’s true that there are a lot of shooters that simply wouldn’t fit in VR, no matter how much we’d like them to. But The Last Of Us’ unique, almost mechanical combat system offers just the right kind of pacing to pull it off. When pitted against human enemies, players can’t simply rush in and effortlessly execute the opposition with flawless headshots and brutal kill animations. Instead, it requires patience and planning. It might be better to pick targets off one by one with stealth, or scavenge the environment for resources then get into a better position before confronting them. Even when Joel runs, there’s a decidedly sluggish pace to his step, with the camera lugging behind him.
So, no, The Last Of Us in VR wouldn’t make you sick, but how would it make the experience better?
Let’s start with the horror aspect. VR has already proven its worth in this genre with the likes of Slender: The Arrival and a myriad of upcoming indie horror titles that provide a level of immersion that standard displays simply can’t match. The Last Of Us’ dark, dank ruins, littered with the haunted moans of infected and spin-tingling ticks of the Clickers, would become all the more disturbing in VR. Creeping around the abandoned stores and cafes while using positional audio to tell where Clickers are would bring us that little bit further into an experience that already offers unparalleled immersion. Imagine when things go wrong and having one of those disgusting creatures force itself on top of you, its teeth mindlessly nattering away just inches away from your eyeball as you struggle with all your might to push it off.
Then there’s that expertly crafted narrative that delivers its story through environments and character interactions. The bond between Joel and Ellie is one of the key components of The Last Of Us; what would it be like to actually have those conversations ourselves? High-fiving Ellie as you cross that dam, or putting your arm over her to shield her from danger as you both press up against cover? Think about the breadcrumb trail of warning signs, final notes and desperate diaries that Naughty Dog lay along the path; being able to hold these objects in our hands and read them ourselves would add so much to the immersion.
It’s a setting and atmosphere that we would love to experience with a headset on. The Last Of Us’ ruined cities are some of the most finely crafted environments in all of gaming. The way in which nature reclaims the once-sprawling metropolises is a sight to behold. To be able to walk amongst the walls painted with vines as if we were really there would be unforgettable.
There aren’t many blockbuster franchises that we could whole heartedly say would be a perfect fit for VR, but The Last Of Us is one of them. It makes your heart pound, not through flowing action, but with grounded, realistic fights and a well-established atmosphere. It’s the type of experience that truly does feel like it could be enhanced in VR. Perhaps someday we’ll find out if that really is the case.
‘Make it a (virtual) Reality’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes the videogames we already know and love and looks at how virtual reality (VR) could enhance them. From retro classics to modern blockbusters, we examine the pros and cons of bringing a franchise to VR headsets.