Hands-on: The Last of Us preview: Two cities explored in the hottest PS3 game of the year

The Last of Us is the latest PS3 exclusive game from Naughty Dog, the creators of the Uncharted series. It tells the story of Joel, a hardened man who has seen some action and Ellie a 14-year-old girl, who band together in a zombie-invested America to try to get home - or at least away from it all.

The game, first announced in December 2010, has been in development for some time and seen its fair share of delays. It was most recently previewed at E3 2012, and now almost a year later Pocket-lint has been treated to playable preview code to whet our appetite before the game is officially released on 14 June.

There are two playable levels based in two different cities featured in the game, although to call them levels is a bit of an understatement. They are more a glimpse into what we can expect from the graphics, the gameplay and the experience. The use of the word glimpse can also be used to explain the length of time it will take you to complete the taster given here. We were done within the hour, but that should not be indicative of the game. Something tells us the rest will be mammoth.

Lincoln

The first of the two levels sees Joel and Ellie trying to get to a contact of Joel's in the town of Lincoln, Nebraska. From the moment the level opens there is a strong sense of the American hit TV show The Walking Dead, and the comic book series that inspired it. Everything is quiet, everything is deserted, everything you just know is waiting to go crazy.

Like Uncharted, the game sees you having to solve several standard simple puzzles to progress, combined with a smattering of ledge jumping and plank walking thrown in for good measure. Although on this outing not nearly as much as we saw from Drake.

One such puzzle, for example, involves you having to pick up a long plank, stand it against a wall, then go around the other side of the building and get on the roof, to then lift up the plank and use it as a board to cross to another building. It's not a hard puzzle, but it does take time.

Puzzles are just a small element of the game., of course The demo levels don't require you to make spectacularly timed leaps as in Tomb Raider or Uncharted, and for the most part you'll actually be focusing on more important things - like staying alive.

As you can imagine, that's a fairly important aspect of the game, not only for you, but also for Ellie. If either one of you dies, it's game over and we are sure that will get frustrating at some point in the game when you're trapped watching helplessly as she gets mauled to death.

Still, to stop that from happening there are plenty of weapons, either lying around to be grabbed or waiting to be made. The first weapon you find in Lincoln, for example, is a scissor axe that has been fashioned from a lead pipe and a pair of scissors.

In the game, crafting is an important game mechanic and on what you have found on your travels will determine what you can do. Later on, you need to build a knife to jimmy open a door, for example.

It's this ability to collect things to make more things that urges you to spend a lot more time looking around for stuff than we probably would have otherwise. Along the way there are plenty of empty store fronts and houses, and the more brave wanderer may extend gameplay time by having a poke around. Be wary though, there are more than a few honest-to-goodness shock-inducing moments involved.

Alternatively, you can try to avoid enemies as much as you can by throwing bricks and bottles to distract them while you slip by. Make too much noise, however, and you could attract even more of the enemies, be they zombies or other survivors with less good intentions than yours. It's mainly zombies in this level, however.

As the game flows so does the action, with the pace ebbing and flowing at a strong enough speed to keep you on your toes. Play it in the dark and you'll feel your heart beating more than once.

By the time you've got to the end of Lincoln you'll be gagging to play more.

Pittsburgh

If Lincoln is about slowly easing you into the action, Pittsburgh is about throwing you into a gunfight with other survivors straight away and forcing you to make quick decisions to stay alive.

This time the action takes place in the deserted American city and is the focus of the trailer we first saw at E3 in 2012. You get ambushed; you have to find a way to get out of it. Be warned, the close quarters combat is brutally graphic.

Like Lincoln, the story follows a cracking pace and has more than its fair share of panic moments. Once the action does calm down, we are introduced to another key element of The Last of Us gameplay: weapon upgrades. It's all about collecting stuff again to let you enhance your weapons. Everything from reload speed, to clip capacity, to power can be tweaked if you've got enough parts or tools to do it and each strength has a number of progressively more expensive upgrades. Your basic pistol's clip capacity can be upgraded four times, for example.

Once you've learnt all this, the level is over.

Conclusion

The Last of Us looks to be a cracking and scary game. One which, like the Uncharted series, will have you gripped to the TV as you try your best to get through it as quick as you can. The upgrade weapon and crafting features add extra elements to the game beyond just killing and looking for health packs, although it must be said that the enemies in the preview code always respawn in the same place in the same fashion every time. They are clearly stage managed for dramatic effect, but if that's the case come the final build, it might hamper replay value.

That said, when they are coming for you, they do get creative, so different skill levels may provoke different scenarios when it's a battle.

It just under a month until the release of The Last of Us on PlayStation 3, but even that's too long for us to wait. Even from this brief play, it seems we're in for a treat.