He's coming to get you, Barbara.
I would be dishonest if I said I was looking forward to playing The Last Guy. After seeing the trailer last July, I assumed it was a gimmicky diversion of little substance that could easily qualify as a Flash title. The Google Earth-like maps were mildly interesting, but nothing else about the game grabbed me like PixelJunk Eden, Crash Commando, Flower, or any of the other offerings from Sony at E3. Of course, through all of this, one has to factor in the numerous daily instances where someone not so politely infers that I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about. Thankfully, depending on your point of view, such was the case with The Last Guy.
Pursuit of Brains, or, ZOMBIES
I don't remember specifics, but the gist of the matter is that some sort of death ray was broadcast all over Earth, and anyone who happened to be standing outside was turned into a zombie. Everything's cool if you happened to be inside when this occurred, minus, of course, the fact that an incredible hoard of the undead and other nondescript giant monsters are marching around the city streets. As the titular Last Guy, you're somehow immune to the fear induced by these phantasmal monsters (probably because you're wearing a cape), and you're charged with the task of rescuing everyone on the planet. It's an unmistakably Japanese design, but the minimalist approach to a familiar story does well to compliment The Last Guy's simplistic and inviting gameplay.
The hook and focus of said gameplay revolves around the fact that you, as best I can tell, are actually saving people from real buildings in real cities. By using a top down satellite photograph, with a slight isometric curve for depth, it's your job to pull citizens from buildings and guide them to designated safe zones, all while doing your best to avoid the deluge of fiends roaming the city streets. This is done, quite simply, by walking near the exit point of a building and waiting for all of the occupants to unload onto the street. From there, they'll follow your every step as you make a bee-line to guide them to the safe zone. If you save the required number of citizens in the given time limit, you're free to progress to the next level, or repeat the level to try and perfect your previous run.
But how do you know which buildings are packed with an assemblage of people, and which only have a handful of stragglers? Flocking toward stadiums is a nice guess, but thankfully with your satellite view also comes with a thermograph scanner that broadcasts a building's population as large or small green dots. Obviously you'll want to gravitate toward the buildings with larger dots, but knocking out a few of the smaller areas is always essential too. As a trade off you're unable to see any zombies while this mode is engaged, which adds a bit of tension to the mix. As a bonus this vision is also a great tool to help you figure out where you can and can't go, as the standard overhead view can become a little too cluttered in some areas.
When there is no more room in Hell...
The undead opposition can make or break a game like this, but fortunately The Last Guy does well to deliver a new challenge through every level. Paramount to this concept is your complete lack of offense in this matter. Zombies are immortal (as they should be), and all you can do is avoid their line of sight. Some, like the standard zombies and the Marlboro-like stalkers, will stick around for every following level, but others, such as the Scorpion Zombies and Chameleons, are confined to just one appearance. The challenge progression is a little uneven, I really think the game peaked toward the middle with the Mold Zombies, but on the whole the game provides a significant challenge right through the end.
Most of the tension is derived not from trying to personally evade zombies, but from skirting your veritable Centipede of people out of harm's way. The higher the number of people you consecutively save, the greater your stamina bar (which grants you the ability to run and/or hurry everyone along) becomes. Needless to say, your line of people starts getting a bit ridiculous at the 1000+ mark, so planning your route to avoid fireballs, giant bugs, and the undead badass Buffalo Zombies is no easy task. Though it often involved a lot of trial and error, by the end of each level I felt like an absolute master of homosapien evacuation. I knew the ins and outs of each city, where to go first, whom to pick up last, and when I needed to drop a group off. The game really is all about planning your route efficiently, and more often than not, the clock felt like more of an obstacle than the zombies.
As one would expect, the design of each city is in sync with their respective obstacles. La Brea Park in Los Angeles, with its sweeping neighborhood lines, was perfect fit for the Chameleon's tactics, and the vertical slice from London's Trafalgar Square was an ideal match for the unpredictable Mold Zombies. The actual locations are mix of fairly popular regions, most notable the Opera House in Sydney and The Mall in DC, but there are a few places I'd never heard of (as a geographically ignorant American) as well. As an added bonus, most building's names usually pop up when you get within a reasonable distance. While the city maps were obviously photorealistic, the trade off is a relatively static atmosphere. Sure, occasionally you'll see a ferris wheel turning or some waves in the ocean, but as a whole the cityscapes feel relatively dull and lifeless (which, which you think about it, would be accurate if it were post-zombie outbreak).
While they're certainly appreciated, The Last Guy had a lot more going for it than cool maps. A desperate but comical Japanese (I think anyway) voiceover pops up occasionally, and the frequent URF color bar is nice touch in the desolation department. The people you rescue become (quite understandably) freaked out whenever zombies get close and seeing them nervously jitter and hearing them shriek with fear is hilarious. The blood curdling scream when their ranks are decimated by the undead are funny too, but also properly disheartening considering such a feat all but ruins your game. The backing music is limited to a handful of tracks, but even the most prevalent, a buoyant electronic beat, never became grating. They certainly could have done a lot better in this department, but what's there wasn't awful.
Did I Last Longer than the Last Guy?
How long you'll be playing The Last Guy is a direct reflection of how much you enjoy the basic gameplay. The amount of people required to pass each city and the amount of people actually in each city strongly favors the latter, and perfectionists will want to devise a way to snag every last one. What's more, there are also four "VIPs" hidden in fairly unpopulated buildings, and tracking them down always nets you a couple extra points. For your troubles you'll be ranked from one to three based on how many people you saved and, according to the PR sheet, getting a high enough score will net you some bonus levels (note: despite completing the game with world ranking of 82, I wasn't good enough to unlock any of these). Finally, as I just parenthetically mentioned, a ranking system is present, incase you want to match up with the rest of the world.
I know each section of the city was cropped around each particular zombie layout, I know it's not easy to design a functioning challenge for each city, and I know the game is only ten dollars, but, dammit, how unbelievably awesome would a map editor have been? I mean, most user created maps would be a challenge-less, if not completely broken, void from a design standpoint - but can you imagine downloading a map of your neighborhood from Google Earth? I don't know about you guys, but I've been laying out my plans for surviving a zombie invasion for years, and the chance to finally test that mess out would have been priceless.