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I n late January, Naughty Dog and Sony invited press to preview one of their newest titles for 2013.

At E3 2012 last June, we were introduced to the game’s two main characters — Joel, a tough smuggler with more experience than he’d like to admit, and Ellie, the headstrong teenage girl that Joel is tasked with smuggling to safer territory. Since then, every trailer that Naughty Dog has delivered has been praised as a game-changer: from graphics to combat system, “The Last of Us” is shaping up to be one of the best new titles of 2013.

Press was introduced to two of the game’s primary recurring baddies: Level One, nicknamed Runners by Joel, are the unfortunate victims in the first stage of a widespread epidemic in which a virus begins taking them over from the inside, causing them to lose their minds and most control of their bodies; and Level Three, called Clickers, are what can be presumed to be fully developed creatures. Clickers are completely blind, and use various clicking noises (not unlike your common bat) in order to “see” your approach.

While these fungus-infested baddies would usually be written off as zombies, the very nature of their tragic backstory (they’re very aware of what’s happening, and VERY much in pain — the whole process of degeneration is basically slow torture) and advanced AI recognition of each one, makes their reactions to surroundings (as well as your presence) unique and realistic.

Then there was Tess: Joel’s previously unmentioned partner who joins him and Ellie for the duration of the demo. Tess is headstrong, smart and patient, making her the perfect partner for the otherwise irritable and rough Joel. So perfect, in fact, that many are left to wonder if she meets some kind of unfortunate fate some time after the demo ends. That, of course, is a mystery until May 7, the official release date.

The demo challenged attendees to figure out the game’s unique combat system, using stealth modes and McGuyver-esque item-collecting/binding skills to create weapons from supplies — our favorite, of course, being the Molotov Cocktail, which is your best bet in the face of a horde . . . and trust us: there will be hordes.

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