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'The Last Of Us Part 2' Preview: A Bigger, Braver Sequel

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'The Last Of Us Part 2' Preview: A Bigger, Braver Sequel

The following impressions of The Last Of Us Part II are taken from a point roughly midway through the game, and do not include any story spoilers. But, if you're looking to keep yourself completely clean of details ahead of the full release, please consider not reading onto the very next paragraph.

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The Last Of Us Part II / Credit: Naughty Dog, Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last Of Us Part II / Credit: Naughty Dog, Sony Interactive Entertainment

The city is dense. The concrete roads and buildings of downtown Seattle are twisted and scarred by the luscious green of wild grass and trees reclaiming the fallen metropolis. As a gloomy grey sky drenches the empty streets, Ellie looks forlorn toward the dark horizon and sets about her grim task ahead.

Roaming the dilapidated Interstate 5 that dissects the seaport metropolis, I can see no less than four fully explorable shops, hotels and other city staples looming vacant in the immediate playable area, several of which stretch between Ellie and her eventual goal - a hospital located some miles away in another district. Each hollowed-out and battered storefront tells a tale of what happened there, either at the point of infection where panic and chaos reigned, or in the years since.

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The Last Of Us Part II / Credit: Naughty Dog, Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last Of Us Part II / Credit: Naughty Dog, Sony Interactive Entertainment

Aside from the usual things like ammunition and crafting materials scattered about, I happen upon a story of survival that allows the tone of the area to be set, and echoes the wider lore that is blossoming. A hastily scribbled and abandoned note tells of a couple of optimistic survivors, Paige and Simon. Paige is awaiting her husband's return but is beginning to fear the worst. She needs medicine and Simon has gone to find it. As Ellie pokes around the makeshift Washington State Convention Centre safe room, she finds sleeping bags, ammo and a door locked and barred from the inside, but no medicine. You can find out what happened to Simon, and why he didn't return, but only if you go out of your way to look. What gets me, is that this story is entirely incidental - you don't have to find it. But it hints at what happened in the city, and is indicative of the overarching sense of narrative scale en route to our destination.

Getting into this tucked-away area requires the use of a brand-new set of skills, chief among them the use of a rope to shimmy upwards, in order to fling yourself into the first floor of this particular building. Ellie can run, jump, swim, climb, swing and crawl her way through the rubble and undergrowth to her goals with a level of dexterity Joel (and a younger Ellie) could only have dreamed of in the original game. These skills make every area a playground of new experiences, though getting cocky with your talents is as foolish as it is deadly.

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The Last Of Us Part II / Credit: Naughty Dog, Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last Of Us Part II / Credit: Naughty Dog, Sony Interactive Entertainment

In the restaurant across the street, I confidently stroll up and smash a window with the handle of Ellie's stiletto knife before properly taking in my surroundings. After all, every other shop has been empty of enemies, and the streets are calm in their lush serenity even in the somber Northwestern drizzle. But before I can say cordyceps virus, two Clickers and three Runners come sprinting out of the shadows towards the sound of the breaking glass, and catch me gormlessly clambering through it. This was a mistake.

Turning on my heels and sprinting blindly back towards the Convention Centre I'd just come from in hope of shaking my pursuers, I realise two things. Firstly, I am an idiot, and would not survive two seconds in a survival situation. Secondly, while I love the original The Last Of Us, and have been feverishly looking forward to playing this sequel, I have learnt nothing about the way things now work in this game world, and it is one hundred percent my fault.

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The Last Of Us Part II / Credit: Naughty Dog, Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last Of Us Part II / Credit: Naughty Dog, Sony Interactive Entertainment

There are undertones of developer Naught Dog's other popular franchise, Uncharted, sewn throughout the mechanics of The Last Of Us Part II that will lull players into a false sense of security. Nathan Drake's buccaneering blood courses through its very veins with much improved gunplay, and that irresistible nook-and-cranny exploration that fans love.

But forgetting where you are, while approaching this with the gung-ho attitude that Nate might, is a trap easily fallen into. While Ellie is much more capable than ever before, she is still vulnerable, and a pernicious fate will come to those foolish enough to tempt it.

The Last Of Us Part II / Credit: Naughty Dog, Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last Of Us Part II / Credit: Naughty Dog, Sony Interactive Entertainment
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Lurking in the stifling and ominous darkness of a long-abandoned building are some Stalkers. Lightning fast infected that are deathly silent until seen, they cannot be heard by your trusty listening ability - a crutch often fallen on to navigate groups of both fungal and human enemies.

After breathlessly escaping the Stalkers (the final confrontation with them involving a mad dash through an overgrown office before plunging into a raging river beneath), I'm able to take stock of my surroundings, which (like the first game) heavily invoke the imagery of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. We're now 25 years after the decimation of the human race in the game, and taking any opportunity to stand and drink in this beautiful but surreal atmosphere is welcomed, however cautiously.

A later encounter riffs heavily on (see also: slightly reworks) gameplay Naughty Dog premiered at E3 2018, with Ellie facing down a large group of Seraphites - a cult-like faction that inhabits parts of Seattle. My encounter plays out very differently to what was seen in that presentation, though, as I manage to pick my way through an eerie group of the zealots almost entirely undetected. The E3 footage culminated in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse in a thicket/record shop, Ellie eventually gaining the upper hand over her pursuers and decapitating a bear of a man wielding a two-handed hammer. I face him alone as he bursts through a locked door, using Ellie's dodge ability to slip lithely around him and batter him with a lead pipe. Survival of the fittest, indeed.

Arriving at the end of the preview section - which is the gameplay shown in Sony's May 27th State Of Play - there's no mistake that Naughty Dog have overhauled the mechanics and world-building of the original game, to create something that feelsinherently more menacing and altogether more enveloping of its characters and locations. As Ellie corners her prey in the hospital, a brief cutscene caps off an exhilarating few hours of play. A simple question cuts the tension in the room. "You remember me? Yeah, you remember me," she says to her quarry with venomous intent. We certainly do remember you, Ellie, but you've changed quite a bit.

Featured Image Credit: Naughty Dog

Topics: PlayStation 5, The Last of Us Part II, Preview, The Last of Us Part 2, Naughty Dog

Mark Foster
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