We’re under some pretty strict guidelines in delivering you our initial hands-on preview of The Last of Us Part II
, ahead of our review embargo which is set to drop on June 12, 17:01pm. With that in mind, we've been playing the complete game, but what we were greenlit to speak to you about here is a specific section of play that takes place in Downtown Seattle
is on the hunt for a person of interest and moves through a dilapidated Emerald City
-- a nickname now more apt than ever, thanks to nature reclaiming its broken walls, and it's in this visage the shape of The Last of Us Part II's overall tone tends to be reflective, leaving this green
lit section something of a perfect kickoff point.
Shadow and lighting play a heavy part in our preview portion of the game which, in playing the whole experience on the hardest setting -- Survival, makes for a tense manhunt indeed. In this narrative branch, we come across two new enemy types -- a new infected called Stalkers
who remind me heavily of enemies of the same name from Dead Space 2
-- they’re an agile form of clicker who hide around corners and doorways, move in groups and flank where possible. The other is a human faction known as Scars
whose whistle communication in dense greenery builds on your tension in playing hide and seek. If you choose to play the game on Survival as we did, you will be playing hide and seek a lot. Trust us.
So, with so little to openly discuss where specifics are concerned, what can we tell you about this part of Ellie’s journey? It is a lot like many other parts of the whole experience -- no-brainer things we can mention, such as survival which comes in many forms; scavenging, crafting, exploring and fighting to stay alive. Unlike the first game, The Last of Us Part II takes the journey component of the series’ roots and scatters them in varying directions with unique offerings from a gameplay and storytelling perspective. We’re proud of being a spoiler-free site, so we’ll refrain from names, moment-to-moment gun and melee play, or fully divulging locales, suffice to express that each intricate part of the above is delivered in highly detailed form and with a penchant for surprise, awe and terror -- in equal thirds. The remaining 10 percent is your own perception of those and how you handle each delivery.
"I couldn’t tell you the number of times I was left standing with infected or human bodies at my feet, no ammo, a broken melee weapon, no explosives, no medkits, no molotov cocktails or empty bottles or bricks. Just an exhausted Ellie, bloodied knife in-hand..."
“Obviously this is not the real world,” enthuses narrative lead Hally Gross
when we ask about crafting a world like this without having ever lived through it, yet keeping it as grounded and real as possible, despite the fantastical nature of it all. “It exists in a post-pandemic America
where infected roam free and your life is constantly at threat.
“Survival has to be the primary goal every day that you wake up, right? [And] is obviously much more hostile than a lot of us experience. That being said, we were really interested in this concept of systemic violence; the cyclical nature of violence…”
Hally’s expression of this facet of the game is apt, because while scrounging for supplies which come in slow-drip delivery, you’re still always up against it. The game rarely gives you a breather, and our jaunt to find our person of interest is one where I may have left imprints on my controller -- the tension was that high. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I was left standing with infected or human bodies at my feet, no ammo, a broken melee weapon, no explosives, no medkits, no molotov cocktails or empty bottles or bricks. Just an exhausted Ellie, bloodied knife in-hand and the absolute last amount of health I could possibly keep lest I fall face-first in the mud to join the fallen.
How such survival is possible is in the game’s superior stealth playstyle. Cover and tall grass or overgrown ferns are your friend, as are escape routes beneath or over fences, through tight openings or by hiding under vehicles. Here, patience is also a key tenet of gameplay and AI throughout does not follow wholly predictable paths. It means you need to learn to use Ellie’s heightened sense of hearing to track your enemy, and you’ll need to flank as often as possible. Stealth kills also aren’t quick, which means while draining the blood from your victim, you expose yourself leaving room for the enemy’s vision cone to spot you. Isolating the baddies is a fine art in The Last of Us Part II, as is corralling them to get together if you happen to have something fiery to throw their way, or a boobytrap you may have carefully placed in an ad hoc plan of “kill ‘em all”.
"You’ll learn early on that Naughty Dog has a clear idea of what you should be doing, when, how and why...."
“Everything that we do at the studio is about coming back to a theme,” Hally adds when we ask about the world design and how narrative flows from that; set-pieces to small, nuanced notes written from the bony hand of the skeleton lying next to it, when it once had flesh and blood. “So in terms of art, narrative, design, gameplay... all of that is about coming back to this theme of the cyclical nature of violence, of coming to understand your world, getting new information when you've made previous judgement [of it]. So every facet of the game should try and hit that note.”
The available section of narrative we’re allowed to talk about here took -- on Survival -- roughly two hours for me to punch through, and without a heavy arsenal of gear, fully clearing areas of all baddies was a 50/50 affair, which left some stones unturned. There are collectibles in the game, as well as important gear and ingredients, and there’s an upgrade system tied to multiple facets of Ellie’s basic requirements for successful survival, married alongside scavenging, but we don’t want to spoil how any of this works, because the very nature of the game is a moment-to-moment experience. You’ll learn early on that Naughty Dog has a clear idea of what you should be doing, when, how and why. “Wide linear” is what Hally referred to it as, but that doesn’t mean the game is locked down to a corridor experience. Agency comes in how you tackle the stealth sandbox moments, all while ensuring the carrot on the string is what drives you, and Ellie, forward.
For two hours beyond the number before, and those that lie ahead, what we can say that isn’t remotely spoilerish is that this is not your usual post-apocalyptic zombie romp. It’s alive with dead energy -- an oxymoronic description befitting what you’re going to face. The reclaimed world around you is a reminder of life, while the infected and human decay it faces on its journey to reclamation is as rampant in build-up as vines to the side of a building. Ellie’s place within this juxtaposed space is as confusing as how we got here in the first place, and it’s frightening to know that Hally’s comments earlier about the cyclical nature of violence is a strength Ellie embraces. And she’s damn good at it.
"This small slice of gameplay (and believe us, it’s a smidge against the size of the whole experience) gave us new enemies, an ever-moving world rife with unique ecology and motivation, marrying together in unsuspecting ways Ellie and the player can make sense of it all...."
“Ellie and this world -- she is a girl who was raised in violence. She was raised in a world where she had to learn how to survive,” she concludes. “She had to learn how to dodge and [learn] to be scrappy because she is small. I'm five-one, I get it. I can fit in most lockers. So she's got to find other ways. She's not a make and break [person]. You'll see her killing infected without even thinking about it because she's practised in it, and sure occasionally they're tough and occasionally they surprise her, but this is how you survive in a day, right?”
Interestingly, that’s the right note to conclude on, as we began our trek from the undisclosed location in Downtown Seattle to the other undisclosed location in Downtown Seattle, which went from night to day. This small slice of gameplay (and believe us, it’s a smidge against the size of the whole experience) gave us new enemies, an ever-moving world rife with unique ecology and motivation, marrying together in unsuspecting ways Ellie and the player can make sense of it. And all the while trying to find those must-have items to just get from Point A to Point B. What happens in between is uniquely The Last of Us Part II, and we can’t wait for you to spoil it for yourselves.
Remember to check back for our in-depth review when embargo lifts on June 12 at 17:01pm AEST.