Surface Tension: A relatively Spoiler-free, early preview of The Last Of Us 2

The Last of Us 2 won’t be releasing until June 19 but we’ve been playing it for nearly a week now and trust us, there’s so much we want to say! It’s tough not being able to talk to anyone about it…

So here’s the next best thing, we’ve got an early preview for everyone and we’ll be keeping this spoiler free, without any specific reference to story events or key plot points. We will, however, be talking about a certain section of the game, so if you want to keep the whole experience fresh, proceed at your own risk.

Disclaimer – this preview covers areas and gameplay that are also seen in the recent State of Play presentation. No key plot points and character references will be discussed throughout this preview.

Since Ellie has learned to swim by this point, let’s dive right in.


The setting and not knowing what’s next

The game that certainly requires little further introduction is about our girl Ellie, as she combs the post-apocalyptic urban sprawl of Seattle to find a someone important to her quest, whom we learn might be somewhere in the middle of town. We begin our trek at the fairly usual (in a dystopian fiction sort of way) Route 5 South Avenue, which actually exists in and cuts through most of the city IRL. This tiny tidbit is just a small testament to the painstaking detail that Naughty Dog have employed in the game, which we’ll touch more on later.

What welcomes us in Seattle in The Last Of Us 2 are cracked roads, abandoned cars, dark recesses, and a quiet – too quiet – soundscape. We encounter a number of fauna, which have reclaimed the city along with the flora, as we traverse the seemingly linear paths to get closer to our goal, but progress is a tad slow. We have to push a few garbage containers to step on, pull a few chains, and while it is a bit linear – going off-track is easily rewarded by bits and pieces of materials we can use to make and upgrade tools and weapons.

The scenery is lush and beautiful but the action is very gritty and visceral, two complete opposites that make up the aesthetic of the game. PS4 titles don’t get more graphically stunning than this one, and utilizing the console capabilities, the world of The Last of Us 2 is one that you’ll appreciate once you get to play it. Videos and trailers can only do so much, but this time around, seeing will be believing. And I believed.

That’s where we need to go, and we get to see it from afar – along with the dangerous path we have to take to get there.

There’s encounters to be had and places to explore, adding every note and sign we find to the lore (the game slowly feeds you backgrounds and backstories too via the notes you find around). The world is large and there is a lot of incentive to go away from the beaten path, we go slow because… oooh, nice, found us a workbench, time to upgrade our pistol with the scraps we got… AMBUSH! We get blindsided, assured by a false sense of security brought about by the silence, and now we have to figure out a way out of this mess. This, is The Last Of Us 2 – at least, the parts I can safely tell you about.

As we go on through the dilapidated areas picking trash like an impromptu garbage collector, we’re accosted by both human and infected (the Stalkers make an appearance in a sequence that’s very hide-and-seek-ish: it’s so gratifying to get the drop on a sneaking Stalker – only to find out that its two buddies just got the drop on you).

We get sidetracked, fall into some stinky looking water, get back on our way, meet some creepy whistling hooded bald dudes (they shot me with an arrow, dammit!), and then suddenly…

“Be vewwy vewwy quiet.” -Elmer Fudd, while holding his rifle

There’s dogs! God I hate these dogs (I know, and I’m sorry. I take care of five dogs, but I’ve never hated them in a game before like in this one since getting Tanya eaten by one in Red Alert back in the day). They sniff us out, but we’re clever too – we use our bricks and smoke bombs to create an elaborate but efficient sequence of quiet undetected kills, ensuring us we have a way out without getting swarmed by these bozos – technically.

Enemy sequences with dogs are some of the most intense ones around, not allowing you to breathe because of their unique ability to sniff you out. You’ll need to use every crack in the wall and every distraction you can muster to regain stealth, all while dodging the patrolling humans.

We crawl into a vent and eavesdrop on some soldier-looking-types. We inch further on, and then we find our target. She remembers us, we’re told, visually mostly – because she seems speechless. Her face says a lot, but not all…. 

It’s Metal Gear meets RE meets Bioshock meets The Last Of Us. Shiv-eater!

How The Last Of Us 2 grips your heart and never lets go

The suspense was so thick I could cut it with a shiv. So it was the whole time I’d played it up to this point in Seattle, and it is quite an experience getting told by the game to be careful – be smart about it – and OBSERVE. What a treat it is – the polish of the level designs are top notch, often making you go into “wow, cool!” moments enough into letting your guard down and falling prey to your own giddy noises that attract all manner of opposing denizens.

Level design is one of the biggest improvements in The Last of Us 2, employing a certain level of verticality not seen in the first game. You can break glass, climb ropes, squeeze through gaps, and each element adds a certain level of complexity on how you approach the game with your unique playstyle.

The melding of gameplay and design is one I can only describe as an “attention-laden effort”; the details – like meeting people you read about in an old note, but they’re now old-ass infected wearing some knick knack they talked about – tells the audience that damn, the people who handcrafted each and every part of this would love for you to pry and pick on it piece by piece, while ducking for cover and keeping quiet, of course.

Names are not just simple names, they’re part of the infected you just killed on the way, they’re the members of the WLF that are on the hunt… There’s a face to the name and vice versa, and even with something as small as this really shows how Naughty Dog is really pushing the envelope with The Last of Us 2.

There are a lot of things not obvious on the surface – like what the hell are these people doing, why is this room filled with bullets and vitamins (of course, it’s a game), and why do I feel like I can’t put the controller down even if it was *looks at watch* Jesus it’s 5AM on a Sunday morning? But every question like this is answered with a little investigation, a little observation – trust in your environment to show you what needs to be done, what can be done, and why it can be done, or why you should do it. The story is everywhere – all of Seattle’s a stage, Ellie and the clickers mere actors in it, I should say. 

Baby girl’s all grown up and seeing the world – the sooner we accept this, the sooner we appreciate it.

There’s a variety of ways to go about the quest of finding our target, and I really loved that I could decide on the fly: combat set pieces were a sort of active puzzle with multiple solutions depending on how you want to play the game, and how difficult you want to make it. I started with Moderate then cranked it up to Hard, then tried Very Light (you could mix and match individual aspects of the difficulty too, as you please, just like in TLOU1). Changing these won’t even mar the experience – it only morphs it. The game respects how you play and doesn’t force you otherwise.

Want to feel like Sam Fisher and crack necks left and right, shooting those that see you doing it? Set it to Very Light. Ever wonder how Solid Snake would feel if he was stranded in the Spencer Mansion in the Arklay Mountains? Crank that difficulty up to Hard. If you want to play real-time XCOM where every encounter could very well mean the end of the game? Put it up on Survivor and plan ahead for each battle you have to push through on.

The way I played? Melee upgrades, silencers, and faster prone movement was my jam. I didn’t like aiming/shooting while moving so I didn’t take that upgrade tree much, and it feels like the rest of the game offers this much leeway as far as progression options are concerned.

Yes, you read right, you can equip silencers in the game.

All these elements, the tiny details (I once killed a dude with his own weapon and was overly shocked and delighted to know that wow, that could happen), to the broad gameplay strokes (it’s a formula, but a formula done EXTREMELY well), combine for a harrowing experience that I cannot forget at all these past few days. And I haven’t even talked about the narrative and plot yet – which I won’t, because I don’t want to ruin it for everyone else, but I’ll say only this much: it respects the audience it expects. 

The combat is refreshingly improved with a myriad of options unfolding in real time – as if Naughty Dog had listened to whatever made some moments in TLOU1 tedious or repetitive.

The long and excruciating wait

This could have just been more of the same – most of humanity is just as much a monster as the various virus-laden infected, and we’re gonna have to ferry Ellie across a sea of QTEs, sneaking sections, and shootouts to find or do whatever it is she needs to. So many theories have been propped up (some on tinfoil, some on actually good analyses), but really, Ellie and the game have so much more to show, even just in this small section that we experienced ahead of time.

From the title itself, it’s a game about surviving more than anything else, and survive we will in this second installment. The first game dug into what it means to be human in a world where we are no longer king, a monster apocalypse where the apocalypse is more important than the monster, what it entails to be the last remnants of a dead world. This small part of the gameplay in the sequel shows us more and then some, trusting us that we too have grown even in this harsh setting we’ve made into our playground, and it pays off in spades.

We want to tell you more, but this is just a taste of what you can expect with our full review of The Last of Us 2, which we will gladly share with you on June 12.

*This early preview of The Last of Us 2 was done on a PS4 Pro via a review code provided by the publisher.

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