From this chapter alone, The Last of Us 2 is an accomplished sequel in every regard. It feels marvellous to play, and doubles down on the thematic elements that helped the original shine. Ellie is a stunning, nuanced lead who is far deeper than her black and white tale of revenge would have you believe.
- Review Price: £49.99
- Release Date: June 19, 2020
- Platform: PS4
- Developer: Naughty Dog
- Genre: Action
Revenge is everywhere in The Last of Us 2. It’s the central motivation that drives Ellie forward, leading her to commit despicable acts for a goal that may only end in her own misery. It’s not an easy journey to embark on, leaving you hesitant to push forward, crying out in defiance at the path of the bodies being left in your wake.
Everything about Ellie’s journey feels drenched in deliberacy, with Naughty Dog crafting a narrative experience that holds back no punches, ensuring the player feels the significance of every bullet fired, every hammer swung and every word spoken. I was enraptured from the opening moments, which is a testament to the connections formed with these characters so many years ago.
While I have to wait to give my thoughts on the full experience, I can provide a comprehensive look at the game’s moment-to-moment action from the perspective of a small section towards the halfway point. I’ll be avoiding narrative throughout this preview, only touching on how The Last of Us 2 plays and ambitiously builds upon the foundations of its predecessor. So those hoping to go in blind needn’t worry.
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Ellie’s quest for revenge takes her to the overgrown innards of Downtown Seattle, which has been taken over by a militia faction known as the Washington Liberation Front. It’s filled with heavily armed troops and hordes of deadly infected, both of which our heroine will need to contend with in order to survive. Setting off from an abandoned theatre she calls her base of operations, Ellie makes her way towards a hospital used by the outfit to horde resources.
It’s also where she’ll find Nora, a member of the WLF who is hiding some crucial information. Ellie wants her dead, and she’ll do anything to make that happen, even if it means tearing through the fallen metropolis and murdering everything in her path. Such a relentless pursuit for revenge is a powerful component of Naughty Dog’s sequel, with parts of this section making me feel troubled, even guilty of the virtual crimes I had to commit.
However, reaching this destination won’t be an easy task. The city is overwhelmed by rainfall, sunken streets so flooded you can only reach the hospital by creatively traversing the concrete jungle above. Each new building is a puzzle in itself, sometimes filled with hidden items or pockets of lore that add further texture to the world.
The beginning of this section takes Ellie to an abandoned storefront where she can hurl a rope across some nearby scaffolding to reach an abandoned conference room. Such a task is completely optional, but the rewards are more than worth it. Seattle is filled with excellent distractions like this, and if you’re playing on harder difficulties like I did, you’ll need every single bullet these metropolitan husks are hiding in order to survive.
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The first port of call is an abandoned office building ravaged with the infected. Its walls have succumbed to rot, fungal growths overwhelming the foundations to the point that even corpses are indistinguishable amongst the Cordyceps. They can blend into the growth, ready to pounce when you least expect it. One of the types of infected in The Last of Us 2 are Stalkers, who make their first appearance during Ellie’s search for the nearby hospital.
Faster than your usual runners, these awful creatures hide in the shadows, crouching behind obstacles waiting to rush you. They go down easily, but can be unstoppable in a pack. So, I drew them out one by one, wiping a few out with well-placed traps while the rest fell victim to the ferocious blasts from my shotgun. The surroundings were dark, little slithers of light breaking through with the help of my flashlight but even then, the situation still felt desperately stark.
The atmosphere is palpable throughout, background music subtle enough that I’m stirred onward by Ellie’s shaky breaths, knowing she is just as nervous as I am. The survival horror aspects of the series have been enhanced significantly, largely because you spend much of your time alone, clinging onto small moments of solitude as they come. Luckily for me, I was near the building’s exit and finally felt safe. That is, until a Stalker ambushed me, tossing us both into the rushing waters below.
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After washing through the sewers and escaping from the infected, Ellie finds herself shaken but alive. Sadly – there’s no such thing as peace in the world of The Last of Us 2. Emerging into a nearby park, she encounters a hostile cult known as The Seraphites. Identified by a line of scars across their cheeks, these fascists shun the old world and opt for new customs driven by a faith fuelled with violence and rituals, killing anyone who goes against their ideals.
Trespassers have been lynched across the park, their stomachs sliced open and intestines on display as an evangelical warning for those foolish enough to stumble any closer. Hiding in the tall grass, for a few minutes I felt safe, confident in the thought I could make it to the hospital without another fight. My optimism is stifled by an arrow flying directly into Ellie’s shoulder. Dazed and confused, I tear it out to prevent my health falling any lower. The Seraphites are coming, so I lay down in the grass and wait for the perfect moment.
Combat encounters like this are fantastic, a stellar exercise in melodic tension as you use everything you can to survive. Equipped with a switchblade, Ellie can silently kill foes with a single strike, although this leaves her vulnerable for a few precious seconds. Being able to go prone adds a whole new dimension to combat, making your movements far more versatile. You can crawl past packs of mercenaries without shedding a single drop of blood, or pull out a rifle and gun them down with no remorse.
Ellie is capable of crafting myriad equipment from her backpack. Explosive traps, pistol silencers and smoke bombs are just a few things you can craft from resources gathered throughout the game’s world, all of which can change the tide of battle if used correctly. You can also upgrade your weapons at benches or chug some supplements to earn an assortment of contextual abilities. You won’t earn all of these in a single playthrough, and I only saw a duo of workbenches during this section of the campaign.
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After some time, we finally arrive at the hospital. It’s heavily guarded, with the WLF gathering resources and preparing to relocate for an unknown cause. Sneaking in from beneath, Ellie interrogates a young guard killing time playing Hotline Miami on PS Vita (shoutout to the world’s greatest portable), accidentally killing her in a moment of desperate defence. For a moment, Ellie expresses a tinge of regret for her actions but it’s a means to an end to her, failing to realise this is just another group of people trying their best to stay alive.
The Last of Us 2 makes a conscious effort to confront this cycle of violence, making us feel guilty for the acts Ellie is willing to commit, even if she believes it serves a greater good. She’s been raised in an environment where killing others has always been the solution and sparing those who wronged her is a distant concept. This is one of the most grisly experiences I’ve ever played, with enemies reacting to violence in a realistic way. They’ll scream the names of their fallen comrades or clutch missing limbs while crying out in pain.
It’s a relief to put them out of their misery, with the hospital encounter alone involving the death of dozens. It’s a satisfying, multi-tiered section you can approach from a variety of different ways. A number of locations in The Last of Us 2 consist of multiple floors, and Ellie’s greater range of traversal means you can fire down on enemies from the rooftops or slither through the tall grass, silencing wolves one by one. Once the hallways are silent, Ellie confronts Nora and hopes to come one step closer to those who wronged her.
From this chapter alone, The Last of Us 2 is an accomplished sequel in every regard. It feels marvellous to play, and doubles down on the thematic elements that helped the original shine. Ellie is a stunning, nuanced lead who exhibits far more emotional depth than her black and white tale of revenge would have you believe.
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