The Last Of Us Part 2 hands-on preview – love and hate in Seattle

GameCentral offers a spoiler free look at two hours of The Last Of Us Part 2 gameplay and the most technically advanced game on the PS4.

The Last Of Us Part 2 is going to be a very hard game to review when the embargo drops next Friday. It’s almost impossible to discuss it in detail without the risk of spoilers, which is ironic given the game has already been subject to one of the biggest plot leaks in video game history (that link does not contain any spoilers).

Our initial review will be spoiler free, but for now we’re not allowed to discuss any of that anyway. As although we have now beaten the game, all we can talk about right now is a section from about 10 hours into the story.

The game is set five years after the original, with Ellie now aged 19 and seemingly stuck in a state of almost permanent anger. The sassy teenager of the original game is almost entirely gone, replaced by an extremely skilled and completely merciless killer.

This roughly two-hour section of the game involves Ellie getting a tip that someone called Nora is at a nearby hospital. Again, we can’t explain the underlying reasons for why she’s important, but the problem for Ellie is that the hospital is a long way off and getting around Seattle is not easy. The city was bombed at some earlier point, to control the spread of the zombie-like infection, but all it did was leave large sections inaccessible on anything but foot.

Luckily, Ellie is a very spry video game protagonist and a spot of light platforming leads to a locked security gate and one of our favourite puzzles in the game, the solution to which involves a wheelie bin and the law of gravity.

There are no civilians in Seattle but many of the buildings are full of the ‘infected’, with this particular section introducing ‘stalkers’. Unlike the other zombie-like creatures these have a degree of animal cunning and will run away when seen and try and ambush you later. They’re not particularly strong when alone but when a gang gets you, you’re in trouble.

At this point we’re armed with a sniper rifle, a shotgun (an optional weapon that was difficult to acquire), and short and medium range pistols. Ellie can also craft Molotov cocktails, stun bombs, and trap mines. But while the game is not easy, we found little use for anything but the firebombs, since fire in general is very effective against infected.

In gameplay terms, relatively little has changed compared to the original and you still have to pick up everything that’s not tied down to use as crafting resources. There’s a set of simple skill trees that can be unlocked by collecting supplement pills, with new trees being added every time you find an (easily missed) training manual. The melee combat is somewhat improved though, even if there’s still only a dodge and one attack move.

As with all of Naughty Dog’s games the fisticuffs lack a certain amount of weight but this is definitely the best it’s been, with the stealth kills – as you watch your victim desperately attempt to escape from a chokehold – being especially brutal and disturbing.

This section of the game is very bleak and violent but it’s not as excessive as some of the earlier trailers implied. But even in these just two hours it becomes increasingly hard to sympathise with Ellie, as she seethes with rage, sneering at the bodies of dead militia and the world in general.

The humans she’s fighting are soldiers who may or may not have turned out to be worse than the government officials they overthrew. That’s not entirely clear but it is obvious that most are ordinary people just going about their business, which in terms of the hospital involves removing supplies to a more secure base.

The Last Of Us Part 2 isn’t open world but there are large open-ended areas and the hospital is a particularly big one for combat. All you’re trying to do is get to an elevator at the back of the ground floor but it’s entirely up to you how you get there. You’ll need to be stealthy whatever you do, but whether that means killing people in secret or simply avoiding them is your choice.

As ever, just killing people is the simplest and easiest solution, which marries directly with one of the game’s main narrative themes. Although in gameplay terms the best option is to make use of a bow and arrow and the limited use silencer you can craft for one of your pistols. People will notice dead bodies but if you stealth kill them you get a few moments to manoeuvre them into a position – ideally in long grass – where the bodies won’t be noticed.

Although there are numerous other games with similar stealth gameplay, from Batman: Arkham to Metal Gear Solid, The Last Of Us Part 2 is much more realistic, with no fantasy gadgets or weapons. Although the way Ellie can restore her health by simply wrapping a bandage around her arm is one of the few exceptions.

The Last Of Us Part 2 is going to be a complex game to dissect but in terms of the visuals and the quality of storytelling (specifically the writing and voice-acting) it’s exactly as good as you’d expect. The graphics in particular are a significant improvement on the original, which was technically only a PlayStation 3 game, even with the PlayStation 4 remaster.

It’s easily the best-looking game of the current generation, even more so than Uncharted 4, with the best foliage and facial animation we’ve ever seen. Playing on a PS4 Pro there’s been only a few brief seconds of slowdown, with performance otherwise exceptionally good for such a complex game.

The visuals in The Last Of Us Part 2 are so good you’d at first think it puts a dampener on the PlayStation 5, but if the new console is going to be able to create visuals even more impressive than this – and the Unreal Engine 5 demo already suggests it can – then that’s actually very exciting.

But as impressive as the technology is, it’s the story and characters that is most important to The Last Of Part 2. But whether you’ve read the spoilers or not you, literally, don’t know the full story and that’s definitely going to be worth discovering when the game is finally released later this month.

Formats: PlayStation 4
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: 19th June 2020

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