It’s The Little Things That Make The Last Of Us 2 Unique

It’s The Little Things That Make The Last Of Us 2 Unique

I came across a section of gameplay – I won’t say where – and there was a trap. Annoyed at having come through the other side of too many fights with bugger all resources left, I thought, “Fuck it. I’m going to stand here. The infected will see me. The trap can do the work.” And, mostly, it did. The infected made a beeline for Ellie’s freckled face, straight through the trap, and straight to the floor. But having legs is not a requirement for The Last of Us 2‘s infected. Crawling works just fine.

So I backed off. And kept backing off. About 20 seconds later, after a solid effort elbowing their way towards a piece of Ellie’s flesh, the infected gurgled their last breath.

At some point, you should – and will – watch Ellie deliberately die.

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There’s a certain gruesomeness to it, a visceral scream and guttural wrenching that pierces through your ears. It’s the opposite of what I imagine Netherrealm tries to do when they make Mortal Kombat fatalities.

It’s deliberately uncomfortable. Clickers rip out entrails when they get close. It’s like a fibrous string, almost a metre of muscle ripped straight from the oesophagus. Or the anterior. Sometimes, it’s just an old fashioned, bloody bite.

There’s a lot of close-up decapitation. Patrols. Clickers. Runners. All sorts of infected. Sometimes it’s Ellie, backing unawares into a tripwire. Or you didn’t hold the left stick back far enough, and now you’re dead from your own trip wire.

And sometimes it’s just the sound. Pipe against skull. Wrench against jaw. Bat against leg. Screams at the touch of fire. It all makes sense in the heat of the moment, but it’s also so prominent because of how deliberately quiet much of the preview chapter is.

There is little music or ambient sound, although it’s not silent. You’ll still hear the brief swaying of wind, the slight sound of rain, air gushing out of a pipe, the grinding sound of a clicker, footsteps on metal, the small things.

But mostly, the sound only appears as soon as you see an enemy.

It’s reactive, an aural cue designed to highlight how close you are to being detected. It removes the inelegance of the white/yellow/red enemy markers that have been a part of stealth games and third-person shooters for the better part of a decade. Ellie’s super-vision still exists — this is still a video game, after all.

But where possible the uglier video game touches — the cluttered HUD, constant notifications, radars, mini-maps — have been brushed away. What’s left is the sights and sounds of a third-person adventure straddling the boundaries of a thriller movie. There’s not nearly enough gore, jump scares or typical creepy elements to make The Last of Us 2 a horror movie, although at parts, it does a good job of sounding like one.

last of us 2 preview ps4

The gameplay specifics no longer under embargo start a leafy, lush town in Hillcrest. Ellie’s in search of a hospital controlled by the Washington Liberation Front, a faction sporting wolf motifs that serves as the main militaristic presence in the post-infection political void.

Part of downtown Seattle, Hillcrest looks the way you imagine an abandoned city might. The area gets a lot of rain, so there’s plenty of overgrowth and foliage. Coffee shops and businesses are left empty, some with their doors smashed open, others with bare windows that Ellie can break herself. Foraging is a necessity on normal and harder difficulties, because you’ll usually only find one bullet at a time, or bare pieces of a rag.

You can drop the difficulty down to make resources more manageable, but you shouldn’t. The Last of Us 2 is a game to be savoured. The locations are impressively large, and realistic to boot. The dimensions of bedrooms, closets, and basements mirror the sort of space they’d occupy in real life. They’re filled with little, life-like details. Notes of life immediately after the outbreak, sometimes notes just before death.

But mostly you’re finding bits of medicine in bathrooms, small photos of family moments together, screws and bits of scrap to forge that much needed upgrade. And it takes time to fossick through these homes, these pieces of Seattle’s history. It fills part of the game’s understated lore — what life was like immediately after the outbreak, and how society fell apart.

That’s probably the most impressive thing about the preview chapter: just how realistic The Last of Us 2‘s world is, or at least how life-like it is. It’s not realistic in that there’s a heavy film grain applied throughout, or that it’s fundamentally a tale about zombies and life after society collapses. It’s the junk, the waste that humans fill their lives with.

It’s nice to see all of that replicated — and there is so much of it — in a video game.

Your attention is drawn to all these little things, and the little sounds, because in between the firefights there’s very little action on screen. The HUD disappears completely, leaving just Ellie in her torn-off shirt, soaked backpack and straps for various tools and weapons. You’re not given a compass, regular arrows or constant swings of the camera reminding you where to go. It’s a virtual space designed for wandering, and the more wander, the more you’ll find.

last of us 2 preview ps4

Some of the mission gameplay has been shown before. Below at about nine minutes in, you can see the encounter when Ellie runs into a WLF patrol with sniffer dogs. It’s a small area with a few bombed out buildings, and a good example of a fight that’s best avoided. I tried a few playthroughs on different difficulties, trying an all-guns-blazing approach, all-out stealth and a slow, whittling down of the WLF forces.

Ultimately, it’s best to avoid where possible. You’re not rewarded for killing off patrols. You’re not guaranteed ammo from an enemy gun when it drops, and even then it won’t be much.

Not everything in the in-game world fits, though. I understand the need for realism and gameplay balance, but should a bicycle shop with a workbench be completely empty of screws and scrap when those are the only two things adorning the walls? And as much of a swansong The Last of Us 2 is for the PS4, there’s still some reminders of how old the hardware is: dumpsters getting stuck on geometry they shouldn’t, or some occasional texture pop-ins.

There’s a nice approach with the AI, insofar that enemies don’t instalock onto your position. Save for the sniffer dogs, who follow your scent until distracted, out of range or else, enemies head to the general area where you were last detected.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a nice concession from the original game. There — and like many AI in many action-adventures — enemies either knew exactly where you were, or had no idea at all.

Ellie doesn’t counter enemies during attacks either, relying instead on well-time dodges and close range attacks (or point-blank gunfire). You don’t want to make a habit of this, but you can take out basic runners with a dodge and a single melee strike.

If you do get too close to a clicker or burn too many resources in a firefight, the game’s dynamic checkpoint system is very generous. It will set you back to the beginning of a fight, rather than specific checkpoints, although you always have the option to restart from those if you want.

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The rest of the chapter is largely an exercise in manoeuvring and navigating your way, often on hands and knees, through the various patrols and groups of infected. You’ll reach Nora before too long, the target for this segment of gameplay, and you’re presented with a quality cut-scene when you arrive.

But what’s more valuable to take away from the preview is the moments along the way. The Last of Us 2 isn’t a hardcore survival game, although it echoes the genre’s spirit wholeheartedly. It’s more a journey of survival, a slow, methodical adventure through Seattle and the past lives and homes of everyone who lived there.

I won’t tell you what happens at the end of the cut-scene; it’s still under embargo, in any case. What’s more important is whether the trip, which is around 9 to 10 hours — and probably more if you take your time — was worth the effort.

Truly, it is. The Last of Us 2 is a treat, and I only wish I could tell you more.

The Last of Us 2 launches on PS4 on June 19.

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