Ahead of our June 12 review of The Last of Us Pt. 2, Naughty Dog has given us the green light to describe a small portion of the PlayStation 4 game. The content in question is a 1.5-hour mission that takes place roughly 12 hours into the full campaign.
For many games, this would be an inconsequential way to set fans' expectations of what's to come. Think of a Halo game, where the shooty-shoot in a later mission is representative of the whole game. Standard game-preview stuff, you might say.
The Last of Us Pt. 2 is not necessarily that kind of video game. Using this preview to make that point is difficult, as Naughty Dog has held members of the press to an incredibly high standard of secrecy, enough to make me debate whether to post this impressions article at all. Ultimately, I can say quite a bit about this game by pointing out what I cannot mention, and why the "allowed" content makes me excited to share more about this game with you. Smarter readers may very well notice what I mention about this single mission and read between the lines. (This is a particularly safe article to read if you're spoiler-averse.)
With those caveats in mind, grab your spiked bat and crawl through rainy Seattle with me.
Caveats: Many questions remain unanswered (for now)
The spoiler-restriction list for this single mission is pretty massive. We can tell you that Ellie, the prior game's companion/protagonist, is the lead character in this mission and that she travels alone to infiltrate a hospital in post-apocalyptic Seattle. Her mission is to confront someone named Nora (you may have seen this character in a TLOU2 trailer).
What is Ellie doing in Seattle? How did she get there? Who is Nora? What does Ellie want with her? What has Ellie been up to in the years since the events of the original PlayStation 3 game? Who else does she know in Seattle right now?
Not only can I not answer those questions, I also can't clarify the way that Naughty Dog tells this story within the confines of this game. I would like to, but I cannot.
Instead, I can describe a mission that is largely divorced from the game's plot—and feels, quite honestly, like the kind of vertical gameplay slice you might expect at a "spoiler-free" press event months before a game's launch.
Seattle: So authentic, youll check for your ORCA card
The first thing I can describe is the mission's relatively accurate portrayal of my hometown, Seattle. This many years after an infection took hold of the world, Seattle's downtown core has become overrun with native, local foliage, which Naughty Dog uses to both show off the company's impressive leaf-rendering system and to organically block out your routes. That means we only see a few facsimiles of modern-day Seattle landmarks, including the mission's starting point of the Paramount Theater, a collapsed version of the Washington State Convention Center, and an eventual march to the cobblestone streets of Pioneer Square.
When these moments emerge, Naughty Dog proves itself adept at combining real-life topography and interesting gameplay moments. The convention center's architecture, full of bulging, rectangular concrete blocks, becomes a perilous series of leaps for Ellie. And the vines-and-trees overgrowth of Pioneer Square transforms one of its bigger parks into a creepy stage of combat theater.
Between these landmarks, Ellie progresses through this mission in mostly linear fashion, often because a path she takes includes some form of "barricade this door behind me" to limit how many dangerous forces can sneak up on her six. These include: mutated people who were overtaken by a virus and shamble in zombie-like fashion; surviving humans who have joined an organized militia, the Washington Liberation Front (whose members adapt its acronym, WLF, to call themselves "wolves"); and a mysterious contingent of surviving humans known as "Scars" who emerge for the first time in this mission. At this point in the game, Ellie doesn't quite understand either of these organizations' driving principles, though the mission in question includes various hand-written notes about tensions between the two groups—along with tragic letters that never made their way to loved ones.
Some parts of the mission terrifically tell the story of human society screeching to a halt. In one particularly harrowing battle against zombies, Ellie must sneak and crawl through an abandoned newspaper office, which is occupied by an advanced form of the game's infected—a class of monster that moves quickly and defaults to dodging and triangulating around Ellie instead of either stupidly shambling or directly rushing. With no electricity, Ellie must rely on her shoulder flashlight and the dim light through windows to navigate this office environment, whose cubicles and editors' offices look like everyone took a day off of work only yesterday. Photo frames, awards, and plaques can be found everywhere, along with faded crawls of text on walls telling the newspaper's history.
Familiar combat in new locales
Ellie's battling arsenal hasn't evolved too drastically from the original game. By this point in TLOU2, Ellie's gun selection has expanded to include a pistol, a revolver, a shotgun, and a hunting rifle, and she also carries a bow, three types of bombs (proximity mine, throwable "spike" ball, molotov cocktail), a throwable bludgeoning implement (brick or bottle), and whatever melee object she might find on the ground (stick, machete, etc).