As Ellie stabs to death a tracker dog that found her hiding place, and the shouts of mercenaries echo around a Seattle suburb, it’s clear The Last Of Us Part II is not here to play nice. Our hero is all grown up, and the emotional subject matter that Naughty Dog’s PS4 exclusive is ready to face is also more adult. “Ultimately, this is a story about the cycle of violence, right? But beyond that, it’s a conversation about the effects systemic trauma can have on your soul,” explains the game’s co-writer, Halley Gross, as we sit down for an extensive hands-on.
The Last Of Us Part II starts five years after we last saw Ellie and Joel. Following their escape from the Fireflies, and Joel’s decision not to sacrifice Ellie even though doing so might produce a vaccine for the mutant cordyceps fungus that has ravaged the world, they’ve ended up in Jackson, Wyoming. The first section of our demo – and our first-ever hands-on with the game – finds Ellie on patrol with her friend Dina (yes, the Dina we saw her kissing in that trailer), taking a simple routine ride around the remains of a town, with snow falling and no obvious signs of danger on the horizon. Hearing Ellie and Dina trade flirty, good-natured jokes and talk about relationships, they could be any normal young women chatting… until we find the slaughtered moose. The butcher-floor carnage on show is a sign that the infected are close.
As Ellie and Dina dismount from their horses and go looking for the mutated monstrosities, it’s a chance to use Ellie’s new skills. She’s not a little kid anymore and clearly hasn’t spent the five years since we last saw her eating Doritos and watching Netflix. She’s more agile, able to jump and climb and go prone to manoeuvre under low obstacles or better hide from the enemy. Finding a way into an old supermarket doesn’t quite require Nathan Drake levels of derring-do, but there are the same intuitive climbing mechanics here that make traversing the world of Uncharted so satisfying.
Inside there are supplements – as in the first game they act as XP: collect enough and you can jump into a skill tree and upgrade – and resources for crafting, alcohol, material for bandages, and scrap for upgrading equipment. We also find a Clicker, one of the infected that are blind but fast and deadly if they hear you, and some Runners, your basic zombie infected. It’s like seeing old friends… if those old friends’ brains have been hijacked by a fungus that turns them into murderous slaves.
The old instincts come back fast, though, and we use stealth to take out the Runners quickly and quietly, employing bottles and bricks to distract the Clickers with sound, and resorting to a Molotov cocktail when that plan goes a little wonky. It’s our first brush with the enemy and Ellie feels stronger, but not like a superhero, still vulnerable enough that the unmistakable staccato sounds of a Clicker can make your pulse quicken.
Our reward for clearing out the supermarket is discovering the lair of an old Firefly, Eugene, containing his massive stash of marijuana plants. They’ve died, but alongside a dusty PS3 with a copy of Uncharted and a stash of adult movies, Dina and Ellie find a jar of joints and take a break from being survivors of the apocalypse.
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