Thanks to insanely early review code, I have a full Survivor playthrough of The Last of Us 2 under my belt. Naughty Dog’s much anticipated much-delayed offering is done. It’s dusted. I can lay down my DualShock and wonder what’s causing these weird buttock pains. I’m guessing it was the hanging off the edge of my seat that did it.
All that clenching during the stealth sections can’t have helped.
Fact is, I now have to endure something more uncomfortable – the torture of only being allowed to say a tiny bit, mostly about game mechanics only. The one section (and one section ALONE) I’m authorised to describe occurs roughly in the middle of the game.
There will be no story spoilers here today.
The Last of Us 2
Anybody who saw the “extended gameplay” in the recent State of Play video will be on the same page with me here. I just took a very different approach to the Naughty Dog demoer. Also, my AI was much more aggressive and I had bugger all ammo/resources to use.
Just how I like it.
The basic setting is this; we’re slipping into Ellie’s worn Converse All-Stars as she goes on the warpath. Her mission is to somehow traverse a partially destroyed, post-pandemic Seattle that’s been reclaimed by Mother Nature. Once that’s done, you’ll need to infiltrate a hospital outpost that’s absolutely teeming with WLF (Washington Liberation Front), militaristic survivors who are shoot-first-ask-questions-never types. There is also the ever-present threat of hungry mushroom mutants who’d kill for a peanut butter and Ellie sandwich.
The stealth mission begins with a bit of aqua-robics in one of the many watercourses that snake through downtown. Ellie has learned to swim since the original game and you have the ability to fully submerge to break line of sight with suspicious foes. For now, I simply use the mechanic as a means to underwater spelunk into the basement of an enemy held building
As luck would have it, I find a grunt to jump and interrogate for more info. The exchange is short and brutally violent. One minute you’ll go from the “Member Berry” amusement of realising the guard is playing Hotline Miami on PS Vita and the next, Ellie has switchbladed this doe-eyed girl in the throat. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is the game at it’s goriest, but it’s actually shallow-end-of-the-pool stuff for The Last of Us 2. Ascending to street level, I’m dropped into one of the many combat-puzzle sections of the game. Though I can’t possibly see it yet, this entire “level” is broken up into two main areas with two major enemy spawn positions.
Going loud in the first one (a wide courtyard) will put the folks in the area beyond (a hospital reception) on high alert. This, of course, is assuming I can even reach those doors in one piece at all. I do mean that literally, too. Ellie’s death animations in The Last of Us 2 go beyond the first game to be next-level violent. As I try and fail to navigate my way in, I catch myself muttering “god damn” whenever a sentry blows the whole top of my head off. Getting machetes and claw hammers buried into my body is just as unnerving.
Slinking from the starter building, I enter a clump of overgrown grass.
Just quickly; expect to live most of your life in these as they make you invisible to anyone more than a metre away.
The whole courtyard offers a number of stealth opportunities and some really bad tactical ideas too. It all depends on how your ammo supplies are and if you’re feeling frisky. Commando crawling out to the left flank will require you to tail two patrolling guards who are having a conversation about getting laid later. In a previous attempt, I moved in to shank the dude who started to lag behind, only to fall victim to one of Naughty Dog’s new tricks. Soldiers patrolling on what seem to be set, straight vectors will, from time to time, make erratic “look back” animations or casual sideways glances into cover that’s perpendicular to their route.
At this point I’m pretty certain that this only occurs on the higher difficulties. So yeah, if you’re putting yourself to the test, expect no hiding spot or kidney stab to ever be guaranteed.
That said, the good news is you can avoid losing badly at “WLF Eye Spy” by keeping prone, taking it slow and sliding under an army truck parked nearby. This new feature opens up a lot of killing from cover options, but in this instance your hidey hole comes with an extra problem. The way beyond will ask you to transition from safe, luscious grass onto stark concrete.
Admittedly, that route has a mini crate farm to thread around in order to play stabby 3D Pac-Man with the guards. However, a sharpshooter overwatches the entirety of this left flank. One solution; you could equip a silencer that will maybe be functional for two shots. Ellie also has access to her bow and a neat scope upgrade that better pinpoints where the shot parabola will land. Either way you go, you’d best nail that headshot on the first go. Anything less and you will have pissed on quite the hornet’s nest.
That happens for me but on the right flank of the courtyard. I’m doing my ninja thing all the way out of the grass, past a brightly lit tent to ultimately land in a garden, right against the east wing of the hospital. At this point, one of the three WLF members that got a “red smile” from my blade is discovered. As the hospital garrison empties out the main door, I hoist into a side window to effectively bypass the entire pack of angry WLFs. The best bit – it’s all a part of my plan. Two or three of my enemies are incinerated by the trip mine that was sticky taped to their comrade.
We’re talking shredded torsos and limbs a-go-go here. Also, piteous death wailing that goes on for five very l-o-n-g seconds.
Make no mistake, The Last of Us 2 will have you feeling guilt for your actions. For example, it’s been days since I did the above infiltration, but I can still tell remember that the guy I exploded halfway across the level was called Andrew. He had friends who loved him. Some of them shrieked his name when they ran up to help him. Post explosion, I’m pretty sure the people who found the remains of those would-be-medics muttered a few more names as well.
The mini PTSD of it is real.
I can also picture, right now, with crystal clear clarity the faces of anybody who went toe to toe with me in melee combat. For the record, instead of running to the hospital exit, I took too long snooping for crafting materials in the sprawling offices around reception. Everybody poured back in and I became locked into a game of hide-and-shoot with loud weaponry.
By the way, you can expect to see this a lot as The Last of Us 2 is all about analogue stealth where you’ll disengage and reengage with whatever offensive options are left to you. Ammo reserves on Survivor are as abysmal as you’d expect as well. I pride myself on being a kleptomaniac snoop, but in this scenario, I had maybe one or two rounds each for my revolver, semi-auto pistol, shotgun and hunting rifle. I’m not even exaggerating when I tell you that my hospital reception showdown was one of the most intense struggles for my (virtual) life that I’ve ever experienced. Even the crack shots among you should expect to be fighting tooth and nail with Ellie’s bare hands, desperately timing dodge button presses, as hideous brawls unfold.
Faces get sliced open.
Naked fear flashes in people’s eyes as a death blow arcs in.
Nobody sane would ever accuse me of being squeamish, but even I have to recognise that The Last of Us 2 is a breed apart. We’ve rarely seen violence this raw and personal in our medium.
Obviously, Naughty Dog hasn’t just created some sort of mindless, next-gen spiritual successor to Manhunt here. There’s another side to The Last of Us 2 that works to balance all of the god awfulness out. That said, I’m not at liberty to discuss anything about that side of the experience. Nor would I want to yet.
All I can really say is that come June 19, you’re going to want to block a few days out in your social calendar. Some of your allotted hours will be spent on playing, others will be needed for quiet contemplation…or a foolish replay attempt on Grounded. Either way, clearly what we have here is a sequel that’s guaranteed to grow on you quicker than cordyceps wall fungus.
It’s also a game that’s going to cut you deep.