Here’s what we’re allowed to say about The Last of Us: Part II so far: the combat is utterly enthralling. Naughty Dog’s brand of game design often gets criticised for putting the plot ahead of gameplay, but we’ve always considered this form of feedback reductive. Despite all of its extended climbing sections, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was brilliantly bombastic when protagonist Nate Drake was behind the trigger, swinging across rooftops and fist-fighting with Hollywood-esque vigour.
There are slightly less theatrics here, exchanged for white-knuckle tension and an underlying sense of discomfort. In the section we’ve been given permission to write about, Ellie finds herself embedded in the drizzly downtown streets of Seattle, searching for a character named Nora who we’ll resist sharing specifics on. She’s supported by a military faction named WLF, who are intricately tied to the plot – again, for reasons we can’t expand upon.
So, what can we say? The combat is bloody brutal. As with the previous game, you can take a stealth approach, with tall grass and craftable silencers giving you the jump on your foes. Enemies can be taken hostage and either silently shutdown or used to create a distraction; comrades will beg and plead for the lives of their pals, showing signs of visible distress if you choose to murder them. Each human character having a name really adds to the realism of the firefights.
But perhaps more harrowing is the fact that owners will weep for their dogs if you pick them off. The canines add an intense wrinkle to stealth because they can pick up your scent. This means that you can’t simply sit in one spot observing your surroundings; you have to keep moving if you want to maintain a clandestine approach. Of course, when the figurative excrement hits the fan, your aggressors will mobilise to flush you out, flanking you with deadly formations.
Ellie is better protected when running away from danger, and new traversal options such as the ability to jump mean that elements of Uncharted’s verticality are present here – albeit in a much more grounded fashion. The animation is outstanding: the heroine will fall to the ground when hit by a bullet, but you’ll be able to fire back from the floor. Context animations mean that if you finish an aggressor off near a wall, for example, they’ll clutch at it, before sliding down while the life leaves their body.
The violence, at this kind of fidelity, will make you feel uncomfortable – but that’s all according to Naughty Dog’s plan. While we can’t elaborate further, this is a game about hatred and vengeance; it’s about obsession and how the cycle of violence destroys everything it touches. If you want to know more, you’re going to have to wait for our full review on 12th June. Until then, we’ll leave you with our overall impressions on this short sequence we’re allowed to preview: chef’s kiss.
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