Naughty Dog’s latest sequel is looking to be increasingly more beautiful and bloodthirsty than the original game.
The lonely, intense and utterly captivating debut trailer for The Last of Us Part II says it all: this isn’t going to be a cheery game. The slow-pan shots of bodies littering the overgrown halls and the desperation and vitriol in Ellie’s voice give a clear indication of the direction the game is going to take. All this topped off with a shaky rendition of Shawn James’ ‘Through the Valley’, it’s clear Naughty Dog aren’t just hoping to pull at the heartstrings - they’re trying to rip them out.
During a panel at the 2016 PlayStation Experience, game director and co-writer Neil Druckmann stated that Part II was “a game about hate”. Judging by the 2017 Paris Games Week trailer and the gameplay shown during Sony’s E3 2018 presser, it’s also a darker, more violent title than its predecessor. Ellie isn’t an inexperienced and bratty 14-year-old anymore. Instead, she’s been through it all and come out with scars to show. And while the first trailer also confirmed the return of original protagonist Joel, it’s unclear exactly what role he’ll play.
All three trailers suggest a world that has had the hope wrung from it, a world that has slipped even further beyond the martial law and block-by-block executions that kept people in check in The Last of Us. The zombie-like ‘infected’ have been left as an afterthought here; the human violence is worse.
Naughty Dog want you to feel everything - every bit of pain inflicted on another person. The first gunshot Ellie fires in the E3 trailer rings uncomfortably for what feels like minutes. The world fades to static when she is struck by an enemy’s hammer, and even the camera moves to an intimate angle as she plants a machete squarely in the throat of that same assailant. Part II is keeping the violence centre stage, wanting you to remember everything you do.
Like the world she inhabits, Ellie has become colder and more lethal. She slinks through forest undergrowth like an animal, wielding her bow with capability far beyond the timid teenager from years back, but here lies the problem. For all the visual and thematic evolution evident in the world of the game, The Last of Us Part II still looks like The Last of Us .
The third trailer, a gameplay debut fans had been waiting for, looked all-too-familiar: throwing bottles as distractions, hastily crafting some fresh ammunition, scrambling to escape when things go south, and even the user interface looks identical. The first game played just fine, and perhaps more changes will be showcased as we get closer to the release date, but Part II is looking immediately more recognisable than I may have liked.
One element that we’re yet to hear more than a few snippets of is the music. Gustavo Santaolalla’s minimalist acoustic motifs and guttural whines make a return with a decidedly more Western sound, leaving fans excited to hear how the sequel’s themes will be reflected in the soundtrack.
The ending of The Last of Us advocated hope, life and civilisation in the aftermath of so much violence; Part II believes that there is just more violence. While the gameplay seems to largely consist of improvement on established concepts, it’s looking to be a thematic and visual leap forward for Naughty Dog