Naughty Dog and Sony were kind enough to share over twenty minutes of footage from The Last of Us: Part II last Wednesday, so they've also allowed me to share my impressions of that sequence and what happens around the two hours leading to it. However, I'll save my more detailed thoughts for the review on June 12th, so this will just summarise some of my likes and dislikes from this early portion of the game.
Now, who didn't see this one coming? Everyone expected Naughty Dog to deliver the goods in terms of graphics, but that didn't stop me from being floored. I'm not just talking about the ultra-realistic textures here, either. Those would obviously be impressive in and of their own, but it's the attention to detail in terms of animations, environmental design, lighting, physics and sound that makes this the most beautiful game I have ever played. At times you can almost feel the breeze touch your face as you ride through an open field, listening to the birds enjoying life far away from the infected on the ground. Whether it's seeing how every bush and leaf reacts, or the thinnest sunbeams that sneak their way past the tree branches as you walk through a lush and wet forest, The Last of Us: Part II delivers, hands down, the most authentic and beautiful post-apocalyptic world I've ever seen.
Sense of Freedom
The gameplay can take a lot of the credit for this as well, as the areas in this chapter offer a wide variety of options in terms of how you can handle different situations. Many of the first game's restrictions have been thrown out the window. Being able to crawl and jump makes it easier to sneak up on or past enemies, while also making the hunt for resources and secrets far more engaging. The areas are often much bigger and more open as well, so you get to choose the approach that best suits your playstyle and equipment.
Exploring these areas wouldn't be as fun if they weren't well designed and diverse, so I'm glad to say that Naughty Dog and its partners have done a marvellous job in making each environment feel both natural and varied. In this chapter alone you'll walk on overgrown city-streets, climb and crawl your way through a dilapidated skyscraper, fight the sneaky Scars-faction in a gloomy forest, swim through a sewer, and infiltrate a hospital. All of which offers different paths and possibilities to fight, sneak and look for fun and informative collectibles.
While it's very immersive and impressive to hear enemies call out to each other and outflank me in smart ways, they still aren't the sharpest tools in the shed in specific circumstances. Both they and your partners are so much smarter than they were in the original, but the immersion will still get some nasty cracks the few times your partner messes up and decides to run or take cover right in the sightline of an enemy who must have been struck by a sudden case of temporary blindness. They also don't react to their environment as cleverly as they could; would you really go over to that spot where your friends' bodies were piled up?
Stupid enemies make the game quite easy at times, but those who are looking for a challenge should take note of another thing as well. I played on 'normal' difficulty my first time around, and that made exploring a bit boring at times because I'd already reached max capacity for most of the resources I found. A weird thing to complain about when this is one of the many fabulous ways Naughty Dog has made the game more accessible, but I recommend playing the game on hard or higher if you're an experienced player who prefers slitting throats instead of pretending to be The Terminator. Rifling through drawers and searching vehicles was much more engaging the second time around for me when I played on 'hard', as that both lead to fewer resources in the world and more challenging enemies.