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‘The Last of Us Part 2’ demo looked so good we weren’t sure it was real

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By Phil Hornshaw

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If you caught the demo video for Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part 2during Sony’s press conferenceat E3 2018, you might have thought what some of us on Digital Trends’ E3 crew thought — that it looked too good to be true. The demo is full of moments in which animations blend together so seamlessly, they look like tiny cutscenes or quick-time events interspersed throughout the action. Naughty Dog is known for taking a cinematic approach to its games, so it wouldn’t be surprising to find that there were moments when the game was taking control away from the player for a moment or two to make a fight look a little cooler or more intense, only to hand it back a couple seconds later.

Apparently, though, we doubters were wrong. All those moves Ellie makes are tied to gameplay, not cutscenes or quick-time events meant to increase the game’s dramatic effect. The demo was highly choreographed, Lowe said, to make the sequence exciting, while conveying a lot of information about what to expect in the game, but there was no E3 magic involved.

Naughty Dog showed off a number of new mechanics in the new The Last of Us Part 2 demo, not just contextual actions that will only pop up at certain moments in the game. It also gave some new hints about where Naughty Dog is taking its story.

The demo opens with Ellie, now the series’ protagonist, hanging out at a hoedown in a human settlement that has managed some normalcy in spite of the world being overrun by zombie-like “infected” humans, as in the first game. The trailer gives some character moments with Ellie, who is 19 at this point (she was 14 in The Last of Us); Jesse (Stephen Chang), another young member of the settlement who apparently goes out on patrols with Ellie sometimes; and Dina (Shannon Woodward), a woman who used to date Jesse and on whom Ellie seemingly has a crush.

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The scene sees Jesse discussing an upcoming patrol with Ellie and referencing her protective father figure, Joel (Troy Baker), the last game’s protagonist. Then Dina shows up, who grabs Ellie for a dance in a move that might be a stab at Jesse and their past relationship. Eventually, Dina kisses Ellie as they discuss how much Ellie ought to threaten the men of the settlement.

The kiss transitions to Ellie attacking and killing a man out in the woods, presumably on that patrol she and Jesse had discussed. A moment later, his buddies start to show up, bearing torches and whistling to each other. Ellie has to slip past them, making use of stealth elements like crouching in low bushes and keeping out of sight to make it past. Not far ahead, she finds someone who appeared to be the leader of the bandit group, murdering a man for reasons unknown by hanging him from a tree by the hands, then gutting him. At least we know Ellie is killing some not-nice folks.

Before long, Ellie climbs into a partially destroyed parking garage, and the demo takes. As she moves up to assassinate another bandit, she’s spotted, turning the situation into a firefight as enemies called out to one another and passed along the information that they’d spotted a “wolf.” The player quickly dispatched one enemy with Ellie’s mostly silent bow and arrow, but the other character closes in and it comes to blows.

The enemy swings a blade at Ellie, which she narrowly dodges by leaning quickly out of the way. Ellie returns the attack, slamming an axe into the character’s face. The blade gets stuck, so she leaves it behind.

Moments like this, where Ellie pulls moves that look almost scripted in their execution, are scattered throughout the demo. Later, she picks up a bottle mid-run and heaves it at another enemy to throw them off balance, then pulls the woman into a headlock to use her as a hostage. Bandit arrows slam into the woman’s body, causing Ellie to drop her and hurry off — until one of the arrows hits her and lodges in her shoulder.

Though they appear scripted, these moments are mechanically triggered, Naughty Dog explained. Ellie really can pull an arrow out of her own shoulder (prompted as R2 during the demo), she can grab bottles while moving and running, she can lay flat on her stomach in the prone position (which she uses in the demo to hide under a car), she can grab people and take them hostage, and she can sidestep incoming attacks with a new dodge mechanic.

The demo continued with a tense scene in which the bandits chase Ellie, out of ammo, into an old storefront. There, she stays low and uses shelves and counters to sneak around her attackers, until she can find something to fight back with. We also saw Ellie quickly craft an explosive arrow while in battle, showing some of the new stuff you can make on the fly with a more robust system than what was in the first game. When Ellie finally dispatched the last enemy, who she filled with arrows before lopping of his head, the demo transitioned back to the dance and the closing moments of Ellie and Dina’s kiss.

We still don’t have very much information about what The Last of Us Part 2 will exactly be about — Naughty Dog has said that it’s a revenge story, and that it explores the life of an older Ellie who’s dealing with the trauma of all those many murders she’s now committing. What Naughty Dog has shown of The Last of Us Part 2‘s gameplay, though, demonstrates that it’s a major step forward from the first game, both in terms of Ellie’s abilities in combat, and how fluid and polished it looks. If normal players can play The Last of Us Part 2 well enough to make it look half as good as Naughty Dog did at E3, it’s going to be very impressive.

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