Anticipation for The Last of Us: Part 2 has reached unfathomable levels of hype, and with a May release rapidly approaching, Naughty Dog are putting the finishing touches on a game that deftly carries the weight of expectation on its infected shoulders.
The smartest decision that Naughty Dog made from the outset was branding this sequel "Part 2"; it frames our understanding that this is a continuation of the story, whilst simultaneously stripping away a lot of the stigma that often gets attached to a highly anticipated follow up.
They aren't trying to repeat the narrative beats of the original, and are instead forging ahead by placing Ellie front and centre.
In terms of gameplay mechanics, there's so much here that will be familiar to those who picked up either the PS3 original or the remastered PS4 edition. Up close third person combat (with no button press cover system), the push and pull of adjusting your strategy to deal with the different infected types, and wide open areas that offer multiple paths.
Naughty Dog are taking an iterative approach with Part 2, whilst leveraging some of the tech they developed for Uncharted 4. Facial animation is leaps and bounds ahead of their previous gen efforts, with multiple examples of skin being malleable and affected by pressure, as well as enemies visibly wincing in pain. They're small details from a developer famously known for this level of polish and thought.
However, this isn't just about graphics. More overt changes include the addition of a prone stance, allowing Ellie to lay down in tall grass (another optional stealth element first explored in Nathan Drake's latest outing), as well as crawl under obstacles in her path. She can also creep under high suspension vehicles, once again demonstrating the importance of broader choice in this exciting sequel.
Given Ellie's enhanced mobility (she even has a jump button now!) and the increased focus on verticality within the level design, your foes have seen a significant upgrade to their behaviour and move set in order to balance out the challenge offered.
Enemies will now refer to each other by name, flanking and becoming more aggressive depending on whether you eliminate one of their fellow comrades. Particular factions also utilise attack dogs, which can track you by scent.
The Shambler, a new advanced form of the infected, is a gaseous blob not unlike the explosive flood from the Halo franchise. They secrete a poisonous discharge and can explode when in your proximity. Combined with the more communicative human enemies, and the addition of canine threats, you'll have a lot to consider at any given moment.
While narrative beats have been largely kept under wraps, and with Naughty Dog's proclivity for misdirecting fans with the editing of their trailers, there's still a lot we don't know. But, it's fair to say that from a technical and A.I. perspective, The Last of Us: Part 2 is shaping up to be every bit the shocking, ambitious sequel we've been waiting for.
The Last of Us: Part 2 launches on 29th May 2020, exclusively for PS4.