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The Last of Us Part II lets you question Ellie's descent into violent darkness

If there is anything I can say about my all too short time The Last of Us Part II earlier this week it feels very much like a Naughty Dog game – and I mean that in the best way. The esteemed studio of Sony has not released a bitter title since 2016 Not mapped 4, and the next game, although a sequel, is announced as the biggest, coolest and most groundbreaking game Naughty Dog has made so far.

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Based on first impressions, that certainly feels true, both in the look and feel of it TLOU Part II and also in his promised story. Prior to the approximately three-hour demo on Tuesday, creative director Neil Druckmann told us as the first Tlou was about unconditional love and how far you would go to protect the ones you care about, then Part II is about how that love can also give way to extreme hatred under unfortunate circumstances.

The preamble of Druckmann set the tone for the first practical experience with TLOU Part II, one of the most anticipated game sequels in recent memory. The original game earned a unique level of respect for players. It almost felt like a turning point for narrative video games that bear the emotional weight of a Hollywood movie, but on a beautiful canvas with a large budget that is usually reserved only for the most successful, established franchises.

I bought a PlayStation 3 at the end of the console's life cycle just to play the original game. And then I bought it again on PS4 when it was remastered. I remember the moments after I finished it in the fall of 2013 as my first brush with the then fast-growing world of Let’s Play & # 39; s and YouTube response culture (including a viral video that I encountered from an emerging internet celebrity called PewDiePie) so that I could view someone else's facial expressions when they experienced the polarizing end sequence.

I suspect TLOU Part II will arouse fiery admiration and division in the same way, but for a different reason. This time it is not about Joel's choices and what they said about him as a person and how justified he was to make them. It is about the path of his surrogate daughter Ellie, and whether the now 19-year-old lead player will sacrifice what makes her one of the most beloved and recognizable video game characters in her search for revenge.


It is proof of Naughty Dog's great writing and character growth that Ellie has become the face of such a serious, serious and serious studio program. On the one hand, she is a hardened survivor trapped in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with an alarming body position behind her and a dark secret that is literally hiding on her skin, now covered with a tattoo designed by a former lover.

On the other hand, she is immensely related, just as clumsy and socially awkward as any inexperienced teenager who maneuvers relationships, both romantic and different. When Naughty Dog's leading game designer Em Schatz told me on Tuesday that Ellie & # 39; one of the most complex characters in video games & # 39; I did not look at myself. It is true that Ellie perishes like a colossal figure in the narrative pantheon of gaming.

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"We want our characters to be so familiar, so you say," I see myself in this person, "Schatz says. She makes the distinction between Ellie and, say, Nathan Drake." Nathan Drake is a superhero. But if the world If there was an apocalypse, many of the things I see Ellie and Joel do collapsed, I see myself in it. & # 39;

But it is knowing what Ellie could eventually become – a ruthless, soulless murderer – who could make it TLOU Part II such a difficult game to play for the die-hard Ellie fans out there. We don't know much about the plot of the sequel, but my demo had a meaningful structure and my conversation with Schatz lit up some important themes that the game will explore.

I spent the first half of a deserted, snowy city on patrol with Dina, Ellie's burgeoning love interest. Something will inevitably happen to Dina – the latest trailer makes that clear – but we don't know what. It is that event that sets Ellie on the path where I found her in the second half of the demo when it was Ellie versus a group of unidentified murderers that seems to stand between her and the revenge she starts.

For those who loved the original Tlou, you will be happy to know that the sequel feels and plays the same. Naughty Dog has created a rich, deeply believing world full of intricate environments and small, translucent details. I was amazed at the handwriting on the notes left behind on desks and drawers and the complicated movements that Ellie makes at the craft stations when putting together an improvised silencer for her gun.


I wandered through rotting campers and ranch-like houses and supermarkets that felt frozen in time. I listened to moving stories of characters that I have heard I will never meet, but the feeling that I have known for years, told through environmental conversations in which Ellie participates when you make her dutiful shelves and cupboards for disinfectant alcohol and dressing materials.

The quiet moments between Ellie and Dina were the most memorable, because Ellie's sarcastic jokes and Dina & ancdotes about her incompatible ex-boyfriend are slowly peeling the platonic cover of their relationship. In about 90 minutes I already felt a love for the two characters and their budding romance, and it made escape from the infected in the survival horror sequences that followed alarmingly tense. When the teenage duo finds the supply of marijuana in the cellar of a deceased friend and decides to cheat to pass the time, I felt that I was looking at a story as classic as any iconic coming of age movie.

Of course, that friendlier, more intimate setting eventually gave way to brutal violence. If the traditional Hollywood-inspired story is at the core of Tlou, it is the human-to-human struggle that gives the experience the interactive interpretation. And it remains disturbing.

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The second half of the demo was also about 90 minutes, but it turned around TLOU Part IIMore open fight scenario & # 39; s. They now feel more dynamic, with a greater variety of weapons and ways to approach every obstacle. Environments are larger, with multi-storey buildings that add a sense of verticality to the fighting. It is something that did not exist in the first game.

Depth has also been added to stealth games. You can hide in tall grass, pick out enemies with a gun equipped with a do-it-yourself silencer or Ellie & # 39; s familiar bow and arrow, the latter of which can be supplemented with ammunition as long as you stick the arrowhead through a human skull so that it can be easily removed. If you prefer a more destructive approach, you can lure enemies to explosive tripping wires using the loud gunshot of a gun or rifle against an unsuspecting enemy to snare others.


Image: Naughty Dog

It is here in Ellie & # 39; s deeply violent massacre that the character study of the game seems to be anchored. Unlike Joel, who was already a mean killer and watched players redirect his loss of humanity to protecting what became his sole reason for life, Ellie is still an influenceable young adult. She tries to find her way in a world that only wants to take her away continuously, and we as players have to see what that does to someone who still has a lot to lose.

Translated to gameplay, the level of violence here is just as uncomfortable, if not more, now that you embody a teenager. I didn't feel great to hit a human enemy so hard with a crowbar that it burst into pieces when he made contact with a woman's cheekbone. I also didn't like half a dozen times that I had to put dogs in my head to prevent them from chewing my face off, something that actually happened to me at least twice when my health was low enough to keep the canine around of the graphic and distinctive finishers of the game.

Other finishers are zombies that tear your neck if they get too close and, if you manage to surprise a human enemy, cut a slow and throat-like death through your throat. In another particularly horrifying twist, every human enemy now has a name; kill one and their nearby companion will shout "Bill" or "Dwayne" or "Carrie" and become more agitated and aggressive. They will grieve for their friends and yet you must kill them all.

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Just like in the first title, this level of harrowing realism is intentional. Tlou, more than in many other games, it seems to make at least a meaningful point about the nature of the violence and the messiness of forcing players to participate. Tlou is also set in a grim, lawless world where this kind of behavior must set the tone. Yet early trailers for Part II – one in particular with a girl who permanently depleted her arm by a hammer – seemed to deliver a level of meaningless massacre that Many people wondered if Naughty Dog went too far or increase the horror for shock value.

In my interview with Schatz, she says that the game is designed to recognize how contradictory we think about Ellie committing gruesome acts, including blowing up people, bludgeoning them with sharp objects and setting them on fire. But at the same time, these tactics are often the most efficient and resource-conscious strategies available to you in a game where ammunition is scarce and outright gunfights often kill you. They should also be sick.


Image: Naughty Dogg

You are supposed to have the possibility that your opponents deserve this, that Ellie's revenge is justified, and that eliminating these people in every possible way is the price they have to pay. Naughty Dog wants you to commit brutal violence and ask it on the way. You as a player must ultimately decide whether it is more of an exaggerated glorification than thoughtful commentary, even if it narratively connects with Ellie's dark dark downward spiral.

"We want the player to always ask these moral questions," says Schatz. "We do not portray violence and hate as a way to endorse it. We want to present it as consequences in a world where there is no authority, no police you can go to, not really black and white, good boys and bad boys."

But again, Naughty Dog is not so concerned with the good and the bad of the actions that you as a player tend to perform. Rather, it is the way in which those actions are reminiscent of Ellie. It is not a stand-in for the player, such as a voiceless RPG lead. She is a fully formed personality with a conscience on the line and a moral compass that is in balance. She is the story. Much of the uncomfortable nature of it TLOU Part II seems to stem from having to guide Ellie through scenarios that see her shoot, stab, mutilate and break up the people in between her and the retribution she seeks.

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Ultimately, she may not be the character that so many of us have seen ourselves in. She will be another person, and, like Joel, the type of person that Ellie will be square in the court of Naughty Dog. It is the story of the studio to tell, and it is not something that we as players have to decide. But it is something that we as an audience can choose to interpret how we consider it necessary.

"If you need justice, how far are you prepared for that?", Schatz says about the central theme of the game. "And how many of you will you lose in the process?"

The Last of Us Part II will be launched on PS4 on February 21, 2020.