When I got an appointment to see The Last of Us Part II at E3 this year, I was excited to get an extended look at the gameplay. Seeing the gameplay presentation during the Sony press conference (despite awkwardly and confusingly standing around in order to watch it) made me really excited to get an in-depth look at the game. Unfortunately, once I sat down for my closed doors appointment, it quickly became clear that the closed doors and secrecy were not necessary. My closed-door The Last of Us Part II preview was identical to what was publicly shown at the press conference on that first Monday of E3 2018.
Yes, the very same gameplay that was uploaded to YouTube a short time later. Yes, the same trailer that was loudly displayed on the giant screen in Sony’s booth repeatedly. This is a very common practice for E3 presentations, but often the developers will at least give some commentary or slow down while playing through to show off and highlight the details. In fact, my Ghost of Tsushima preview followed this formula, showing the same portion of the game that we saw during Sony’s E3 showcase, but Sucker Punch offered commentary throughout and did a number of things to prove that the gameplay was live.
As I entered the room to see The Last of Us Part II, I was greeted by Neil Druckmann and a few other members of the Naughty Dog team. One of them sat near the front of the room, controller in hand, waiting to play the game. We exchanged some banter while waiting for the rest of the journalists to arrive, and after some brief introductions, the lights were shut off and the demo began. The church. Ellie. The kiss. The brutality. Finally, we got to the gameplay.
I watched keenly, trying to reconstruct the gameplay we saw at the showcase. Was this the same? Since my demo, I’ve watched the showcase footage again to see if it was identical. There were no detours taken, no alternate ways of approaching a situation, and no words were spoken by the developers. The same enemies were killed in the same ways, and Ellie always took the exact same route. Even some of the more slow, cinematic camera movements were present–you know, the ones developers do in public gameplay demos to show off scenery and items of interest. There was no perceptible difference between the showcase gameplay presentation and what I was now seeing behind closed doors. The biggest change was that I was now watching the same thing with Neil Druckmann sitting three feet to my right.
When the demo ended, the lights came back on and those limited few that had been scheduled for an interview were allowed to stay. The rest of us left the room and that was that. I’m still highly impressed by The Last of Us Part II. The graphics left me speechless. I love that we get a stunning juxtaposition of Ellie as a threat, both romantically and as a brutal fighter. I was blown away by the cinematic gameplay and new animation system that makes every action feel purposeful. Perhaps most interestingly, all focus is currently on the human element. We have yet to see much in the way of the infected.
What I would have loved to get is some of the information that was revealed in other one-on-one interviews and panels about the game. Ellie is the only playable character. Mutliplayer will be in the game. The developers could have talked a little bit more about crafting ammunition, Ellie’s enhanced moveset, and the improved enemy AI. There was no mention of new infected classes or the new hostile factions, both of which have been confirmed since. They didn’t talk about the larger environments that blend exploration with combat, while still maintaining a generally linear game. I’ve made mention before that I want Sony to slow down a bit and allow developers to talk. That applies here too.
We also know that The Last of Us Part II may end up telling a story across a couple of different timelines, similar to how the Left Behind story DLC told its story. Druckmann confirmed that Joel is alive somewhere in the game, but obviously they are remaining secretive about most of the narrative for now. We do know that Druckmann wants players to feel repulsed by the cycle of violence that they are caught in. The brutality of The Last of Us Part II is not meant to be fun. It’s meant to be an exclamation mark, meaningful and harsh.
I understand Naughty Dog not wanting to show off live gameplay (that Uncharted 4 issue comes to mind), and I’m not taking the route of declaring this all fake. I think the gameplay demo is legitimately The Last of Us Part II gameplay, I just have my doubts that it was indeed being played live right there next to us. Despite the incredible showcase and finally getting to see game in detail, I can’t help but feel that part of my Wednesday morning was wasted by watching nothing more than the same demo that had already been publicly presented. As a writer in the video game industry, I want the opportunity to bring something unique to my readers. I wanted the “director’s commentary” version of the trailer, highlighting details we might have missed and things they were trying to show off (that smooth grab of the bottle before chucking it forward, for example).
E3 2018: The Last of Us Part 2 Preview Same as the Public Demo
That aside, The Last of Us Part II is looking like an incredible game. It’s a title I’ve been skeptical about. It’s hard to follow up as amazing a game as the first was, but it seems like Naughty Dog is really taking the creation of the sequel seriously in order to tell the next part of Ellie’s story in a way that feels meaningful, emotional, and most of all, brutal.