Los Angeles - The Last of Us was and still is as far as I’m concerned, one of the greatest video games ever made. Set in a post-zombie world the PlayStation 3 exclusive followed the brutal, beautiful journey of Ellie and her reluctant protector Joel as they traverse through what remains of the American Dream.
It set the benchmark for video game storytelling and showed the wider world that video games weren’t just for children. This was adult, deeply emotional storytelling that would put most Hollywood films to shame.
No pressure then. It has been five years since The Last of Us came out, and in that time Naughty Dog have been crafting the next chapter in Ellie’s story, and as we saw in the breathtaking E3 reveal trailer (see below), this is Ellie’s story.
Ellie is now 19, her journey with Joel is over and the pair of them has settled in Jackson where life is now starting to take on an almost comforting regularity. Of course, things don’t stay that way.
Sitting in a pitch black room in PlayStation’s E3 booth 12 of us are sat down in front of a vast Sony television. What then follows is the same E3 reveal trailer, except this time there’s a man in the corner actually playing it with a controller.
That in itself is a revelatory moment. The E3 trailer stunned many of us because it looked too realistic to be gameplay, instead we assumed that much of what we were being shown were simply ‘quicktime’ events - parts of the game where the player only has to press a single button and the game itself moves the character for you.
Naughty Dog has always been good at creating realistic characters but with Ellie they might be setting another benchmark. Her reactions to the world around her are astonishing.
Ellie flinches when she hears gunshots, she cocks her gun right before the moment of firing, if she gets shot she’ll apply pressure to the wound and stagger until you can find a way to heal her.
Her reactions are just the tip of the iceberg. The human enemies she encounter throughout the demo are all individual people. Each one has a name, a personality, and as you watch them fan out looking for Ellie they’ll call out to each other by their names, giving orders, lending support or berating them.
These aren’t illusions or magic tricks, they’re fully fleshed out characters who are working in real-time and reacting to your direct actions. If you attack and then hide they’ll fan out and start looking for you.
In one particularly nail-biting moment Ellie takes an arrow to the shoulder and she immediately snaps it off and applies pressure. She then runs towards one of her attackers, throwing a bottle at her and then grabbing her by the neck before using her as a human shield.
The enemy is hit twice by her own companions and you feel the thud of each arrow. Ellie, breathing hard, throws herself into a nearby room and over a counter - sending what’s on top flying onto the floor.
Nearby is a corpse with an arrow in it, she forcibly pulls it out and places it in her backpack. Each movement looking measured, exact and utterly lifelike.
The demo eventually ends in a tense showdown between Ellie and a vast thug with a hammer and another with a bow. Her motions feel desperate, almost instinctive as she dodges blows and throws herself at them. Yet despite this fluidity of what’s happening, it’s all being carefully controlled by the man sat next to us.
We are then thrown back to the barn dance where the trailer first started and Ellie’s face glows in the warm light. She looks real, and as far as Naughty Dog are concerned, she is real.
Naughty Dog has always prized itself on its attention to detail and if this small vertical slice shows anything, it’s just how potent their obsessiveness can be when unleashed onto the big screen.
The Last of Us Part 2 is Ellie’s story, and while we know almost nothing about what that story might be, from the gameplay I saw it’s going to be one hell of a page turner.
HuffPost UK has travelled to the E3 video games conference with the help of Activision. Our journalism remains entirely independent.