String Theory

Last of Us 2 should have used its best mechanic in a totally different way

One of Naughty Dog's most basic tools could have been a game-changer.

The level of detail that went into creating Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II is nothing short of a technical marvel. Even the game’s most simplistic equipment — its ropes — are a testament to the painstaking effort that TLOU 2’s developers put into making the sequel look like a next-gen title on current-gen.

For all the painstaking detail and excellent physics that went into the rope, the game never quite uses the mechanic to create innovative environmental puzzles and freeform problem-solving that would have taken TLOU 2’s gameplay to the next level.

The stunningly realistic way the cords stretch around corners and snag on jagged edges caught the eye of gamers and other game industry professionals days after TLOU 2 was released. Developer Renji Nikaido tweeted a video on June 19 showing his followers the impressive amount of freedom the game gives you to wrap and entwine things with the wires available in certain parts of the game.

Nikaido’s tweet went viral and Naughty Dog technical animator Maksym Zhuravlov responded by revealing just how much work went into just making all of TLOU 2 ropes look lifelike. It took Zhuravlov and two of his colleagues three months to fully create the rope system and a quality assurance team “tested the hell out of it” before the game shipped on June 19.

Players can toss ropes over beams to swing and climb.Naughty Dog

A flurry of other developers complimented Zhuravlov and his team’s achievements, but TLOU 2’s limited amount of rope puzzles prevented the mechanic from reaching its full potential. The dynamic behavior of ropes in the game is now just a really cool detail, when it could have added a new layer of depth of how gamers can interact with TLOU 2’s environment.

Inverse reached out to Zhuravlov and inquired if more complex rope puzzles were ever considered during Naughty Dog’s development of TLOU 2 but did not receive a response before publishing.

Spoilers for the TLOU 2 follow.

More Rope Puzzles, Please

The game introduces players to its rope puzzles pretty early on, but it never quite pushes them to their limits. Instead, a majority of the TLOU 2 puzzles consist of cracking safes by finding hidden combinations, which is definitely satisfying. But the simplicity of the task can get stale later in the game.

In the very beginning of Seattle Day 1 with Ellie, we learn that chords can be tossed over objects and hung on bars to help players swing into previously unreachable areas. These challenges become slightly more complex as the game progresses, but they never advance past the usual “use this wire to climb or swing.”

The game’s rope physics are designed specifically to interact with other objects in realistic ways, like rusted pulleys Ellie and Abby might have found in abandoned warehouses to move boxes or containers to unlock secret passageways. This same concept could have been used to set up traps and distractions, like hoisting up a barrel and then dropping it down on an unsuspecting WLF soldier’s head as you make a stealthy escape. Or perhaps you could attach a rope to an arrow and use that as a makeshift grappling hook? Better yet, maybe you could craft a destructible grappling hook attachment?

The ropes could have also made the levels where Ellie and Abby travel with a companion even more compelling. For example, when you’re exploring downtown Seattle early in the game, Ellie could have used a rope to explore an otherwise inaccessible ditch while she gets Dina to yank her pack up once she’s ready.

This could have set up tense situations, like when Joel is hanging upside down and needs to fend off a horde of Infected in the original TLOU.

Rope puzzles never advanced past the usual climb and swing challenges.Naughty Dog

No Rope in Your Inventory

The final TLOU 2 gameplay trailer made it seem like Abby and Ellie would have access to a rope in their bag, but that didn’t end up being the case. Instead, rope puzzles were always railroaded leaving little to no room for players to experiment and creatively problem-solve with what could have been the most interesting tool in the game.

If Ellie and Abby had a rope like Arthur Morgan did in Red Dead Redemption 2, it would have completely changed the way players went about interacting with enemies and the environment. They could have tied up Seraphites they didn’t want to kill or pull a rope across a doorway to trip any wandering Clickers that might try to enter a room you’re looting.

Having a rope in your inventory could have also allowed players to use the Infected to their advantage. Imagine sneaking up behind a Bloater and tying a rope to its back that‘s connected to a wooden beam, then luring it away from the beam and having it clear a path for you.

Naughty Dog played it safe with its gameplay, combat, and environmental interactions. Leaning into its impressive rope physics could have been a way to give players much more freedom over how they approached certain scenarios and pushed the boundaries of the world-class gameplay the series is known for.

The Last of Us Part II is now available for PS4.

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