Warning: Spoilers for The Last of Us Part 2 ahead
The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered has arrived, and with it a brand-new look into how the game was made. The Lost Levels are three short sections of the story that were cut during development. Excluded mainly for pacing reasons, they remain incomplete but are now playable. These glimpses into what could have been – which are thoughtfully explained thanks to developer commentary – include some interesting details, which despite not being game-changers, are fascinating nonetheless. Here are seven things we learned from The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered’s Lost Levels.
1 – Ellie’s Shaking Hand
The first Lost Level features a party in Jackson that would’ve taken place directly after the first fight between Abby and Ellie at the Seattle theater, and just before the dance scene with Dina. It’s a low-key affair that is full of moments that echo darker steps on Ellie’s journey, such as opening the scene with a shaking, bloodied hand that reflects a very similar shot shown earlier in the game after Ellie brutally kills Nora. Starting the level like this was a very deliberate choice but one that Naughty Dog’s Banun Idris recalls not being an easy one to make:
“The opening for this was a little tricky. We needed it to match at least a little what you might expect emotionally coming from prior beats, because we were already purposely disorienting you in time and space. Remember you just came from this huge fight; to jump straight into it would’ve been a little too jarring. After some back and forth, we rooted it in Ellie’s nerves, calling back to her hands shaking in the theater, but this time for a much more innocuous reason which we’ll find out later. She’s nervous because she has a crush on Dina.”
2 – How a Game of Clicker Tag Became a Snowball Fight
Before she can reach Dina however, Ellie partakes in a few festival activities which share gameplay mechanics usually saved for more violent endeavors in The Last of Us. The most noticeable of these is a group of children playing a tag-like playground game where one of them plays the role of Clicker. Eliie joins in and you must use the listening mode to find one of the kids to capture. This sequence would eventually evolve into the snowball fight in Jackson at the start of the game, as Idris explains here:
“The thought was that these kids are in relative safety, but they still grow up with the dangers of Clickers and Runners and all those lessons would embed themselves in the games that they play. When the festival got cut, they tried to preserve this moment and move it to the front of the game where the snowball fight is, as a tutorial. However, being in the headspace of a Clicker doesn’t really teach you how to deal with them. Eventually, it evolved and they instead made the snowball fight which I think was way more effective.”
3 – Ollie the Elephant
Other activities at the party include mixing a drink using the same interface you navigate to customise weapons with at a workbench, and a milk bottle throwing game that utilises the same controls used to launch a brick or bottle at an enemy. The prize for winning that game is a soft toy, Ollie the Elephant, who would later appear in Ellie’s story anyway, despite this whole level being cut. Idris explains how:
“A fun aspect of this is that if you did well, you could win a toy here and Ellie would place it in her pocket. If you had done this you’d find the toy with JJ (the baby) later back at the farm. When we cut this the toy made it through anyway because it was so cute. It’s the same one you see on the tractor at the farm, Ollie the Elephant.”
4 – Water Puzzles Were Cut
The second Lost Level takes us to the Seattle sewers, and was intended to have taken place just before Ellie’s showdown with Nora in the hospital. In these subterranean tunnels, we learn more about how Naughty Dog approached The Last of Us Part 2’s level design and environmental puzzles. Originally, this section was going to feature a series of water puzzles where Ellie has to battle a ferocious current. They were ultimately cut, but the water tech developed for them was revived in a later chapter. Designer Peter Ellis tells us all about it:
“This was one of the few areas of the game that used water flow as part of a traversal puzzle. The player has to go upstream to use the current to get to the platform and reach the other side. We mostly cut this mechanic game-wide, however, it remained in essence in the section swimming to the aquarium as Ellie where you’re avoiding the waves.”
5 – Dead End Design
In the sewers, we also learn about some simple-but-effective tricks that Naughty Dog’s level designers use to point us in the right direction. What initially appear to be meaningless dead ends are all there for a reason, whether it be to point you towards valuable materials or simply redirect you towards the critical path. This is expanded upon by Ellis in a section where a door leading to an empty room is used to turn the player around and toward a large pipe they need to crawl through.
“When players reach the doorway and enter the room, they’re faced with a dead end. The real reason for this dead-end room is that on the reversal when exiting back out of the doorway, players are faced with the route onwards – a pipe that they’d not been able to see when they were swept past it on the way in and something that was hidden from view when on the side platforms. The intention here being that the only option here is to go off the standard path in order to search for a way out.”
6 – The Hunt
Another type of signposting is demonstrated in a later cut level, which uses blood stains on floors and walls to ensure Ellie never loses track of her prey. That prey takes the shape of a wild boar, with which Ellie has a showdown in the third of the Lost Levels, titled The Hunt. Although the level is not present in the final game, the boar itself does make an appearance, as a reference to the event is drawn into Ellie’s journal.
This sequence was, again, intended to disorientate the player and mirror the deer hunting sequence from the first game when we first took control of Ellie in winter. Idris details the meaning of the level and why it was ultimately cut.
“The boar hunt was one of the hardest levels for me to work on. It was a huge challenge with the systems that we had, and we kept trying but it never felt quite right.
Originally, the level happened after the Jackson festival – which also got cut – but before the farm. Once the festival got cut it became the prologue to the farm. The intended experience is that we jump forward in time after the fight with Abby in the theater. We don’t know where Dina is, we likely assume she’s dead because she was just bleeding out. Ellie is alone, and her hair is short, so maybe this is the future or the present? And she’s hunting. Hunting who? Abby still.”
7 – Reinforcing Ellie’s PTSD
Upon completing the hunt, Ellie would finish the boar off in an unflinching scene that would remind her of Joel’s death. Director Neil Druckmann details what this level aimed to bring to the story: “This was another opportunity to show how the violence that Ellie has experienced, the violence that she witnessed being afflicted onto Joel is still sticking with her. She’s still experiencing these PTSD moments.”
Banun Idris adds further context to the end scene in particular: “The boar kill was supposed to be anything but glorious, with the boar whimpering at the back of the gas station after Ellie’s relentless hunt. After this, hearing the drone that we kind of come to associate with Ellie’s trauma, we would hard cut to the stream where she’s washing her hands and holding rabbits that she hunted, about to return to Dina. There would be no mention of the boar.”
The PTSD that follows Ellie around is one of the overarching themes of The Last of Us Part 2, and this instance with the boar is not the only reference to her trauma in The Lost Levels. Her memories of Joel’s murder are once again shown during the aforementioned sewers level, in a jump-scare moment involving a Clicker corpse. Peter Ellis describes how it was designed to be as effective as possible:
“It was great to see people who user-tested this area become increasingly worried as we forced the player to squeeze past the fungus and inches away from the Clicker’s face. All the time not being sure whether the Clicker might be alive or attack them. Although we aren’t as cruel as to force a Clicker attack in such close proximity, we do have a payoff for this moment. This Clicker momentarily turns into Joel to show Ellie’s PTSD from what happened to Joel at the start of the game.
Ultimately, we decided to save this moment for the farm level as it was more impactful there because it could become the centre-piece of that experience. Whereas in the sewers we weren’t able to make much of a narrative point and give it the breathing room and reaction time that it deserves given the tight space.”
These are both haunting images that Ellie will carry with her all the way to the game’s violent conclusion, and ultimately influence her final decision. Although both are effective scenes, it’s fair to say that the game’s themes of trauma and the circle of violence hit home without them. Mainly cut for pacing reasons, you can see why the ultimate decision was made, but still, including these lost levels in The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered makes for a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what goes into crafting such a well-told story-driven game.
Simon Cardy thinks that Ellie just needs to catch a break. Follow him on Twitter at @CardySimon.