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CNN  — 

What can we say about The Last of Us? The game absolutely captivated audiences (ourselves included) with its brilliant story, gameplay and visuals in 2013. In fact, it holds up well to this day.

And with the June 19 release of The Last of Us Part II soon upon us, we have high expectations from Naughty Dog, the developer of both titles.

What we’ve found during our first look certainly holds up to the standards it’s set.

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First of all, the game is gorgeous. From light-laden canopies to snowy mountain terrain to the faces of every character, it’s easy to become wholly immersed. But it’s about the little things too — we were particularly impressed with the snow. You’ll leave a trail as you walk. Snow even falls off trees if you bump into the branches.

And just like in the first game, there’s an interesting mix of despair and hope that Naughty Dog nails the second time around. Most scenes are interspersed with the ruins of the old world, but also the seeds of the new one. We couldn’t have asked for more from the game’s atmosphere.

And the developers strike the same emotional cords, too.

From the get-go, we enjoyed eagerly anticipated interaction between Joel and Ellie — they still have that awkward, but touching father-daughter relationship. And Ellie is still the tough, yet soft-centered girl we’ve come to know.

We soon gained control, walking around as Ellie, and becoming more familiar with her, let’s say, complex new social life. As was the case in the first game, the exposition is mixed seamlessly with gameplay. We aren’t directly told the story; it’s revealed naturally. Plus, there are collectables to find along the way, which is always fun.

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When it came time for combat, we were treated with unique and familiar strategies alike. Melee fights felt particularly fresh — you can dodge attacks and counterattack in kind. This isn’t exactly unique, but instead of making these actions a quick-time event, they are smoothly integrated into the gameplay.

What you’re left with is a fight that feels fluid and uninterrupted (except for the first time, which slows things down to show you how it works). Our only gripe is the limited variety in how regular zombies attack, but we expect to see familiar enemies rear their ugly, spore-covered heads as we progress.

At range, things are much the same as the first game. Aim and shoot, take cover, scrounge for ammunition — all that good stuff.

The guns and other weaponry feel just as satisfying as they did when we played as Joel. And much like our experience with him, it’s important to conserve ammo. That being said, there are five different difficulties to choose from that affect aspects like ammo scarcity and enemy tenacity. If, like some of us, you’re only interested in the story, there’s no shame in that at all.

We were pleased to find a similar stealth system to that of the first game as well. Sneaky and patient players are rewarded with the opportunity to silently take out opponents. Plus, you can listen for nearby enemies to get a sense of where they are and where they’re headed. After all, what would a survival horror game be without sneaking up on zombies?

As for the crafting system, we’ve only just begun to encounter it during our playthrough. One of our favorite parts about The Last of Us was using makeshift contraptions to blow away unsuspecting enemies. Hopefully, there will be even more we can cook up from junk we find in abandoned homes and facilities throughout Part II.

Naughty Dog has also thrown in a slew of accessibility features to make the game fun for a wider audience. This includes subtitles, high contrast mode and additions to benefit low-vision and blind players. We’ll have a full review after we take a deeper look.

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The Last of Us Part II has been a blast. The story has already tantalized us and the characters feel like they have real depth. This, along with satisfying mechanics and breathtaking scenery, has made it hard to put down the controller.

You can preorder The Last of Us Part II, starting at $59.99 ahead of its June 19 release. Plus, if you’re a huge fan, there are special editions that add extra digital and physical content. You can even score Last of Us Part II themed PS4.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.