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SummaryLove and hate: two sides of the same coin
The Good* Incredible technical achievement with stellar graphics, fantastic environments, and superb sound design
* More open level design offers more options for stealth and traversal
* Plenty of weapon upgrades and items to craft
* Solid performances from the cast.
The Bad* A ambitiously messy, clumsy storyline
* Pacing and length issues
* AI is occasionally dumb
* Melee dodge feels clunky
The Bottom LineWith just a few months left to go before the PS5 storms the video game market, Sony is now launching the final exclusive games for the PS4 console. The original The Last of Us launched in 2013 under much the same circumstances, as one of the final exclusive titles for the PS3 console.
Honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of the first. It was one of the first PS3 games I can remember buying. I kept waiting for some sort of transcendent moment to happen during my playthrough but one never did. Many others disagreed, and The Last of Us is now cited as among the best games of all time. At first I wasn’t planning on playing the sequel. However, after seeing the leaks, the excessive DMCA takedowns, and the controversy surrounding certain plot elements I was starting to get intrigued. Since there are no new movies coming out, The Last of Us Part II is the closest 2020 has to a proper summer blockbuster, so why wouldn’t I want to play the hot new game and give my take on it?
The Last of Us Part II opens 5 years after the events of the original game. Joel and Ellie are now living in Jackson, Wyoming, with the world largely unaware of the fact that Ellie is the only known person who holds the secret to curing the plague. After a traumatic and shocking crime occurs in Jackson, Ellie and her new girlfriend, Dina head over to Seattle to seek retribution on an ANTIFA-like militaristic faction, the Washington Liberation Front. While in Seattle, she eventually crosses paths with a dangerous religious cult known as the Seraphites.
While the original was a relatively linear plotline, Part II has a considerably more complex narrative structure. On paper, the storyline is brilliant, as it asks us to consider the consequences of violence and the multiple sides to every story. What one person may see as justified is a heinous act in another person’s eyes. It asks us to look beyond mere notions of people being “good” or “evil”. However, the way in which the game goes about exploring this is suspect, to say the least. The story is leaden with so many flashbacks, parallel events, and perspective shifts that the story is at times difficult to follow and the pacing suffers. Since The Last of Us Part II can no longer rely on the shock of a new franchise, this kind of storytelling feels like trying to compensate for having to be a sequel. The only option is to go bigger, louder, messier, gorier, and raunchier, and not every idea is a good one. It’s also a hefty game in terms of its length, clocking in at anywhere from 25-30 hours. It’s by far the longest game Naughty Dog has ever made.
In terms of gameplay, Naughty Dog has largely stuck to the stealth/survival horror template of the original The Last of Us. You’ll be traveling through zones filled with human and infected enemies. You can either sneak past them, kill them stealthily, or go in loud and utilize all of your limited weaponry. There will be times when you’re forced to either kill all enemies in order to progress, or run away from them in extended chase sections, so your gameplay will end up being a mix of both tactical styles. Your weaponry consists primarily of guns, melee weapons such as boards and pipes which break after a few uses, and various craft-able items such as silencers and bombs. As you explore each environment, you will pick up various objects that can be used to craft these items, as well as weapon parts to upgrade your guns and pills to upgrade your skills in several trees, all of which are slowly unlocked over the game. There are also various collectibles to find, such as coins and superhero trading cards, which were highly amusing to read about.
New to Part II is Ellie’s ability to jump and go prone. The former allows Naughty Dog to create more expansive and vertical environments. The levels often have multiple paths to their endpoint, creating a variety of routes for the player to progress, as well as optional explorable areas. Going prone allows Ellie to hide in grass and crawl under gaps, which makes stealth much easier in certain situations.
Part II offers several new types of infected, including some enemies that are heavily armored and aggressive. Human enemies also come in a variety of factions, and some of them now use dogs, which can follow your scent and make hiding that much more difficult when they are around.
True to Naughty Dog’s established style, The Last of Us Part II is a highly linear experience. That said, it does flirt with open world gameplay at times, most notably in an early section where you are given free reign to explore a large area of the ruined Seattle. You’re free to visit various points of interest, including a courthouse, several stores, a synagogue, and a bank, in any order that you like, and as you collect items in each location they will be crossed out on the map. It makes for a surprisingly chill experience before the real drama with the human factions begins, even with the occasional infected battle
In general, the gameplay is a mostly solid experience. Trying to sneak through a zone and not get caught was tense and sometimes rewarding, while combat against infected was equally fun. I spent my first playthrough on Hard, and it was a fair but not insurmountable challenge. However, I did notice some occasional weird enemy AI issues once or twice such as them somehow not seeing Ellie kill an enemy right where they were looking, which broke immersion a bit. Maybe playing on Survivor I might have seen this less. The game introduces a dodge button for melee, but it still feels a bit clunky to use, since the dodge button is the same as the run button. There are several boss battles which rely solely on this mechanic, but they feel more like quick-time events. I also found the game got kind of tedious towards the end, as it was a very long game with not quite as much variety as it could have had.
Graphically, The Last of Us Part II is close to faultless. Never before has a devastated world been rendered with such beauty. The environments are filled with unique, individual details that paint a vivid picture of life before the pandemic hit. There are loads of optional buildings to explore and many of them have their own character. The game does take a fair amount of artistic license with the “real” Seattle, but that’s true of most games set in real-world cities. As a resident of the area, it was fun to see how various buildings were compared to the real ones. True to the real world, Seattle is also an incredibly rainy city, and the floods and storms you’ll frequently witness make for a very dramatic game at times. On the contrast, the game’s violence is ugly and harsh: you’ll frequently see Ellie blow off limbs, slit the throats, and crush the skulls of both infected and human enemies alike. Her brutality it seems, does not discriminate. Indeed, the character animations are mostly fantastic in general, with excellent motion capture and a mostly solid blending system, though I did notice some occasional glitches with the awkward jumping animation. There were a few times where I saw framerate dips, but they happen rarely and don’t impact the experience as a whole.
Sound design is also spot on. The soundscape is atmospheric and haunting, from the sound of breaking glass windows to the croaking of clickers, nearly every element is realized effectively. Voice acting is also largely great across the board, and while the script has some issues, the actors deliver very solid performances. The music of the game largely consists of Gustavo Santaolalla’s desolate guitar driven themes, mixed in with a few licensed tunes and some electronic music for the more intense battle sequences. All in all, the game is a technical marvel.
The Last of Us Part II does not offer a dramatic departure in gameplay from its predecessor, yet its tone and themes couldn’t be more different. Part II tells one of the medium’s most ambitious stories to date, but boy is it messy. It’s the messy and sprawling nature that makes it a fascinating game, though definitely not a masterpiece like most critics claim. It’s too deliberately imperfect and misshapen for that. It’s the kind of game that for better or worse will have people debating its story decisions for months, if not years to come, and it’s bound to be a cultural lightning rod given the lack of new movies coming this year.