Release date: Jun 19, 2020
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Genres: Survival horror · Action-adventure game
Designers: Emilia Schatz · Richard Cambier
Platform: PlayStation 4
Links to Purchase:
*Review Copy Provided by Sony*
(This review does not contain story spoilers for “The Last of Us Part II”)
The Last of Us (released in 2013) is considered by many as the magnum opus of Naughty Dog, far exceeding to many the heights that were achieved the Uncharted series and for a franchise with only one entry; it has become the cinematic benchmark for what gaming as a medium is compared to from a visual, audio, and narrative ways. Gaming as a medium has dramatically changed from a simple pick up and play outlet to being a platform for thought provoking experiences and while The Last of Us isn’t the first to provide that experience; it is one of the most prominent ones to change how we view games as a medium and also provided a narrative that was so legendary that it still holds up perfectly till this day.
Enter The Last of Us Part II 7 Years later
The Last of Us Part II (referred going forward as TLoU2) is a game that for a very long stretch feels like it exceeds the first game and nearly all games released by Sony in the last few years. The games narrative comes off very strong in spots and the character interactions and story flow, and then…….it takes a sharp left detour that honestly derails the entire plot in an incredibly nonsensical way that it leaves you wondering why Naughty Dog decided to do what they did. All that being said and even with what I said earlier; is The Last of Us Part II still worth it? I’ll be honest; this review is going to be very different from any that I’ve previously done and I’m bound to an incredibly strict embargo so I will tread carefully, however, I will not hold my tongue on my opinions of this game. Let’s get into it.
The story picks up 5 years after the first game after that timeless moment where Joel (voiced by Troy Baker) is pressured by Ellie (voiced by Ashley Johnson) to swear to her what he told her about the Fireflies (resistance group from the first game) was the truth of which he looks at her and bold face lies to her swearing hes telling the truth with one colossal statement of “I Swear”.
TLoU2 has Joel and Ellie living in Jackson, Wyoming in group of survivors of which an incident occurs with some outsiders arriving creating some incredibly tense situations to occur and ending us in Seattle where a war occurs between 2 local huge factions being The Washington Liberation Front (WLF) aka the Wolves and the Seraphites aka the Scars. Who they are is pretty pivotal to the plot so I wont dive more than that for now.
Because of the embargo, I cannot speak more on the plot especially the second half of the story; however, what I will say is that the narrative of the game does shift to being purely a revenge based plot and the outbreak plot point of the first entry is never really touched on as this story is much more narrow and focuses on the terrifying reality of what becomes of us that become obsessed with revenge and to what extent or lack there of would we go to see it happen laying to waste any semblance of morality. Humanity can be a true monster unlike anything else and this game goes to a great extent to showcase to you how terrible we can be and in reality humans are the true villains of the game and not the infected.
Oh and you may be curious of if there is any political or social justice pandering or agenda pushing. Well, yes there is, then again, that is what’s currently happening in real life in our world and it’s effectively inescapable regardless of where you find yourself on the political spectrum. Is it divisive? Yes. Is it as bad as many people hating the game who haven’t even played it themselves and are parroting talking points that some youtuber of some quartering have put out? Fuck no. Is it good? Yes……and no at the same time. The game does drag on too long and has many disjointed parts.
So if you’ve played the first game then you don’t have much to adjust to here other than the new inclusion of the jump mechanic which…..isn’t that revolutionary but its something none the less. You have the returning crafting mechanic from the first game that people for some reason either tend to love or hate, with me tending to love it because it feeds into the survival aspect of the game.
The gunplay in the Last of Us was always a point of contention for a lot of people being intentionally clunky on purpose to keep reminding you that you are not playing as some experienced military gun for hire or even Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series, so every shot needs to be planned out and precise or find a way to avoid battles by using the environment and items such as bricks and bottles to distract your enemies from humans to infected.
Like in the original you are able to upgrade your weapons to allow you to have better fire rate, capacity, reload speed, kick back, and more making the weapons more manageable and less clunky. Ellie’s shanking skills have gotten, well, more shankier with her switchblade than before and she’s a lot more brutal about dispatching enemies given how ruthless shes become. Melee combat has been expanded on with not only the ability to attack with punches and melee weapons but also the ability to duck and dodge and throw timed knock down blows. You can FINALLY dodge the one hit kill clickers of the first game.
Some new aspects of the game that are in my opinion a welcome addiction are the ways that the human enemies act when in search mode looking for you as they will call out to one another to look in specific places and call each other by name and are accompanied by dogs that will sniff you out and go after you. With how the enemies are and the new dogs, its in your best interest to take out the dogs and then go after the remaining humans and at times infected as you’ll often see how the roles reverse constantly between being hunted and being the hunter especially with the new laying prone mechanic and crawling.
Now many reviewers have mentioned how it’s too brutal and or makes them uncomfortable. My response? GROW A FUCKING PAIR! With all the blood and gore and violence in media, there was nothing in TLoU2 that ever made me “uncomfortable” as we’ve seen it in games and TV, and movies. If you need a point of correlation, then remember Spec Ops: The Line and there you go.
This is probably the best-looking game of this generation be it on console or PC. Nothing thus far has or can touch this game graphically. The game runs at 1080P on base PS4 and on the PS4 Pro it runs at 1440P and both resolutions are oddly locked at 30FPS (instead of 60FPS) yet no matter the frame rate, the game looks absolutely gorgeous.
Everything from the lighting effects, to the physics effects, swaying of grass, decay and debris of buildings, rot of the infected and above all Ellie, Joel, and the various characters all look so close to life like that you could forget you’re playing a video game. If you have the capacity to use HDR then you are in for one of the most groundbreaking and most beautiful uses ever in gaming.
The subtle nuances of the environment really draw you into the world of Ellie and Joel with the ability to hear exactly where your enemies are based on audio queues and the other part being the sound of the wind, flickering of fire, shots of the guns, the gutting and mutilation of you or your enemies, and even something so odd to speak about and that’s the sound of the mud on Ellie’s shoes; yes its that damn good! The voice acting is just as good in this game as it was in the original if not even more so. The tonal difference in the performances of Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson show themselves able to make Jowl and Ellie sound not only older but also much more weathered and ultimately worn out on a physical and mental level. The performances are beyond anything Hollywood has done in the last decade.
The soundtrack is in one word: Awe-inspiring, and in another two words, terrifyingly haunting.
The downsides of this game are purely in the narrative alone. It’s simplistic and carnal in its revenge theme and doesn’t answer the questions that were left unanswered in the first game. I think of all the things I am the most annoyed with, it would be the fact that the story left me not having answers to questions I had from the first title and also had me wondering why trailers and promotional material focused so heavily on the sexual orientation of Ellie and her single mindedness instead of a broader narrative experience. Then again, it’s not terrible fully because Ellie was in the first game and it’s DLC, a very single-minded character with very little dimensions to her unlike Joel.
The marketing for this game in conjunction to how Neil Druckman and the current Naughty Dog team decided to approach gamers who did not like the narrative shift have not at all helped this game in the slightest and have soured a lot of people on even wanting to pick up this game and to a greater extent could’ve been a real PR nightmare trying to handle the backlash faced at Neil and his approach along with Naughty Dog in the progressive views which are in stark contrast to the original game and the Amy Hennig era (and in my opinion superior era) of Naughty Dog where the focus was on making great games and focusing on player enjoyment versus taking a political or ideological stance and then shoving it down gamers throats as well as attack gamers who are male and are white which further propagates the anti-white and anti-male gamer agenda that is a very real thing that is pushed in not only gaming today but also media as a whole.
All that aside, the games marketing and PR was for lack of a better word: Abysmal.
You thought this was going to be a review that was fence sitting to avoid the outrage mobs or bashing it to appeal to the artificial “keep your politics out of my games” mob, or a “this is the greatest game of all time”? Look, I’m going to tell it to you like this: I like the game and honestly found the narrative captivating and enthralling and the gameplay fun and requiring me to methodically plan out how I will proceed further and effective survive the horror of not only the monsters but also the monsters that are humans. Is this a game for everyone? No, but neither was the original or any games in the survival horror genre. Even with the terrible marketing, the leaks that happened, the poor PR from Troy Baker and others involved in the game, and the “anti-SJW” crowd that are generating talking points just to get clicks on YouTube and articles: The Last of Us II is a game that will be enjoyed and will stick with you for years to come IF, you are willing to give it the time of day even if the devs attacked a large portion of their fanbase for years. The Last of Us Part II is a game that I highly recommend even with how divisive it is and one that will probably draw some ire for my saying this but it is a game that I think that you should play for yourself and make that decision on your own.