In 2013, The Last of Us debuted to critical acclaim, featuring clunky gameplay but one of the best written stories in gaming. Naughty Dog has finally released their anticipated followup to their successful zombie game with The Last of Us Part II. Having large shoes to fill, the new entry is taking risks in hopes to bring the franchise to new heights. Now that the dust has settled after a divisive launch, the only question that remains is; how does The Last of Us Part II hold up after years of anticipation?
The Last of Us Part II is an action-adventure game developed by Naughty Dog and is published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. Directed by Neil Durckmann, the released on June 19th, 2020 exclusively on the PlayStation 4. The copy of the game was purchased at full retail price and played on a PlayStation 4 Pro. This honest review will contain story spoilers.
The Last of Us Part II takes place 4 years after the first game, and follows a 19 year old Ellie through a journey of vengeance. The story opens in with Joel telling his brother, Tommy, about the events that occurred at the end of the first game. This is used to reiterate that what Joel did to the Fireflies to save Ellie was not necessarily heroic, and an awful deed. The very foundation of the story choices going forward is set here, and is the idea that will either make or break the story.
From here, the story follows the two primary characters; Ellie, and a new character named Abby. After a violent run-in between the two during a routine route in Jackson, leaving a primary character dead, Ellie sets out on a revenge path to kill Abby in Seattle. Meanwhile, Abby sets off on her own adventure through Seattle, against another enemy fraction that will define her.
The story is the reason many will play The Last of Us Part II, as it is certainly the primary focus of the entire experience. Unfortunately it’s also the biggest letdown of the entire package; with a plot that betrays established characters in favour of forgettable new ones, and ultimately leads nowhere. Even worse, is that these issues begin only a few hours into the game; with the cheap death of a major character, which it never manages to shake off.
That’s not to say it’s all bad, as world building and certain plot points are surprising and excellently executed. Including some characters and story moments during Abby’s story arc, where the world is further explored. Unfortunately the majority of the near 25 hour game is focused on a rubbish revenge story that never leads to anything fulfilling.
Very early on the story takes a bold direction that ultimately derails the game due to the poor execution of Abby killing Joel. This obviously sets up Abby to be the unlikable antagonist of the game, but ends up being a far more interesting and likeable character than Ellie. Meanwhile this sets Ellie on a cynical “revenge” story that, unfortunately, results in minimal character growth; and instead turns the character to an unlikable edge-lord.
This subversion of expectations could have been wonderful twist that gave the franchise more depth; but unfortunately the story doesn’t end up going anywhere; and often feels bloated with poor pacing. You’ll play as Ellie for nearly 10 hours as she hunts Abby in Seattle until the game resets and makes you play as Abby or the next 10 hours. This creates a situation where the is almost no interaction between the two characters for nearly 20 hours; and with Abby’s story having little to do with Ellie whatsoever, the entire revenge plot feels pointless.
It doesn’t help that almost all of the supporting characters are either extremely stupid or forgettable either. The only two that are interesting are a pair of characters named Lev & Yara, who aren’t introduced until nearly 15 hours into the game while playing as Abby. Other characters such as Dina, Tommy, Owen and Mel add very little to the story overall and are hardly interesting in the slightest.
Additionally, it would seem that the characters seen in gameplay are completely different than the ones seen in cut-scenes. For example, there is a moment when Ellie breaks down in front of Dina because she had to beat one of Abby’s friends to death to get information. However, nothing is ever spoken about the 300 other people she brutally murdered to get to that person. This happens throughout the entire game and it creates a huge disconnect between the characters and the players. Including the ending where she decides to let Abby live, even though she’s killed hundreds of people to get to that point.
The Last of Us Part II is a cinematic third-person action game that utilises stealth and survival elements. With a focus on being an extension of the story, the game features realistic movement, interactions and combat. It never feels like a “video-game”, but rather a film simulator that is less focused on fun and more on gritty realism.
Aside from some welcome gameplay additions, it doesn’t do much else to improve the experience overall which can make the game feel repetitive. Just like it’s predecessor, the game can feel very clunky and non-responsive – especially during tense combat sequences, even though core mechanics have been slightly polished a little more this time around.
A considerably large chunk of the gameplay revolves around looting, crafting and managing your inventory. As you explore through the devastated Seattle, you’ll be on the constant lookout for supplies to help you on your journey.
The inventory management is a surprisingly well handled element in the game. It’s nearly identical to the previous game, but it remains easy to look at and quick to use. You’ll be able to view upgrades, crafting tools, and even notes found in the world to help progress through the game.
After a while, looting begins to become one of the primary elements of the gameplay; as you’ll be doing it more often than anything else. This adds a lot to the overall immersion of the survival game, and does help build the world surrounding the story. However, after a few hours it does become a repetitive slog that slows the pacing too often.
Luckily, looting does give you supplies and ingredients for crafting; which is a system that is done wonderfully. Crafting is done in live time but its quick, easy to understand and adds a great element of survival. It’s one of the few mechanics that feels authentic and helps keeps players on their toes.
Combat & Stealth
When you’re not walking through the wasteland and looting every cabinet and fridge, the game offers brutal combat and tense stealth sequences. When in combat, you’ll typically be in your enemies face smashing “Square” until you brutally beat their head in; or be in the middle of a tense firefight. However most of the time, you’ll find yourself hiding in the shadows or tall grass, sneaking around and assassinating enemies, in violent ways.
The gameplay is very similar to its predecessor, but with some improvements that make the experience a bit more varied. For starters, the addition of the ability to both go prone and jump add a much needed movement variety. The aiming and combat also feels touched up to be smoother and harder hitting than before.
Regardless of different fractions, the Human AI is often very dumb and easy to take out, even on harder difficulties; allowing you to sneak by them with ease or shoot them as they hardly evade. The infected can be easy to sneak by as well, but their sheer numbers can overcome you if they’re alerted; and are far more interesting to interact with. With only a few new infected enemy types, and humans who act the same as before, there’s nothing much new here to experience.
As far as fun factor goes, The Last of Us Part II offers very little of it here. Most of the combat is done through animations or clunky button-mashing gameplay, which wore out its welcome within a few hours. The game takes itself to seriously to the point that the combat itself is impacted in a negatively, far more than its predecessor.
Graphics & Animation
The Last of Us Part II’s cutting edge graphics and animation are by far the highlight of the entire product. From characters, lighting, inanimate objects and more – the game truly pushes the limits of the PlayStation 4 and gaming in general in this regard.
Character models and animations are absolutely top notch, and look almost as authentic and real as it gets. From individual hairs brushing in the wind to the wrinkles and scars in faces, as emotions are expressed in lively ways. Even outside of closeups in cutscenes the models look simply fantastic, and interact realistically to weather and damage.
The animations themselves are absolutely something to write home about. From people moving in realistic ways, to the jolting and sudden movements of infected – the inhabitants of this decaying world have never felt so alive. Even the way clothes blow in the wind or projectiles fly through the air is incredibly impressive.
Environments and weather effect are simply awe inspiring, and some of the most real looking vistas seen in a video game. With a repetitively accurate representation of Seattle, certain elements feel like they were placed into the game from the real world. The addition of wildlife growing over such real locations is truly a site to behold, especially when the sunlight glows through the thick concrete jungle.
Music, Audio and Voice
Composer Gustavo Santaolalla returns to the helm to bring an emotional, heart-pounding soundtrack that gives a unique flavor to the game. From a carefully constructed acoustic guitar to flesh out the world, to loud action music that intensifies the action set pieces. The soundtrack is genuinely fantastic, and it does a lot to ground essential moments and world surrounding them.
Simply put, the audio & sound design of The Last of Us Part II is almost otherworldly. From the calm brushing grass and relaxing rainfall; to the collapsing of a mans skull with a crowbar, or the gargling blood as you cut through an infected’s throat. Even simple sounds such as footsteps, wind and water drips are brilliantly implemented to an impressive degree.
Ashley Johnson & Troy Baker return as the voice and motion capture actors for Ellie & Joel, respectively. Laura Bailey joins the cast as newcomer Abby, among a slew of other returning and new actors featured throughout the game; such as Shannon Woodward as Dina & Jeffery Price as Tommy.
Writing aside, the acting cast’s performances are absolutely stellar throughout The Last of Us Part II. Everybody performs their roles excellently, taking the writing they are given and bringing true personality and emotion to the otherwise stale characters. Ashley and Laura especially do a lot of the heavy lifting, providing incredible performances that last over 12 hours a piece; with no dip in quality whatsoever.
Overall The Last of Us Part II is unfortunately one of the most disappointing sequels I’ve ever experienced. I was excited to experience a new story that would dive deep into the characters we loved and expand the world surrounding them. Unfortunately what we got was a poorly executed revenge story that felt disrespectful to established characters and fans alike.
Even outside the incredibly disappointing story, I felt that playing the game itself was largely a frustrating chore. The very few gameplay enhancements don’t add up to much and ultimately results in the game feeling outdated. Just like the first game, the story is meant to drive the experience forward; so when neither the story nor gameplay is interesting, the experience becomes bland quick.
That’s not to say the whole game is bad, however. There were plenty of times were the graphics and sound alone simply blew me away, and a few story moments that I found exceptional. Some gameplay segments were an absolute riot, mostly when dealing with a huge horde of infected or even a large infected boss. I never got bored of watching the gruesome murder and death animations either, they were excellently done.
When the The Last of Us Part II is good, it’s VERY good! Sadly it is largely overshadowed by its long list of outstanding issues. I walked away from the game hugely disappointed, but I certainly understand how some people could enjoy this game as well. If you’re here for the story then I wouldn’t recommend the game, but if you’re here to experience some impressive graphics and tech you’re in for a treat.
The Pixel of Us
The review copy of The Last of Us Part II was purchased by myself for $59.99 on the PlayStation store, and was played through using a standard PlayStation 4 controller. The game is available on the PlayStation Store for $59.99 and you can learn more about the game at the Naughty Dog website.
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Listen to my personal project, The Noble Core Podcast on Spotify and Apple. Our weekly Podcast primarily focuses on Halo news and content; however also talk about PlayStation games such as The Last of Us Part II. Follow us on Twitter @TheNobleCore, you can also find me @TheNobleGrunt and my co-host @JonTheChief117 as well.