The Last of Us Part II makes its exclusive debut onto the PlayStation 4 on 19th June. The sequel to the much-loved and critically-acclaimed The Last of Us also arrives at a rather chaotic time in the world, and themes explored in the game – revenge, tribalism and survival – also appear to be playing out in the real world too.
Does the Last of Us Part II capture the zeitgeist? Perhaps, and it is something that is definitely worth exploring in future, but for now our focus is on the latest title to come out of the Naughty Dog studio.
In particular our focus is on the superb story telling that The Last of Us Part II does, how its violence can prove overwhelming at times, and what lengths you’re willing to go to in order to exact revenge.
Five years later
The Last of Us Part II picks up five years after the events of the first game, with a quick prologue of some of the key events that transpired between our protagonists Joel and Ellie. Both are older now, and the cross-country journey the pair made has impacted Ellie in particular.
You get to see this in the opening few exchanges between the pair. While they might not always see eye to eye, the love and respect they have for one another is clear to see, and truly helps to set up how you feel as the rest of the story unfolds.
We cannot get into specifics here, as we don’t want to spoil the story, but if you played the first title, and have any kind of affinity for these two characters, The Last of Us Part II will be hard to sit and play through at times.
What we can talk about though, is Naughty Dog’s track record as far as story telling goes. It has done a stellar job of creating characters you feel something for, and the same rings true here.
The work done on the narrative elements is quite noteworthy, with the blossoming love between Ellie and Dina being one such example. The motivation for a new character, Abby, is also an interesting plot element, feeding into the tribalism we touched on earlier.
The environments created in-game all feel unique and special in their own way. You start things off in Jackson, Wyoming. This town has become the new refuge for Joel and Ellie, and for the most part feels like a tightly knit community. There’s a bar that everyone heads to for breakfast in the morning, kids are playing in the snow in a nearby playground.
Naughty Dog does a great job of making you forget that a pandemic ravaged most of North America while you’re in Jackson… for a few fleeting moments at least.
Seattle, which is where a lot of action takes place in-game is also expertly crafted. With most buildings and roads either destroyed or dilapidated, the densely overgrown city often lulls you into a false sense of security, as you never know how many enemy factions are lying in wait or how many infected are waiting to attack.
Added to the expertly crafted and immensely detailed environments are the designs and mannerisms of each character, as they look as good talking to one another during regular gameplay as they do in cutscenes.
If there were one criticism, it would be the lack of interaction with the environment that is available. To that end you cannot scale all the abandoned cars and buildings for example, which seems a bit odd considering searching for supplies and ammunition forms a key part of the gameplay.
While combat zones and key environments for encounters with enemies have been well thought out, the same care could have been given for the other spaces you walk, run ride, swim or boat through.
Let’s talk about the gameplay now, and here there are a few things to note. Not all characters are created equal. This is immediately apparent in the ways in which Ellie and Abby fight.
The former is smaller and weaker, so stealth is the best course of action. She also needs weapons in order to take on human and infected enemies. Ellie’s size will always test your skills during combat, but that also makes taking down a particularly tough enemy all the sweeter. When she curses after killing someone, you want to curse right alongside her.
As for Abby, she is more battle hardened than Ellie, along with being physically superior and clearly combat trained. As such, hand to hand combat with Runners is achievable, but even she has her limitations, and a weapon will be needed for Clickers and Shamblers (new enemy infected to the game).
One thing that is the same regardless of which character you’re playing with, is the visceral and violent nature of killing things in The Last of Us Part II. In the original it felt more about survival, but the sequel makes killing feel more purposeful and less instinctual.
This is achieved by the different camera movements when sneaking up on enemies for stealth kills, or rushing them for a quick stab to the throat and chest.
As such, each encounter feels intense, which is how we’re assuming Naughty Dog designed it.
To break up the action a little bit, there are also times when interesting mechanics are used to change things up. Mashing buttons to cut yourself free from restraints, is a good example of this. A less violent example is strumming your guitar using a combination of buttons and swipes on the touch pad.
If we’re being overly critical (this is a review after all) of some gameplay elements, it is the other characters, and companions or partners in particular. Their movements can be erratic at times, and every now and then don’t seem logical, especially when trying to be stealthy or doing some puzzle solving.
This isn’t a deal breaker, just simply something we picked up on while playing.
Matching the success of its original was always going to be difficult, but The Last of Us Part II does exactly that. Naughty Dog has stuck to what it does best – tell great stories with engaging characters and ensure gameplay is tight and well thought out.
Add to this the fact that the game looks amazing, and the voice acting is once again impressive, and this title is one you’ll definitely be playing more than once. Partly to try out the more challenging difficulty levels, but all to watch all the nuanced elements again.
If you’re going to spend your money on any PS4 AAA title during lockdown, or in 2020 for that matter, it has to be on The Last of Us Part II.