There comes a certain type of pressure when a developer manages to release such an outstanding game, especially one that was such a shift from what they were previously known for, and nowhere has that been truer than with Naughty Dog. Through the years the company was best known for its colorful and cartoonish characters to then shift into a more action packed crowd with Nathan Drake only for its final shift taking it to where nobody would have guessed, The Last of Us. So now seven years after the release of the first game and plenty of events leading up to release, now that The Last of Us Part II has been released, is it everything fans may have hoped for?
Now it is worth noting that outside of a very brief recap about the very end of the first game, The Last of Us Part II does not give newcomers any introduction to the storyline or even a brief overview of the world and what has happened to it. So those who want to try and get the most out of what is presented in the game will want to have played through the first release, be it the original version or the remaster, prior to playing this game.
Set five years after the events of the first game, players will find themselves as Ellie as she is living a fairly comfortable life in the post-apocalypse as the settlement she and Joel joined has only grown more established through the years. When this mostly peaceful life comes crashing to a halt however Ellie is quick to venture out into the world of danger once again and seek vengeance on those who have wronged her, even if it means traveling across the entire country, facing down numerous different kinds of infected, and two warring factions of survivors to do it.
There is something to be said about trying something different and that is certainly what The Last of Us Part II tries to do with its storyline and the way it presents itself. This is a tail of revenge and how violence can only be met with more violence and how this can tear apart a world barely clinging to life as it is, but unfortunately through numerous story beats the game’s core message manages to be left behind and this issue is often made worse due to poorly written characters that completely fall apart upon a close inspection and even worse pacing.
Often there are moments in the story where players are meant to feel bad about something they were forced to do either to advance progress but never are these sequences presented with any subtlety nor are players even given a choice in the matter. This continues to be an issue throughout cutscenes that see horrible events occur at Ellie’s hands and now are placed at the player’s feet with little control. That isn’t to say that there is something to be said about presenting a horrific tale of misery and struggle, as The Last of Us Part II manages to pull that off incredibly well, but some attempt at nuance or even proper character development for many of these events would have helped the writing from veering so far off course and failing to deliver in an meaningful way.
As mentioned before, players will regularly find themselves experiencing huge events only for the game to slow to a crawl, removing nearly any urgency to the journey that they are on. Sure, the story does keep players moving forward in a straightforward manner but these padded areas rarely offer anything beyond surprisingly boring sounding dialogue between characters. This huge shift in pacing hurts the title as a whole and while collectibles scattered throughout help provide a bit of extra worldbuilding, this little bit of extra content does little to actually help develop many of the characters that players will run into throughout the story. Even when characters with some unique elements are introduced, they are handled so hamfistedly that they are ruined before the story moves past them.
This leads to a storyline that, while filled with rough and emotional moments that are portrayed rather expertly through great animation and voice work, ends up falling flat anytime it tries to move past shock value as the divide between the writing and the actual characters has never felt more prominent while the game itself actively fights against the core themes that the developers have tried to portray.
In many ways those who have played the first game in the series will feel right at home with The Last of Us Part II as the game still plays extremely similar to the first. Players will need to keep an eye on resource management as they scavenge levels for materials used to craft everything from health kits to molotovs, with a few new types of craftables being introduced, upgrade materials that can be used to beef up the player’s weapons, supplements to unlock additional character buffs, and of course ammo to take down whatever enemies have the misfortune of crossing your path.
Combat with enemies can be approached a number of different ways as players have extra tools at their disposal thanks to new types of bombs that can be crafted, the returning Listen Mode, and a number of additional stealth options to make sneaking a bit easier. Players can now enter a prone state to crawl through grass or hide underwater for a moment to avoid detection and jumping up on ledges for an advantage is an option as well, unfortunately non-lethal takedowns are not one of these options as any stealth takedowns result in a kill.
Despite the fact that ammo is still scarce, and most human enemies don’t provide ammo when killed, those who want to take a less than stealthy approach will find that the gunplay in the game is as weighty and intense feeling as ever. Not only will human enemies react when being fired upon by trying to avoid bullets fired near certain parts of their body but they will actively try to flank the player should they not keep them pressured or stay on the move themselves. Players will find that they have a lot of weapons eventually at their disposal and, as mentioned before, can customize how their favorite firearms perform thanks to a weapon upgrade system that can increase accuracy, damage, add scopes, and more.
When not facing off against human enemies, players will still need to deal with the various types of infected that still roam the world. These infected include the standard types that fans are familiar with, the usual Runner, the powerful but blind Clicker, the tough Stalker, and even the Bloater return though players will need to keep an eye out for a couple of new types of infected as well. Players can continue to actively stealth kill infected and considering the amount of Clickers in the game, this is generally a necessity though if players end up being caught in a group of infected they can use a new dodge based melee system to try and stay alive. Players can dodge incoming attacks from both Infected and even melee attacks from human enemies and counter them with melee strikes of their own that can be combo’d together and potentially kill a more basic enemy outright, though don’t expect any higher stage Infected to fall to this tactic without a melee weapon equipped.
As mentioned before, players will need to spend quite a bit of their time scavenging for items in The Last of Us Part II and this type of exploration can often feel quite natural as many areas of the game will feel picked over to the point that even when items are located, they may only be a half of a component or a single upgrade part. On the other side of things however, clearly unexplored locations will often contain basically nothing of value, making extended exploration feel useless, outside of a few hilariously out of place items that appear from time to time.
It is also nice to note that puzzles continue to thrive in the game and while they may not be the most challenging to solve it is great to see that the darker tone and focus on brutality hasn’t limited the puzzle aspect of the game. That being said, should players not want to worry about puzzles or even about some aspects of the game, Naughty Dog has implemented perhaps the most accessible options ever into The Last of Us Part II. This includes the ability to quickly surpass puzzles, escape grabs without the need for mashing buttons, and avoiding quick time events. While this type of implementation may ruin the experience for standard players, especially since the game’s default difficulty is surprisingly easy, it is great to see it included for those who may need it.
Visuals & Audio
From start to finish it is clear that Naughty Dog has perhaps the best ability to take what the PlayStation 4 is capable of and push it to the limits. Nearly every aspect of The Last of Us Part II is presented in gorgeous and lush detail with a shockingly high level of detail in the ever changing environments that players will travel through to the character models of both humans and Infected, especially during cutscenes. The level of gore that players will experience in the game are also incredibly high as foes will react and bleed appropriately when shot in the torso or even have severed limbs should a shotgun blast hit them at close range level of gore that players will experience in the game are also incredibly high as foes will react and bleed appropriately when shot in the torso or even have severed limbs should a high powered gunshot hit them at close range.
The soundtrack features a number of great atmospheric pieces of background music that serve as great accompaniments to the numerous dramatic moments that happen throughout the title and for the most part the voice actors, all of whom reprise their roles in the game, nail their parts exemplary. That being said, there are times when traveling through various parts of the world the random banter between characters, while believable enough and helps fill the void of exploration, often makes characters sound bored more than anything else, making these exploration sequences often drag even more than they should. It is also worth noting that while hearing enemies react to their allies dying in a firefight is a unique concept, these barks of dialogue from foes often feel forced and can often sound off entirely out of place compared to the action happening at the time.
The Last of Us Part II wants to do something different by telling a dark story about the horrible things that humanity can do to one another even while there is a greater threat already out there and while it does manage to deliver this story of misery accompanied by some emotional moments and shock value, it does so at the expense of actually crafting a worthwhile storyline and characters that aren’t just one-note plot pieces that are shuffled away as quick as they appear due to incredibly poor pacing. Thankfully, the weighty gunplay and satisfying stealth gameplay accompanied by intelligent enemy AI remain shining examples of how great this game can be when it isn’t trying to be at odds with itself.