In 2013, the world was introduced to a groundbreaking piece of entertainment. Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us gave us a harrowing tale of Ellie and Joel, a pair of survivors that fate brought together in a post-apocalyptic world, brought upon by a viral infection. The visceral action and powerful storytelling remain a benchmark for many action-adventure games and beyond. It is simple to see why The Last of Us Part II is so highly anticipated by the gaming industry.
The almost universal acclaim for the first game would have sufficed, but it was the idea of developing an even more amazing story that called to Naughty Dog. It was undoubtedly a risk, and much to our delight, The Last of Us Part II can easily lay claim to being the best game of 2020.
There is no running away from it – this sequel, like the original, will be divisive. But more importantly, what you will take away from the game is beyond the impact it will have on you as a player, but also as a human being.
The simple revenge trope has been pushed to the forefront by the game’s marketing, but that’s just a small part of the overarching themes that Naughty Dog is exploring.
Although we will not go too much into the story details due to spoilers, know that The Last of Us Part II will often have you ask yourself, how far would you go? Be it amongst the survivors that include Joel and Ellie, the militaristic Washington Liberation Front/WLF, the religious Seraphites, or even the Infected, everyone has something to fight for. The tribalism on display is more than just spoken conversations and beliefs, as it extends to the gameplay as well.
No matter where you encounter the human enemies, it is clear that The Last of Us Part II intends to paint them as more than just obstacles to be rid of. These are living characters that have formed relationships, share values, and have a common goal. While most of the time that goal is hunting you down, the winding nature of the story will reveal enlightening truths about each of the factions.
Akin to reality, there are dissidents in such groups, so to speak. The multi-faceted nature of being a human being has never truly been realised in a game the way The Last of Us Part II has. It makes for some truly wonderful drama and storytelling, and evokes plenty of thought and reflection on the part of the player. The craft and deftness that the team displayed while putting this game together is simply astounding.
That is not to say that every single aspect of the story is unique, far from it. It is the fact that it can take well-trodden tropes and still manage to hook you in that makes it an outstanding piece of interactive fiction.
From the first steps you take as Ellie all the way to the end, every character you meet, every interaction, every piece of action that advances the narrative has its place. Even though the game can feel a tad long at 20 to 25 hours, full credit goes to the devs for keeping things intriguing and exciting, even when it seems a perfectly reasonable place to end things.
Alas, The Last of Us Part II is a tale that cannot exist without adventure and combat. One can be contented to just immerse yourself in this gorgeously written story, but the pure enjoyment of the gameplay is yet another wonderful aspect of this game.
Ellie has survived some impossible odds to get to where she is, and there are more obstacles in her way throughout The Last of Us Part II. Five years on from where we left her, the 19-year-old heroine has some new tricks up her tattooed arm and sleeves.
The dangerous nature of the enemies often warrants a stealthier approach if you can help it. Ellie can crouch and move behind most cover, and she can go prone as well, hiding underneath objects and in tall grass. In certain situations, you can also utilise water as a means of escaping detection.
Killing silently is a key part of catching your foes by surprise. In addition to her trusty switchblade, Ellie has improved her crafting skills to create tools like an improvised suppressor for her pistol.
A bow and arrow also offer another option at range. It is utterly satisfying to navigate an area and silently picking off your foes with none the wiser. This gameplay loop of dangerous stealth, split-second decisions, and resource management make for an additive and addictive concoction.
Of course, it is likely that you will be discovered at some point, and that is when you can truly go loud. Molotov cocktails, explosives traps, smoke bombs and more are at your disposal, to disorientate, disperse, and ultimately dispatch of these impediments. Whether it is the Infected or the humans, a well placed explosive can do wonders. The limited number of resources available drives home the fact that survival is not guaranteed, and you must make your actions count.
The weapons at your disposal are useful for a variety of situations. The pistol and revolver are handy in a pinch, while the shotgun is perfect for blasting anyone who gets up close. The rifle returns, giving Ellie a longer-ranged option to snipe or fire off a damaging round. Parts found around the world can also be used to upgrade each of your weapons, bringing not just functional improvements, but a visual change as well.
Listen Mode returns, allowing Ellie to have a limited view of the moving creatures around her surroundings. It is definitely not a perfect solution, as you will still be restricted by your environments. However, it gives you the option of planning a more strategic approach to combat, mapping out how exactly you want to go about taking down your enemies.
The new skills upgrade system in The Last of Us Part II will be tailored to how you want to approach the combat situations. Certain skills allow you to move faster while holding a hostage, or making crafted items more effective, it is up to the player to decide where to invest the finite resources you have. Only in New Game+ will you be able to unlock all the skills and transform Ellie into more of an unstoppable force.
Even with more skills, the challenge each faction brings to the table is varied and equally brutal. For the Infected, the Runners are a force to be reckoned with in numbers, looking to swarm an unsuspecting player with damaging melee attacks and shrill screams that alert all the infected in a particular area. The return of the blind but noise-sensitive Clickers will scupper most plans, get caught and it is instant death. Moving more slowly and silently when in their presence is a must.
Stalkers are also back, albeit with some nasty upgrades. These creatures, as seen in our preview, are equally sly as they are dangerous. Utilising the same stealth that Ellie can, these creatures will lie in wait to ambush you, and Listen Mode is unable to detect them as well.
Nothing catches you off guard quite like a screaming Stalker ambush when you unknowingly venture into their sightlines. Bloaters are also back with their hulking frame and armoured bodies, dangerous as ever. A new addition is the Shamblers, creatures that love to charge at you while using noxious gas clouds as ranged attacks, get too near and your skin will bubble from the toxic fumes. There are certainly more horrors lying in wait, prepare yourself.
The WLF and Seraphites also fight differently for you to change up your approach. The WLF function more like soldiers, using conventional firearms and blunt weapons. The Seraphites are more covert in nature, utilising bows and arrows more than firearms, and some truly sharp tools as well.
Both factions are also in possession of guard dogs as well, able to sniff you out via your scent, forcing you to be constantly on the move. Ellie’s new dodge move is extremely useful, get the timing down and you can escape to fight another moment or establish stealth again by getting away from the prowling enemies.
Fighting against these humans is a stark departure from battling the Infected. There is more emotion at play, considering that these are human beings. The way they talk about their lives, the world at large, and even when they discover one of their own dead, it provides additional gravity to your actions and the unforgiving world of The Last of Us Part II.
The WLF are definitely more vocal, shouting out instructions and calling out where you were last seen, it can play to your advantage just to take a breather and see how things pan out. The Seraphites, however, communicate via whistles, both to get their messages across and confuse you.
Three different factions that fight differently, The Last of Us Part II definitely wants to keep you on your toes.
The limited open-world design of The Last of Us Part II also plays a big part in how you experience the game. While the game takes place through various chapters, Ellie will be doing her fair share of exploration both in and out of combat.
In dangerous situations, the larger area of play provides more options and avenues in which you can leverage to your advantage. Be it snaking through cover and avoiding combat altogether, or eliminating patrols entirely, this newfound freedom is an awesome way to enjoy a core aspect of The Last of Us Part II’s gameplay.
In between intense set pieces and combat scenarios, the true beauty of Naughty Dog’s environmental storytelling truly shines. From creating a world where nature is reclaiming its place, to empowering the player to explore and discover, The Last of Us Part II allows the player to make the most of their own curiosity.
Ruined buildings can lead to hidden secrets, abandoned houses can tell a heartwrenching tale of abandonment and despair. There are instances of hope, love, hate, and myriad other emotions that are conveyed by delicate environments and enlightening collectables.
Much like Ish in The Last of Us, the stories that you will discover in The Last of Us Part II expands upon this world and gives you an inkling of how, as individuals, we each react differently to the circumstances at hand. Like other monumental pieces of art that drives discussion and debate, The Last of Us Part II can certainly make a case for being part of that conversation for its portrayal of the human condition.
Or, if you prefer the more whimsical side of games, the game’s extensive collection of comic-book heroes in the form of cards also provides much entertainment in the chase to obtain them. The backstories of these colourful characters can sit right at home with the likes of DC and Marvel.
The environments also introduce some light puzzle mechanics to spice things up. There are areas that require some clever thinking to traverse, hidden secrets that require a sharp eye to catch, and plenty of locked safes that hide away valuable goodies. The latter remains a highlight throughout the hours spent in The Last of Us Part II, requiring you to not just study your environment, but piece things together to find that elusive unlock combination.
On occasions, you will be joined by allies that provide more than just combat cover. These characters, more so than the enemy factions you will meet, are better developed as foils for the narrative in The Last of Us Part II.
Providing context to much of what you see and what you do, their individual relationships to the different parties also shed more light on the motivations that drive much of the story’s developments. The banter, the concern, the anger, and more are all part of being a human, and these are some of the best representations of that in video game form.
Unfortunately, they too suffer from the issues of the first game, namely that they are invisible to enemies for as long as they want to be, only getting involved in the proceedings if you are. Of course, the AI has been improved vastly, with allies doing their best to maintain stealth, and that is appreciated. Things are even better when you are able to pull off double stealth kills, or have them come to your rescue in dire times.
The performances of everyone in The Last of Us Part II are great contributors to its believability. The likes of Ashley Johnson, Troy Baker, and Laura Bailey are instantly recognisable to most gamers, but the performances of the others truly help elevate the game to new heights. The nuances in expressions, body language, voice acting, and motion capture make everything in The Last of Us Part II matter.
Emotional moments are heartfelt, intense sequences are almost painful to watch, and the relief at making out of a mortifying situation can be felt through your entire being. The executions that Ellie pulls off are without a doubt brutal and graphic, but be it the death of an enemy or being killed by one, there is much to admire about the detail to which Naughty Dog and the actors put into their craft.
The way lighting hits objects and the characters, the gorgeous animations, the worldbuilding, this game is a looker. For as much as we are looking forward to the next generation of consoles, Sony’s current console can still impress even at this late stage.
Music plays a huge role in the game as well, providing players with some wonderful musical accompaniments at pivotal moments. This can be a swelling arrangement in a big fight, or the quiet symphony in moments of reflection. The work of Gustavo Santaolalla remains an integral part of the experience, and we would not want it any other way.
The Last of Us Part II does not shy away from the hard issues, neither does it make it easy for players to overcome its challenges. Yet, for those facing accessibility issues that exist in reality, Naughty Dog deserves a pat on the back for including what is likely the most inclusive set of accessibility options in games, ever.
Vision, hearing, and motor aspects are covered, with customisable options to finetune the experience even more. Alternate controls, visual aids, motion sickness, audio cues, and more are thoroughly addressed in The Last of Us Part II. Even the difficulty can be customised, so you can enjoy all of the exploration without worrying too much about combat as an example.
If you want to play this game, the dev team has made sure you will be able to, no matter what problems you might face.
Seven years on, much of the gaming industry has evolved. With The Last of Us Part II, Naughty Dog has set out to tell a character-driven story that reflects who we truly are. Flawed individuals that sometimes make some difficult choices.
By combining some truly stellar character moments with strong narrative hooks, improving upon a solid foundation of combat and stealth, and expanding the freedom of the player, The Last of Us Part II is the sequel we never knew we needed.
After being challenged, lifted up, emotionally wrecked, and ultimately inspired, The Last of Us Part II delivers one of the best narratives in games, backed up by solid gameplay foundations, and is simply the best game ever put out by Naughty Dog.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
The Last of Us Part II justifies its existence with a truly stunning delivery of a strong narrative, coupled with great gameplay and excellent worldbuilding.
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Story - 10/10
Presentation - 10/10
Value - 10/10