The Last of Us Part II is a polarizing game. Upon release, many began asking for the game to be rewritten or to disappear forever. While I can’t say that I hated it, I think there’s something to be said for those that are still on the fence.
The Last of Us Part II
Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Publisher(s): Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer(s): Naughty Dog
Release Date: June 19, 2020
Price: $59.99 – Amazon.com
Any kind of story is written for a specific audience, some broader than others. The quality of this game entirely depends on how much you trust the writers at Naughty Dog. If you believe that they’re capable enough to have meaning behind the cutscenes, you’ll love the story, if you personally enjoy fanservice and wanted more The Last of Us, you will be chewing on your Dualshock until the credits roll.
The plot of The Last of Us Part II follows Ellie, now five years older and infinitely more complicated than when we last saw her in Salt Lake City. Taking players on a revenge quest to Seattle. A city gripped by a war between two groups, the Washington Liberation Front (WLF) and the Seraphites, an enigmatic religious cabal.
Naughty Dog is a master class when it comes to narrative. Taking excess glee in violence and misery to tell a plot of revenge and hatred. While also taking great pride in its ability to lead the player into its hard-hitting beats.
This makes it so jarring when the plot seems to lose its momentum. While the story has some very emotional moments, a good amount of scenes feel forced. With entire levels dedicated to conversations that just don’t land. Ellie’s girlfriend Dina is particularly egregious of this, spousing out pretty meaningless bits of dialogue that would normally be the backbone of a well-rounded character, but her motivations for embarking on a death wish are never properly explored.
On the other end, the antagonist feels very complicated and well thought out. Though the developer’s intention to make the player hate this character might land a little too well, as later scenes that attempt to build sympathy for them might not reach the audience in the way that Naughty Dog intended.
Though the story persists past the cutscenes with a hard-hitting mix of gameplay elements that build around its themes of hatred. Hitting an enemy throat from stealth will cause him to bleed his last moments staring at you, confused and afraid. Only for his friends to stumble upon the mess you’ve made and mourn him by name.
Environments carry details in them that one might gloss over, often letting Ellie loose onto empty rooms with nothing but narrative to be found, often provoking games like “What Remains of Edith Finch”.
The combat has a very dynamic appeal. As if there is an unseen director that makes sure things play out in dramatic and cinematic fashion. Goons will creep up from behind to grab you, gun-wielding enemies disrupt you at the right time and you’re A.I partner will land the head-shot that saves your life. It makes the game feel very well-paced in practice. While many might feel right at home with the gunplay, there are certain additions that rework the formula.
Ellie now has a dodge button that lets her maneuver past melee swings or throwing off her attacker’s aim. This has also been bolstered by well-animated special moves, such as a drop attack and finisher ability. The human enemies A.I is a particular selling point. Full of various actions and thought patterns that give them an unpredictable presence. One man with a gun is enough to handle Ellie in a one on one battle, often made worse by the thought that his friends are on their way to save him.
Grabbed enemies will try to bargain with Ellie before she cuts their plea short with her switchblade. Sometimes they put their hands up to surrender or sick their dogs onto you.
Sadly the infected enemies lack the tension they held before. Ellie’s dodge allows her to squeeze past the Clickers notorious instant kill bite attacks and her fast running speed allows her to make enough space to pick them off.
Some of them can feel quite bullet spongey, taking up full clips of precious bullets that would be more valuable against a cultist with a shotgun. Sadly it doesn’t take a lot to realize there isn’t much stopping Ellie from hoofing it to the next area. Meaning that certain gameplay levels can be jumped past without concern if you’re okay with the game quietly looking you with disdain while doing so.
There are some notable set-pieces with the infected that can bring them to life, but when I heard their clicks in the distance, I couldn’t help but wish it was the sound of the WLF’s banter or the Seraphites chilling whistles.
The original The Last of Us was an odyssey, where players felt the story move to new locations as the character’s journey west. So containing 90% of the sequels runtime to Seattle might be a misstep. Despite being well detailed and lovingly dense with story, it’s hard to feel like the plot is progressing when the environment never moves past overgrown cityscapes and burnt out arcades.
The areas themselves are thick, offering multiple routes and optional areas to explore, most of which are just as cared for as the required story areas. Leaving optional safe puzzles that tend to contain new guns or training manuals to upgrade your character.
Workbenches are spread throughout the city, allowing the player to use the modest pieces of garbage they’ve collected and using them to upgrade you weapons. Many of which will create a visual difference on weapon selected. These resources aren’t infinite, so you’ll have to make your peace with whatever you choose to upgrade. Most trips to an upgrade station tend to end with Ellie walking away with only one new attachment.
If I had a beret and a slightly more prestigious position in life, I’d tell you that The Last of Us Part II might not be meant for certain people. The general themes of the game are not well marketed by the trailers and those that believe it to be another dive into love and adventure will feel very very betrayed by this game.
That said, if you have an interest in something that challenges what a game can make you feel, there are a few cutscenes and shots that will hit you like nothing else ever will. Some so powerful that I truly struggled to get them out of my head even hours after they passed.
Once you shift your mind away from the first game and learn to look for the sequel’s best moments, you’ll find something unshakably new. Whether that’s worth your money and tolerance for shock value is on you.
The Last of Us Part II is a gripping masterpiece that’s full of consequences and emotion. Naughty Dog’s farewell to the PlayStation 4 is not to be missed.
- Dynamic Gameplay
- Complex Human Enemy A.I
- Strong Emotional Core
- Choppy Characters
- Poor Pacing
- Uneventful Infected Combat
- The Last of Us Part 2