Review – The Last of Us Part II
The last few months weren’t kind to The Last of Us Part II. This was a game that suffered tons of delays. Its developer, Naughty Dog, suffered allegations of putting their employees into abysmal working conditions (and if this is true, they surely deserve to be punished). Its script got leaked by hackers prior to release. It suffered backlash from intolerant groups on the internet, who (wrongfully) claimed the game was promoting an anti-Christian agenda, not to mention the unnecessary amount of controversy generated by the sole fact that the game’s protagonist, Ellie, came out as a lesbian.
It seemed like the world was trying its best to hinder The Last of Us Part II‘s chances of success. I’m not going to lie, a lot of us at WayTooManyGames were afraid the game wasn’t going to live up to its Burj Khalifa-sized expectations; even thoses in our site who actually loved the predecessor. I’m glad to announce we were wrong. It’s hard to properly describe what this game has managed to convey, but it’s still one hell of an feat.
Before we truly begin, I need to clarify that this is a review being written by someone who did enjoy the first The Last of Us, but definitely didn’t think that game was a flawless masterpiece like the reigning three fourths of the internet. I did enjoy the combat and the characters, but had serious gripes with uninteresting puzzles and the abrupt ending. Add in my similar sentiment towards Neil Druckmann’s other recent game, Uncharted 4, and you’ll see I was going into The Last of Us Part II with certain skepticism.
I was afraid Druckmann was going to follow in Kojima’s footsteps and get drunk on his own ego; as you can see by how underwhelming and pretentious Death Stranding ended up being. Thankfully, I was wrong. Better yet, The Last of Us Part II improved my overall perception of its predecessor after playing it to the very end.
I am not going to talk a lot about the plot per se, as this is a game that’s best experienced by knowing as little as possible about its story. What I can tell you is that The Last of Us Part II is set a few years after the events of the first game. Joel and Ellie are living in a peaceful community in Wyoming, without having to worry that much about the horrors of world; be it the infected monsters or the even more dangerous non-infected humans. Tragedy eventually strikes, and Ellie then embarks on a mission to what was once known as Seattle, in order to get her revenge on those who did her wrong.
Ellie is a murder machine in The Last of Us Part II. She is ruthless, angry, and completely remorseless; to the point that even God of War‘s Kratos would tell her to chill out a bit and go read a book or something. Given the circumstances of the world she lives in, as well as the situations revolving around her, you completely buy her intentions. Unlike the hateful murder machine known as Nathan Drake, you can completely side with Ellie even after literally blowing an enemy to pieces with an explosive arrow. Druckmann’s script knows when to make her the most vicious murder machine since the Doom Slayer, but also knows when to show her fragile and more humane side, making her one of the most layered video game characters in recent memory.
Speaking of blowing people to pieces, The Last of Us Part II is an incredibly violent game, to the point that some people will probably feel disgusted at the amount of gore included in here. If you shoot someone with a shotgun, legs will fall off. If you shoot someone in the head, well, there won’t be a lot of head left afterwards. People scream when they get shot, and they lament when their squadmates get murdered in front of them. I get that this game was trying to do the exact opposite of glorifying violence, trying to make you feel guilty whenever you killed someone. However, in my honest opinion, that’s something that fell completely flat, and I’ll explain why in a few.
In the cruel world of The Last of Us Part II, there are two factions you’ll constantly have to fight against, besides the obvious infected: the Washington Liberation Front (WLF, or Wolves) and the Seraphites (also known as Scars). The former is your typical paramilitary faction, a more violent version of the first game’s Fireflies. The latter is your typical post-apocalyptic death cult. Despite what some people in the internet might try to convince you, they are not a controversial allegory against Christianity. They are as controversial as the death cult present in the Edgar Wright comedy Hot Fuzz. You know, the ones who would constantly say “THE GREATER GOOD“. Hell, the cults featured in Far Cry 5 and Bioshock Infinite were way more on-the-nose than the one featured in here.
Both groups will mercilessly hunt you down whenever you get close to one of their members. They will most certainly shoot first. Despite attempts at humanizing both of them throughout the game, with some legitimately well-written side characters, it’s hard to eventually sympathize with those groups and their lackeys as a whole, as they certainly don’t try to sympathize with you as well. In this chaotic world, the law of jungle is the one that should be followed: kill or be killed. I’d rather not be killed, so I’ll gladly blast someone’s head off with a magnum bullet, thank you very much. This is certainly no Spec Ops: The Line.
It also doesn’t help that The Last of Us Part II features some of the very best third-person shooting combat mechanics I’ve seen in a video game. This is not a full-fledged cover shooter like Gears 5, being more of a game in which you need to use your surroundings, as well as the few resources at your disposal. You need to get rid of enemies as quickly, and more often than not, as painfully as possible.
If you shoot an enemy on a limb, it will incapacitate their movements, allowing for you to run away or charge onto said foe and kill them with a take-down cinematic. If you manage to sneak behind an enemy, you can perform a silent stealth kill. The same can be done with a bow or by crafting a makeshift silencer to your pistol. Killing a foe with a headshot will even reward you with a few extra bullets or crafting materials. You can also craft lots of explosive traps and lure your foes towards them, transforming this game into what Home Alone would have been if Eli Roth ended up directing it.
Of course, you can still go full guns blazing if you prefer. It’s not easy, but there’s something delightful about seeing limbs flying through the screen after shooting an enemy with a shotgun. Remember, I gave Doom Eternal a 10 and love performing fatalities in Mortal Kombat, so that shouldn’t be seen as a surprise.
Despite being absolutely visceral when it needs to be, The Last of Us Part II is equally interesting when you’re not shooting or trying to avoid zombies and cultists. There are lots of items to gather by exploring every single nook and cranny throughout the game, with a small chunk of it even acting a small open world full of small sidequests to tackle. There are lots of puzzles to solve, but none of them are convoluted or complicated. It’s quite simple to solve them, but there’s something rewarding about figuring out how to tackle them, as The Last of Us Part II doesn’t throw overly obvious visual cues to tell you what to do and where to go.
The game even allows you to play an acoustic guitar whenever you find one throughout its levels. Someone at Naughty Dog spent way too much time at what should have been a small extra in the game, as you can play entire melodies and chords by choosing notes with the right analog stick and strumming the strings with the Dualshock 4’s trackpad. Yes, you read that right, someone actually remembered that thing has touch capabilities!
On a technical standpoint, there’s nothing I can complain about. This is probably the best looking game not only on the Playstation 4, but on this entire generation. Those are probably the most impressive human models I’ve ever seen in a game, with Ellie basically looking and acting like the most realistic human being during in-engine cutscenes. The environments are also jaw-dropping gorgeous. The world might be in shambles, but it’s still sunny and full of trees. Is it cliché to call The Last of Us Part II as realistic as a movie? Well, yes, but it’s not an incorrect statement.
The same can be said about the sound department. Troy Baker’s performance as Joel is probably the best in his entire career. Plus considering the fact that he voiced half of all male characters in existence, that’s commendable. With that being said, Ashley Johnson is the one who steals the show. Her portrayal as Ellie is absolutely magnificent, giving you chills whenever she goes full psycho, but also reducing you to a pile of tears during emotional moments. Geoff Keighley, don’t even bother nominating other actresses for this year’s VGAs. If Ashley doesn’t win an award, you’re a madman.
I’ve been praising The Last of Us Part II nonstop, but I’m afraid this is the moment in which you’ll probably want to grab your pitchforks in anger: I don’t think this game is perfect. It’s absolutely fantastic, but it does have some flaws. Some of them are minor nitpicks, while others annoyed me quite a bit.
Most of my minor nitpicks lie on the overall gameplay. While the combat mechanics and the explorative segments are delightful, I had a few issues related to the game’s camera. Just like in God of War, there are moments in which the camera is set way too close to your character’s back, making it easy for enemies to sneak up behind you in a somewhat unfair way. I also had a small issue with the way your character moves backwards.
My main gripe with The Last of Us Part II is with its pacing, however. This is a ridiculously long game that lasts for almost thirty hours, and that obviously means that there were some moments which felt like unnecessary padding, especially during the game’s second half. Some characters would eventually be introduced in an unnatural way, with the game practically forcing you to care about them, even though some of them had personalities as shallow as puddles. There were entire sections in which I was forcing myself to go through them, not because I was enjoying them, but because I wanted to get rid of them as quickly as possible, hoping for the game’s plot to become interesting once again.
And so it did. The last couple of hours can only be described as “intense”. I obviously won’t spoil anything in here, but the last few sections made up for how uneventful some of the mid-game chapters ended up being. An adrenaline-filled payoff that eventually resulted in a jaw-dropping epilogue, one that featured one of the strongest and most emotional endings I’ve ever seen in a work of fiction. Clearly not something that will leave you with a smile afterwards, but I don’t think I’d have written it differently. It was the ending this game deserved.
There were many moments in The Last of Us Part II which challenged the overall conception that video games should always be “fun”. They certainly weren’t fun in your typical Mario sense, but that didn’t mean I was feeling bored. My colleague Jordan described it perfectly when he compared some of the game’s themes with Game of Thrones: not everything in GoT was essentially fun or joyful, but you still wanted to see what would happen next. The same happened here. Some sections in The Last of Us Part II were intentionally crafted to make me feel sad and miserable, but I couldn’t stop playing it. I wanted to see what would happen to these characters, I was way too invested to shut the console down.
If I had to describe The Last of Us Part II in one word, I’d call it an achievement. This is a title that challenges the overall conception of a game having to be joyful to be enjoyable. It knows when to make you feel miserable with its depressing yet fantastic story. However, unlike many pretentious art games that failed at doing the same, it knows it’s a video game and knows how to entertain you with its pristine combat and excellent exploration sections. It’s not perfect, as I had issues with its pacing, some of its messages, as well as a few nitpicks with its gameplay, but I can’t complain that much. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Druckmann, you did it. You didn’t win me over with The Last of Us and Uncharted 4, but you sure knocked it out of the park with this one.
Whether you’re playing it on a base PS4 or a PS4 Pro, this is most likely the best looking game from this entire generation.
This game features some of the best third-person shooting combat and survival horror mechanics in recent memory, but I did have a few gripes with the camera and how the characters move backwards.
Almost all of the voice actors in this game deliver the absolute best performances of their entire careers, while Gustavo Santaolalla’s score always manages to convey the right emotion at the right time.
Despite some pacing issues and some themes that completely fell flat, it’s hard to complain about The Last of Us Part II‘s fantastic gameplay. Its story isn’t exactly the definition of a “fun time”, but it’s something worth experiencing once. Don’t get me started on the ending.
Final Verdict: 9.5
The Last of Us Part II is available now on PS4.
Reviewed on PS4.