We’re finally in the endgame now. After a couple of delays and an extremely chaotic 2020, Naughty Dog’s most ambitious and most exciting game is here. No, I’m not talking about Crash Bandicoot; I am talking about The Last of Us Part 2, one of the most important games ever. What an ironic time to release a game like this – world is not only dealing with an unruly pandemic that is sweeping the globe but also a series of protests. Playing The Last of Us Part 2 is not the escape you should consider if you’re looking to get away from the world. It’s only going to hurt you in many ways.
How do you follow up on one of the PlayStation 3’s best games? That’s not an easy task by any means. In fact, when you think about how Herculean the idea is in itself, you get a bit jittery thinking of the energy that went into this decision. The original game took the world by storm and delivered an essential video game at the end of the PlayStation 3 lifecycle and introduced us to Joel and Ellie, and also the harrowing Cordyceps virus.
I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
To recap, The Last of Us Part 2 is a direct continuation. It is set five years after the original and Ellie is 19 years old, the girl we met in the original game is now a woman. She’s no longer as sassy or outgoing, instead, she’s calculated, cold, and scary. Joel is a bit older, wearier, and a lot greyer in the temple. Ellie jokes about his age from time to time. Things seem peaceful for some time and Jackson is a beautiful settlement and the two seem to be doing alright in their new home.
Just like in the world today so much has changed since 2013. We’re in tumultuous times right now and so much is in flux. The world is losing its humanity and for Naughty Dog to nail that feeling of hopelessness is crucial to experiencing this masterpiece. There are things that happen in this game that left me feeling anxious and even guilty. Ellie has changed since we’ve met her all those years ago. She’s taller, she’s accepted who she is, and settled in her new life in Jackson, Wyoming. While Infected still roam, every day isn’t full of sunshine and life comes with a new normal.
However, after one particular eventful evening, Ellie’s whole world is once again sent into disarray and with that, a new journey begins. Not all journeys have a helpful purpose, sometimes we do things for all the wrong reasons. If you expect a meaningful lesson from this story, you’ll be sorely mistaken. Ellie’s journey is about justice against those who wronged her. And for the first time in forever, those choices she makes throughout her journey come with repercussions that we’ll see firsthand.
I felt sadness. I felt anger. Like a brick, those feelings hit me, What do you do when your whole life is torn apart and left in ruins? I’d do the same thing Ellie does and get revenge on every last one of them. Her role and position are justified to the viewer and I feel gross. I feel gross because I enjoyed almost every minute of playing as Ellie, even when I probably shouldn’t have. I’m being as vague as possible because to even begin to talk about the narrative means I am taking the experience from you. I don’t want that; I want you to go through the same emotions I did.
I want you to feel the satisfaction of crushing a man’s skull. I want you to feel the joy of putting down those who want to kill you. And then I want you to feel how gross your actions were. Everything you do in this game serves a purpose, and the pacing up until the final black screen is some of the best in class.
These violent delights have violent ends
Combat is above and beyond better than the first game. Playing as Joel was fun and cathartic because he was a father figure defending this young girl from the hazardous world around them. In The Last of Us Part 2, playing as Ellie is night and day different and I don’t think I miss playing as Joel. Ellie is nimble and agile and can hold her own against Infected, the Wolfs, and the Scars.
It’s also the most brutal and realistic violence I’ve witnessed in a video game. There’s a lot of death, a lot of it. Stealth kills, in particular, are cruel only for the blood you’ll hear as the enemy falls to the floor gasping for air only to drown in their own blood. And unlike the original, the gunplay gets particularly nasty at times. A double-pump shotgun against anyone leaves a hole where their head was or a stump where their hand used to be. Shooting out a leg drops the enemy to the floor, and they’ll begin to hobble away from you, writhing in pain as you walk up to them as their executioner. Every facet of encounters has seen an improvement and maturation in their processes. Melee weapons are no joke either and it’s yet some of the detailed violence to be witnessed in media.
Some of the backlash leading up to The Last of Us Part II is centred around whether the violence depicted in the game is necessary and I know this is a touchy subject around the internet. However, I don’t find any of it glorified, there is no celebration of death. There’s just death, death, and more death. Civilization is a relic in this world and those small and fleeting communities kill to keep their peace. I’ll admit some moments even took me by surprise and I was left feeling anxious about the experience.
The Last of Us 2 does everything better
Ellie isn’t the only one seeing improvement in the sequel as both the AI and companions are some of the best I’ve ever witnessed. Naughty Dog left familiar aspects from the first game intact but greatly expanded everything in the sequel. First, the companion AI is heaps and bounds better because they don’t break immersion in otherwise tense moments. They sneak, crawl, and assist Ellie in not only scouring the environment but when in a tense fight against humans and Infected. It’s amazing to see your partner sneak around a corner, duck into cover and knife an Infected, leaving Ellie to focus on her own task.
But that’s not the most improved aspect of the anticipated sequel, it is the enemy AI that’s seen the most improvement. For the first time ever, I was afraid to face the humans in front of me because they truly provide a challenge. No longer can I get through a particularly tough section on luck; I’d have to use my wits and outsmart the enemy or risk death. In my preview, I faced a harrowing section in one of the Seattle suburbs where the Washington Liberation Front were holed up. Engaging a wave of enemies never gets old and every encounter comes with a tense rush of excitement. Heart-pounding and eerie is the way to best describe what I felt every time I’d shift into cover and stealth kill the first enemy.
The Emerald City is in ruins
And while that preview covered one section of a nearly 30-hour video game, the set pieces only get better. And what really stands out is the level design each setpiece has. It’s astounding to see the amount of thought put into each encounter. Naughty Dog really thought of everything when developing these tense and chaotic setpieces. And you’ll see quite a bit of Seattle as you weave in and out of the city.
Exploring the city of Seattle is a ton of fun with hidden places to uncover and safes to crack using the environment for clues. Tons of collectibles are spread throughout each level. They are both a ton of fun to find and to collect. At the end of my first playthrough, I found around 75% of the items and I’m already working on finding the rest.
Two years ago, I reviewed God of War and announced how much I loved the soft reboot of the series. It quickly becomes one of my favourite games of all-time. Now, as we close out another generation of consoles The Last of Us Part 2 proves it’s a triumph for consoles. I’ve never seen a game so highly-detailed, the number of details in this game are insane. Very few developers stand toe to toe with Naughty Dog in their technical prowess when developing a video game.
I spent more time than I want to admit taking photos. If something caught my eye, it needed to be captured and when you dive into the photo mode, you’re given so many options. If you’re a fan of photo mode in games, then you’re in for a treat with The Last of Us Part 2. While you can capture almost every moment at the press of a button, it needs to be enabled in the settings.
No, I can’t walk on the path of the right
The studio delivers not only on big moments but those small, intimate moments that you rarely see in video games. My favourite moments aren’t in the beginning, middle, or end; it is a perfect moment between Ellie and Dina. Neil Druckmann masterfully crafts exciting and fully-realized characters once again, each serving a specific purpose and adding to the layered story in exciting ways.
Both Gustavo Santaolalla and Mac Quayle put their heads together to deliver an accompanying experience that needs to be heard by everyone. The score is dark, and it is as visceral as the action is at times, you won’t get a better pair of composers on a project. If you’ve watched the exciting and relevant Mr. Robot, you’ll know how the mood is set by the score. And then you get those familiar strings that we’ve all come to know as the theme to the series. Gustavo’s a composer that makes quieter moments stand out amidst all the noise, supplementing Mac Quayle’s penchant for suspense and delivering a harmonious collaboration.
So why is this one of the most important video games? Between shaking up what we come to expect from a sequel and offering diversity by including ethnic and trans characters. The Last of Us Part 2 does things that I’ve never seen games do before and pushes boundaries that need to be broken. If you are bothered by these ideas, you owe it to yourself to play this game and see they are no different. They are human and progression is good.
The Last of Us Part 2 comes at a turbulent time across the world. However, the totemic nature of a Naughty Dog title that always comes at the perfect time. Neil Druckmann wants to explore themes we rarely touch upon because of the backlash that comes with facing those ideas. Thankfully, we have an entire team that supports his thought process and because of that, we have The Last of Us.
The Last of Us Part 2 is marvellous in every aspect, it’s a technical masterpiece, and most importantly it does things very few developers ever do: it offers diversity and inclusion. What you’ll see in this game is something we won’t see for another decade. “Art begins with resistance – at the point where resistance is overcome. No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labour.”
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]