About two weeks ago I was informed, by Sony’s PR, that I would be receiving a review copy for The Last of Us Part II the day before release. I was shocked and excited as this momentous game shall be our first review for Sony, yet I suddenly realised that I’d not actually played the original game despite having owned it on the PS4 since 2014. As such, early last week I started The Last of Us and completed it a few hours before I was sent its sequel, allowing me to continue the journey whilst the story and gameplay was still fresh in my mind.
Based on critic reviews from other sites, which got a copy of the game weeks before anyone else, we all expected the game to be universally loved and praised by everyone – sadly, the internet is full of people who love to throw their toys out of the pram if they don’t agree with any form of media. This resulted in silly petitions to rewrite the game, an onslaught of downvotes on Metacritic (as they think the ‘user score’ means anything), and even some cases of harassment and fabricating obscene lies about the actors and director over on social media.
The game has divided people and drawn out the abusive, vocal, and the entitled crowd who believe they know better than Naughty Dog, some even posting videos on how ‘they’ would ‘fix’ the story. For such a beloved series and passionate fanbase, watching these events unfold has been quite disturbing and sad. However, my following review is from the perspective of someone who hadn’t played either game until last week, I have no nostalgia or pre-love for the series, and I’m not a massive fan of zombies and infected/undead creatures. But, did I enjoy The Last of Us Part II? Let’s find out…
The Last of Us Part II takes place five years after the events we experienced within the first game. Ellie and Joel now live in a secluded community, which is hidden away from prying eyes and defended from the infected, and a lot has happened which has played a part in how our two companions feel about one another. Instead of patrolling together, Ellie performs these essential duties with her new friends and Joel tends to head out with Tommy, his brother. Although there’s still a bond between the duo, they clearly have baggage which has pushed them apart.
To quote the PlayStation store listing: “When a violent event disrupts the peace, Ellie begins a relentless journey for justice. Hunting those responsible, she’s confronted by devastating physical and emotional repercussions of her actions.” Thus begins your journey, this time as Ellie and her close friend as they travel to Seattle in search of those responsible.
I’m being rather vague with the story as I don’t want to accidentally mention something which could be classed as a spoiler – which is why I used the store blurb above. It’s a story which has split opinions within the fanbase yet I personally enjoyed it – on my second playthrough.
The Last of Us Part II is a stealth-focused exploration action game, allowing you to either stealthily make your way through each encounter you find yourself within or ducking behind nearby cover and shooting everyone in the face. However, due to the survival nature of the game, it’s not always best to start shooting everyone without conserving your ammunition, it can be quite difficult to find supplies in this post-infested world. Instead, the game offers various gameplay mechanics which allow you to proceed unseen as well as alternative routes which avoid confrontations.
If you’re aiming to be stealthy and save your bullets for the more intense moments, you can squat down and work your way through the high grass without anyone noticing (most of the time). The developers have also added the ability to go prone now as well, letting you lie down and crawl through low grass with a similar effect. The only downside here is that you move incredibly slow. Also, fans of the original game will love the fact that you no longer need to craft shivs to take out the infected silently, Ellie has her own unbreakable knife!
The game is very slow, much slower than the first game, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The story is told in multiple parts and from multiple perspectives, which is something I really enjoyed. You play the entire game as Ellie and her crew and then you play the same days over as someone else, from their perspective. The reason I found this interesting was when I was doing my second playthrough (as I wanted to grab the platinum) I started to pick up on things I didn’t notice the first time such as cross-over occurrences, NPCs talking about events I experienced later, and how the two timelines intertwine.
Also, thanks to the five-year gap between the last game and this one, Ellie has now finally learnt how to swim! So, no more carrying her on pallets as she refuses to get her feet wet. Plus, Joel kept his promise of teaching her how to play the guitar, a very interesting mini-game which you will play throughout the story. Not only will you be playing predetermined songs, but you can also play whatever chords you want, leading to some people posting videos of them actually playing full popular songs within the game!
Even though I played the first game last week, I don’t recall any actual ‘puzzles’ within the game, bar the usual move an object to climb on it. However, The Last of Us Part II has a decent amount of mechanics and elements which could be construed as being ‘puzzles’. First of all, there are a lot of safes which you need to open if going for the platinum, each one containing a bunch of ammo or resources. Fun fact – even if you can’t find the actual combination to unlock these (they’re always in the same area the safe is), if you turn up the volume, you’ll hear when you select the right number – you basically crack the safes open!
There is the return of moving objects around to climb on, but there are a few more advanced versions such as setting an object with wheels on the top of a ramp then opening a gate so it rolls out. Ladders also make an appearance again, usually with both a ‘correct’ place to put them and also a secret placement which leads you to a new collectable or loot. There’s nothing too taxing here, it’s all very straight-forward, but there are two new features/mechanics which greatly adds to the immersion and work as ‘puzzles’ in their own way…
Smashing of windows. Sure, this has been done in many games but it’s basically an essential feature and core gameplay mechanic this time around. If you see a door and it turns out to be locked, look for a nearby window you can punch or throw a brick into. Similarly, you can find a number of secret stashes and collectables by smashing windows and panels then crawling or jumping into them. I know this may sound like nothing but the immersion and realism this one simple mechanic creates is incredible – the glass even has its own physics as it shatters then falls down when you bump into it.
Rope physics! Hats off to the person who got the ropes and wires within this game to actually work like ropes and wires. On a few occasions, you’ll need to plug wires in by grabbing one and walking to the destination. However, the thin, long asset has realistic physics, allowing you to wrap it around things without clipping and often causing Ellie to drop it if you carry on walking as it suddenly yanks back in your hand. The ropes/wires can also be thrown all over the place, such as over fences so you can plug them in elsewhere and over buildings or girders so you can grab them and climb up or down.
Seriously, I’ve never been this impressed with ropes or wires in my life – this single element is game-changing and something I’ve not seen any other studio pull off as good as this – there’s no clipping or unrealistic actions, it’s perfect.
Just like the original game, The Last of Us Part II comes with a bunch of upgrades and ability unlocks. Finding ‘training manuals’ around the world will unlock new ‘skill trees’ which focus on certain features, such as stealth, combat, and health. So, as you advance and find supplements (pills), you can use these to boost your characters passive and active abilities and stats, making your second run on a harder difficulty (should you chose to do this) much easier.
Similarly, you can once again fully upgrade most of the weapons you pick up – both characters have six weapons but only five of them can be customised. Using scrap you find all over the place, you can increase the magazine size, accuracy, zoom level, and more, via the scattered workbenches. Now, I have one problem with the workbenches and it all boils down to my own impatience, doing anything takes far too long. You see Ellie dismantle the weapon you wish to customise, then you see her go through the motions of upgrading it, then you have to do the whole thing again – even if doing another customisation on the same weapon.
It’s a very nitpick issue though and I suspect most people won’t care – I just wanted to get back into the action. However, you can still be attacked whilst at the workbench, so I suspect the lengthy process is there to add a layer of fear that anything could happen whilst you’re looking at your weapon.
In terms of crafting, you can construct a range of things anywhere – just like the first game. Both characters have their own set of consumables which include the lovely molotov cocktail and even a range of secondary ammo for your bow. That’s right, you can now craft arrows, arrows which explode on impact and sends the enemies entrails literally flying all over the place as they combust into many pieces.
The character and enemy models in The Last of Us Part II are far beyond anything else we’ve seen this generation. Either if you’re looking at them in the bonus menu (where you can ‘buy’ various character models to look at), in the included basic photo mode, or when they’re right up in your face mid-combat, the level of detail on each and everyone is outstanding. There are a lot of returning infested within this game – Clickers, Runners, and Stalkers are all here for the party – but there are also a few new ones such as the Shamblers. On top of these disgusting and horrific creatures, there are also a few human factions that are out to get you, the WLF and the Seraphites.
The AI within the game is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time (when the settings are set to the defaults). Every character has a name which other people in their crew will scream out if you have taken them out or they discover the body. Small details like that once again push the realism to a new level. This actually reminded me of Austin Powers, in that there was a segment about the families of the evil henchmen being told their husbands had died whilst fighting Austin Powers. That’s a very silly film and it makes a joke out of something you don’t usually see, but I felt the similarity here as you really begin to morally wonder if you should kill these people as they’re not just a piece of meat, they have names and possibly families and friends.
In terms of the AI though, if you’ve been heard or a body is discovered, they will call out to others in their group and begin to investigate. If you’re seen, they will strategically try and get behind you by having some of them flank you from the front whilst others literally sneak up from behind. This is why stealth is pushed and advised, making your way through the enemies quietly may take much longer but it often results in less carnage and death (on your side).
You may have already heard about the controversial dog deaths. Despite what the developers said, there’s no way to avoid killing a few of the dogs as part of the narrative. Just like the human companions above, if you kill a dog then you’ll hear the owner scream out their name before seeking revenge as they look for you. However, I never saw anyone cry over a dog or make me feel bad about popping two rounds into its face, giving it an arrow to the knee, or causing it to have a splitting headache when I introduced it to my trusty shotgun. But, I often took out their owners shortly after putting them down, so I never really saw the aftermath.
The Last of Us Part II is a freaking beautiful game, despite the horrific events and ‘things’ you’ll encounter. From the snowy settlement in Wyoming to the heavily overgrown forests in Seattle, a lot of care and attention has gone into creating a game which looks fantastic on current-gen hardware. Seriously, if Sony would have posted PS4 Pro (1440p) footage of the game and said it was running on the PS5, everyone would believe them. There’s hardly any texture pop-in or LOD issues, so the whole experience is very smooth and satisfying as you run or ride around.
Just like Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, The Last of Us Part II has a semi-open world segment to the game when you first approach Seattle. You have a few set goals which you must do in order to progress the story, but you also have a map and a bunch of locations you can visit purely for the fun of it. Visiting all of these will bag you a trophy as well as more interactions between Dina and Ellie, you’ll also uncover some familiar loot and see references to past games and artists (music).
Although this is the only real ‘open’ part of the game, all the other chapters are big enough to allow you to play the way you want. Alternative pathways, shops and buildings you can search that aren’t part of the story, secret areas, etc… The world feels alive despite most of the population is dead. That brings me to one surprising aspect – the lack of enemies. When you encounter them then sure, there is a decent number to fend off, but when you’re just walking around and investigating, you’ll rarely bump into any. For me, this made it even more realistic as you wouldn’t have infested or humans around every corner in a massive derelict city, but for a game, it just felt a little lonely and quiet (which I guess was the intention).
Accessibility and the platinum
Nobody can complain about the accessibility options Naughty Dog has implemented within The Last of Us Part II, it’s bigger than anything I’ve ever seen before. There’s a lot of toggles and sliders to manually adjust almost every part of the game to either make it easier in general or make it more playable should you have some form of disability which makes reactions slower or operating the controls a little difficult. A few of the toggles are things like lock-on aim assist which makes aiming much easier, making your character invisible to enemies whilst prone, allowing you to perform run and jump events by just pushing Cross and many other ‘small’ adjustments which open the game up for everyone to enjoy.
Now, just like any accessibility option, these are all optional and you can choose to not use them if not required. This also relates to the difficulty of the game as, unlike the previous game, there are no difficulty-based trophies. I completed the first game and I got a grand total of one trophy, I completed The Last of Us Part II and I had about 70% in my first playthrough. This was why I felt the desire to go back and get the platinum – I have no desire to go back to the original game any time soon. I saw a lot of people were upset about no trophies for completing on Hard or Survivor, I personally like that it’s not got any. Nothing is stopping you from playing on the harder difficulties, this just means more people can enjoy the game.
Speaking of the platinum, it’s a lot easier to obtain this time around (if you hadn’t noticed). My first blind playthrough (with no guides or help) took around 25 hours. My second, which was a cleanup for items I missed, took about 10-15 as I didn’t have to replay the entire game – it also has a chapter select so you can grab the missing collectables quite easily, telling you how many you’ve missed in each on the menu. I’m actually quite thankful for making me replay parts of the game a second time though as I actually enjoyed the game more the second time around…
Personal Opinion about the story *no spoilers*
At first, I didn’t like the story or the emphasis on certain things being shoved in your face. It felt like one big cutscene for the first few hours and the exposition was a little cringy at times and felt like there were certain scenes put in there for the sake of pandering to certain demographics. Then, when the violence started, it got so graphic and intense that I felt like the game was doing this purely for the shock value rather than in order to build character and enhance the storytelling. Later on in the game, when a character has their arm literally smashed with a hammer repeatedly, I had to turn away as the whole scene was bloody disgusting.
About halfway into the game, you take control of another character, reliving the same days but from a new perspective. This section lasted even longer than the time you spent with Ellie, which led to me getting bored and wishing we could return to being her. I would have liked maybe playing day one as Ellie then day one as the other person, followed by day two as Ellie then day two as the other, etc… But instead, you play the entire game up to a point, then swap over and play it all again. This led to confusion about what was going on and me forgetting what Ellie had done by the time the two stories met back up.
There are also a lot of flashbacks for both protagonists, showing events which happened between the last game and this game – this also led to a few confusing moments for me.
However, upon completing the game fully and then going back and replaying it, I actually liked the story and the direction of the narrative. When I went back and played Ellie’s segments, I began to spot references to things I was about to do later in the game as the other person and conversations between NPCs made more sense. I also began to enjoy playing as the other character, despite my initial dislike of them for various reasons.
Sure, I wasn’t that impressed with the ending, although I honestly believe that the actions taken fell in line with what the characters would have done when you take into consideration what they’ve been through up until that point. Looking back over the whole narrative though, It started slow, had a very intense and violent narrative throughout, then ended with a scene that could have been better yet wouldn’t have been as powerful if it was different. As such, I enjoyed the game as the positives outweigh the negatives and I never felt like I wanted to stop playing, unlike other games such as Death Stranding.
I’m almost inclined to say that you should play the game a second time in order to appreciate it more. It’s similar to The Quiet Man, a game which was panned at launch simply because the reviewers and players didn’t go back and replay the game with the vocal option in order to fully understand what’s going on.
The Last of Us Part II is 1440p and 30fps on the PS4 Pro and 1080p at 30fps the base PS4. However, looking at how this game looks and runs on these current-gen devices, I can’t wait to see what enhancements and visual upgrades we get on the PS5 (as a patch is supposedly in the works). There are so many small details within the game which helps create a fully immersive and interactive living world, things we’ve not seen before or rarely see in games this big. For example, if Ellie is reading something and the camera is in third-person, you can enable camera mode and zoom in to literally read the text on the document yourself!
Also, we can’t forget about the physics-based glass shattering and the incredible rope physics. Seriously the person who programmed the ropes should be up for some form of award themselves!
Speaking of the photo mode – this is one area I felt Naughty Dog could have done better. The mode is quite basic as you’re stuck on your character, unable to move the camera around for decent shots, and other than the filters and focus-range, there are very few options. They should bring in The Lost Legacy options where you could change the expressions and move the camera around much easier without being restricted. I managed to get some good shots (as you can see in the review), but I was expecting more from this option.
What can I say about the voice acting, music and overall ambient sounds and atmosphere? Fantastic, Brilliant, Perfect, Very Atmospheric, Flawless… I guess I could say those, plus many more – Despite what you think of the story and the events which occur, The Last of Us Part II is a masterpiece and it will win GOTY later this year along with many other awards, there’s no doubt about it.
The Last of Us Part II combines a brilliant overall narrative with the best visuals and physics we’ve seen this entire generation. Despite what you may think about the actual story and the events which occur, the entire experience is GOTY material thanks to the emotional and distressing storytelling. I personally enjoyed it more the second time around, due to picking up on all the references and seeing how the two portions of the game intertwine with one another. Each location you explore has been created with tonnes of care and attention and the combat is very realistic, both mechanically and visually, so certain scenes are quite graphic and disturbing. If you enjoyed the first game, or like survival games in general, you should pick up this game today.
I’ve heard, over the last few weeks, that certain publications and people on social media claim the game isn’t ‘fun’ and thus, gives the game a bad review. Funnily enough, the same thing was said of Death Stranding – reviewers said that game wasn’t ‘fun’ yet surprisingly, the same people gave the game 10/10. The Last of Us Part II is a dark and gritty realistic interactive video game which tells the story of life post-infestation. The concept alone lets you know that this is going to be a dark and horrific game which touches on uncomfortable and violent subjects. So, if you thought the original game was fun and entertaining, you’ll think the same of this one too – not every game has to be about a colourful plumber jumping into pipes in order for it to be ‘fun’.
The Last of Us Part II£54.99
- - Visually, the game is a masterpiece. The textures, physics, visuals, environments, and characters all look fantastic and realistic
- - The voice acting is second to none, as is the subtle music and ambient sound effects which greatly enhance the atmosphere
- - The combat has been greatly redefined with new actions such as swimming and prone, as well as a bunch of accessibility options to customise your gaming experience
- - Despite being quite a controversial opinion, I enjoyed the story and thought it was well-written and presented really well through the multiple perspectives and flashbacks. I got a little confused at times but playing it a second time increased my enjoyment and appreciation of the narrative
- - For those who like trophies, The Last of Us Part II has lots of simple ones with an easily obtainable platinum. No more difficulty or Multiplayer trophies
- - The photo mode is quite basic, I was expecting more after playing The Lost Legacy
- - Not everyone will like the story as events unfold that split the community
- - The game is very graphic at times, showing you close ups of weapons penetrating flesh and brutal violence. It's a shame there wasn't a toggle to bypass these scenes considering they thought of every other accessibility and gameplay options
- - For me, I felt like I didn't get to play as Ellie as long as I'd hoped, with the secondary protagonist taking up over half my total playtime