Last Of Us Part II has the distinction of being one
of the most difficult to review games I can recall.
Not because of any challenge in the game –
it has several difficulty levels, ranging from very easy to very hard – but because
it’s a complex game that does some things extremely well, other things not
especially well, and your opinion of the game may very well be influenced by
your worldview, meaning there’s going to be a lot of discussion about this game
online, and a lot of people are going to have Strong Opinions about it all too.
With that out of the way, here is my review
for The Last Of Us Part II, developed
by Naughty Dog and published by Sony for the PlayStation 4.
It’s a decent-sized game – around 30 hours
or so, depending on your playstyle; and given the way the story comes together
I am going to avoid specific spoilers in this review.
I know they’re out there in internet land
but I believe you, the reader, deserve a chance to experience the story the way
the developers intended, without having an important story moment spoiled
during this review just so I can say “This particular scene made me say “Oh
come on” or “This thing that happened
was very cool”.
I’m also going to assume you’ve played The Last Of Us, or are at least aware
enough of its plot for me to not need to spend several paragraphs rehashing it.
Last Of Us Part II is set about four or five years
after the events of The Last Of Us,
with Joel and Ellie living in the fortified town of Jackson, Wyoming.
Jackson seems like a very pleasant place –
friendly people working together to keep the infected away, a thriving
community, basically everything you could want after the world’s ended.
This idyllic setting is shattered by a
resurfacing mystery, and Ellie soon finds herself heading to Seattle following
the trail of said mystery.
Seattle has not fared well, and has
collapsed into anarchy, with two factions fighting over what remains of the
city and trying to deal with the infected at the same time.
Last Of Us II does a lot of things absolutely
superbly, particularly from a storytelling and level creation perspective, but
in other areas it is ham-handed in its execution, with some elements feeling
like they put in purely to get social media likes and shares and let the Tumblr
echo chamber say “Yass Kween!” at each other a lot.
In a nutshell, The Last Of Us Part II is woker than a Chihuahua full of coffee, to
the point where it gets in the way of the story at times.
Let me be explicitly clear: I do not have
any issue with the themes The Last of Us
II portrays – indeed, it is good some of them get airtime; my issue is with
how they are handled and how
inorganic to the story some of those themes felt.
One of the issues I will address is that
Ellie has not grown up to be a particularly agreeable young woman. She is
certainly capable, skilled and resourceful but she is also very angsty, moody,
sullen and basically not a lot of fun to be around.
This is in stark contrast to her portrayal
in The Last Of Us as a largely upbeat
and somewhat mischievous girl. There is somewhat of a story explanation for the
personality change, but its reveal didn’t change my view that Ellie, for the
most part, just wasn’t someone I enjoyed the company of all that much.
Setting aside the ‘wokeness’ thing and
‘Ellie has more issues than National Geographic’ situation, there is a lot done
well in the game and Naughty Dog have excelled themselves in some areas.
The level design is simply superb, and is
one of the best representations of a post-apocalyptic world I can recall seeing
in a game; surpassing even the previous title. Seattle feels like a real city
that people lived in before everything turned to custard, and exploring it (or
at least the parts available to you) is surprisingly compelling.
The actual environments really are a joy to
explore. They feel extremely believable; you absolutely can believe this is
what a major US city that had been hurriedly evacuated during a pandemic would
look like a decade or two later.
Real-life Seattle is a very atmospheric
city and Naughty Dog have captured it extremely well in the game; you can
almost taste the rainy fog and smell the Pacific Northwest Pine trees and sea
The audio is amazing as well – with a
decent set of headphones you absolutely can believe you are sheltering under a
corrugated iron roof in a wrecked building listening to a storm coming down
outside. You can hear glass crunching when enemies walk on it. You can hear the
clicking and groans of the infected well before you can see them, and it really
is an integral part of the experience.
The game does a phenomenal job playing with
the themes of perspective, too, and the key people Ellie encounters throughout
the game are generally well-rounded characters (although the large numbers of
random enemies she despatches are not, for obvious reasons).
From a technical perspective, the game was
obviously pushing the limits of what the PS4 is capable of; there were numerous
examples of texture pop-in throughout my playthrough. While they’re not
game-breaking, they did detract somewhat from the otherwise excellent visual
aspect of the game.
From an actual gameplay aspect, it’s
basically the same as the previous game, which works just fine for me –
sneaking up behind a zombie and shanking it remains as satisfying as ever.
There are still a few rough edges around
the combat system – like the amount of ammunition you can carry is laughably
low (as in, single-digits low for shotgun and rifle ammo and 12-16 rounds max
for handguns), and instead of just doing a straight stealth kill of enemies,
you grab them first then press
another button to stab them, which seems unnecessary.
Otherwise, the mechanics work well and
there are some real tension-building moments when you are hiding in the grass hoping
a nearby enemy won’t stumble on you, or realising your entire plan hinges on a
zombie turning left instead of right at a certain point, or timing an attack
just right because a second too late will lead to discovery.
There are resources lying around the world
which can be scavenged to craft upgrades for your weapons – everything from
larger magazines for firearms to restoring the durability of your melee weapons
or making Molotov cocktails – and you can also level up your abilities by
finding vitamin supplements too, which can lead to useful skills like increased
health and more effective handgun suppressors.
The original The Last Of Us was a grim but hopeful game which left me thinking
about it and its characters well after the credits rolled. The Last Of Us II is a grim game which also appeared to be trying
to fill as many boxes in the Woke Bingo Card as possible, and I felt the
experience suffered for that.
Some of the story also seemed superfluous
and there were a number of times I found myself wondering why a character was
behaving the way they were or doing what they were doing. Additionally, there were
also some story and worldbuilding aspects I really wanted the opportunity to
delve into, but the game didn’t provide them, much to my disappointment.
Most tellingly, after finishing the game, I haven’t spent a great deal of time thinking about the characters or the journey the way I have with other games that I really felt a strong connection with.
Partly that’s just because there’s a lot
going on in the gaming world right now, but also partly because the game
ultimately didn’t have the same emotional impact on me that its predecessor
did, and partly because I simply didn’t like how some of the events in the game
That’s not to say the game isn’t without its poignant, touching or emotional moments – it certainly is – but the entire experience didn’t connect with me in the same way the original The Last Of Us did and I found myself ultimately unsatisfied.
Game director Neil Druckmann said The Last Of Us II “felt like a story
that needed to be told” and that “it was worth the risk (of compromising the
original game)” and I’m going to say I’m not sure I agree with him on either
count. Yes, the original game needed a sequel – but I’m not convinced this is the
story it should have been telling.
Thus, we have the problem of a well-made
game that, in my opinion, doesn’t take the story in a positive direction and does (again, in my opinion) compromise
the original game somewhat, but is still a good game by most of the objective
metrics I would otherwise use to decide “is this a good game which you should
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I find myself comparing The Last Of Us Part II to the movie Alien 3. Is it a good game? Yes. Is it well made? Yes. Does it take the story in a good direction? No. Would I, as a fan, prefer it had not been made? Quite possibly. Does that make it inherently bad? No.
Regardless of how you look at it, The Last Of Us II is still a landmark experience for PlayStation 4
gamers and one it’s almost going to be obligatory to play given what a huge
release it is and the cultural impact its predecessor had.
Hopefully now you can see what I mean about
it having been one of the most difficult to review games I can recall playing –
at any rate, the game is out on PlayStation 4 on June 19 and you’ll be able to
experience it yourself from then.