The Last Of Us is one of my favourite games of the last, and technically this, console generation. It represents a leap forward in combining great storytelling with compelling gameplay, something that games have been striving to perfect ever since it came out. The Last Of Us Part II represents another big step forward in this regard, and while it is a fantastic game, like all games it isn’t without its faults.
With this review I am going to try to spoil as little of the story as possible, but I want to point out that there will be minor spoilers for the sake of critiquing the game, and giving you a fair impression of how good/bad I found it to be.
I also think that it’s important to add that you should really play the first game before diving into the sequel. The entire game hinges on your attachment to a key character, and without that it may as well be any other game.
The Last Of Us Part II is really made up of three key parts, the story, the gameplay, and the methods used to tie those aspects together. The story is genuinely moving, and had me crying within the first hour. As all marketing material for the game has explained, you follow Ellie four years after the events of the first game. She has settled in Jackson, and so has Joel, and things seem to be going fairly well.
However, the opening chapters inflict a deep wound on Jackson, one that Ellie feels more than anyone. This sparks a fire in her that can only be quenched by revenge, and so she sets off to Seattle to find those who have wronged her, and kill them.
The story is not what I expected it to be at all. While the game opens with a gut punch, things then calm down and the real pacing begins. Ellie quickly enters Seattle and meets a host of new foes that she must avoid or kill along her journey for vengeance. While she has friends who help her along the way, it’s extremely clear that this is a cause that is hers alone, and everyone else comes second to it.
Some of the story comes in flashbacks, which explain some of the events before the game, and during the time gap between the two. These not only flesh out what happened between Joel and Ellie over those years, they build up a picture of who Ellie has become, and even subtly hint at the impact her father figure has had on her development.
I can’t say anything more on the story without spoiling things, but I can tell you about the world. In The Last Of Us we caught a glimpse at the post-pandemic world these characters live in. It was desperate, with people living day-to-day. That hasn’t changed, in fact things have only gotten worse outside of Jackson’s walls.
Seattle is a cruel city occupied by two major factions, the Washington Liberation Front (WLF), and the Scars. The WLF are a military group that wrestled control of the city from the army, and have ruled it ever since. The Scars are a religious cult who want to control the city, cleansing it of what they perceive as sin.
Ellie enters the city just as things between these two groups are ramping up. The Scars are hitting WLF patrols more and more, and the WLF is getting sick and tired of it. Caught in the middle, Ellie has to toe the line between trained killers and guerrilla fighters that hunt in the dark, all while the infected constantly threaten any sense of safety.
Naughty Dog has done an exceptional job of creating two believable groups that have survived in this world. Each one has their own lore and sense of self in the world, so much so that you could never question their existence in a similar real world pandemic.
The developer has also overhauled the infected from the first game. Not only are there new variants to discover, and grow to hate, Runners, Stalkers, Clickers, and Bloaters have all been given a brand new lease of life.
Each infected has been expanded upon, from the way that Runners now generally move in hordes, and how Clickers use distinct screams to identify prey directly in front of them, to the horrific Stalker encounters that will give you nightmares, and finally the epic Bloater battles that will make you panic, sweat, and scream.
Every enemy in the game feels real, and the effort that has gone into them pays off in your reaction. After one particularly nasty encounter with a group of Scars, I found myself yelling expletives at my TV as the final one was downed with a close up machete blow.
The world and story are enhanced by the incredible soundtrack and sound design in The Last Of Us Part II. Rarely has a game’s music moved me so, and every scene’s atmosphere is set and held on the notes of whatever instrument is being played.
I can’t explain just how powerful music is in this game, other than to say it’s on an entirely new level to what it was in the first. Even just standing around in the rain on Seattle’s streets feels poignant.
Of course, sound design also comes into play where enemies and action are concerned. The infected sound dreadful. I still flinch when I hear clicks outdoors. Human enemies chat to each other, giving you a heads up about where they are, but their silence can also hurt you , and it’s so amazing to see, but also annoying when they sneak up on you.
There is also an extremely competent guitar playing feature. No doubt you’ve seen loads of videos of this in action. It’s the most accurate guitar playing I’ve seen in a game, right down to the way you can strum out an almost perfect rendition of Hurt by Johnny Cash.
Moving onto gameplay, I would say that this is the most important aspect of The Last Of Us Part II. The story drives you to keep playing, but it’s the hugely enjoyable combat that I found to be most rewarding. Sneaking around and picking off enemies makes you feel smart, and it should do because the AI is incredibly intelligent.
Encounters ramp up over the course of the story, with more and more new elements being introduced with each. At first you’ll be fighting against single factions in smaller spaces, but by the middle of the game you’ll be traversing huge open sections of Seattle, fighting various enemies as you go.
As I’ve already mentioned, combat is good, but it felt like everything only clicked when I got the bow. Up until this point it feels like you’re missing an element for each fight, but once you have it you feel like you’ve finally gotten to grips with the game. That is until the Scars put you down a peg or two.
In some combat scenarios, enemies are outright vicious. Whether it’s a WLF dog trying to track you and rip your throat out, or a Scar firing arrow after arrow as another one pins you down with gunfire. The game is relentless in throwing all it can at you, but then so is the story when it comes to your emotions.
The crowning jewel of the gameplay has to be how each area has been opened up though. In the first game, you could tell that Naughty Dog had reached the PlayStation 4’s limits. Every new location was fenced in, and had a direct path, but here it feels like there is no fence.
One of the early areas is just a huge open section of Seattle. You can explore it freely, running into areas that are completely out of your path, and the story’s, but the rewards are well worth it. This concept is taken into every following area.
Instead of small streets and a select few houses to sneak around, you have entire city blocks. You may be fighting one group of enemies throughout a multi-story carpark as well as the surrounding streets. The sprawling areas open up new opportunities for stealth and brutality, both of which are at the heart of the game.
One of my favourite locations was a flooded shopping mall full of WLF. Here Ellie can dive and swim through shops to sneak up on enemies, kill the, and then disappear underwater once more. Like I said, it makes you feel genuinely smart, and that’s important in a game like this.
While this is an incredible game, it isn’t without its flaws. I experienced a few technical issues where I could see through the world, or got a white screen for a second or so. Sometimes the game also plays with its own rules, preventing you from moving where you think you should be able to.
I’d say my biggest bug bear is the lack of multiplayer though. I’m aware that Naughty Dog is said to be working on a standalone multiplayer game for The Last Of Us Part II, but Factions was such a big part of the first game for me, that this game doesn’t feel complete without it.
I will admit that there’s a lot of replayability in The Last Of Us Part II. I started a new game as soon as I’d finished, but I don’t think that’s enough for fans who have grown to love the multiplayer community that has built up around the first game.
While it may not have been possible to deliver on the disc, considering there are two, I’d rather this unknown multiplayer game launched a few weeks after the main game, in a similar fashion to how Grand Theft Auto Online followed Grand Theft Auto 5.
When it comes right down to it, this game is a masterpiece. It’s the swan song of the PlayStation 4, and I don’t think any game will ever live up to it. The story is so well crafted, and gameplay so satisfying, that you could play it all year long and not need anything else.
Once again, this isn’t a perfect game, but what game is? Much like Ellie, the game has flaws, but in a way those flaws make it what it is. They show that there’s still room for improvement, which gives me hope that one day we might even get a The Last Of Us Part III.
If you’re looking for action, or a casual game, this probably isn’t for you. It’s also not a game that you can sit back and relax to. It is gruelling, arduous, and it will leave a mark on you, even though no one will be able to see it.
However, if you loved the first game, and you want to see how that story continued, then this is the most satisfying answer you could ever hope for.