REVIEW: The Last of Us Part II - A Beautifully Bleak Sequel
Almost 7 years ago to the day, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us launched on the PlayStation 3. Critics and players alike adored the mature story-telling, meticulous attention to detail and overall feel of this post-apocalyptic zombie-infested epic survival title. Flash forward to today, a mere one week until The Last of Us Part II arrives on PS4 and fans of the original are hoping Naughty Dog has struck gold again. The question is, have they? Read on to find out in our review of The Last of Us Part II.
“…one of the most emotionally intense games I’ve ever played.”
Four years have passed for Ellie and she is understandably a hell of a lot tougher since we last saw her. After the first game’s treacherous journey across post-pandemic USA, Ellie and Joel have settled down in Wyoming with a whole town of survivors. They’ve build a community that, if you didn’t know any better, almost resembles some sort of normality.
This ‘normality’ is interspersed with sharp reminders though of what’s going on outside their gated community and, when a violent event disrupts the peace, Ellie is hellbent on justice for what happened.
I obviously can’t divulge much more about what happens, aside from what you might have seen from the trailers out there but, this is definitely one of the most emotionally intense games I’ve ever played. Scenarios arise that make you both question and understand your motives, all at the same time and Ellie’s journey is far from easy.
One nice addition to help the narrative along is that Ellie keeps a journal (just like Arthur Morgan in Red Dead Redemption 2) that acts like a written internal monologue of her thoughts and a nice way to understand what’s going on in her head.
Naughty Dog are one of the best in the industry when it comes to character-driven stories but they’ve really outdone themselves here. Yes, I’ll admit I’m biased as I’m a huge fan of narrative-led titles with an attention to detail but, after my 27 hours play through, I was quite taken aback at how many difficult themes they attempted to address throughout the game. It’s a story about trauma, redemption, and empathy and one that will stay with you, long after the end titles roll.
“Not only is the combat improved, Ellie’s overall movement has been upgraded…”
Described as an action-survival title, the ‘survival’ part is probably the biggest understatement of year. Much like the first game, in the areas you explore, resources are scarce and you need to be extremely tactical in how you use them.
One of the issues players had with the first title though was that the melee combat felt stiff. Thankfully, Naughty Dog has addressed this and combat in The Last of Us Part II now feels extremely visceral and fluid while still remaining grounded and realistic.
From the sequences we’ve been allowed to discuss, you’ll see that stealth is still crucial, with combat being slightly more optional given its improvements. Not only is the combat improved, Ellie’s overall movement has been upgraded to allow for jumping and the ability to lie completely flat. These new abilities opens up the playing feel when it comes to taking on enemies and each of her actions are fluid, dynamic and well ‘mo-capped’ to make them feel as believable as possible.
As you’d expect, improvements to Ellie wouldn’t be fair without improvements to how your enemies hunt you down. Now, not only do you have to watch out for prowling militia, you must also be aware of their guard dogs that can literally sniff you out of the long grass if you stray too close.
Using the vital ‘Listen’ mode, you can detect enemies and their dogs that are otherwise blocked by foliage, hiding behind cover, or in nearby structures. You can also use this mode to see your own ‘scent trail’ so you know which way, if sniffed by a guard dog, you will be followed.
Overall, enemy AI is vastly improved over the first title and now, each one of them almost has a personality of their own. The two many enemies groups you encounter, the Washington Liberation Army or WLF and The Scars, have two completely different ways of handling an attack.
Whilst WLF members are more aggressive and bombastic in their approach, using their guards dogs to sniff you out and calling on each other by name, the Scars are altogether more tactical, and even down-right creepy, with their communication technique of whistling to look for help or to alert each other to nearby danger.
When it comes to the ‘infected’ side of things, we’ve got the return of the infamous ‘Clickers’ along with the ‘Stalkers’ who are scarier than all of the other enemies combined as they prefer to hide and jump out on you rather than come at you the second the hear you.
Crafting, much like the first game, also returns and, like I said, resources are limited so you need to ensure you’re making what you need for the situation at hand. There’s also scavenge-able ‘nuts and bolts’ that allow you to upgrade and modify your weapons at workbenches that are scattered, rather sparingly, throughout the world.
Training manuals can be discovered throughout the game as well with each one unlocking a different character upgrade tree and crafting recipes. You can also craft some makeshift silencers for your pistol which definitely come in handy for picking off enemies without drawing too much attention on yourself.
Even though it’s linear, to a certain extent, the way in which Naughty Dog has designed the searchable areas along the way, and the other areas where you simply cannot go, is very believable. I guess a heavily quarantined city, with all the barriers and gates that entails, plays into helping them keep the play areas more streamlined.
I will say though, exploration definitely pays off if you really want to find all of the necessary resources (and even hidden Easter eggs.) There are specific areas, not directly on the main ‘path’ that have their own mini challenges to complete to get access to a whole lot of stash. You could be looking for a code to a safe printed on a post-it note or breaking windows and throwing ropes to swing to abandoned hotel rooms to find boxes full of ammo. It may sound laborious (which it isn’t really) but it’s definitely worth it to make sure you’re as fully equipped as possible to take on the next wave of enemies.
“…stopped me in my tracks…”
Naughty Dog has created one of the most visually stunning games available on any system right now. Following in the graphical pedigree of its predecessor, The Last of Us Part II showcases meticulous attention to detail.
Character models are impeccable with their facial animations, both in and out of cutscenes, showing minute expressions that help you understand how a character is feeling, all adding to a level of immersion which helps convey the underlying tension, emotion and even rage each character is experiencing.
Naughty Dog’s photo mode was heavily used during my playthrough with each new section having a viewpoint or area that stopped me in my tracks so I could capture it with the mode.
Environments are also stunningly realised with ambient lighting used to full effect to really deliver on that ‘post-pandemic’ feeling which Naughty Dog portrayed so well in the original game also. The varying weather conditions you encounter as you scavenge around Seattle also add to the feeling you’re in the Pacific North West with heavy thunderstorms and rain interspersed with glaringly bright sunshine and general overcast gloominess.
I could wax lyrical all day about the tiny little flourishes the team has added to each of the characters interactions with each other and the environment but watching any of the trailers already released for the game can showcase this better than I ever could.
Needless to say, if you want a title to depict what Sony’s current consoles, both the PS4 and even more so the PS4 Pro, are capable of visually, The Last of Us Part II is it.
“…really helps join the two game stories together seamlessly.”
The Last of Us Part II’s audio design is incredibly intense and similar to Insomniac’s Spider-Man in so far as it builds and descends depending on the level of action or conflict on the screen. You know that when you enter a new area and the ominous score starts to build, you’re in for a fight.
Even something down to the random noises and sounds Ellie makes as she upgrades her weapon at a work bench are perfectly in sync with what’s happening on screen. It may sound small, but its attention to detail like this that really sells the overall experience.
Gustavo Santaolalla, who composed the now iconic soundtrack for the first game, has returned to score The Last of Us Part II and the continuation of his compositions really helps join the two game stories together seamlessly.
1,500 words in and I could write 1,500 more, that’s how much I have to say about Naughty Dog’s latest creation. Creating the Last of Us Part II was always going to be a risk, given how revered and adored the first game was. Naughty Dog, more than any other studio around today, we’re more than capable of the challenge and, yes, it hit some roadblocks in the lead up to launch but, my God, was the wait worth it.
You can pre-order The Last of Us Part II on the PlayStation Store starting at €69.99.
Our review code of The Last of Us Part II was provided by Sony PlayStation Ireland.