Updated: Jun 23, 2020
What emotions am I supposed to feel?
This is a spoiler-free review regarding The Last of Us Part II's plot (which is why it may seem vague as to why certain story beats aren't mentioned in the review), however gameplay aspects throughout the entire game will be discussed. There will be spoilers from the first game however.
As I sit here contemplating the words to write for this review, I also find myself thinking about the build up to the games release. The delays, the leaks, the cliffhanger ending of the first game. It's been seven years since the release of the original game at the end of the PlayStation 3's life cycle, coincidentally just like with The Last of Us: Part II and the end of the PlayStation 4's life cycle. The one question spinning in my mind right now: was it all worth it in the end? The answer: It's complicated. But I'll try and explain. In reality, there's only one reason why The Last of Us and its sequel even exists, and that it purposely wants to invoke some sort of emotion in you. While yes, during the twenty-five hour long campaign I did feel some aspects of what Naughty Dog intended, others chapters left me rather confused, bored or not at all surprised by how things panned out.
The game actually starts out where the first game left off; on the hill where Joel lies to Ellie about why they escaped the FireFly hospital. However over the course of five years, what Joel told Ellie has never sat with her well. While you'll find the original games' ending to be a main aspect as to why our characters do what they'll do throughout the game, it's not the sole reason. Ellie soon finds herself in Seattle to find some closure to it all, and heads there with a woman she's had a crush on for a while, named Dina. Throughout the game, the pair end up finding themselves going through the emotions as they try to be each other's rock, and their bond helps keep the game going, especially at times the game is unbearably dull. Quite surprisingly too, you don't just play as Ellie, as early on you play as a woman named Abby, who is out for her own vengeance.
There are a vast array of new and returning characters, and to be honest, I cannot fault a single performance from any actor in the game despite their character's flaws. You'll come across so many different personalities, and when things start to kick off mid-way through the game, you begin to see characters from a different perspective. However while I adore some of the characters Ellie and Abby interact with (looking at you Owen), most of the others are mere filler and don't have much impact on the overarching story. Some of the story choices are bold and brash, while others are down right confusing and are actually a little out of character, as there are decisions made by characters in this game that they absolutely would have done the opposite to maybe a few hours later, or even in the previous game. However the biggest problem is when the story comes to an absolute halt just when things are getting good half way through the game in order to take you throw a lengthy flashback sequence of events that could as well of been The Last of Us Part 3. I'm not going to lie, I truly did not care for most of the story in the second half of the game; I can understand the idea of it was to take characters you only briefly saw and make you see their side of things, but the way it's done here is just a slog to get through. By the games end, you'll end up questioning whether you rooted for the right people, and, in all honesty, what the whole point was.
The gameplay is split off into three aspects: scavenging, crafting and fighting. While everything is almost similar to the first game, here it's much more tighter and fluid. In order to get through the chapters, you need to scavenge for supplies, whether that be for water, tape, rags, melee weapons and the like. While I'm pretty darn sure you could just waltz on by without doing any scavenging, you're more than likely going to have a tough time if you don't. As with a lot of survival games, you only have a limited about of space of what you can carry, so it's vitally important that if you're about to pass an area with material you cannot pick up, craft what you can and pick it up. There's a wide array of items to craft, from molotovs to mines to smoke bombs, to arrows; a lot of what you craft will get you out of many sticky situations, and it's actually satisfying when you're under pressure by enemies, you craft something and use it just in the nick of time. You'll also find workbenches which, using spare parts you find, you can use to upgrade the weapons you also find, maybe by adding a scope or by improving the stability, and it's honestly impressive the detail they've put into you upgrading the guns.
As you progress, you may come across books which allow you to obtain perks; some of these may increase your health, while others may allow you to craft way more efficiently. Annoyingly you're not allowed to just choose what perks you want right off the bat, instead being required to go down a chain and use pills you collect to reach the perks you actually want. Despite what I said earlier, in that you should craft where possible to pick up missable materials, there are times the game actually doesn't allow you to because of the perks you unlock. There's one perk, for example, which allows you to use materials efficiently to create two smoke bombs instead of just one. Let's say in your inventory you're carrying three out of four bombs, and you want to create another one... well no, you're not allowed, you HAVE to make two. This means you either have to waste a bomb to craft the two, or don't craft them at all. You'd think Ellie could just craft two, and leave one behind to maybe go back for after a fight... but no.
Inventory management is probably one of the more frustrating aspects, but not for the reasons you might expect. Ammo is incredibly scarce no matter what difficulty you play on, which helps build incredible tension and atmosphere; a lot of the time you may find yourself in a tough situation where you're forced to sneak and play smart instead of brute forcing and shooting everyone. The problem I actually have, however, with ammo being incredibly scarce is when the game tells you you're "full" when in reality you're not. Let's say, in total, you're carrying twelve bullets for your rifle; two in your gun, ten in your pockets. You find one bullet that you can pick up, but you apparently have no space. However your gun is not fully loaded, so if you fully reload your gun, you should have room to pick up that bullet, right? Nope. Each weapon has a set amount of ammo you are allowed to carry for it, no matter how many bullets are in your gun or not. For a game about scavenging, it doesn't want you to scavenge properly it seems.
There are a wide range of weapons you'll come across; some return from the previous game such as the longbow, where as some are brand new, though the newer ones appear late game. As for the gun play itself, it's probably one of the best aspects in the game. Every shot you take matters, and every shot has pure power behind it. You wouldn't believe how many times I've been so trigger happy without realising it and found myself with an empty magazine, right in the open for all to shoot me... and so the panic sets, and I'm forced to either run and hide or beat the living daylights out of the enemies. However you still have to play incredibly smart, as just storming at an enemy isn't going to cut it anymore. The AI is mostly smart, and humans will shoot you so fast you barely have time to get back on your feet after being knocked down. The one gripe I do have with the human AI is that at times large groups can be exploited by simply killing an enemy, maybe jump through a window, and suddenly they have no idea where you are, rinse and repeat. You will of course find yourself facing off against the infected as well as our human friends. However if you thought you'd seen it all with the infected, trust me, there is more to see, with a new type of infected that actually makes your skin crawl (in more ways than one... you'll find out what I mean).
Now if there's one thing we (should) all know is that the graphics are not the main aspect of a game. You should never score a game high on graphics alone... but holy heck, this is probably the best looking game on the PlayStation 4. I hardly ever use the photo mode in a video game as the shots I often take look very tame, however here I found myself using it all the time. Every screenshot you see in this review was taken using photo mode, and I am absolutely in awe. While up close, graphically, the game looks sharp, but still somewhat video game like. However from a distance, and I know this is a corny thing to say, but it looks so damn realistic. Naughty Dog has hand crafted a gorgeous, vibrant and chilling world that I almost want to live in if it weren't for the apocalypse and the infected that is. If this is what Naughty Dog can do at the end of the PlayStation 4's life, what the hell will they be able to achieve on the PlayStation 5?
Something else I cannot give high enough praise to Naughty Dog is the accessibility options. I, personally, never had to use any of them, however with Naughty Dog being such an inclusive company, they tried their damn hardest to never leave a person behind, There's settings that allow hard of hearing players to better hear what's happening on screen, there's settings that allow those who have physical disabilities to control the game easier, and heck you can even play the game if you're blind!
Another thing I cannot give enough praise for is how much thought Naughty Dog has put into the world's design. Every location you explore feels unique and is tailored around how you want to play; there's little nooks and cranny's and small holes in the walls to crawl through if you want to be completely stealthy and aside for a couple of exceptions, almost no area feels like a repeat of another area's design. The world often feels lived in too; there was a time when I genuinely thought I was safe using a workbench and then suddenly I was jumped by a guy out of no where. Human enemies can react to how and where you shoot at their body, some even begging for their life. There is also no greater feeling when trying to figure out a puzzle (even if they're minuscule and probably very simple) and you realise you actually have to destroy parts of the environment to solve it, something you probably wouldn't immediately think to do in a game not classed as a puzzler.
Now don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed a lot of what The Last of Us Part 2 has to offer, however along with some of the things I've mentioned above, there are a lot of little things which, when put together, knocks the game down a peg. A reason for a couple of these issues is because the game struggles to figure out if it's trying to be as realistic as possible, or a video game. Some examples include where you're so low on ammo and then a cutscene happens: suddenly you have all the ammo in the world out of nowhere for a chase scene, which just took me right out of it all. Speaking of ammo, I can only assume the reason you carry so little is because most enemies only take one or two shots to kill (trying to be realistic I suppose), but then in the last game you were able to carry way more. There's also times the main characters are talking (or world building) but because you're clearly going faster than the game wants you to, they just forget the conversation they were having and point at something unrelated (they don't even get back to their previous conversation like Uncharted 4 used to do). Also, for a game about exploring the area, the game does a bad job at letting you know when you're at a point of no return as there were numerous times I'd be exploring, I'd see two shut doors and one actually took me out the area while one took me into a room with items. The game also autosaves when you go through a point of no return too, so you're basically locked out in these stages too. It's just design choices like these which take me our of the experience as a whole.
The Last of Us: Part II is impressive, beautiful and at times, quite suspenseful. It takes you through a vibrant world that, were it not for the infected and humans constantly trying to kill you, I would not mind spending my life in. However at times the game is let down by bizarre story beats and infuriating game design decisions. Personally I think we've seen everything we can within this world and it may be time to let this franchise rest, even if it's only been two games.
The Last of Us: Part II was paid for by GamerGhost and played on the PlayStation 4 Pro.