I knew The Last of Us Part II would be a great game, but holy crap, Naughty Dog. From the down-to-earth story that reels you in and rips your heart out to the adrenaline-pumping combat that keeps you at the edge of your seat every second, it’s impossible to not be enraptured by it all. I get giddy with excitement playing this game as I look at the hyper-realistic animations combined with the stellar performances. The Last of Us Part II is a masterpiece. Of course, it’s not flawless. I did have a couple of issues with the game, but they are very few and far between.
Here’s my spoiler-free review of The Last of Us Part II:
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The cycle of vengeance
It’s hard to talk about The Last of Us Part II without spoiling any of the details, so I will only talk about what has already been revealed, lest Neil Druckmann himself come to my house and strangle me. The Last of Us Part II takes place five years after the events of the first game. Ellie and Joel have been living in Jackson, Wyoming, a safe haven run by Joel’s brother, Tommy. Then, as Naughty Dog describes it, “a violent event disrupts that peace.” This sets Ellie on a path of vengeance.
The tale Naughty Dog brings to the table is one simply about revenge. However, what really lured me in was the complex characters that make up that story. Ellie is a complete and utter badass, in both the physical and emotional sense. Meanwhile, the antagonist is incredibly believable, and even likeable. Overall, the moral of the story is rather simple, but every twist and turn this game presents you with will ultimately leave you emotionally and morally conflicted.
Ashley Johnson (Ellie), Troy Baker (Joel) and Laura Bailey (Abby) dominated their performances. Between the facial expressions and emotion behind each line delivered, I was completely enthralled in what was happening on-screen. There were moments when I just put the controller down and watched what was transpiring as if it were a film. And there were other moments where a scene would throw me into the gameplay before I even knew what was happening, like “Oh wait, this is a game I have to play… oop I’m dead.”
Let me just say that the very vocal minority of gamers will likely criticize The Last of Us Part II, not only because Ellie is gay, but because this whole game screams to show representation for the entire LGBTQ community. There’s even a whole town filled with rainbow flags. It’s freaking glorious. And The Last of Us Part II launching on Pride month is down right poetic.
To survive, you must be vicious
As an experienced masochist and Dark Souls player, there was no other choice than to play The Last of Us Part II on the hardest difficulty, Survivor. I’ve barreled through The Last of Us Part II with little to no health and ammo, which made the experience that much more intense and ridiculous.
The Last of Us Part II is the perfect amalgamation of the original Last of Us and Uncharted 4. It takes its survival-horror chops from its predecessor and combines it with all of the intense-action from its sibling franchise.
The major difference between The Last of Us Part II and its predecessor is that you’re playing a much more nimble character (sorry, old man Joel), so you’ll now be able to jump, dodge and even go prone. Apart from that, most of the core mechanics are the same. All your weapons can be upgraded at a workbench and you can craft items and med-kits. Training Manuals also make a return, but serve a slightly different purpose, now giving you access to an entire skill tree of abilities.
While all of the animations make the gameplay look like an action film, it’s the fluidity of movement, diverse gunplay and fast-paced melee combat that makes every moment feel so intense. The Last of Us Part II does an excellent job of making me feel like a badass.
There was a moment when I was surrounded and I managed to grab one of the enemies, use them as a meat shield, and swiftly headshot another enemy. I then stuck my knife into the throat of the enemy I was holding, ducked behind cover and blasted the next person to walk into the room with a shotgun. It was brutal and exhilarating.
Outside of combat, there is one gameplay mechanic that’s pretty neat. As you might’ve seen in trailers, posters and even the collector’s edition statue, Ellie plays the guitar. I won’t go too deep into it, but you’re able to play the entirety of her guitar on the DualShock 4 touchpad. All I’ll say is that I’m incredibly excited to see what kind of music or covers people come up with in-game.
Naughty Dog’s implementation of Checkpoints and Encounters is another unique mechanic I haven’t seen before. When you Restart Checkpoint, you’re set back to where the game last saved, which could be in the middle or end of an encounter. However, the Restart Encounter option allows you to restart the entire combat sequence, which is incredibly useful for those playing on harder difficulties. If you won a battle but lost too many resources doing it, then you can hit that Restart Encounter button and try again. Of course, only after playing the game for 24 hours did I discover the manual save option (this will only take you back to the last checkpoint, mind you).
Despite all of that good stuff, I do have a couple of complaints about the gameplay mechanics. The listening mechanic makes its return, but I’ve found it to be very finicky. There are moments where I'll see and even hear enemies before I pick them up in my listening vision. I’ve had this happen when my listening capability was fully upgraded and even when enemies were relatively close.
Something else that bugs me to death (since this is a survival-horror game) is when I upgraded the ammo capacity for my shotgun but wasn't able to hold more ammo than before. The maximum shell count in the shotgun was originally four, and the maximum I could hold in my bag was an additional four, adding up to eight shells. When the shotgun capacity increased to six, I expected that I could still hold four shells in my bag for a total of 10. However, the game limits me to a total of eight shells regardless of the space in my bag, which doesn’t make any sense.
Field stripping weapons is therapeutic
The Last of Us Part II is a masterpiece of video game animation. The graphical fidelity isn’t what makes the game spark, rather, it's the clever cinematography and how every little action is accompanied by an animation. All those little details add up to a truly immersive experience.
When I watched the very first gameplay trailer, I was blown away by the animations, from Ellie’s swift dodges and attacks to her simply picking up an arrow from some dude’s corpse. The trailer spoiled me a bit, so the insane amount of work that went into the animation didn’t hit me when I finally played the game; That is, until I saw an animation that just sparked uncontrollable excitement: I was heading into a room filled with clickers and I drew my pistol. Not a moment later, Ellie pulled the hammer back on the gun. That little detail gave me goosebumps. Don’t even get me started on how satisfying it is to watch Ellie field-strip and upgrade her weapon at a workbench. Ugh [insert Leonardo DiCaprio fist bite GIF here].
In combat, I feel like I’m living out the events of a high-octane action film. In cutscenes, it’s like I’m watching an episode of The Walking Dead (the good ones, mind you). And the way the camera transitions from cutscenes to gameplay, it feels like Naughty Dog basically just made a movie you can play.
Explore and reap your rewards
Naughty Dog easily drew me into the world of The Last of Us Part II by skillfully disguising its linear world-design with a variety of side areas that I could explore.
What really took me aback were the kinds of rewards I’d get for exploring, such as new weapons, bombs, upgrades and entire Training Manuals. As mentioned earlier, Training Manuals give you access to an entire skill tree of abilities, so if you missed one, you’ll lose out on cool upgrades, like the ability to craft explosive arrows.
On one hand, The Last of Us Part II is ruthless by making these exploration items optional, but on the other hand, I always feel special and accomplished when I find a useful new item. The Last of Us Part II rewarded me every time I went out of my way to explore or to clear out a group of enemies, and I love that. One of the reasons I disliked Days Gone so much was that exploring reaped no rewards, whereas The Last of Us Part II is the complete opposite.
Resources and items aren’t the only thing you’ll get out of exploring. There’s an entire cutscene in the first act of the game that I could have missed if I didn’t decide to thoroughly explore every damn stairwell, ladder and suspiciously textured door.
Thanks to the open areas and the overall strenuous journey, The Last of Us Part II is the longest game Naughty Dog has ever developed. I have put 30 hours into it so far and have no idea how much longer I have left. I’m sure my time would be shorter if I was playing on an easier difficulty, but there were only a few encounters that gave me a hard time.
The Last of Us Part II is a great example for accessibility in games
I’m incredibly impressed with the level of accessibility settings Naughty Dog offers in The Last of Us Part II.
As soon as you start the game, you’ll get the ability to configure the accessibility settings. There are options to adjust text-to-speech settings, traversal audio cues, combat audio cues, combat vibration cues and even guitar vibration cues.
Part of the accessibility settings is fully customizing your controller scheme, from remapping buttons to choosing the way your controller is orientated. There’s a high-contrast mode that helps you identify friend from foe. The subtitles are also super customizable.
Overall, there are 60-plus accessibility settings. If you want to know more about them and to see if this game suits your needs, check out this heavily detailed PlayStation blog.
The Last of Us Part II performance
Before I dive into what I experienced, keep in mind that I played a review copy of The Last of Us Part II, so what happened to me might not happen to you, or it could differ entirely.
From what I could tell, The Last of Us Part II ran at 30 frames per second while I played at 4K HDR, which wasn’t much of an issue until I turned off motion blur (I find motion blur disorientating). With it off, however, you'll see that it's not as smooth if you pan your camera from left to right. If the game were running at 60 frames per second, the camera pan would look a lot smoother, but panning the camera instead looks and feels a bit off. However, this is more a fault with the hardware than anything else, as the PS4 Pro is attempting to power a next-gen-looking game.
Regardless, the overall performance for The Last of Us Part II was good. It ran smooth, and unlike Final Fantasy VII, I didn’t see JPEGs in the sky despite how hard it pushed my PS4 Pro.
However, I did experience some bugs and glitches during my journey throughout the ruins of Seattle.
There was a specific area that would cause my PS4 to drop frames as soon as I entered it. It wasn’t terribly bad, but I did notice the game stuttering. Similarly, there’s an area where my entire screen would freak out, causing a chunk of the screen to appear white for a second.
There was another moment where Ellie bugged out when I attempted to use a workbench. Instead of going into the workbench, I couldn’t move, all I could do was attack, so I had to reload the checkpoint.
Another beautiful moment was when my means of transportation got stuck in a wall and floated in mid-air. Fortunately, I was able to fix it when I took control of it and moved forward.
Although I experienced some bugs and glitches, these felt few and far between given how massive the game is. Only one was actually game breaking, while the others were mostly harmless. It could’ve been much worse.
The Last of Us Part II isn’t just a game that offers ridiculously fun gameplay and stellar animations. The Last of Us Part II will send your soul into a meat grinder.
Your long, perilous journey throughout Seattle will make you question your beliefs and morals. This game will lock you away into a pit of emotions and throw away the key. Every time you kill someone, it’ll feel and look more brutal than you imagine. When you hear the enemy talk about their wife and child before you rip out their throat, you’ll question why you’re doing what you’re doing. Every time you cut down a dog and hear it cry in pain, you’ll die on the inside. When your only motivations are vengeance and survival, the world gets bloody.
The Last of Us Part II shines a light on the complexity of human emotions and how each action we take has consequences that affect everyone around us. That is why it’s such an amazing game, and I hope you all get to play it.