The Last of Us Pt. II

Review from: Gaming Age

The Last of Us Part II for the PS4 is a truly incredible — and incredibly exhausting — videogame experience that could probably only be created by fine folks at Naughty Dog. The game feels, looks, sounds and plays like the culmination of everything that the studio has produced before it, and is easily one of the most detailed, balanced and mature story-driven adventure titles of the generation. But phew, it sure is ex-haust-ing.

The Last of Us Part II takes place 5 years after the events of the original game, with Ellie, Joel and a number of survivors settling down to a relatively peaceful existence in Jackson, Wyoming. The infected are still out there… and there is still no cure or vaccine, nor is there much information regarding the possibility of one. The endgame sequence of the original The Last of Us sort of made sure of that — for those who maybe didn’t play through Part I. There are of course factions and settlements of other humans spread about the area which have a bit of history with each other. The Fireflies, the “antagonists” of The Last of Us are nowhere to be found in the current hierarchy, though in their place are the organized and well-equipped Washington Liberation Front (WLF), and the cult-like Seraphites (known as SCARS).

There are alliances and agreements, and also plenty of simmering tensions between the groups and individuals due to previous actions and relationships. Without wanting to potentially spoil any important plot points (and there’s a lot to spoil) — the peace is broken when Ellie and Joel’s group are involved in an event which kicks off the need for Ellie to gear up and head out to do some important things. (is that vague enough?)

Naughty Dog has taken every gameplay technique, visual flourish, environmental and system design, and clever audio cue from the Uncharted franchise and the original The Last of Us (along with the extra Left Behind DLC) and have curated them perfectly for The Last of Us Part II. As someone who hates to spend a lot of time managing inventory or crafting items in the games I play, the streamlined inventory, skill tree and crafting system is just damn near perfect. Other than the weapon upgrade system which require access to (also very straightforward) crafting tables, nearly everything can be done on the fly with minimal effort fumbling around in menus. To say that this feature made a huge impact in my experience while playing through the game would be an understatement. And that’s just one well-tuned facet of the game, but it was important enough that I felt the need to lead with it.

Like it’s predecessor, Part II is all about survival, and while the world and the gameplay environments feel significantly larger than in Part I, it is in no way an open world game. The experience is story driven, taken day-by-day, and there’s no real backtracking or revisiting of areas later on unless it’s specifically part of the narrative. There are plenty of stupidly-detailed derelict houses and structures, insanely lush forest environments and rain soaked camps to sneak around in and scrounge up supplies, all the while clearing out infected or enemy factions (if required). The game features a number of clever puzzles and minor traversal challenges utilizing environmental and inventory objects — a few ideas of which we’ve seen in later Uncharted titles, and more than a handful of new ones. There’s no shortage of “a-ha!” moments throughout, especially when it comes to tracking down a useful cache of supplies.

Speaking of special moments, visually, The Last of Us Part II is absolutely something else. I played through the game mostly on a PS4 Pro and seriously, with the kind of graphics that Naughty Dog has coerced the console into rendering at the tail end of the hardware life-span will likely rival the first wave of PS5 titles. Even in larger, complex environments the game feels significantly smoother than 30fps, which is in no doubt thanks to the subtle, fine-tuned motion blur built into the engine. The 4K assets and HDR-enabled lighting are top notch, and the interactive foliage, a pet peeve of mine if not implemented appropriately, is among the best seen this generation. The amount of man hours spent building, designing and decorating the interiors of dwellings, houses, aquariums, theaters, restaurants, office buildings, from whole residential blocks to little camps, must have been off the charts. The varied environments are also extremely interactive, which factors into the gameplay quite a bit, from exploring to sneaking to fighting.

As gorgeous as the world is the character models in The Last of Us Part II are the real star of the show. I’m still not convinced that they are rendered in real-time on current gen hardware as they are most certainly some of the highest quality — from animation to texturing — that I’ve seen on a console thus far. The enemy factions and infected are similarly well designed, and in the case of the runners, clickers, bloaters and other mutated entities, horrifying up close and afar. There’s no doubt that the inevitable PS5 patch for the game will be bonkers, visually speaking.

The Last of Us Part II is a stressful, relentless experience almost all the way through, and while there are some much-needed breaks in the action and a bit of levity here and there, those interludes don’t last very long. Keeping Ellie and friends alive takes its toll, and the game conditions players to pace themselves and keep aware of their surroundings at nearly all times. The human elements in Part II are frequently more dangerous, malicious and numerous than the infected, and I seem to remember it being the other way around in the original game. The offensive options, from quiet stealth kills and close range weapon fights, to pipe-bombs and Molotov cocktails, to incendiary double-barrel shotgun blasts and long range semi-auto rifles (to name a few) have brutal visual and aural results (when you’re on the receiving end too). And like the first game, sometimes a well-placed brick or bottle is the best strategy for avoiding skirmishes altogether.

The “listening” skill, which provides a bit of enemy scanning/x-ray vision within your local area, is once again available in Part II. To spite not needing it much in Part I after a partial playthrough, I found myself using it much more here due to the environment being larger and hiding places less obvious and movements and patrols more organic and unpredictable. The deliberate pacing, overall feeling of dread, and the need to constantly sit at the edge of my seat and/or grit my teeth was probably part of the decision to utilize the skill more regularly as well.

It’s super difficult to get into the story without some serious spoilerage, so I’ve tried to dance around it the best I can. Needless to say, the events of The Last of Us Part II spiral out of control, there are emotional twists and unexpected curve-balls galore, and most of it is fairly dark and violent. The game is also long, clocking in at least 25 hours on Normal mode with moderate exploration. On the positive side, the studio handles diversity and inclusivity in a mature and non-pandering fashion and never beats gamers over the head with any of the messaging, which is a testament to the writing team and the medium. The voice work all across the board is fantastic, which is not unexpected for a Naughty Dog title. The soundtrack doesn’t kick in much, and in its place are ambient effects and background loops which progressively build in intensity depending on the situation. You can just feel when something bad is coming — and most of the time you’d be right.

With an enthralling story, complex characters, interesting gameplay and gorgeous visuals and audio, The Last of Us Part II is probably one of the most polished videogame experiences out there and it’s pretty easy to give it a great score and call it a day. But honestly, thanks to the intense pace, mature subject matter and stressful situations, it may not be for everyone. I definitely could not marathon through it for more than a couple hours without breaks and/or switching it up with lighter fare, which along with the unexpected length, delayed this review a bit. Most may see that as a net positive, although after 20+ hours I started to wonder when some sort of resolution was finally coming. Of course, in the end, it was indeed all worth it. Being a strictly single player experience, beyond cleaning up some Trophies, taking photos, seeking out collectibles and re-visiting chapters at more difficult settings, there’s not a ton to do after the credits roll. That’s more of an observation than a criticism though.

So do we recommend The Last of Us Part II? Most definitely! It’s yet another top tier, must-have release from Naughty Dog and Sony Interactive Entertainment that PS4 owners should add to their library.