Disclosure Note: A review copy of the game was provided by Sony. There is an understandably strict embargo around what we can discuss. Including a significant chunk of the game, characters and major events.
Spoiler Note: In this review, we’ll do our best to avoid spoiling your experience with the game. While at the same time trying to convey how we felt about the game’s good and bad points (it is difficult to do). Discussing any aspect runs a risk of ruining your experience. With that in mind, we are going to completely avoid talking about any major story points or characters in any meaningful way. It will contain some mild spoilers related to the game mechanics and the core theme. But it is nothing you wouldn’t understand from playing the first game.
The 2013 release of The Last of Us was a crowning achievement for Naughty dog, and a great way to finish off the PS3 era. While the gameplay mechanics were becoming a little outdated (the waist-high cover shooter genre was rampant across that generation of consoles). Naughty Dog still managed to tell a story that stuck with people for years. What made it so good was the relationship between the two main characters. It was something that had a meaningful connection for lots of players. Combined with the technical marvel that pushed the ageing console to the limits, The Last of Us was arguably one of the best games of that generation, if not still to this day.
It was a game that made you question people. It blurred the lines between good and bad. It made players think about humanity, and if they deserved to be “saved”.
It left you without a clear happy ending. One where you could debate the rights and wrongs of Joel’s choices. For the last 7 years, players have been debating and looking for answers.
A quick The Last Of Us recap: It is important to know the ending of the first game before going into this one (It is recapped in the opening of The Last of Us 2 so don’t worry about replaying). Here is a very quick catch up. The Fireflies had a chance to create a vaccine from Ellie (who is immune). The kicker, the operation would kill her. When Joel finds out he rescues her and ends up killing the doctor, and lots of Fireflies, in the process.
Ultimately this dooms humanity, but it saves Ellie. He then lies to her. Saying the tests were useless and that they had lots of other immune people to test on. This was in his eyes to “protect” her. The Last of Us 2 centres around the impact this event had in the following years.
Naughty dog doubles down on the “there’s no heroes here” message as it explores the far-reaching ramifications of Joel’s decision. Obliviously, playing as Ellie, I felt more connected to her than any of the others (especially those trying to kill me) but I didn’t necessarily like her.
Similarly, with Joel, I understood his motives in the first game, as he wanted to protect her. But I can also see how it robbed Ellie of her agency to make that choice for herself. In Joel’s mind, it was right and he is willing to go to great lengths to protect this lie. Even if it means that she could hate him for it.
Is it right? Maybe not. Could it have been handled better? Most likely. But I can understand both sides. Not everything in life is wrapped up in a perfect box of right and wrong, or good and bad, it’s messy.
The Last of US 2, for the most part, succeeds in getting this mess right. Just because someone has done one shitty thing, it doesn’t make them a bad person. Just one redeeming act doesn’t change a lifetime of wrongdoing. Sometimes a bad person in charge is what is needed, to be able to the “necessary”. Sometimes even a good person is capable of terrible acts of evil when pushed to their limits.
Dina is great though! I really liked her.
So let’s get down to business. What does The Last of Us 2 do well and where does it slip up?
The Story: Okay don’t worry, no spoilers. It is a good story, bar the opening 2 hours which are slow to get through. There are a number of big moments that could have been handled much better, but overall it is pretty well told and it kept us engaged especially in the second half when it really cranks up.
It looks amazing. The artists working at Naughty dog are some of the best in the business. They also work alongside some top-class developers who are able to make all that artwork work as a game. It is Naughty Dog’s attention to detail that is amazing. The seemingly small things like how a character moves through the world, how they interact with physical elements and other characters that make it all seem so real. My favourite little bit is when your horse touches off a snow-covered branch and all the snow cascades down. Such a small and simple thing but a very nice touch that never got old no matter how often I saw it.
Some other fun bits I found include the Original PS3 spotted sitting under a TV in an abandoned apartment block. There was also a working PS Vita being played by a guard in-game.
It’s accessible: The level of accessibility in-game is even more impressive. Not only can you change the difficultly but you can tweak aspects of that to suit your own ability too. There are over 60 accessibility settings for fine-motor and hearing, as well as completely new features that benefit low-vision and blind players.
You can check out the full list here https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/the-last-of-us-part-ii-ps4/accessibility/
It’s Linear: The offset to the great visuals mentioned above is a linear level layout. There isn’t any free-roaming but there is a nice bit of room for exploring within each area. Depending on how you view this (as either annoying busy work or great little mini-adventures) it might shape how you feel about that. Having Open World fatigue at the moment, I’m okay with the more linear approach.
Scavaging: Resources are limited so you need to rummage through every dilapidated building to try and gather up the necessary items to upgrade your skills, heal yourself, or build weapons. I would have liked a little bit more here. While you do have a few different skill trees to unlock. Unlocking each new skill is a straight path. You can’t progress to the next skill without unlocking the previous skill. The only choice is which path you want to invest the resource in not which skill you want to unlock.
Improvements could have been made to the actual searching of areas too. If you enter a room with, for example, 20 drawers. You might only be able to actually open two of them and they are the ones pre-marked with a triangle symbol. It takes some of the fun out of the search. Since you are just walking around tapping triangle to pick things up it becomes a bit tiresome.
Annoyingly, you can also lock yourself out of sections and miss out on some valuable resources. If you accidentally enter the wrong door and kick off a cut scene, when you come out the other side of it, very often the door/pathway back is now blocked.
One thing that isn’t clear is if you miss a field manual, can you find it again in a different location? These manuals are required to unlock a new skill tree. I found some in very peculiar places that I’m sure many would miss.
Generally, the limited ammo is good for the pacing but it does strike me as odd. Why would someone leave just one bullet on a table? The end result is you do constantly feel uneasy about encounters and have to plan them out. Often supplementing your attacks with mines and firebombs especially when facing more than 2 enemies.
Jumping and Climbing. This is a new mechanic for The Last of Us! Imagine in 2020 you can jump, but here we are. Unfortunately, you are very limited in what, and where, you can climb. You don’t have the freedom to climb over any wall (as you might have come to expect in modern gaming). You are only really able to climb the pre-set sections (usually marked with a white scuff so they are pretty easy to find). Not being able to climb a low four-foot wall or jump a two-foot-high piece of barbed wire in one section. Only to easily scale a six-foot wall two minutes later doesn’t make sense. Seemingly easily accessible places are just blocked for no real good reason other than the devs wanted you to stay on the path they made for you.
The Waist-high cover: This has been toned down from the first game. Everything feels much more natural. The cover is made up of what you might expect to see in the physical world. Parts of houses, counters tops, shelving units, walls, trees, cars and vans.
Enemies also seem to live in the world, you never get that feeling of entering a space seeing five waist-high concrete walls and just knowing you will have to face off against waves of enemies. This is probably the best improvement.
Puzzles: The Last of Us was never a puzzler, but it did have puzzle sections where Joel might have to get a pallet and haul it around so Ellie could cross some water. It was generally pretty simple stuff and while this is still present it makes a little more sense. You will still move bins, ladders and swing from ropes but generally, you are trying to access a balcony so you can get into a building to get ammo rather than it being a path blocker.
Verdict: So did I like it? Yes, I loved it. The Last of Us 2 is amazing. Much like the first there are areas that could have been improved but none of them are enough to take away from the overall brilliance.
If it can drive any criticism, it is in the story department. Some of the bigger events could have been handled much better. Moving them a bit further into the game (when you have built up your relationship with the characters again) would have given them much more impact.
I can’t fault the quality, it has been expertly crafted. A little bit more modernisation would have been welcome. In places, it can feel like a decade-old game. But one I slipped back into like a comfy pair of old slippers.
At up to 30 hours long, most of which is spent in slow-moving high-tension situations with little comic relief, it can be an exhausting experience to play. I mean that in a good way. You feel like you have been part of something at the end rather than just passing time.
It was really hard to put down. Every section I earmarked as “the spot I would finish, save and log off for the night”. Just led me to another section I was compelled to keep playing. 30 mins turned into 3 or 4 hours in the blink of an eye and I guess that is the greatest compliment. It is a game you will want to keep playing.Please Join us on your Social Platform of choice