It’s been a long, hard road to the launch of The Last of Us Part 2, but despite its difficulties on the journey, the game is nearly here. Many fans have been expecting the Naughty Dog title to become one of the greatest games of the year, if not the current console generation. The question now is: has The Last of Us Part 2 achieved this?
The Last of Us Part 2 is a game whose name has always been uttered with the utmost reverence amongst gamers. It’s a title which, even as early as its first announcement, had fans speaking in hushed tones, dissecting every trailer, promo image and developer interview to find out more.
Not only is the game from Naughty Dog, one of the most critically-acclaimed development studios in the world, but it’s also the sequel to one of the highest-rated games of all time. Reviewing such a game is no easy feat. There’s a lot to be said about what’s definitely the studio’s most ambitious title of all time.
NOTE: This review remains free from major plot spoilers. We’re not going to delve into too much of the game’s story here, mostly because this is a game that’s best experienced for yourself. With that being said, let’s get right into it.
The Last of Us Part 2 takes places five years after the events of the first game. Ellie and Joel are now older, wiser and have settled into a peaceful routine in Jackson. The duo are now part of a community of survivors who’ve moved on from the early days of the post-Cordyceps-infected world. The residents of Jackson have livestock, electricity, a bar, and even children (importantly; the happy giggly kind and not the kind that died a lot in the first game). It’s a homely community, and Ellie now has the problems of a normal 19-year-old. One of the most pressing issues we’re introduced to is her attraction to her friend Dina, a young woman who’s just recently broken up with one of Ellie’s friends.
All is relatively peaceful for the protagonists until an incident occurs which sends Ellie spiralling out of control. Unable to cope with what she has experienced, she leaves the safety of Jackson in pursuit of what some call justice, and others call revenge.
Story & Themes
What follows is a traversal across the United States of America, sometimes with companions and sometimes without. Ellie encounters enemies we met in the first game (including Runners, Clickers and various human militia factions) as well as some which are new (or have been heavily updated for Part 2).
Similar to the first game, Ellie’s trip is more symbolic than anything, adopting a “it’s the journey, not the destination” mentality. She grows from her experiences, though every encounter she has isn’t necessarily making her a better person as much as they make her an angrier one. By the time the plot really unfolds, she’s a coiled spring ready to attack, fuelled by nothing but her own personal rage.
The Last of Us Part 2’s gradual collapse into the true horror of destructive human emotion and the perils of an inability to let go leads to some incredibly uncomfortable scenes. At times, I found myself really needing to push myself forwards as I played through acts that felt inherently wrong to me. Many parts of the game serve to push the player out of their comfort zone, either through the brutality of on-screen events or through the subversion of expectation.
The developers have gone out of their way to create a game which, at times, is hard to play through, especially if you’re someone who has been with these characters since the first game launched in 2013. It’s this discomfort in which lies the true heart of The Last of Us Part 2: it’s a game that forces you to explore the darkest depths of love, hate, hopelessness and despair.
As masterful as the game is in its exploration of emotion, the plot itself sadly isn’t perfect. As you jump around in time, you’re untangling a web which arguably never needed to be that tangled in the first place. The plot is almost too dense, with its many jumps in time doing less to explain the story than it is confusing it. Time jumps can be anything from a day to a few days, or even years. Though this serves an overarching purpose, it’s not exactly the most fun to play through the story.
Where the first game excels in its simple and emotional storytelling, Part 2 attempts to take on the whole world and see it burn to the ground. This presentation of the game works in a fourth-wall-breaking capacity, in that it deconstructs the comforts of linear narrative. While this adds to the discomfort of playing through the game, it’s definitely off-putting, and even confusing, at points.
A second playthrough does change things in a way that feels different. Instead of asking “how” the events on-screen are happening, you find yourself asking “why,” which leads to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the plot and its fragmented nature. Multiple playthroughs are definitely encouraged.
When you’re revisiting a world that’s adored by millions of people, a little fan servicing is arguably necessary to create a link, not only between the games, but also between the games and the players. Though The Last of Us Part 2 definitely does its bit when it comes to throwbacks for the fans, there’s definitely something else at play here, something which I’m going to dub ‘anti-fan servicing.’
There are things I don’t want to spoil for the players, which makes this a difficult topic to discuss. It is, however, important to include in the review.
There’s a moment within the game which reveals an intentional misleading of the players, which may go unnoticed by those picking up the title down the line.
It’s a fan disservice which I can only presume has been included to anger the players and push them into experiencing some of the emotions felt by our hero, Ellie. Let me tell you, it works. The subversion of expectation is presumably meant to make you angry, just like Ellie is throughout the game. However, its questionable execution makes it come across more like a slap in the face for fans of the series.
When I interviewed Joel actor, Troy Baker, back in 2019, he told me that everything we’d seen from Part 2 had been “carefully curated” from trailers to launch. I didn’t understand his words at the time, but now I certainly do, thanks to this one particular moment of the game. Again, I’m not going to divulge too much here, but when you play the game, you’ll know exactly which moment I’m talking about.
CHaracter & rEPRESENTation
There’s a number of other plot points I’d like to discuss here, especially when it comes to both female representation and LGBTQ+ representation in gaming, though this might not be the best place for such a deep-dive into the many, many themes The Last of Us Part 2 addresses. We’ll save that for another (probably much longer) article.
I will say, though, that the women of The Last of Us Part 2 are some of the most fleshed-out and relatable representations of female characters that I’ve ever come across in a video game. The women feel real, and they don’t subscribe to the notion that all on-screen women need to have big breasts and a tiny waist. One of the characters, who you’ll be spending a lot of time with, is – in the words of the game – “built like an ox,” with muscles you rarely see on females in a video game.
Dina, who has Jewish and Mexican roots, even mentions periods in a AAA game. Periods! As a woman in the sphere of gaming, it’s nothing short of wonderful to see real-life women getting represented the way that they should – as actual human beings, who are pretty damn ruthless when they want to be.
The LGBTQ+ themes in the game are, in my opinion, handled sensitively and with an innate humanness to them. The storylines of the game’s LGBTQ+ characters are woven into the experience, making them feel inherently natural to the plot. Naughty Dog has always excelled when it comes to making players care about characters, and the likes of Ellie and the rest of the cast of The Last of Us Part 2 are no different.
What Naughty Dog does for representation within The Last of Us Part 2 will be a huge talking point for a long time, hopefully paving the way for less of a stigma about such topics in AAA gaming down the line. The relationships and inner struggles of the game’s characters are a true testament to Naughty Dog’s writing abilities, and with that said, I’ll save the rest for a real deep-dive further down the line.
Gameplay And Mechanics
One of the most impressive parts of the game is its combat and gameplay mechanics. They are, for lack of a better word, flawless. Naughty Dog has taken the foundations of combat laid out in the first game and built them up into absolute powerhouses that are smooth, satisfying and brutal as all hell.
The stealth mechanics in the first game were a little lacking, but Part 2 has really amped up the intensity in a way that’s impossible to overlook. The addition of scent-tracking dogs means you need to play strategically, and the ability to go prone is a simple yet effective mechanic that really ups the stakes. ‘Listening’ mode is more customisable, offering you the chance to upgrade your skills to get a clearer picture when you’re tracking your enemies. If you’re not looking for an all-out war, you can now craft silencers for your guns, or pick up bows and arrows for quick and quiet kills (and yes, you can craft arrows).
I’m not usually one for stealth gameplay, but The Last of Us Part 2 has really set a new standard with this one, making it immensely satisfying to sneak around and avoid hand-to-hand combat. Playing as spritely Ellie, whose small frame introduces a new swiftness and agility to the gameplay, feels particularly solid, strong and natural.
Melee and gun combat have both had a substantial upgrade from previous Naughty Dog games. Both are so improved in Part 2 that I actually now see the first game as pretty lacking.
Melee is profoundly satisfying, with an incredible amount of gore accompanied by a deep and audible “thwack” that makes your kills feel incredibly personal. I’ve never played a game that makes killing this uncomfortable or “real,” so kudos on that one.
Guns, which are customisable in terms of add-ons or upgrades like capacity expansions, are equally as gratifying to use. Enemies are more reactive to gunfire, and with your arsenal of weapons even choosing the right one is now a part of the strategy.
Outside of combat, there’s been some big tweaks to gameplay that are also wonderfully executed. Along with the new jump and prone abilities, Ellie can now also swing across ropes and climb, creating more opportunities for you to engage with the game world like never before.
There’s no area that has been missed in providing the absolute best experience imaginable for the player when it comes to gameplay. There’s no doubt here that Naughty Dog has once again set a new industry standard with the play mechanics of The Last of Us Part 2.
Speaking of new industry standards, once again Naughty Dog has hit it out of the park when it comes to the graphics and style of The Last of Us Part 2. It is – in a word – stunning. Everything from the environments you explore to the clothes on your back has been meticulously crafted with the most amount of detail possible. It’s the studio’s most visually impressive game to date, and definitely raises the bar higher than ever before.
The Last of Us Part 2 is the perfect showcase of Naughty Dog’s new game engine, which makes everything from the sky to the sea teem with a level of realism that’s arguably never before been achieved with a console game. Stopping to admire the scenery, even in the most war-ravaged of areas, was commonplace for me, and my desire to see the whole world of the game surpassed my fear of potential enemies hiding in the abandoned stores or offices I wanted to explore.
Everything about this game is flat-out gorgeous, accented with shading and lighting that puts other games to shame. Moving between cinematics and gameplay is so streamlined, there were one or two occasions I hadn’t even realised the cutscene was over and I was actually supposed to be playing. The Last of Us Part 2 still retains the same core feelings of the first game, but places you into a world that’s as beautiful as it is bleak.
Another flawless part of the game is its accessibility options. Booting up the game will give you access to countless options to tailor your experience to your needs. Want to assign different subtitle colours to different characters? Want to have audio description on? Want to tweak your surround sound settings? Yeah, you can do all of that and more.
Those with vision difficulties and those who are deaf or hard of hearing have also been catered for, with preset game options as well as customisable choices to allow the adventure to be experienced by every gamer. Perhaps most impressive of all is that those with physical disabilities also have various tweaks and options at their disposal. For example, if you find button-mashing difficult, you can opt for a long-press instead.
There’s also more variation in difficulty options than in any of Naughty Dog’s previous games, meaning you can scale it down a little or a lot depending on what you’re looking for from your playthrough. There’s now even an option for a “Custom” difficulty, which is wonderful to see.
Naughty Dog’s approach to The Last of Us Part 2 seems to be as focused on creating a cinematic experience as it is a gameplay experience, so it makes sense to have as many options as possible for all types of players. It’s a solid and well-thought-out effort, and it shouldn’t go unappreciated.
The Last of Us Part 2 is unbelievably entertaining to play, and despite its flaws, I found it consumed my every waking moment for the week or so that it took me to complete (my playthrough ended up clocking in at around 22 hours). From a gameplay perspective, it’s an undeniable masterpiece and a technical powerhouse that really deserves its inevitable position as one of the greatest (and last) AAA experiences of the PlayStation 4.
Unfortunately, the execution of the story leaves something to be desired. It’s the pacing of the game which is stopping me from giving the experience a 10/10. Swapping perspectives, jumping through time and the occasional momentum-breaking peaceful sequences can be a little jarring at times, and they definitely interrupt the flow of the story. I thought I’d hit the end of the game a long time before the actual end of the game, which made the final stretch feel a little tacked-on by comparison. There’s also the issue of the ‘anti-fan servicing’ mentioned above, which really is going to take a lot of forgiveness from some players.
All in all, The Last of Us Part 2 is an inspiring, gut-wrenching and vicious journey into the lives of characters we know and love. Though it falls just shy of perfect, it offers an immersive and often terrifying experience for the player, creating a discomfort the likes of which has rarely – if ever – been seen in a video game before.
Though I believe some of the creators’ efforts to break the fourth wall weren’t executed to the best of their ability, the ultra-precise and unrelentingly ruthless gameplay definitely makes up for this. Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying it more than the first game, despite some of the more questionable narrative choices.
What Naughty Dog has crafted here is less of a game and more of an experience, both in terms of what you’ll see on screen and what you’ll feel while on the journey. The Last of Us Part 2 will have you questioning your morals, forcing you to address the uncomfortable realities of love, regret and forgiveness on an unrelenting descent into true brutality.
Whether you love or hate The Last of Us Part 2, it’s guaranteed to be a game that keeps people talking for years to come.
The Last of Us Part 2 launches exclusively on PlayStation 4, June 19th.
Featured Image Credit: Naughty Dog