- Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II is the sequel to a fantastic game that didn’t need one
- Visually, the game is stunning; might be the best-looking game on PS4
- There are a good number of game mechanic improvements and plenty of options for different playing styles
- However, the story’s riddled with lengthy flashbacks and questionable story decisions
- Buy? If you’re playing for the story, avoid; if you’re playing for the mechanics, buy used
I’m sitting here slack-jawed, watching the end credits of The Last of Us Part II and fuming in my chair as I think about how good this game could have been. Should have been. Naughty Dog had all the pieces for an excellent game here and in the space of a few questionable story choices, managed to blow the whole thing to smithereens.
This is a game where the characters consistently make boneheaded decisions, where you have to play through hour-long flashbacks that bring almost zero value, and where you feel like you have no real control over anything.
But at least the combat’s fun.
TLOU2 is a marvel of photorealistic graphics, cinematic set pieces and carefully planned game mechanics (not sarcasm). You’d be hard-pressed to find a better-looking game on PS4. The lighting is especially impressive. I’m all out of adjectives here but just know that visually, you will not be disappointed.
It always felt like The Last of Us tried to skirt this weird balance between combat and stealth, never really excelling in either one. But I’m happy to report that Part II improves just about every game mechanic across the board and then some.
In contrast to the main story, when it comes to combat you’ve got oodles of choices. You can play a melee brawler. You can set traps and throw molotovs at people. You can sit back and snipe. Or you can just charge in and run ‘n gun.
You now have the option of five different skill “trees” – these aren’t really trees, they’re more like utility poles that unlock skills one after another – that let you upgrade your abilities and/or crafted items. For example, the Stealth tree increases the speed of your takedowns and also lets you create silencers for your pistol. You’ll need to find training manuals to unlock these trees and pick up painkillers to unlock individual skills.
There are five weapons, each moddable in four or five different ways. The upgrades aren’t anything special (we’re talking adding a Scope to the hunting rifle, increasing ammo capacity, reducing recoil, etc) but they are handy. Mods require screws, which you’ll find scattered pretty much everywhere, though on a smaller scale than painkillers.
Or you can forget all weapons and just fight everyone hand-to-hand if you so choose, thanks to the addition of the Dodge mechanic. Avoiding attacks and other sticky situations is just a matter of timing your dodges properly. In some ways, this kind of trivializes combat, which on Moderate aka Normal difficulty is mostly a joke. You can just constantly moonwalk dodge around and no one can catch up to you.
That’s not to say that some enemies and encounters aren’t annoying – bloaters and their invisible damage-over-time bombs are super cheesy, as are the grab attacks that instantly kill you – but most fights won’t be a problem.
There are other new improvements, such as the ability to slip in between two objects/walls (and the game makes liberal use of this), being able to crawl around, and the inclusion of ropes – you can throw ropes and use them to climb in or out of places. Oh, and you can play the guitar too.
This section includes a summary of the story and is redacted for your convenience. You can click on sections of blurred text to reveal them, or click the slider at the beginning of this post.
We wanted to deal with this primal feeling. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where someone pushed you, or you saw a video of someone torturing an animal, and even for a split second, you’ve thought: I want to make this person pay. And that’s part of the research that we’ve done.
– Neil Druckmann, Creative Director
The game opens on the settlement in Jackson, five years after the events of the previous game.
Life is back to normal for the cast of characters still kicking it at the end of TLOU: Ellie goes through typical teenager stuff, Joel tries to reconnect with Ellie, Tommy just sort of exists, Tommy’s wife Maria is the leader of the settlement, and a couple of new faces are introduced: Dina (Ellie’s love interest) and Jesse (Asian guy who’s like the settlement equivalent of a middle manager or something).
Abby’s the leader of a group that’s holed up in a fancy ski lodge house, looking for someone they have a grudge with who just happens to live in nearby Jackson. Wonder who they’re talking about?
And so we get to control Abby as she sets out to do…something, but we’re not really sure what that is. Gather intelligence? Kidnap someone and make them talk? Either way, she goes out into the wild and gets caught in a surprise blizzard.
After going around fighting Infected, she eventually gets trapped and surrounded. At this point, we get the first of many Deus Ex Machinas (nothing new here for fellow Uncharted players) in the form of Joel and Tommy, who just happen to be at the right place at the right time to save her.
Abby invites the brothers back to her villa and the two accept because they’re idiots.
We go through some cutscenes, and Joel dies because whoops! It turns out Abby’s group was searching for Joel all along! I’m shocked!
For good measure, Ellie happens to stumble on Joel while he’s getting tortured, and bam – there’s your Neil Druckmann Primal Feeling.
I don’t question Naughty Dog’s decision to kill off Joel. I question the method (would Joel seriously go check out some random group’s house because of snow and infected?). Realistically, the only way for a Last of Us sequel to ever work was to raise the stakes considerably over the first game and Joel’s death provides that.
For the next twenty hours or so, the game plays out much like its predecessor, with you and Dina going from place to place tracking Abby and her friends and leaving nothing but a trail of bodies behind. The scenarios are entertaining if not exactly super fresh: you get captured at some point, you get rescued, you fight lots of Infected, you fight lots of soldiers, you go through a section with trip wires, your girlfriend gets pregnant, etc.
So the way Naughty Dog forces you to go solo (aka Winter) in this game is to make Dina get sick and then reveal that she’s pregnant. I don’t know about you, but I had the the same response as Ellie: “What?”
Continuing on, you manage to nail down Abby’s hideout and run into two of her closest friends. Ellie (sort of accidentally) kills both of them and vomits after discovering that one of them was pregnant, before being found by Tommy and Jesse and the group heads back to the movie theater. [side note 2: she also thoughtfully drops her map here for Abby to find] I guess this is where Naughty Dog wanted you to stop and think “revenge = bad” or something equally philosophical. Either way, I just shrugged off the deaths. My body count was already somewhere in the hundreds anyway.
The next day, you wake up, head to the lobby and get ambushed by Abby, who manages to kill your buddy Jesse instantly while taking Tommy as a hostage and forcing Ellie to throw her gun away. Abby’s new adopted kid is there too and does nothing other than stand around looking alert.
The Last of Us Part II then becomes The Life of Abby Part I where you replay the game from Abby’s perspective, starting from five years ago to the present time. In other words, you play as the antagonist that killed Ellie’s foster father, one of your close friends, and your foster uncle (technically).
And then after 10 hours of this torture, you’re forced to fight Ellie in a boss battle.
To put it simply, I can’t think of any game where I was this much at odds with the character I had to play as.
It doesn’t work, because there is no redemption. You don’t just kill the first game’s hero and several characters that we’ve bonded with over the course of the game, make us fight the heroine and get off scot-free. Sorry.
And so this whole section falls flat.
This is not an especially short game, clocking in around 30 hours on Moderate. My actual playtime was a bit over 34 hours, but I spent the first two-thirds of the game meticulously exploring every nook and cranny before sprinting through the rest.
There’s a good amount of filler here to unpack, mainly due to the aforementioned flashbacks (come on, you literally spend a bunch of time going back to Ellie’s birthday where she goes to the museum) or the extended encounters where defeating a pack of bad guys leads to More bad guys which leads to Even More Bad Guys, or where the game forces you to take the long way around because of some conveniently placed garbage or a wall that’s an inch too high. It’s not that it’s totally unenjoyable, but these setups often feel contrived and far longer than they should have been.
In the end, The Last of Us Part II is divisive. It should be. It’s a game that builds up this amazing post-post-apocalyptic world then shatters it by taking a huge gamble with the story. It doesn’t work. Yeah, the gameplay’s good, but it’s a hard title to recommend to someone knowing that such a big chunk of the game is just not fun.
The Last of Us Part II is available now on PlayStation 4.