Console, Gaming, PlayStation, Review

The Last of Us Part II Review: Devastating

From the get-go, we know The Last of Us Part II will be much darker, more brutal than the first game. It takes place five years after Ellie and Joel settled down in Jackson, Wyoming, and both of them are living in relative peace and stability – until a “violent event disrupts that peace.”

On the surface, The Last of Us Part II follows Ellie’s quest for revenge, but as I progress further into the game, it’s much more than that. It’s a multi-faceted, emotionally charged story that shows Naughty Dog’s masterful storytelling skills, and I honestly don’t remember being this invested in a game’s narrative.

Which is why this is such a devastating game to play. While the dark tone of the story itself contributes to that, it’s the divisive plot that gets to me, and it will divide fans of the franchise. That said, I still thoroughly enjoyed The Last of Us Part II – it is easily Naughty Dog’s best work to date.

Story

It’s tough to deliberate the story of The Last of Us Part II without going into spoiler territory – don’t worry, this is a spoiler-free review – but as mentioned, it’s a divisive story. I didn’t quite like it in the beginning, but as the narrative unfolds, I can understand why Naughty Dog is going with this direction. It feels like a natural progression of the story from the first game, and it’s a strong plot overall.

Do I wish some story elements were different? Definitely. But I do think these (likely) unpopular plot points are important to make the story as impactful as it is. There are some powerful moments in the game that will stay with me long after I’m done with it.

Besides that, character development in The Last of Us Part II is excellent. Almost every single character in the game is appropriately fleshed out, and characters that I initially didn’t care about eventually warmed up to me. Really, it’s crazy how my impression of these characters can change from one play session to another, and I’ve even grown to genuinely care about their fate.

This, in turn, makes certain decisions in the game hard to swallow. There are more than a few instances in my playthrough where I wish I could make different choices instead of the options that was offered to me. This is just one way how the game can be so devastating; I don’t want to commit to these decisions.

Nonetheless, the narrative of The Last of Us Part II is a compelling one. If you’re expecting the usual Naughty Dog storytelling magic with this sequel, you will not be disappointed. You may not be a fan of the story’s direction in the beginning – trust me, you won’t be alone – but there’s a good chance your opinion will change as you progress through the story.

Gameplay

The story is usually the main focus of Naughty Dog’s titles, but that doesn’t mean other aspects of this game are not up to par. In fact, compared to the previous entry in the franchise (or even Uncharted 4), The Last of Us Part II is a thrill to play with plenty of gameplay elements to love.

Enemy encounters, for one, feel genuinely frightening, especially when the Infected are involved. I dread having to deal with any of them; they feel far deadlier than the last game. Thankfully, it’s possible to slip past them if I’m smart about it, but just hearing them around me adds to the terror. Clickers are the bane of my existence.

What about human enemies? Well, they can be equally as deadly too. The AI is a lot smarter now, so I can no longer just slug through them. They cannot be taken lightly anymore, and the presence of guard dogs make these encounters even more tense. I’ve tried pushing through a crowd of human enemies with sheer firepower before, and…let’s just say it didn’t end well for me.

To make encounters feel more dynamic in The Last of Us Part II, two new mechanics are introduced: proning and dodging. Going prone is incredibly useful when you need to quickly hide in tall grasses (or even under a car) to heal or craft, and dodging makes melee combat a lot more viable than the previous game.

These two mechanics seem simple enough, but they open up so many more possibilities when negotiating encounters. Whenever possible, I would engage enemies in melee combat to conserve ammo, and I can defeat them unscathed if I time my dodges properly. Oh, you can also jump and vault over obstacles much more seamlessly now, which is very useful when you need to make a break for it.

Last but definitely not least is the sheer scale of The Last of Us Part II’s world. Now, it’s not an open-world game, but the environment feels vast enough to explore for hours on end. I’ve spent over 23 hours in my first playthrough of the game, and there are still quite a number of areas I haven’t explored. I even missed a couple of interactions that will only trigger in specific areas.

Aside from that, you can also get better equipment and upgrades as you explore the world. Simply put, the game encourages exploration by offering these rewards, and it’s completely up to the player to do it or not. It may sound troublesome if you just want to progress through the game for the next big cutscene, but rarely do I regret taking the time to check out that one house or room before making my way to the objective.

All in all, The Last of Us Part II offers very robust gameplay that is far more dynamic and immersive than the original game. The vast environment also warrants a second playthrough to see exactly what I missed the first time around.

Graphics

Naughty Dog pushed the PlayStation 3 to its limits with The Last of Us, and it’s doing the same now with The Last of Us Part II on the PlayStation 4. I’ve played the game on a PS4 Pro system, and for the most part, performance is solid at a stable 30fps throughout the game. There are some instances where the frame rate noticeably dips, but it doesn’t happen often enough to warrant concern.

So how does the game look? Stunning. The whole world is rendered beautifully with awe-inspiring landscapes, lush greenery, and detailed textures. What particularly impressed me is just how realistic organic elements like foliage are portrayed in the game, especially in areas reclaimed by nature.

But what really took me by surprise are the characters’ facial expressions. Many emotions can be conveyed through subtle facial cues, and Naughty Dog absolutely nailed it. You can easily tell if a character is uncomfortable, content, or terrified by their facial expressions in this game, and that is not an easy feat to accomplish.

There’s no denying that The Last of Us Part II looks fantastic, but there are some graphical issues here and there. Texture pop-in is one of the most common problems I encountered, and some artifacting were present too, though it doesn’t happen quite as regularly. Do these issues detract from the overall experience of the game? Not really, but it is worth mentioning.

Conclusion

The Last of Us Part II is a worthy sequel to the original The Last of Us. It tells a dark, devastating story that will divide fans, but it is also a very compelling narrative that feels very much like a continuation of the first game. It’s not a sequel for the sake of it, and the story’s direction doesn’t feel forced either.

It is also a stunning-looking game with excellent gameplay elements that will keep you at the edge of your seat. Whether you will like the story or not, there’s no denying the fact that this is Naughty Dog’s most accomplished game yet. Just like its predecessor, The Last of Us Part II defines this generation of console gaming.

The Last of Us Part II launches on the PS4 on 19 June.