The Last of Us Part 2 Review – As the monochrome credits and hallmark melancholy strings faded out for The Last of Us Part 2, it took some time for me to gather myself. Left in some manner of stunned silence, normally most credit sequences are duly turned off as my attention shifts to something else, but with The Last of Us Part 2 however, such respite was desperately needed. My DualShock 4 had, for the better part of a week, acted akin to an umbilical cord that had tethered me to one of the most memorable gaming experiences of my entire life. Without that connection, my mind now needed to effectively buffer everything that just had happened.
The first and most immediate reaction that rushed to the front of my mind is that Naughty Dog have done it again. Despite the intimidatingly long shadow cast by the first game, The Last of Us Part 2 not only replicates the feat of its predecessor by arguably cementing itself as the game of a generation as we all prepare ourselves to take the first steps into the next, but it also definitively makes a case for itself as one of the most stellar and most memorable action adventures you will ever play. The Last of Us Part 2 is thoroughly emblematic of the notion of a high quality PlayStation exclusive.
This is why more than 110 million people own a PlayStation 4.
The Last Of Us Part 2 Review
A Soaring, Grim Masterpiece That Cements Itself As The Game Of A Generation
Editor’s Note: There is SO much that we want to tell you about The Last of Us Part 2 but are presently unable to due to a range of very specific (but understandable) embargo restrictions. This review represents the tip of what is a very large and mostly unknown iceberg. Those of you who go into this game completely blank will be thoroughly rewarded, while those of you who have fallen prey to spoilers still will not have seen the gargantuan shocks, twists and surprises that Naughty Dog’s latest has to offer. The joy is in the execution – and we can’t wait for you to discover and experience all of it for yourself!
Taking place after the events of the previous game, The Last of Us Part 2 practically demands that you possess some level of familiarity with Naughty Dog’s previous excursion into the grim, hope crushed world that captivated millions of gamers back in 2013. Thematically speaking, if the Uncharted franchise was seemingly devil may care about the vast amounts of casual murder and carnage that its seemingly ‘good’ protagonists wrought on their foes, The Last of Us Part 2 absolutely swings violently in the other direction.
Every act of violence is shocking, bloody and rendered with the sort of razor sharp attention to detail that it appears Naughty Dog have miraculously brought the next console generation kicking and screaming to gamers a good six months early, but I’m getting ahead of myself here. Without delving deeply into spoiler territory, the overriding theme of The Last of Us Part 2 is one of consequence. Everyone matters. Everyone has friends and family that love them. Everything is felt and in turn, so too does the player feel every bit of the suffering, pain and fury in a way that only the enabling agency of a video game could properly accommodate.
This theme provides a narrative through-line that begins with the opening act, too. With the traumatic events of the first game now behind them, Joel and Ellie together with Joel’s brother Tommy, now live something of a routine and content life in the Jackson city stronghold – a flourishing bastion for humanity where kids play in the snow, toddlers take their first tentative steps in a secure nursery steeped in the wild, painterly brushstrokes of the young adorn the walls and folks of all creeds pull together to create that rarest of commodities – hope. It is by no exaggeration, a world away from the grim, omnipresent savagery that lurks outside its tall, impenetrable walls.
Naughty Dog’s Latest Boasts Genuinely Brave And Subversive Storytelling That Keeps You Guessing To The Final Frame
Despite such uneasy portent, it still comes as something of a savage shock when Ellie’s world comes crashing down around her. Untethered from many of the support systems that have given her direction in an otherwise directionless world, Ellie finds herself on a furious, soul-shattering journey to track down those responsible for tearing her so violently from a life she was just getting comfortable with.
Structurally, The Last of Us was largely predicated around the notion of a post apocalyptic American road-trip with Joel and Ellie which took them across the country and through all the seasons of the year. In The Last of Us Part 2, that same basic structure mostly returns, but the cast of characters is much larger this time. Once more, it is impossible to discuss this in any sort of real detail without veering into spoilers, but Naughty Dog have wrought some tremendous work here, fashioning a brave narrative that takes some real, high-stakes risks with the characters and settings that are encompassed within the game.
Indeed, the biggest credit that I can give to Naughty Dog is that they take *so* many storytelling gambles early on that you’re not entirely sure how they’ll pay off and yet, by the time the end credits occur, such fears find themselves absolutely unfounded. Make no mistake, The Last of Us Part 2 is a masterclass in audience manipulation – making your murderous pursuits feel totally justified one minute and then absolutely shaking your beliefs in previously established characters and their motives in the next.
And this is all the while the game makes ample use of time and geography skips to introduce new characters and flesh out their backstories. Trust me, you will be shaken once all is said and done. Beyond the characters that inhabit the setting that Naughty Dog have painstakingly created, so too does the world building of The Last of Us 2 impress on the regular.
From the destroyed beauty of Seattle’s concrete cityscape where long discarded cars have been bound to the mud and grass like prisoners, to the snow-blotted, frost-bitten hillsides of Jackson, Naughty Dog have given themselves a much wider lens with which to frame the lasting effect that the outbreak has had on humanity while showcasing the ever-encroaching spectacle of Mother Nature as she slowly takes back her domain. Simply put, the world that The Last of Us Part 2 has fashioned around its cast is every bit as evocative as the characters themselves and it’s a place which despite its grim trappings, is somewhere you’ll never want to leave.
Exploring The World Of The Last Of Us Part 2 Is Obsessively Compelling
Part of what makes the setting of The Last of Us Part 2 such a joy to explore is the newly refined traversal possibilities afforded to the player, in so far as the younger Ellie can interact with the game world in ways that Joel couldn’t. Just about any window can be shattered with a beautifully palpable strike and hopped through, while a new crawl ability lets her access the sort of hard to reach areas that Joel and his knobbly, old-man knees would not be able to.
Whether it’s breaking into a full spirited sprint, navigating a series of jumps smoothly, swinging and leaping off of various ropes and cables and much more besides, Ellie simply feels like a much more agile and responsive protagonist than Joel ever did. You’re given much more opportunity to indulge in this sort of exploration too, as The Last of Us Part 2 features much larger areas and a series of open world expanses which clearly show some inherited design DNA from Naughty Dog’s previous effort, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy.
While these larger open spaces that serve to connect the traditionally smaller and more linear corridors of action that Naughty Dog games typically possess as their hallmark, exploring them never feels like a chore. Certainly, for those eager folk who just wish to press on through to the next point in the story they can do just that, but fully exploring these larger areas quickly reveals itself to be a more than worthwhile endeavour.
In addition to the loot rewards and collectibles that you typically receive, the various nooks and crannies of these areas often contain additional story and character exposition which when taken in tandem with the freedom to explore, fleshes out the world of The Last of Us Part 2 yet further still. In one example, Ellie wanders into a bank vault to discover a dunderheaded heist that was done on Outbreak Day but which, predictably, goes hilariously wrong thanks to the extremely angry note left behind by one of the robbers who was double-crossed and subsequently sealed inside the vault.
There are countless areas like this in the game too and put simply, the incentive to milk every last drop out of the stunningly detailed world that Naughty Dog has crafted here is extraordinarily compelling to say the least. Handily, Naughty Dog has applied some finesse to this exploration too, as once an area has been fully looted and explored, Ellie will make a statement to that effect, preventing the player from wasting time in an area that has been picked clean of goodies.
Speaking of goodies, the upgrade system in The Last of Us Part 2 reveals itself to be both familiar and a little different from what we’ve seen previously. While tool components and a bench are both still required to upgrade the damage, stability and accuracy of your firearms, there is no longer a toolset gating mechanism in place – meaning that if you have the number of components early on, there’s nothing stopping you from fully upgrading your weapons as soon as you see fit. Where things are a little different this time round is in the manner in which Ellie unlocks new abilities.
While the chems return from the previous game, once more acting as a surrogate for traditional experience point progression, they’ve now been funnelled into a wider range of skill trees. With a much broader array of different disciplines to pile these points into, players can now opt to customise their play style a little more thoroughly, with skill tress that focus on faster crafting, improved stealth and more besides. It’s hardly groundbreaking stuff, but the additional latitude to specialize is still very welcome all the same.
Combat Is A Creative And Intimately Visceral Experience Quite Unlike Anything Else
What is groundbreaking however, is how combat is handled in The Last of Us 2 and specifically the massive improvements that Naughty Dog have made in every aspect of its design. Pointedly, the most immediately recognisable improvements that Naughty Dog have made to the combat side of things is the manner in which melee combat deals with strikes, momentum and evasion.
This time round, though the window for evading incoming strikes is a little more explicit and easier to read than it was in the first game, the attack patterns of the various enemies you’ll face off with are also more sophisticated and unpredictable too in order to keep things interesting. Additionally, once you do a land a strike and follow it up with a combination of further blows, your momentum can be interrupted by the enemy – with the opposite being true also. The end result of this subtle reworking then, is that The Last of Us Part 2’s more intimate battles boast a sort of ebb and flow that just wasn’t really there in the first game.
Happily, I can also report that the creative latitude of the previous game for deciding how you wish to take on each situation, whether through stealth, outright confrontation or a mixture of running and gunning also returns in The Last of Us Part 2. Now enhanced, the areas in which such conflicts unfurl is large enough that should things go south, you can always sprint away from your enemies and find relative safety – ‘relative’ being the operative word given that the attack dogs which the human enemies use can sniff you out from a much longer distance.
Further afield, the much improved battlefield AI for both friendly and enemy entities proves to be quite the highlight also. The numerous AI partners that Ellie finds herself paired up with throughout the duration of the game are all much more free-thinking and capable than before, intelligently targeting and prioritising enemies that are attempting to outflank you while being practised hands (for the most part) at melee and ranged combat. Enemies on the other hand, will audibly call out your position to their allies in an effort to flank you and flush you out of cover, while other foes will use sophisticated non-spoken commands to get the edge during battle.
Tying directly in to The Last of Us Part 2’s overt themes of connection and loss is that when you kill a human enemy, one of their friends will yell out the name of the newly fallen in anguish and in some situations, foolishly rush toward you in a blind rage. More than just a gameplay wrinkle, this really rams home that theme of consequence – that every enemy you kill was potentially someone’s brother, sister, son, daughter, father or mother and that in ending their life, you’ve grievously destroyed the emotional wellbeing of a friend or loved one.
The Last Of Us Part 2 Is Running On A 1.84 Teraflop Console – Let’s Think About That For A Second
Arguably, one of the most impressive aspects of the combat in The Last of Us Part 2 is the sound engineering. Previously, I had thought that Battlefield developer EA DICE had a monopoly on this, but with The Last of Us Part 2, things have changed. Oh boy have they ever changed. Whether it’s the sound of a plank wood smashing a clicker upside the head with a sickening squelch, the ear-rattling sound of a handgun firing its lethal payload into the soft flesh of a human foe or the deafening roar of a shotgun pretty much blowing someone in half, the violence in The Last of Us Part 2 is as much an audible spectacle as it is a visual one.
Visually speaking, The Last of Us Part 2 sits at the apex of what Sony’s current generation console is capable of. With an up close look of the dirt long since stuck under the fingernails of Joel’s hand during the game’s guitar strumming opening, to watching him raise a hand up to shield his eyes from the blazing sunlight as he gently rides his charger up a hill abundant with all manner of flourishing flora, The Last of Us Part 2 cements itself as an eye opening treat to say the least.
It’s no exaggeration to say that The Last of Us Part 2 excels in every aspect of its visual presentation, but it’s truly in the full body character and facial animation that Naughty Dog has managed to outdo itself. There’s a feeling that, nearly twenty years after the release of the PlayStation 2, The Last of Us Part 2 finally represents the pie-in-the-sky dream that Sony had with its much touted ‘Emotion Engine’ back in the year 2000, creating thoroughly emotive characters aided by some of the best facial animations ever seen in any game – a fact that Naughty Dog’s superb cinematography never fails to showcase.
From almost perfectly lip-synced voice acting to facial animations that do a grand job of emulating every twitch, facial crease and emotive reaction, (and hair that actually looks like and moves like hair!) The Last of Us Part 2 manages that feat which so few other titles do in being able to suspend believability in the characters and by proxy, the excellent, verve-steeped performances of the acting talent that has provided them with in both voice and motion.
It speaks to the confidence of Naughty Dog that all the cutscenes are now rendered in real-time, eschewing the pre-rendered video approach that the developer took in the first game and providing The Last of Us Part 2 with a seamless transition between gameplay and cinematic events. Such confidence is absolutely warranted on a technical level too, as everything from the animation, lighting and shadow effects through to the sheer and ridiculously detailed textures is utterly top-tier. Honestly, it boggles the mind that the console The Last of Us Part 2 was designed for barely scrapes two teraflops. See? Teraflops. They matter far less than people think.
Further beyond such obvious visual marvels, The Last of Us Part 2 is also generously awash with all manner micro flourishes that can pass in a blink of an eye as well. From a cheeky squirrel that cuts across a grassy path with a partially cracked nut in its mouth, to a wayward plastic bag lazily bobbing up high in the wind, The Last of Us Part 2’s visual caliber fully services the gorgeous world that underpins it in ways that cannot be appreciated on a single playthrough.
A shoutout must absolutely go to the musical score too. Evoking comparisons with the sort of moody and minimalist music that silver screen composer Jóhann Jóhannsson brought to such Hollywood movies as Denis Villeneuve Sicario, the soundtrack is thoroughly on point throughout, deftly oscillating between softer strings for the quieter, more reflective moments to the creeping dread of The Last of Us Part 2’s most tense scenes. The Last of Us Part 2 is quite simply an audiovisual marvel.
The Last Of Us Part 2 Is A Toweringly Violent, Beautiful Epic That Will Linger Long In The Mind For Years To Come
Something else that needs to be made clear here too, is that The Last of Us Part 2 might just be one of the most violent games available right now. Aided by the excellent animation, the look of anger on Ellie’s as she struggles to rip through the throat of an enemy with her trusty knife is at once hugely disturbing and also massively impressive.
To be clear, this isn’t the sort over the top violence that one might equate with something like DOOM Eternal, instead this is the sort of eerily nasty, thoughtful savagery that could be believably perpetrated by one human being to another, and which is in turn robustly supported by the performances of the characters and creatures that exist in the world of The Last of Us Part 2.
If indeed the rumors are true and The Last of Us Part 2 proves to be swansong of its director, than neither he nor the more than 110 million PlayStation 4 owners across the globe could ask for a better way to see this generation into the twilight. Clocking in at 30 hours for a single playthrough, it might be cliché, but The Last of Us Part 2 really is a bigger, better and more brutal game than its illustrious predecessor ever was.
A frequently disturbing, often unsettling but always breathtaking odyssey, The Last of Us Part 2 is heart-stoppingly essential and effortlessly cements itself as the best game on PlayStation 4. “Have Naughty Dog managed another Game of the Generation” I hear you say? You betcha.
Review code kindly provided by Sony.
The Last of Us Part 2 releases exclusively for PlayStation 4 on June 19, 2020.