*There will be some spoilers, but I will try to limit them.
Right, let me get this out of the way now. I loved The Last of Us. I played it when it first came out on PS3 and the remastered version on PS4. In preparation for The Last of Us Part II, I watched the trailers but stayed clear of the leaked spoilers. The idiot(s) that leaked them have a lot to answer for. In the days leading up to release day, I played through TLOU, nice and slow. Savouring every moment. Making each headshot, each clicker, each arrow, every damn giraffe matter. I soaked in the scenery, closely read every note, and meticulously planned every encounter. I was ready. Or so I thought.
An experience unlike anything else out there
I had no idea what to expect from TLOU2 when I started it up, I thought that the focus would shift from Joel to Ellie, and I was right. However, the shift in focus halfway through, from Ellie to the apparent antagonist Abby was, and I don’t use this word lightly, genius. It was an unmitigated, unparalleled genius. Now I know that of the 7 people who will read this, there’s a chance about 3-5 of you might stop reading now because, well haters gonna hate, but that’s fine. Your click here was well received.
At the start of the game, you play as Joel, just after he has admitted to his brother Tommy what he did at the end of TLOU. The way he saved Ellie from certain death at the hands of potentially world-saving doctors. After this opening, we come to the game’s present day. It’s been 4 years since the end of TLOU, and Ellie has changed a little. She’s grown up and matured somewhat. It must be something about living in the apocalypse that makes people grow up quicker.
We quickly find that the focus of this game is revenge. If TLOU is a game about a journey and a blossoming relationship between a surrogate father and daughter, TLOU2 continues that to establish just how strong that bond became. Where TLOU takes you to many different locales, TLOU2 is primarily focussed in the city of Seattle. The majority of the game is based over 3 days, but in reality, from start to finish is around 12-18 months.
I’m quite an emotive gamer. I cried when Mordin died in Mass Effect 3. I struggled with the choice of continuing a relationship with Yennefer or Triss in The Witcher 3. I went on an in-game bender of drink and solitude for ages when Arthur Morgan is diagnosed in Red Dead Redemption 2. However, no game has sent me on a roller coaster of emotions quite like The Last of Us Part 2. I cried, I laughed, and I got damn angry at times. By the time the end credits started to roll, I was exhausted. I had completed not just a fantastic game, but one hell of an experience. It reminded me why I rate gaming above TV, film, and literature as a story-telling medium.
The narrative choice to essentially restart the story half-way through and let you play as Ellie’s antagonist was different. Not in a bad way at all. It took some time to get into it, but once you were, the game turns on its head. Everything we knew about narratives has changed. We’ve had stories where we see little windows into the bad guy’s life or story, but to dedicate just under half the game to her? It was a risk. One enormous risk, and depending on who you ask it either paid off in a big way or ruined the game for you.
I believe that it was a narrative risk which has set a new standard in gaming. The Last of Us changed the way a lot of story-driven games were made after it. I fully believe that The Last of Us Part II will influence other developers to take similar risks in the future. Playing the game as characters on opposing sides who are both protagonists and antagonists, shows that nothing is black and white. Knowing Abby’s story as well? Knowing why she did what she did? Who can really blame her? You’d have to be lying or not have played the game to not get it. Some could argue, that Abby’s cause is stronger than Ellie’s.
Before I move on though, let me just say that you’ll see people moaning about the agenda-pushing or virtue signaling in the game. It’s not there. Just because there is a transgender character who is ostracized by the mad cult they are in, doesn’t mean that there is an agenda being pushed. It’s just a narrative decision that’s been made to introduce a character. People have a habit of reading too deeply into things that they don’t like or don’t approve of, so you can tell a lot about a person who dislikes this game based on “agendas” or “SJWs” or similar.
Every step is meticulous
Here is the part of the game which will prove whether or not someone hating on it has played it. The gameplay. Whatever you think of the story, whatever you think of the twists and turns of the journey that you go on, I would defy anyone who has played TLOU2 to say that the gameplay is not immaculate. There are so many ways to play, so many ways to approach every battle, that you could have a vastly different gameplay experience from one play-through to the next. While I was playing this, my brother-in-law was also playing. We exchanged our thoughts on what we went through every day. We have different styles, to say the least. He favored a more direct attacking style, where I preferred to sneak around as much as I could – my guns (unless silenced) were the last resort. Both styles worked, a mix of styles worked, and because the game is much larger, there are often multiple routes from A to B.
Changing the way you play depending on who you are facing, forces you to think very tactically all the time. You might be facing a group of WLF soldiers in one battle, but the next section is full of clickers. You might find yourself in the middle of a fire-fight between 2 factions, so do you pick people off unnoticed or hide until they have thinned each other out? It’s always up to you. Looting can be a little bit of a chore, especially after you’ve done the same thing over and over again, but I suppose that’s what you’d expect. If resources are scarce, then you would end up checking drawers, filing cabinets, racking, and more. And if you needed that extra bit of alcohol or rag for a Molotov, then checking that kitchen cabinet might be the difference between you surviving the next encounter or not. Even if it is a bit of a drag!
On the whole, playing the game is a pleasure, not a chore. And the amount of enemies is varied enough to keep things fresh from start to finish. The WLF soldiers (or Wolves) are your typical gun-toting grunts. Very regimented, and seemingly very disciplined. Another faction you’ll face are the Scars, a group of religious fanatics who have shunned technology (when it suits them) so do a lot of their fighting with bows and melee weapons. They also communicate with each other by whistling, which is always disconcerting. You will also face off against a group called the Rattlers, who are very much like the WLF but deal heavily in slavery and keep infected as security measures.
Then, of course, there are the infected. The old guard is back, but there are a couple of new guys who will grab your attention. Firstly, Shamblers. These are like small bloaters, who run and expel massive clouds of acidic spores, however as a tip, they take about 3 hunting rounds to the head. Then there is one of the games boss battles. Against a unique infected called the Rat King. This takes place in the hospital and is truly one of the best examples of a horror sequence that I can remember in gaming. The fight with the Rat King forces you to play in a way that is at odds with the rest of the game – you do NOT stop. Not once, not at all. After this and leaving the hospital gave me a sense of relief that I have rarely felt in a game. I had to stop though and take a few minutes to compose myself. I had to do this more than once during The Last of Us Part II.
Stunning and atmospheric
Graphically, this game is up there with the best. You always know a game is beautiful when you lose yourself in the details both big and small. From the way, the growths on the Shamblers look like either apples or tomatoes (please comment to settle that argument between me and the missus) to the way that Seattle has a haunting beauty to it around every corner, this game is objectively beautiful. It isn’t even a debate. The Last of Us Part II has highlighted just how stunning the current generation is and can be.
I saw one comment recently on Facebook which made me shake my head in disbelief, it was along the lines of “Most enemies are copy and pastes of each other, especially the Scars brutes.” This immediately led me to believe that person hadn’t even played the game. For example, there were 4 different skins on the brutes that I counted on the 4 that I saw close up. The detail on each model was impeccable, from the individual hairs on beards to the fine detail on the growths on each clicker The Last of Us Part II is stunning to the last detail.
Then there’s the audio of TLOU2. When Sony says that they are upgrading the audio for the PlayStation 5, you can look at TLOU2 as a preview. You just know that every sound has been painstakingly crafted to increase the tension, bolster the atmosphere, and to immerse you deeper into this world that you are living and breathing. The music is palpable and helps increase your pulse. The enemies talking to each other or shouting the names of their dead comrades sink you further into this world than you would think. Especially Bear. Especially when Bear looks a bit like my dog. Especially when Bear walked on my trip mine.
Perhaps a little too intense
I will 100% play this game again. Just not yet. I need a break. I need time to let it all settle. The first game was about 15 hours long, and its intensity fit with that length. It took me just under 30 hours to complete TLOU2. It doesn’t let up, not for long. I found myself double and triple-checking areas for enemies that might be just out of sight. I found myself thinking about the game while I was working. About what might happen, or how I could have approached an encounter differently. Playing this was incredible, but exhausting. It was immensely satisfying but has left me feeling so very tired. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad thing, just prepare yourself for one hell of a ride.
All in all, The Last of Us Part II is Naughty Dog signing off on this generation with a huge flourish. The story is fantastic, the character development is on point, the gameplay is sublime and it’s a truly gorgeous game. But as perverse as it might be for a reviewer to say, don’t listen to me. Don’t listen to those on Facebook and Twitter who rail off against the game. Form your own opinion and stick to it. Don’t let peer pressure turn you off a game just because you don’t want to go against other people. If you want to know whether you should spend your hard-earned money on The Last of Us Part II or not, then I think my answer would be clear. Do it kiddo.