An adventure of head and heart

Image: Naughty Dog
Image: Naughty Dog
While it’s not perfect in every way, The Last of Us Part II is a must-play experience that leaves a lasting impression, writes Simon Bishop.

THE LAST OF US: PART II
For: PS4
From: Naughty Dog
Rating: ★★★★★
Release date: June 19

REVIEWED BY SIMON BISHOP

I doubt there is a more keenly anticipated game this year.

The Last of Us was an incredible hit when it came out in 2013,  winning more game of the year awards than I’ve had hot dinners, and quickly becoming many people’s favourite game of all  time (myself included).

To say that Naughty Dog has  the pressure on them is an  understatement. When a sequel was announced, many fans  wondered how you could possibly  follow  the original instalment, and whether creating a second  part would devalue the incredible  storytelling of the first. Yet,  somehow they’ve done it again.

The Last of Us Part II is set not  long after the end of the first  game, with post-apocalyptic survivor Ellie living in Jackson, a  settlement of humans safe from the franchise’s fungally infected population and living (somewhat)  normal lives. Ultimately, this normalcy is shattered and Ellie embarks upon a journey that pushes her and her companions to their absolute limits.

It’s hard to write about the  story as it is so spoiler-heavy, and  the enjoyment of this game is  massively increased if you go into it with a clean slate. What can be said though is that it is once again an absolute masterclass from  creative director/co-writer Neil Druckmann and the rest of the Naughty Dog crew - no other game or development studio nails the narrative of games like they do. Their previous major release, Uncharted 4, was incredible, and this builds upon that.

The story will test you as a  player, making you distinctly  uncomfortable in some parts.  Some bits are genuinely scary, but then there’s also lighter moments, such as playing fetch with some of the pet dogs, that relieve some of the weight. The  last time I cared so much about  characters in a game and remember such tense moments was, funnily enough, in the first Last of Us.

In terms of how it plays, they’ve not strayed far from what  worked in the first game, which,  to be honest, I am glad about.  Basically, the game is split into exploration sections and  encounters with enemies of  various sorts, and this formula runs throughout. Part II is more about refinement than reinvigoration.

The game is at its best, in my opinion, in the moments  when  there are no enemies. You’re able to explore the dilapidated  environments, finding little bits of world-building that are engrossing if you’re a fan of the series. Reading notes that survivors have left and learning their personal stories, learning more about your characters' relationships - this is where the strength of the game is.

The encounters with the enemies are  all too samey, in the end, for me. Even though they occur in very well thought-out and varied environments, you’re ultimately gonna be sneaking around trying to stab people or ‘‘infected’’ without their mates noticing. When they invariably do, it turns into a shootout or a mad dash for survival against the infected, and then you move on.

Sneaking is made a little easier now through the addition of long grass and the ability to lie down and hide in it. Previously you just had to use cover, but now it’s far easier to reposition and lure your enemies into traps. It all feels more smooth and natural.

The combat itself is similar to the previous game - the guns are powerful, but inaccurate, the ammunition is scarce and the enemies are deadly. There are little details they’ve added to combat that really add to the experience too - the enemies will often cry “No, Lisa!” or something similar when you shoot one of their colleagues.

Naughty Dog is trying to show that these people you’re killing are actual people; they have friends, they have families, and they’re not just barbaric people trying to shoot back, like they were in the first game. The entire game is about thinking about the bigger picture, and this adds to it so much.

Much like the first game, you upgrade your character with the use of pills found in the environment, and upgrade and create weapons with parts that you scavenge. Aside from being an incentive to search environments, they add a layer of depth and tension to the game. Do you use your last supplies to craft a health kit, or a Molotov cocktail?

There are moments when you encounter both the infected and humans at the same time - and I wish there were more of them. They’re so much more interesting as you’re not only being the hunter, but also the hunted, and you can often use strategy to bypass them. Unfortunately, they’re few and far between.

Image: Naughty Dog
Image: Naughty Dog
If there was anything I felt Naughty Dog could have improved upon, it would be the pacing, as there are parts of the game that drag on and frankly feel like work as you’re doing them. In the end, you can see why those parts are there, but as you’re playing them it feels like a real grind.

The world that Naughty Dog has built, though, is second to none. Everywhere you go looks incredible, from both a design and graphic standpoint. Every little detail has been thought of. Whether you’re walking down a street with collapsed skyscrapers on either side, or walking through what used to be a highway and is now a dense forest, it all looks uniformly beautiful.

I’m still torn as to whether I like the first part better than this one. As an experience though, it leaves the competition in the dust. There are so few video games that can make you think and make you feel the way that this game does. Most game stories are predictable or basic - TLOU Part II is incredibly deep, and will make you feel very uncomfortable at times: that is so unique in the world of games at the moment.

While it’s not perfect in every way, TLOU Part II is still very much the definition of a five-star game - a must-play experience.

You will play through the game and reflect on it, you’ll want to talk to your friends about how they interpret parts of it, you’ll want to play it again. I finished it and felt emotionally drained. I still can’t stop thinking about the stuff that happens in it. It’s a story of intense pain and sacrifice, but also happiness.

So while it isn’t the “perfect” game, it is without doubt the best game that you will see in this generation of consoles.

An incredible step forward for games as a medium.

Pros and cons

WHAT’S TO LIKE

• They have nailed the narrative

• Exploring the minutely detailed environments

• Sneaking through the long grass

• Enemies who are made more human

• It all looks incredible

• It makes you think and feel

NOT SO GOOD

• The encounters with enemies are a bit samey

• Parts of the game drag and feel like work

 

 

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