The Last of Us Part II (PlayStation 4) Review

By Athanasios 19.07.2020 2

Review for The Last of Us Part II on PlayStation 4

The sequel of the universally acclaimed action-adventure, The Last of Us, is finally here. Despite the massive love it has received, and as is usually the case with pieces of pop culture that people have fell deeply in love with, not everyone is exactly happy. In fact, you only need to enter the charming realm of social media, and you'll gaze upon plenty of hate. Is this another case of rabid man-babies going wild, monopolising the conversation, and stealing the spotlight from the less passionate voices (positive or otherwise), or is the criticism justified, and Naughty Dog's newest creation is an agenda-pushing piece of trash that spits on the legacy of its forbearer? In all honesty, this critic doesn't give a damn. If you are looking for controversy, look elsewhere. Like the recent, retrospective look on the original, what you are looking at now is an outsider's take on the sequel, unaffected by people's adoration or antipathy towards it. Long story short, here's an honest review of The Last of Us Part II, which follows Ellie on her brutal journey of retribution.

Four years have passed after Joel and Ellie escaped the military group that was responsible for the long and bloodied road trip that the duo had to make across post-apocalyptic USA. They finally have a roof over their heads, clean clothes, electricity, food (bigot sandwiches), water, people to interact with, walls that protect them. There's a different kind of darkness here, though. Something looms over Ellie's relationship with Joel; a sort of coldness between them that previously wasn't there. Other than that, life is good. There's no heart-pounding zombie outbreak like before to get the blood moving, with the start of this tale, simply seeing Joel and his baby brother coming back to base on horseback.

This intro is clearly not as strong as the fantastic beginning of the original, as it's more concerned with showing off the gorgeous visuals (served right next to the credits), rather than saying anything of value. This is deliberate, and it happens in order to create a false sense of safety; a safety which will soon get demolished. A brutal murder becomes the catalyst for a chain of events, whose central theme is revenge, and it's extremely important to note that this is undoubtedly the element that greatly differentiates The Last of Us Part II from its forbearer, as this is no longer a quest towards the light of hope, but a downward spiral into the black void that hatred leads to.

Screenshot for The Last of Us Part II on PlayStation 4

Forget the occasional light-heartedness, genuinely happy moments, and bittersweetness of Ellie's first post-apocalyptic road trip. This is just bitter. Following her, one now gets to see the corrosive power of vengeance, as the longer she is on pursuit of the ones that wronged her, the more she loses herself, as well as the ones that have followed her on that path, with the dispassionate swings of Death's scythe cutting everyone down without a speck of melodrama. Also, in an attempt to engross players into it all, the whole endless-circle-of-violence thingy has been translated to the gameplay.

Gunning soldiers down has them scream in agony, while their comrades shout out their names; slicing throats drowns them in their blood; strangling makes you feel the intensity of the moment; and, finally, stabbing guard dogs ends with a painful whimper. This probably isn't as effective as the developer think it is, as you won't really feel bad for any of these, (especially if a Doom loon, like yours truly), but it does manage to engross you into the act of killing like only a few games can, and, thankfully, the whole thing isn't as manipulative as it might look on text. Not always at least…

As expected from a Last of Us entry, though, the focus is once again on the main characters, so while this clearly wants to send the message that the ones you kill are simple human beings (or canines), it's the pain and suffering of the protagonists that you mostly get to experience, and it's through them that you will truly see how destructive revenge can be, no matter how justified or unavoidable it may seem at times. You'll feel in your gut that there's no end to it, and how it usually hurts both sides, which is the reason why you'll eventually get to play as the "villain" you were supposed to hate.

Screenshot for The Last of Us Part II on PlayStation 4

Divided between two 12-hour or so campaigns, the adventure begins with Ellie, which masterfully shows her internal conflict as she pushes herself to the limit; seeing the madness of it all, but embracing it, and never making a single move to stop it. Right before the crescendo, the screen goes black, and you are now in control of Abby, the young woman that ruined Ellie's life. Aside from her being a very well-written character, this part is surprisingly successful at showing the "other side," sparking sympathy for her, to the point that you, the player, will actually feel anxious for her wellbeing. That said, you won't necessarily agree with the choices of the cast.

Oh, yeah. They are all stupid, and they all do stupid things. That's alright, though. They are supposed to. It's somewhat annoying that there's not a single smart human being in here, as even the usually calculative and cautious Joel makes an incredibly foolish, out-of-character mistake, and some choices do feel like they were forced on them just to push the narrative where the developer wanted - but, truth be told, people that act on raw sentiment alone, generally tend to throw intelligence out of the window, and maybe that that's the point here. Therefore, stupidity is "ok," as is unlikable characters. What about uninteresting characters, though? Do they get a free pass?

Screenshot for The Last of Us Part II on PlayStation 4

Sadly, whereas The Last of Us did one thing, and did it perfectly, Part II tries to do much, much more, but at the cost of character development. In other words, you'll meet plenty of people here, who are, once again, depicted as realistic, thus deeply flawed characters, and they are all excellently acted and voiced, but you won't get enough time to really bond with any of them like you did with Ellie and Joel. Abby is fortunately the exception, and most likely the best character available, but the rest are a mixed bag, with the perfect example being Ellie's romance with a young woman named Dina.

You are supposed to like her and care for her, but you won't. The reason? Besides the fact that the writing is such that Dina feels more like a generic sidekick than a deuteragonist, you will be "told" to accept their love, but without really being given the necessary time to watch it grow in order to believe it within you. So, the moment when Dina, without hesitation, attempts to sacrifice herself to save her significant other, feels artificial, not heroic. Moreover, their time together, while enjoyable, as well as the least bleak segment of the game, also shows the biggest strength of the original: silence.

This couple talks a lot. They ask each other about various things, and contemplate on what the world was before while exploring the ruins of Seattle. It's fine and all, and kind of avoids becoming painfully dull by getting overboard with being laconic like the original did, but there's also no denying that the sequel lacks the first one's special... something, where people would use fewer words; insinuating things rather than straight up saying them, letting the world itself tell its story, or simply provide the one holding the controller with enough time to take everything in and "digest" it.

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Are characters bad? No. They just aren't as good as what came before, which is why Joel, the best character of the franchise, manages to shine through his absence whenever there's a conversation about him, or in those excellent flashbacks that go back a few years, showing his more relaxed side, and how he has finally found peace. In this critic's opinion, Ellie's nemesis, Abby, is the saving grace of the title; a fantastic portrayal of a woman struggling with loss, love, hatred, as well discomfort with her way of life. Plus, out of the two protagonists, she is the only one who isn't driven solely by hate. And she has a nice sense of humour. And looks badass. And has an awesome ponytail. And biceps.

As a whole, the story, the crux of the series, while definitely the tastiest dish here, lacks the finesse, subtlety, "magic," and most of all, the consistency of The Last of Us. This is awesome... but not always. For every fantastic step you'll make, there are two that are mediocre-to-good, not to mention that reason occasionally takes a backseat, with plenty of things that just don't make sense design or lore-wise, as well as some purely dumb moments. Nothing that a bit of good 'ol suspension of disbelief can't handle, of course. You are advised to not make the mistake of dissecting this way too rationally. The core of The Last of Us Part II is emotion.

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Note that this has a wholly different tone than before. It will leave you feeling depressed, sad, dispirited, and exhausted, as if you were the one who experienced the whole thing. You'll literary hate the characters, and question their motives, but also get to understand them to a point, and feel their anguish, testing you own sense of morality in the process. Well, you know how this is called? Immersion. Feeling a lump in your throat, and feeling disgusted by people you are in control of might not be your idea of fun, but not all games are meant to simply offer entertainment.

Having said that, this remains a video game, and it's here that things have vastly improved. While still your standard, made-in-the-West, third-person action-adventure that has simple gunplay, stealth, exploration, crafting, and light puzzle-solving, it's nice that pretty much everything has seen an upgrade. Nothing grand, mind you, but the small touches available actually make this far more enjoyable than before, whether that's how you can now hide in tall grass or go prone, run through small gaps in the wall to escape from an infected's grasp, climb a rope, or use a pretty neat dodge move.

Everything has undergone a nice fine-tuning and polish, so controlling your characters and their equipment is faster and more streamlined. Plus, whereas The Last of Us was a walk in the park, with only the grab-you-and-you-are-dead Clickers giving you a hard time occasionally, this has a far more balanced difficulty. Moreover, there's noticeably less filler, with not many "empty" chapters, and a bit more complex and varied "arenas," and diversity in the scenarios one can get into, with the best example being those cases (all three of them) where you get to fight both infected and humans.

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This still isn't a substitute for a pure... game-y game, and despite being more varied, it repeats past mistakes, as a great deal of the adventure feels like padding - especially since this takes longer to reach the end. It's sad how Naughty Dog's perfectionism is still 100% focused in the audio-visual department and not the actual game mechanics. Oh, yeah, the developer has done it again. It has pushed the system to its absolute limits, and the result isn't only technically impressive and stunningly photorealistic, but also straight up beautiful, with plenty of scenes that are so well-crafted, that it's like looking at something with a unique art style, rather than a real, "mundane" world.

The view of Seattle's ruins is gorgeous, with the lush, green foliage having a nice contrast with the concrete all around, while the constant rainfall makes the city look like a surreal tropical jungle. To be honest, though, it's the "little" things that will impress you the most. The sweat and blood on the face of your characters, the texture in their very fingers or the neck of a guitar, the meticulously animated weapon upgrade bench (which will give gun-nuts an orgasm), how characters push away plants, or create ripples in the water while walking, how clothes and hair move naturally, the disgusting design of the infected - the attention to detail is mind-blowing, even if the game itself isn't really so.

PS: Please don't give in to reddit trends. Try and judge the game for yourself. Wait for a bargain bin discount if you have to - just don't miss the opportunity to experience it.

Screenshot for The Last of Us Part II on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

The Last of Us Part II's purposely bleak, pessimistic narrative spares no one, and offers a deeply engrossing tale of vengeance that grabs and never lets go. The production values, and overall attention to detail are insane, making one wonder what the developer will do when it gets its hands on the PlayStation 5. The gameplay and overall structure and pacing, while still not the thing that matters here, is thrice as good, making this a far more enjoyable experience, with a higher replay value from the original. Has the sequel surpassed it where it counts, though? Not really. The story lacks the finesse and unique "magic" of Naughty Dog's first post-apocalyptic adventure. Moreover, the severe change in tone won't be appreciated by everyone... although everyone should probably play it.

Developer

Naughty Dog

Publisher

Sony Interactive Entertainment

Genre

Action Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

When I was playing through this I was initially on 9/10 - 10/10 scores but the story in the last 3rd was such a pacing shock that it fizzled for me and brought it down to an 8 XD Fantastic game, great to play and watch but I think I agree with your score, not quite perfect. I think it must be a Druckmann thing, Uncharted 4 did the same, slow-burning threatening useless feelings until the last 3rd where everything magically resolves without proper consequence XD Love that game too to be fair but I'm not sure he is good at final acts.

Loved the first game (though the ending was suspect), read some of the plot points on this one and not going to touch it.  My understanding is the director or whoever  is in charge took (which I think may be a different guy than the oringinal) made some very conterversial plot directions which seem to me only for shock value.

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