The Last of Us Part 2
The Last of Us Part 2 is finally here. Naughty Dog’s road was long and hard, and calling it a development hell wouldn’t be unwarranted. But after quite a few delays, some major plot leaks and serious accusations of employee mistreatment, the game is here. Was it worth it? Well… Yes? It’s a bit complicated, but I’m here to tell you all about it! So grab a tall glass of your liquid of choice and stay awhile and listen. Well, you know… Read on.
Disclaimer: This review is spoiler-heavy. Really spoiler heavy. If by any chance you are still avoiding spoilers, stop reading… And check out some of our other reviews!
The game picks up five years after the events of the first game. Ellie is now an adult, living a (relatively) normal post-apocalyptic life in Jackson, Wyoming. She hangs out with friends, watches movies, kills mushroom-people and plays Uncharted 1, 2, and the Jak and Dexter trilogy on a really dusty PS3. But this being a sequel to The Last of Us (and also a videogame), the story soon takes a dark turn, which takes Ellie on a bloody mission to Seattle.
You’ll spend the majority of the game chillin’ in Seattle with a handful of Ellie’s friends, occasionally embarking on huge murder sprees. And just as you think Ellie’s gone a bit too far with the whole murder stuff, the game gives you control over Abby. You know, the girl that murdered Joel in front of Ellie, like 15 hours prior, setting everything in motion. It was supposed to be a huge surprise, but it wasn’t really. We got to play as Abby in the intro and some of the first shown in-game footage – years ago – featured an unknown woman fighting a bunch of crazy cultists. Granted, I didn’t expect to play a full campaign as Abby, but I was constantly waiting for her to show up again. But I’ll get back to story stuff later on.
Let’s talk about the gameplay. The team basically took the gameplay of the original, added in a dash of the PS4-era Uncharted games, and refined it to perfection. Two new movement options are added, allowing for more variety in stealth and environmental puzzles – going prone and jumping. The dedicated jump button is a really welcome addition to the game. There are quite a few puzzles I remember vividly and enjoyed quite a bit, made possible just because you could jump. Going prone is… Okay, I guess. It works in conjunction with the good old “hiding in tall grass” mechanic, but I felt it only served to showcase how silly the AI can be while going in full-stealth.
Speaking of stealth – the listen mode returns, albeit a bit toned down. It still allows you to see through walls, but there’s an added layer of complexity. The further the enemies, the muddier their silhouette is. If they’re far enough, you won’t be able to see them at all. Of course, it’s upgradable, but I felt like it never came to the superpower-levels of the basic listen mode in the first game. This makes the stealth approach a bit more interesting and compelling, especially when going against the infected. The infected actually have their own stealth trooper which tries to minimise the sound they make and sneak up on you. Even with the returning infected, as well as the other new infected – one that basically tries to kill you with farts, dead or alive – fighting these stealthy SOB’s were some of the more tense moments in the game.
Now stealth is cool and all, but what about the action? Well, the gunplay is better than ever, thanks to some of the best sound design I’ve ever seen (well, heard). Shooting the mushroom-heads is really satisfying, with everything feeling just right. Shooting the human enemies AND the dogs, though? That feels kinda gross, at least in the first (Ellie’s) half of the game. But that is also something I’ll come back to a bit later.
So yes, both the stealth and shootouts have seen improvements. To be honest, though, the game works best when you’re switching up between the two. A typical encounter will play out something like this:
You’ll most likely start sneaking around for a bit, trying to eliminate a few members of a search party. Eventually, you’ll make a tiny mistake and reveal your location, forcing you to engage in a furious gun (and fist) fight. At one moment you’ll get overwhelmed so you’re the only option is to run and hide, under an old car or something. At this point your enemies will start looking for you and try to sneak up on you, occasionally concealing themselves from your listen mode. This is the moment dogs will enter the fight to try and flush you out.
You’ll sneak a bit more, equip your bow, fire an arrow in someone’s face but accidentally hit their throat. You’ll listen to them gurgle blood as they are suffocated by their lungs filling with blood. Their saddened dog will try to wake them up, someone will notice this and boom! Your cover is blown again. At this point, you take out your hunting rifle and aim for the head, but you’ll miss and shoot said someone’s arm off. They’ll let out the most uncomfortable scream possible as they bleed out. By this point the dog will finally attack you just as you’re trying to pull out the medkit, forcing you to accidentally take out the Molotov, throw it at the dog, and watch him run around, burning, whimpering in agony. It is at this exact moment that you will realise that life is meaningless suffering.
While we’re on the topic of meaningless stuff, it’s worth mentioning that the game looks fantastic. It’s a technical masterpiece, probably the most impressive game ever conceived. The animations are so far beyond anything currently available on the market, it’s insane. And don’t get me started on Naughty Dog’s attention to details. To all the little, meaningless details that you’ll never, ever notice until someone points them out to you or you find out by accident. Like how Ellie’s elbow will bruise when she hits the floor after going prone from a sprint. You know, the stuff that required developers to stay in a brutal crunch, but no one will ever notice. The people coding and designing the elbow bruises probably had it easier than the people researching sounds people make when chocking on their blood. Or the way dogs run around and whimper when they’re burned alive.
One thing that is also fantastic, but isn’t meaningless, is the soundtrack. Gustavo Santaolalla is back with his guitar witchcraft and it’s almost better than the original. Almost. The guitar actually plays a sweet narrative role this time around. We even get to play the guitar! And there are some beautiful covers in the game. ‘Future Days’ by Pearl Jam plays a prominent role in the story, and we get a beautiful rendition of ‘Take On Me’ by a-ha. But my favourite song in the game, by far, is the cover of ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ by Johnny Cash, sung by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson. Some truly powerful stuff.
But yeah, the game looks impressive, sounds amazing, and plays fabulous. But when it comes to The Last of Us, that’s all just the potato. The meat of the game is, obviously, the story. Which is good. Actually, it’s pretty fantastic.
Like I mentioned, Joel’s death at the hands of Abby and her crew is what sets the whole game in motion. A lot of #gamers were furious about this. Which is exactly the point, really. Joel’s death might have been a bit shocking, but it wasn’t much of a surprise. Naughty Dog explicitly stated – on several occasions – hate would be the game’s central theme. The reveal trailer made it painfully clear that Ellie was out for revenge. Many people tried to delude themselves that it was something else she was mad about, but – narratively – nothing else made sense. Making some of the new characters, like Dina, the subject of Ellie’s revenge story would make sense, sure. But there wouldn’t be any real motivation for the players. It would also be the easy way out.
So yes, Joel is murdered, Ellie is mad. She arrives in Seattle and over a course of three days serves out her idea of justice on the people that did her wrong. There are some flashbacks thrown into the mix, highlighting Ellie’s and Joel’s relationship over the past few years, showing us where the characters were before the start of the game. There are some insanely sweet, as well as emotional moments in these flashbacks.
Ellie loses a bit of herself with every murder she commits while in Seattle, before finally realising that she might have gone a bit too far after stabbing a pregnant woman. It’s at this point the game goes back three days and puts you in Abby’s shoes. You are now following the story from Abby’s perspective, with all the knowledge of the horrible stuff Ellie (aka you) did in the previous 15 hours.
Abby’s story is, for the most part, severely removed from Ellie’s. You’ll visit the same locations at various points and you’ll interact with the same characters (some of them shortly before Ellie offs them), sure. But for the most part, they don’t really intersect. It actually feels like we got Part 3 slapped on top of Part 2. Abby’s story is mostly about her realising that murdering Joel didn’t make things any better. In fact, it made it worse, as she is constantly plagued by nightmares. She’s trying to go about her normal life, fighting the ‘Scars’ and all. But all of that changes when she comes across two young siblings – Yara and Lev. The way her journey mirrors Joel’s from the first game is fascinating, really. It’s never stated, but it seemed like she found a semblance of understanding for Joel’s actions.
The quality of Abby’s campaign is shockingly good. It has some of the best set pieces and it has a more human story. Hell, even the characters felt more fleshed out. But not by much. The characters are by far the weakest link of the game. I assume the scope of the story required a greater cast, but the end result is just a bunch of underdeveloped characters and relationships that don’t go anywhere. Dina is cool and all, but she is just Ellie’s girlfriend. And that’s it. Same with Abby’s friends – we are told who they are and how they relate to Abby, nothing less and nothing more. There’s no growth, there’s no change. They go the same as they came. Yara and Lev are the only exceptions. Their relationship with Abby grows from start to finish and they all come out as better realised characters.
But, The Last of Us Part 2 ultimately isn’t about its characters and their relationship like the first one was. It’s about revenge and it’s futility. The two protagonists are both out for revenge, but we get to see them in different stages. Ellie is hateful, angry, while Abby is coming to grips with the fact that her revenge didn’t heal her. The Last of Us Part 2 is nothing if not ambitious and I applaud them for the audacity to try something like this to such a degree of success. Sadly, it also has a degree of failure to it.
I already mentioned the underdevelopment of the supporting cast, which is a bummer. But I’d like to get back to the fact that Ellie’s part of the game feels a bit gross. There were some moments in the game that I just did not want to do and ultimately made me feel disgusted. Torturing Nora made me sit and wait for something to happen for about 15 minutes before finally realising that I have to do it if I want to continue. I thought about quitting the game at that moment, never to look back. But I pushed through that.
And then you get to the final part of the game, the fight at the beach. I usually don’t play games for potential emotional scars. But here I was, off to murder a character that I’ve grown to love. I just wanted to see Ellie killed by the time I got to that part of the game, so severe was my distaste for her. I wonder if Naughty Dog was scared people wouldn’t warm up to Abby enough with her planned storyline? Because I can’t think of a better reason why’d they make Ellie so villainous.
And it’s not just the story bits that felt gross. The gameplay in Ellie’s part somehow felt more violent and hateful. Or maybe I just got so used to the extremely realistic violence by the time I got to Abby’s story. In that case, it’s a design failure itself. I mean, the game is trying to show you how awful real violence is, but just ends up making you numb to it.
I might have come off really critical of the game with this review. At it’s true, I do feel like there are quite some shortcomings to the game. Ellie doesn’t feel anything like the character we got to know in 2013, the supporting cast feels underdeveloped and the overindulgence in pointless details and violence is hardly justifiable. But the sheer ambition and scope of the story the team tried to tell is commendable. Hell, the fact that it’s so prominently in my mind a month and a half after I’ve finished it speaks volumes.
I hope we eventually get a spinoff with Abby and Levin the vain of Uncharted: Lost Legacy. But please, give them a happy ending. We all need a win sometimes.
The Last of Us Part 2
The sheer ambition and scope of the story the team tried to tell is commendable. But the game isn't without it's faults.