Developer: Naughty Dog | Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment| Release Date: June 19, 2020 | Genre: Action-Adventure/Survival Horror | Reviewed On PS4 Pro
The copy of The Last of Us II used for this review was purchased at retail by the reviewer.
I didn’t want to rush to get a review of this game out there because I want to make sure that all of the thoughts here are mine and not influenced by anything I saw or read at the game’s launch. With that in mind, since the game has been out for a bit, there will be a few spoilers in this review. I don’t normally put spoilers in my reviews but I am making an exception this time. This way I can address a lot of the concerns that people have had with the game and give you my take on the whole thing so proceed with caution.
Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us was a great game. Launching near the end of the PS3’s lifecycle it was not in any way perfect (although the memories of some gamers remember it that way) but great. It was a bigger and more mature outing than ND’s previous titles including the Uncharted series. Once Joel and Ellie’s adventure came to a close at the end of the first game I was satisfied with it to the point that the game didn’t need a sequel. Given the sales and critical acclaim the game received, that sequel was inevitable and so here we are nearing the end of the PS4’s lifecycle with The Last of Us Part II.
TLOU2 takes place five years after the events of the first game. Ellie, Joel, and Tommy (Joel’s brother) are living in Jackson, Wyoming, where survivors have settled into a full-fledged city, run by Tommy’s wife Maria. Life in Jackson is very different from what we witnessed in the first game. There are shops and bars, there is electricity and children are running around living life as normal as they can be given their situation. It would be easy to forget that they are living in a post-apocalyptic society. Citizens are tasked with patrolling the surrounding area to ensure that the infected and other threats don’t get too close to the city walls and this is where the story begins.
Based on all of the trailers and behind the scenes videos that have come out before the game’s release, I thought I had the main plot of the game pretty well figured out. Even though leaks showed what was going to happen I made it a point not to look at any of them and go into the game fresh. The trailers showed that the game would be a revenge tale and that Ellie had a female love interest. All of the gameplay footage and interviews talked up Ellie as the main playable character in The Last of Us Part II. So based on everything I saw, I was under the impression that someone would come along and attack Ellie and her girl Dina and Dina would end up dead. This would send Ellie on a killing spree on her own to avenge her lost love. I started the game thinking this would be more or less what happens. Boy was I wrong.
Very early on we are introduced to a new playable character named Abby who is hunting for someone and she’s not alone. The initial time you spend playing as Abby acts as a sort of tutorial that introduces you to a few of the game’s new features. These features aren’t anything revolutionary in the world of gaming but they are a big deal in the world of The Last of Us. Among these features is the ability to jump and go prone but more on that later.
After getting swarmed by a horde of infected, Abby runs into Joel and Tommy who are out on patrol. They combine forces to fight off the infected and once they become formally introduced, it is clear by the look on Abby’s face that she has found who she was hunting for. Abby then escorts Tommy and Joel to the place where she and her friends are camped at and begins her assault on Joel killing him. Ellie finds the hideout and infiltrates just in time to see Abby finish off Joel. The group ultimately decides to spare Tommy and Ellie. This scene sets the stage for just how brutal the violence in this game is and puts you in the right frame of mind to guide Ellie on her quest for vengeance.
Even with the early death of Joel, the game starts off brilliantly and I was all in. The graphics are gorgeous. I remember talking to my wife as she watched me play. I told her that “these graphics are what we are seeing on the PS4 after 7 years. Imagine what games will look like on PS5 5-7. years from now.” This wasn’t a big shock due to how well Naughty Dog pushes every generation of PlayStation hardware but I must say I was still very impressed with the look of the game.
The gameplay was is also amazing. It adds just enough new elements to justify being a sequel but keeps things grounded in the mechanics of the first game which helps sell the point that you are still in the same world. Having the ability to jump, go prone, and crawl are very basic concepts in gaming, right? I mean these are controls we have had in our games for thousands of years now but having them finally included in The Last of Us Part II really goes a long way to having you feel as if you are a part of this world. It opens up possibilities that you should have had all along. Stealth kills and traversal are more believable and the experience is so much better for it. Escaping from a fight you weren’t prepared for is something you could do in the original game but here you can scale to a higher vantage point or crawl under a vehicle or lay in tall grass to name a few options. From your new hiding spot, you cant decide to take on your foe(s) in a more tactical way or simply avoid them. The tension you will feel as enemies will actually look for you under objects as your hiding is insane. With all of these elements in place along with an incredible soundtrack and acting, The Last of Us II was on my shortlist for Best PlayStation Game of the Year. That is until…
I won’t spoil every last detail but there are things I just have to discuss. After several great hours of guiding Ellie to find Abby and avenge Joel something unexpected happens. Roles are reversed and you start to play as Abby. Not a big deal because we played as her early on and this is just a temporary switch off…wrong. In what can only be compared to the ol’ switcheroo from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Abby is actually the main playable character of TLOU2. This is where the game fell apart for me. A lot of the negative reviews for this game are for the most part from fans that hate that Joel was killed and or hated that they made Ellie a lesbian (if you are the fan you claim you are, you would have known that by playing the original)or how certain themes regarding gender identity are brought up. I personally don’t have a problem with any of that. Joel dies. It sucks but I am actually surprised he lived this long. In the original game, there is a 20-year gap between the prologue and the beginning of the game. How did he survive? There’s your part III right there. Mad Ellie is gay? Grow up. Don’t like transgender characters in games? I’m pretty sure the transgender community is tired of being left out and misrepresented in the gaming world. Want to know the real, actual problem here? It’s Abby.
While playing with Abby we learn more about her character and her motivation for mercilessly slaughtering Joel. It is a critical part of the experience and ties The Last of Us 1 & 2 together in a really interesting way. So what’s the problem? The problem is after learning her motivation and finding out exactly who she is after a few hours of gameplay, why the fuck am I still playing as her? I don’t want to know that she is nice to dogs. I don’t care that the team she took with her to kill Joel is like family to her. Actually, that’s it right there: I DON’T FUCKING CARE!
I get that she needed to go out and kill Joel. If it were me, I would have killed Joel too. However, no amount of character development is going to make me like Abby after what she did. Just because I understand that doesn’t mean I am going to sympathize. All I wanted to do is take control of Ellie, shoot Abby in the right eye with an arrow, and then kick her down a flight of steps. Then go explore the beautiful world Naughty Dog created and save some people from the infected. Oh and don’t worry you do get to control Ellie again but depending on how you play that might be another 30 hours or more. I really liked the ending but the conclusion of the final confrontation that leads to the ending really, REALLY pissed me off.
All of my gripes aside, I still found myself enjoying the game for what it is. The graphics and sound are among the best of the generation. The gameplay is still fun and engaging throughout. As a fan of the original, there is nothing here that ruined the franchise as many people are saying. It doesn’t deserve the 1.0/10 that review bombers on Metacritic are giving it and it sure as hell is not the 10/10 “Masterpiece” that IGN claims it to be. To each his own right? What I can tell you from my experience with the game is that if you were planning to play it to begin with, you’ll still enjoy it. If having Abby take over as the main character doesn’t bother you at all, then you will enjoy it on a deeper level than most. Earlier in the review, I compared The Last of Us Part II to Metal Gear Solid 2. Thinking over it some more it is actually more comparable to Metal Gear Solid 5. The game is a fun, solid entry to the franchise with amazing graphics and gameplay but falls short of expectations in terms of story.