“Triumphant.” “Game Of The Year.” “Holy sh*t, they did it.”
These are just some of the thoughts which have swirled through my head as I’ve had time to digest the game further. I feel the first thing to introduce this review should be:
The Last Of Us Part II will be a game you hate.
This isn’t a bad thing, no; This is the intention of The Last Of Us Part II. Game Director Neil Druckman has gone on record for some time now, explaining the central theme of this title;
“We’re telling a story that’s a conversation about the cycle of violence. We’re telling a story that we’re saying there’s a cost of pursuing justice at any cost, both personal and around us.”
And the game will cost you a lot. Tricking you into a sense of serenity, as Joel (Troy Baker) and Ellie (Ashley Johnson) live out their days in a township called Jackson; This gentle lull shares a sense of hopefulness the first game ended on. With Ellie finding new love, and being surrounded by people she calls family, it’s not so bad; Even if you have to head out to the trails to keep Cordyceps at bay. All the while, the game will use moments like this to re-educate you on your shooting mechanics and how movement has changed for our heroes.
Then you meet Abby.
With her, you’ll learn how to go prone, but this is just a fun, new mechanic I remember utilising a lot during her run. What you really learn with Abby (Laura Bailey), is the cost of revenge and the cyclical nature of violence. And this is where a mirror begins to reflect the two sides of the story you’re about to experience.
Happiness is an ever-fleeting thing, and it is of the fleetest of feet in this game. From the moment the story is set in motion by the death of a character, you are driven into a corner of uncompromising and unrelenting violence as Ellie. You’ll find yourself traversing new, larger areas in downtown Seattle, and a lot of this can be explored. Having learnt the craft of UNCHARTED, Ellie can now use ropes to reach new, higher areas. Along with this, windows into some locations aren’t invisible walls any more, but more places to earn resources from or to escape too.
The new paths of escape also indicate a change in how you fight. The normally claustrophobic spaces of non-escape, open up more thanks to these new surroundings and ways to move. Choice is on the menu, with the kind of implied path from the first game, opening up to new methods of moving thanks to your new verticality. This also provides the game another way of showing a reflection of our 2 characters. Ellie’s vitriol is on show, as the young girl who hadn’t taken a human life for most of the first game, takes vengeance in brutal and savage ways. In comparison, Abby’s background as a soldier, brings heft to the way she fights, and in the details of her weapon grip:
Thanks for taking notice of the little details I obsessed over! https://t.co/9HMKrIv8rg
— Troy Slough (@Troy_Slough) June 26, 2020
A comprehensive new armory, is also joined by the impressive ‘Workbench’.
The workbench provides not only a short reprieve, but some of the best animation work seen in a game yet. How your character responds to the upgrade, and how they smartly block some of the magic is astounding. Sure, it’s gun-p*rn, but it’s a huge amount of work for something so minute.
Animation and your environments showcase what could be the best of the PlayStation 4. Playing on the Pro, I experienced low-load times, for levels which were incredibly stunning and ready to be played. The water effects, even in the dinghy, are some of the best of this generation, and cannonballs from high places will evoke the same joy you have in real life.
“Okay, this all sounds AMAZING. Why will you hate it?”
It’s the story itself. The cost of hate will take you on a journey of sacrificing everything for nothing. Having to confront the subject of your hate, and experience their life forces you to idealize what it means to hate; And what it will mean to forgive. How you interpret this, may make it a wholly different experience for you, but this is the cycle you are part of in this game. And it’s hard. It might make you stop playing the game. But it’s an experience unlike no other, which could only be told this kind of way.
And yes, there are some issues with storytelling around representation of the LGBTQ+ community in the game. But I feel it has a sense of care when seen through the lens of the game and the characters living this. Also, Naughty Dog have brought to the fore a tonne of new accessibility features, so more players can enjoy this game. In fact, thanks to these systems, a sightless player has also completed The Last Of Us Part II.
Ultimately, you will sacrifice a lot for The Last Of Us Part II. Whether it’s time, tears or conversation, the game wants you to feel the sting of grief. It also wants you to feel what happens when you come out of this grief. See, sometimes it’s not about feeling anything;
Sometimes it’s about accepting one day you will again.
Steering players between polar opposites is no easy feat, but THE LAST OF US PART II does so effortlessly. Placing you in the shoes of those wronged, and the ones who caused this; It makes for a game that feels, at times, torturous to play.
That's not to say it isn't fun. Sharing the same pedigree as its former, the gameplay simply improves on all of these.
Providing a huge amount of discourse to be had over the rest of the year, THE LAST OF US PART II set out and completed what it intended to do. And it did so flawlessly.
XENOJAY.COM was supplied with a media copy of the game for review by Sony, and it was played on the Playstation 4 Pro console.