This review/discussion contains MAJOR SPOILERS and is only suitable for those who have finished the game.
The Last of Us part 2 has descended upon us all like a nuclear bomb. The comments, the leaks, the fallout online is there for all to see. The critics have had their voice and so have the review bombers.
This review/discussion will break down several aspects from the game and of course tackle the one thing that made The Last of Us Part 1 so special, the story. I have picked 13 areas to critique this game hopefully homing in on some kind of general grade that could be attributed which would signify my overwhelming impression of the game. So if all you want is the score…..its at the bottom of this review.
Before I begin I must preface this review with a few slices of info to set the scene. I, like many gamers, adore The Last of Us (TLOU) and hold it, quite rightly, up as one of the best video games ever created. Going into this review/discussion I find myself questioning many aspects of TLOU mainly the way the writers ended it. To me, as a father, Joel made the correct choice but as a representative of humanity, he perhaps did not. This game brings all of that decision right back home. Consequences are something that are not necessarily tackled in video games and this is a paradigm shift when we talk about TLOU2. I have never played a game that made me think about consequences as much this one. I constantly questioned what I would do and how I would react to a number of the narrative elements within TLOU2.
As this game focuses on revenge, for the most part, many would argue from the outside looking in that “what goes around comes around” or even “you reap what you sow” etc. Those elements did enter my mind but not to the same extent as a real-life event would. The issue being; as a player, you are invested in the characters, you go through many of the same emotions they do thanks to the sublime game direction. Emotion is a huge part if not the main element of these games.
14 hours into my playthrough something that I did not expect happened. You take over as Abby and hear about her story. As always there are two sides to every story and I found it refreshing to take on her role. Playing as Abby reminded me of TLOU more so than my entire story with Ellie. This is down to the parallels that can be drawn with Abby and Lev. Abby essentially becomes her guardian after initially shunning the thought. Also, its this relationship that makes Abby’s journey a much less dark affair than Ellie’s. You can see Abby fighting with her darker side and the more compassionate human side seems to come through. With Ellie her main focus is revenge and as such make her a much more negative personality in my view.
I love Joel as a character and the one heartbreaking element of TLOU2 is that he is an NPC for the entire journey. He was the main protagonist of the first game and to abandon him so early is not something that sat well with me initially. Killing him off was a natural move in the respect that they needed motivation for Ellie to set off on a journey but there were other ways which this could have been achieved. This would have allowed the fans a little more screen time with their favourite strong silent type. Sadly we are reduced to flashbacks where Joel is still very much alive but of course a secondary character to Ellie.
With that said, I embraced the change and hopped on that freight train for pastures new. This was Ellie’s game after all or so I thought.
Initially, my thoughts were that everything looks amazing and even after a closer inspection this did seem to be true. Textures are of the highest quality in this game. The amount of time gone into recreating a world that has paid the ultimate price and is now wasting away is obscene. The level of detail put into ALL areas is unimaginable and I regularly found myself admiring back alleys, sidewalks, storefronts and hallways. It truly is a joy to behold and can be missed if you do not stop to look around from time to time. I suppose one way of defining how good the textures are is that if the items you pick up didn’t glint then it would be almost impossible to distinguish them from the other parts of the game world. Everything is seamless here and very few things if any seem out of place.
Character skins are in line with textures and are sublime. Each character’s look carries a level of realism that truly brings the immersion up to a very high level. The small scratches or war wounds are very evident and speak to the level of detail I mentioned previously. Injuries that play out during cutscenes stay visible after and are a testament to the technical craft that naughty dog has employed here.
Lighting is another technical aspect that impresses. Due to a large amount of the game spent in dark areas. The flashlight Ellie / Abby has does give off a perfect level of realism. Additionally, when beams of light shine through from outside they have a superb level of detail, showing up dust particles from the remains of the devastation within.
Animations are another highlight here and go hand in hand with the evident realism. The use of weaponry, opening drawers, jumping, running, fighting etc. All are of the highest quality and never feel out of place. A highlight for me is the use of the workbench. The animations here are so realistic that they seamlessly transition from the game into the interactive “cutscene”, marvellous stuff.
I, for the vast majority of the game, experienced zero issues with framerate drops. A few character animations that failed to load when opening a drawer or entering a room and NPC AI being a little annoying from time to time were the only instances when I experienced some poor elements. Overall a truly tremendous experience in terms of optimisation and bugs. Hats off to Naughty Dog staff they did create a superbly optimised and functional game.
Definitely another impressive technical aspect is the sound employed within TLOU2. It is stellar throughout, be it shed casings clinking off the ground or the release of an arrow to the entry which thuds like a wet cloth hitting the floor. Upon completing stealth kills you can even hear the “blood curdling” choking sounds and subsequent draining of your victim’s blood.
When taking out an enemy and inflicting a mortal wound the enemies sometimes scream, as if for their mother, in pain as they give their last breath. Hard-hitting and hard to take initiative as I was certainly not expecting that level of realism.
Underground areas are particularly impressive with sound and you can hear pretty much everything that’s going on. If you trip or bang into something and enemies are nearby, they will certainly hear you causing unbelievable panic especially if you are low on resources.
If you happen to be low on resources which can happen if you have an aim like mines then hand to hand combat becomes something of a necessity. The sound involved in this is just as brutal as it was in the first game even more so in many instances. As Ellie wields a knife for hand to hand the sound that accompanies the slicing and stabbing animations are certainly something I winced from on more than one occasion. During the silent takedowns, it punches that realism button hard and is just one of countless elements that add to the game to make it an all-round superb experience.
The music that we all know and love from The Last of Us Part 1 is sorely lacking throughout. This is a huge element for me in a video game and can truly make or break a set-piece or story element of a game. Don’t get me wrong, their are elements that are filled with emotion and made me hold back the tears on a few occasions. Those elements were amazing and helped develop the emotional style that I associate with the first game. “In-game” music, on the other hand, is, of course, very good but nothing superb. Tense moments have tense music and lighter moments seem to be almost devoid of music. It is for want of a better term, understated. I have taken the time to listen to the soundtrack separately from the game and my fears have been confirmed. It simply is not as good as the previous games OST. It is of course hard to replicate greatness as the soundtrack from TLOU is superb.
All actors put in superb performances that let the emotion flow through the game. My only gripe is more a story element where Joel aka Troy Baker is just not in the game enough for my liking. His performance and charisma are sadly missing. Newer characters to the series like Dina and Abby do a great job, in particular, Abby who gets a large amount of screen time.
Naughty Dog has outdone themselves in terms of accessibility. They offer all manner of options to cater for a great many more people. In addition to the difficulty levels, there is a vast array of other quality of life options for people who are perhaps disabled in some way. I saw a tweet from someone who lacks their sight and they managed to play the game using the multitude of accessibility options available. There are even options for those who suffer from colour blindness. Truly spellbinding stuff and another reason why I am paying tribute to Naughty Dog once more. The more people that can access and have fun with games the better. It truly is a wondrous past time and I’m so glad more people, especially those with a disability, are now able to access them.
The controls for TLOU2 are exactly what I expected. They have stayed true to the original game with little changes. Of course with the accessibility options, most if not all buttons cans be changed which is a welcome addition for any gamer.
The menu system is very easy to use and feels more streamlined than before adding to the accessibility and ease of use. I liked the crafting system as it is very easy to utilise on the go. The abundance of items is perfect to make sure you have just enough to get by (Moderate Play Through). My only gripe is with upgrades to weapons. The parts needed and the positioning of upgrade stations is inconsistent in comparison to the first game. Far too often did I come across a station and had zero weapon parts. The feeling when you get to a crafting station is one of excitement as you are obviously desperate to see what you can improve but are then simultaneously shattered when you realise you have 2 weapon parts and you need another 58.
I loved playing this game but for many, it will completely depend on their idea of fun. I love survival horror games and this is a survival horror game. Due to the story elements that I will talk about later the game is a very dreary and bleak affair. The subject matter, brutality and even weather could make some people a little depressed after playing. The type of underground areas where you face off against scores of infected can be extremely tense and frantic again meaning this game may not be for everyone. With that said I adored The Last of Us 2 in terms of gameplay. A few quality of life elements have been added to make your journey (a) More enjoyable (b) more realistic. For example, you can now shoot from a prone position even forcing you to do so when you are floored by a gunshot. The dodge function makes fighting the enemies so much more manageable. It doesn’t make it any less frantic but it certainly makes it feel like you always have a last gasp way of getting out of trouble.
The stealth aspect of this game is one that is necessary and sublime in its execution. There are genuine moments of tension and indeed panic when skulking around trying to shiv or stealth kill that clicker that JUST WILL NOT TURN AROUND!
Gunplay is another positive aspect that is essentially identical to the previous game. With weapon upgrades, it becomes easier but it can be a challenge to carry out stealth with firearms even with suppression.
Let’s Talk About The Narrative
The Last of Us Part 2 is a story of consequence, revenge, love, hate, sadness, redemption and about a million other nuanced emotions. To simply take it as a simple revenge story is doing a disservice to what the writers were aiming for.
To decode the story we need to quickly analyse The Last of Us Part 1. For me, The Last of Us Part 2 game is a literal and direct consequence of the actions taken in part 1 and this is not something that is examined within the video game genre often, or at all.
Throughout time within video games or movies very little is ever said about “the bad guys”. They are never given the screen time to be “understood”, their story is never really known, they are often swept under the carpet and forgotten about as the viewer or gamer is in invested in the main protagonist.
This game shows that there are two sides to every story especially in a game like this built firmly around realism. The lines blur to extreme points and people who we once think of as “baddies” end up with a story of their own, one I certainly empathised with. We must remember that this is a post-pandemic world where the main threads of human decency are in short supply.
At the end of The Last of Us Part 1, Joel has a choice to make that any Father, myself included, would make easily. I would save my child from death 100% regardless of the ramifications. Having a child as Joel did is why I probably identified with him so much in Part 1.
With that said, the flip side to this shows Joels inability to put his feelings aside to perhaps save humanity. It is that level of humanity that is at odds. Joel at the end of The Last of Us decides to murder the fireflies and disappear with Ellie condemning the world to survive and continue on without this possibility of a cure.
The Last of Us Part 2 see’s that choice come back to haunt Joel as he pays the ultimate price for his understandable decision.
In my opinion, the story is showcased superbly well in The Last of Us Part 2. I feel it is an attempt to show the other side to Joel’s actions and the consequences of such.
Upon seeing many reviews and comments I can understand some fans frustration with Joel passing away but that was the narrative the developer chose and to me, it works. I love the character Joel but understand from playing the first game that he was no saint. This is mentioned in TLOU1 and 2 and thus, paves the way for Ellie’s journey.
Enter Abby a new character to The Last of Us franchise. She is the daughter of the murdered surgeon who was due to perform the surgery on Ellie at the end of The Last of Us Part 1.
Id put forth that many fans forget that Abby hasn’t been on a journey with Joel and Ellie like they have. She has no emotional attachment to those characters whatsoever apart from deep-rooted anger towards Joel for killing her father. Many fans may be so entrenched in the idea of Joel and Ellie riding off into the sunset stomping some clickers on the way that they have perhaps lost sight of the harsh reality in which TLOU games are set.
The game makes a statement that breaking the cycle of revenge is something that needs to take place for there to be peace and that it can be something that is given no matter the actions taken. Considering the world they inhabit it takes a huge effort for Ellie to overcome her anger, additionally, it is a true emotional pay off that Abby turns a corner to become what everyone hopes they are deep down…..a good person.
I honestly can’t remember a story like this ever taking place before in a video game. To me, it is truly unique. The nuance that is needed to take on board both sets of emotions and the actions that are played out are possibly too much for some and this is perhaps why the game has such a polarising effect.
The Last of Us Part 2 is a very bleak game and I have heard that many people say it is hard to take. I would counter this by saying there are moments of levity around every corner in this game. There are, of course, moments of joy & sadness that did bring a tear to my eye. I was and am surprised at how this game has affected me. It is a truly sad but worthy journey that I feel is deserving of your attention.
TLOU2 sets off as a story about revenge but becomes so much more as we get to know the events and characters involved. The true story here is one of breaking the cycle of hatred and violence that ultimately leads to peace. Love and the rediscovery of one’s self shine through and truly makes this an emotional rollercoaster. I thoroughly enjoyed this game as it made me question what I would do if I was in Joel, Ellie or Abby’s place.
An emotional piece of storytelling and a 100% masterpiece.
Will there be “The Last of Us 3”? Judging by sales so far, I’d say its a certainty. Given that TLOU2 took seven years I’d say we could expect part 3 to be here roughly around the end of the PS5’s lifecycle and do you know what?
I’m more than happy to wait if its anywhere near as good as this game.
Bonus:- Go and listen to “Future Days” by Pearl Jam after playing TLOU2, especially if you want to ball your eyes out again!
- Texture Maps – 10
- Character Skins – 10
- Animations – 10
- Lighting – 10
- Optimisation/Bugs – 8
- Sound – 10
- Music – 8
- Voice Acting – 10
- Accessibility – 10
- Controls – 8
- Menu System/Crafting/Upgrades – 8
- Fun – 9
- Story – 10
13 separate elements averaged out to give a final score of…93%