Sony’s first party studios have carved out a niche of delivering stellar story-heavy action adventure games, usually in third person perspective. The God of War reboot and Horizon Zero Dawn have been important games to the PlayStation 4 and have cemented Sony’s console as the best place to play these type of narrative driven games. Naughty Dog really are the masters of this type of story-telling, their character studies are unlike anything else in the industry (with the possible exception of Ninja Theory) and The Last of Us Part 2 goes further than any other mainstream game. Here is my full review of The Last of Us Part 2.
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD The Last of Us Part 2 takes the player on a journey of revenge, a well trodden path that many games and films have gone to before, but it’s the games execution that sets it a part from the rest. You take on the role of Ellie from the first game, this time all grown up with a extra dash of angst – told through flashbacks we learn that Ellie has grown distant from her father figure Joel since the events of the first game, it plays into one of the many themes of the game – actions have consequences. An early event which sees the brutal murder of Joel at the hands of new character Abby is a gut punch, an emotional and unsatisfying end to a character you grew to love in the previous game – killed by a woman who dispenses of the man with what seems like glee. It’s hard to witness and Ellie’s cries of anger are devastating and a reaction most gamers will feel along with her. All this emotional pull comes in the first 2-3 hours of the game, in any other mainstream game this would have been a finale or a lead up, but The Last of Us dares to be different.
The game challenges your perspectives on where a videogame narrative will venture. As you play through the storylines of two characters entwined together with completely different outcomes. Both characters illicit sympathy, you will question their actions and yet still understanding their motives. They are both equally complex and chapter concluding flashbacks provide insight into the actions the characters take. This is a style of storytelling rarely done in videogames and it’s incredibly compelling – it’s incredible how the two scenarios both mirror one another and the first game in tandem. It’s deftly put together, and mostly works. The pacing struggles to juggle the narrative in the third act of the 2nd character campaign, it starts to feel a bit “hollywoodised” and limps towards its conclusion instead of the thrilling climax it deserved – it feels a bit silly and out of place. It’s shame this section made into the game, it’s in stark contrast to the rest of the game – it felt more like a Resident Evil game, which in some ways might be unavoidable due to both games featuring the “undead” but after such thought provoking character studies in the preceding chapters it feels wrong, some odd choices were taken here and I feel without them the game length might have been more digestible as well. Luckily as the 2 campaigns converge in the last few hours the game it gets back on track to an emotional and satisfying resolution.
The Last of Us Part 2 has a by-the-numbers plot with truly ground-breaking story about revenge, forgiveness, bereavement and the consequences of violence. The narrative will divide gamers, but it’s worth experiencing – no other videogame has dared to tell a story with this much depth and that’s including the first game.
GAMEPLAY AND GRAPHICS
To put it bluntly this is one of the most impressive looking games that’s ever been made. Lush vegetation scales the walls of the abandoned buildings, decaying furniture litters houses and the grass moves in the wind and realistically deforms from character impact. It’s seriously impressive. Water effects, particle effects and lighting are all stunning, the dark rooms filled with spores illuminated by just your flashlight look particularly fantastic. The environments feel like real, lived-in places – it’s very immersive and believable – small details like graffiti, mould and trinkets left behind from survivors add another level. The game is mostly linear, but deceptively open, barring your initial arrival in Seattle you are led through a series of open combat zones and enclosed corridors to traverse and yet the game feels like it’s open world and you can go anywhere, you can’t but it’s very clever level design none-the-less. Character models are beautifully detailed – the motion capture is best in class, with emotions being convincing portrayed – clothing and skin looks as close to real as this generation has ever gotten, Naughty Dog have set an incredibly high bar for their next game.
The gameplay loop is similar to the first; Walk through the environment in heavily scripted information dumps, stealth combat, loot, traverse environment, rinse and repeat. For a game that takes around 30 hours the gameplay does lose it’s lustre in the latter hours of the game. That’s not to say the gameplay is bad, combat is violent and satisfyingly crunchy. Pulling off a head shot with a bow whilst prone in tall grass is a buzz and solving the riddle of how to take on each stealth scenario can pose a credible challenge. The weapons are varied and each comes with its own sets of positive and negative attributes for use in each situation. Bombs and molotovs can be crafted on the fly to cause distractions or off enemies without giving away your location. It works well and at points can be a real thrill – human enemies and infected enemies provide variation and forces you to slightly change tactics for each encounter.
Other parts of the combat don’t fare quite as well. Enemy AI is dumb and will often walk into danger alone despite the characters being aware of your presence, meaning you can take out 2-3 enemies from one location without moving. Another aspect the game doesn’t really try and should, is to force the player into being more aggressive. I appreciate the game is stealth focused but with bombs at the players disposal it feels like a missed opportunity to not use them, it makes little sense for enemies not to form close groups when there’s 2/3 of them left to take out, Batman Arkham City is a good example of this, as it truly tests the player to fully change tactics on the fly as the enemies work together to find you – something The Last of Us doesn’t do. The samey-ness of the combat wouldn’t be an issue had the game only been 20 hours, but stretching this out over 30 hours makes it wear thin, to the point where I rolled my eyes at yet another combat scenario. Follower AI is also poorly utilised, occasionally they provide helpful assistance, but more often than not they do little to help and break immersion by running in front of enemies who never see them.
Music and sound ties the whole game together beautifully. The score goes for understated guitar strums over an operatic string section, it’s in perfect harmony with the setting and story. The voice acting is the best in the industry with each character having convincing, realistic and heart wrenching performances. The sounds of the clickers and runners is truly unnerving especially in the early game, also using environmental noise and silence to great effect – it’s all very tense and well incorporated.
The Last of Us Part 2 is a crowning achievement in videogame storytelling, a deep character study where few other games will dare to venture. Though not perfect the game, it is a flawed masterpiece that should be experienced by anyone with even a passing interest in videogames.
- Excellent storytelling
- Beautiful environments
- Compelling and complex characters
- Satisfying combat encounters and weapon variety
- Incredible performances from the entire cast
- Too long and too reliant on samey combat
- AI of human enemies could be improved