It’s one of the most hyped titles of the year – can The Last of Us: Part II live up to one’s epoch level?
This is a spoiler-free review of The Last of Us: Part II. However, the review may contain minor spoilers for the first game.
Infront of The Last of Us: Part 2, then we played through the phenomenal, first part again. The Last of Us set the bar at a whole new level for video games. It could easily be one of the world’s top 30 games in our book of all time. Just like the second, the game came at the end of a console generation (seven years ago), to Playstation 3) and released a few years later as a remaster with HDR for Playstation 4. And the game feels, if possible, yet crazier and more current today, 2020, than it did then. The matchless introduction; where an unknown virus spreads in record speed (!), in a US that is burning, looting and becoming more authoritarian (!!). The Last of Us: Part 2 has undeniably huge shoes to fill. Do they manage to surpass – or even reach – one’s excellence?
Since this is a world embargo on the review of TLOU2, we have some restrictions on what we can and cannot mention. We are also not looking to spoil the experience for someone who has it in front of them. Therefore, we will talk about the game and our experiences in quite broad terms.
Unlike one’s hair-raising introduction; where Joel and his daughter Sarah are forced to flee their home one night in Texas and concludes that Sarah will soon be shot to death by an army soldier who is sent to defend them – one of the most adrenaline-pumping and heartbreaking introductions in gaming history – then The Last of Us: Part 2 almost the opposite. Quiet. Leisurely. Thoughtfully. With Joel riding across a meadow towards sunset. He seems to have aged 15 years, even though only three years have passed. The story starts with a party in the small community of Jackson in Wyoming the night before getting a little too wet. One girl, who was with one of the guys in the camp, kissed Joel’s guardian Ellie on the mouth. The anxiety. The shame of the bar owner who used gibberish against them. You who have played the DLC, Left Behind, know what to expect here. This will be Ellie’s story and focus on her journey, both internally and externally. And above all, it’s a revenge story.
The Last of Us: Part 2 was hit by a major leak just over a month ago, where both pictures and storylines were spread online. Whether this leaked information is true or not, we cannot confirm or deny it. You who are curious and want to risk getting the game spoiled can google them. However, it is quite clear that The Last of Us: Part 2 is a tonally, quite different game from one – at least at first. Game director Neil Druckmann at Naughty Dog is socially engaged, and his beliefs are not hard to miss in the storytelling. It is very much about diversity and inclusion, something that is of course welcomed in the fairly “safe: a” gaming industry. At the same time, the action is quite heavy and a little writing on the nose, which means that the story does not really get that momentum or in its entirety is not as emotionally afflictive as we think the game creator intended – although here are tear-drop peaks. It all lifts as mentioned a few hours in, but the beginning is not quite successful – for a while it felt like a post-apocalyptic Dawsons Creek– episodes that were played, with kisses at the dump, snowball wars and acoustic guitar sessions.
Where The Last of Us: Part 2 raises the bar – as is usual in Naughty Dog contexts – is on the technical side and sometimes also game mechanical. The level set with the 2016 year Uncharted 4 are further refined here and once again the developers show how much you can squeeze out of Sony’s current console generation. Animations (check out the water!), Light handling (through HDR) and overall details are matchless – and although we’re convinced we will see a TLOU2 remaster on the upcoming PS5 – Naughty Dog keeps its “seamless” gaming world alive, a concept they already introduced in Jak & Daxtergames on Playstation 2. However, the technical limitations of this console generation are beginning to be properly reminded, and like Halo 5 then it is obvious that the system is struggling and forced to load textures “just in time” as you approach them (something we also looked at Final Fantasy VI remake, even on one PS4 Pro with SSD). The facial models are compelling, but not quite as photo-realistic as, for example Death Stranding and – although the animation is first class – there is something of an Uncanny Valley feel in the design, which makes the nuns feel almost completely authentic, yet computer animated.
The sound is also, just like one, extremely well-produced and deliciously mixed. This is a game that is really begging for a nice surround system. Experiencing it in stereo, on TV or in regular headphones simply doesn’t make the experience fair. You can really navigate the sound and everything panes perfectly as you move or rotate the camera around your own axis. However, the mix is not as intense as one, where only the introduction got the blood pumping (the sequence where everyone goes away in the car is extremely good example of how to use surround sound in games, pure reference class).
One element that should be highlighted is also how Naughty Dog chose to make the game available to a larger target group of players – in this case visually impaired – by offering a location where the characters are painted in clear, solid colors. Neat!
Pure game mechanics, 95% will feel familiar from the previous game, although this game offers a bit more Uncharted-inspired shoot-outs, simpler platform features and also some surprises we don’t intend to spoil. At the same time, it is still a fairly linear game, where the right direction is quite obvious and all you can gain from exploring the hooks is bonus material (overall, the availability of resources feels a bit more generous here, at a normal level of difficulty, than in one). The puzzle elements are fairly simple as well and mostly consist of finding or figuring out codes. An interesting spin-off would be a Last-Us in the open-world – is it possible that we will get it in a few years, on PS5?
Naughty Dog rarely disappoint us and The Last of Us: Part 2 is yet another triumph for the savvy company. The technology is fantastic, though not perfect (1440p resolution locked to 30 fps, even on the PS4 Pro, should easily be 4K at 60 fps – or more – on the PS5). That’s why we already long to relive it on Playstation 5, in an even sharper version. It is also, at least at first, a tonally rather different game from one and much of the play’s effect is based on your existing relationship with Joel and Ellie from the first game and Left Behind. That’s why Part 2 doesn’t quite hit as high as the original, in our book – despite some really strong and, not least, incredibly graphic violent scenes. It is a cruel game, with some incredibly tight action sequences that you will not soon forget. But the story still doesn’t feel quite as poignant and the gaming experience not as transformative as a whole, though of course, you become increasingly invested in our protagonists – and antagonists – the longer the game goes on.
A warm, recommended purchase for those who like action and adventure and even if the beginning feels somewhat limp, do not give up, here is one of the best technical and content gaming experiences of the year!