June 12, 2020
No game captured the essence of human nature quite like The Last of Us. At our best, we're tender, sensitive and helpful to one another. At our worst, we're cruel and unscrupulous, capable of heinous, inhumane deeds. The Last of Us Part II runs with similarly challenging themes, as Ellie finds herself caught up in the middle of two warring factions, the odds stacked against her as she embarks upon a single-minded, vengeful mission. And it's every bit as uncompromising and brutally brilliant as its predecessor, placing you at the centre of a morally questionable world, in which you're kept on tenterhooks throughout.
A powerful, deeply affecting sequel, The Last of Us Part II is Naughty Dog operating at the height of its storytelling powers, unafraid to take risks, delivering an emotional gut punch of a game that consistently confounds expectations. As Ellie, your fight for survival is fraught with danger throughout, as you come face-to-face with monstrous infected and extreme, fanatical human factions given orders to kill you on sight. Among these is the Washington Liberation Front (WLF), colloquially known as the 'Wolves' – a well-trained, organised militia that's essentially taken over where the Fireflies left off in the first game.
Far from being one-dimensional flesh bags to fill with holes, however, enemies in The Last of Us Part II all have their own lives and stories to tell, and, as such, the game serves as an intelligent treatise on the futility of violence, in whatever form it might take. That violence comes in sustained, enormously tense bursts, which have the capacity to shock and disgust in equal measure. Fittingly, the brutality takes its toll on you and Ellie both (indeed, she visibly bears every cut, bruise and scar), while seeing the story from multiple sides makes you think twice about the various acts you're committing. Evidently, you'll learn that everything isn't as black and white as it may appear at first.
Regardless, you'll push your way from the relative peace of life in Jackson, exploring occupied Seattle, picking through seemingly abandoned buildings and encampments, systematically taking down humans and infected alike using whatever comes to hand. Ellie is smart and resourceful, of course, so you're able to craft tools and upgrade weapons out in the field, from simple medikits and Molotov cocktails, to trip mines and incendiary ammo. Supplement pills enable you to acquire upgrades to your abilities, while training manuals unlock new skill strands to augment Ellie's growing repertoire.
Myriad options present you with a range of strategies to adopt during enemy encounters, and, each time you do run into foes, the slightest misstep feels like it can erupt into a potentially fatal fracas. Bullets feel every bit as deadly as they should, and as they're in such short supply – found in quantities of one or two at a time – you'll find yourself obsessively hoarding them, maligning any time you miss a shot and fail to make the most of what few resources you do manage to scrape together. Sometimes, a merciless, ruthless swing of a lead pipe or plank augmented with duct tape and scissor blades is the only way to go, when things get truly desperate and your back is against the wall. There's always a way out of even the most seemingly insurmountable scenario.
Impeccably designed, every encounter in TLOU Part II is open-ended, enabling you to adopt stealth (tracking enemy outlines using the first game’s returning ‘Listen Mode’) or an all-out assault, making every clash with the Wolves or Scars (a group of sinister religious zealots) an exercise in sustained, heart-in-mouth tension that rewards patience and ingenuity. Scoped rifles and shotguns are joined by silent options like the bow and arrow or a handgun with makeshift silencer, while outflanking enemies enables you to grab and take them down quietly (though not without a struggle). While the action hews close to that of the first game, it's refined and immediate, selecting weapons via the d-pad the only fiddly thing to contend with when you're under pressure. Perhaps a radial weapon select menu might have been a little more efficient.
A near-faultless alchemy of story and gameplay, the pacing, too, is pitched to perfection. More contemplative moments, interspersed throughout Ellie's journey, gift truly memorable, often magical diversions from the harsh present she finds herself in. After some time exploring an open expanse of Seattle, The Last of Us Part II settles into a comparatively linear experience, allowing Naughty Dog to bring its narrative into sharp focus, ruminating on philosophical questions of good versus evil and the grey areas in between, as well as tribalism, obsession, and redemption, all explored through enthralling set-pieces and genuinely powerful story junctures that will often leave you reeling.
Human stories are peppered all over TLOU Part II's expansive world, be it in a mural on a wall, a hastily abandoned bedroom, a lone corpse clutching something in its bony fingers, or a simple note left behind for a loved one, breathing life into wholly believable environments. Notes and journal entries alone are well-written – indeed, this is one of the only games I've played where I voraciously consumed every little discarded scrap of paper and its contents, actively seeking out collectible odds and ends to learn more about what happened to people thrust into such a traumatic situation. It’s these smaller touches – connections that feel real in a post-apocalyptic world that’s lived-in and relatable – that imbue TLOU Part II with heart.
A culmination of every masterly story-driven title Naughty Dog has created to date, The Last of Us Part II is a bravura piece of work: an astonishing, towering accomplishment that raises the bar for what a video game narrative can say and achieve. Its unflinching, apparently senseless violence turns out to be anything but, and particularly during these times, in which we're witnessing the extremes of human nature, The Last of Us Part II is not only a remarkable, expertly-executed tale, it's also a chillingly plausible one that will stay with you forever.
A wonderful soundtrack supported by Gustavo Santaolalla's beautifully haunting, mournful guitar, alongside top-notch voice acting that combine to make this something that never fails to give you chills.
Truly astonishing. The Last of Us Part II raises Naughty Dog's world-building nous to an unfathomable level. Few games boast as much life and attention to detail, as well as genuinely affecting, human performances that elevate the game's cinematic, intense narrative drama.
Slick and intuitive, TLOU Part II plays brilliantly. AI can be skittish at times, companions occasionally getting in the way, while enemies sometimes congregate in the same spot, making them easy to pick off. None of these things conspire to mar the overall quality of the experience, however.
A stunning accomplishment, vast in scale and scope, beautifully polished and put together. Its 25-30 hour story can be harrowing and uncomfortable at times, but moments of levity are deployed brilliantly. Special mention should also go to the more than 60 accessibility options.
An excellent trophy list that encourages you to embark upon a New Game+ run (not that you'll need much convincing), with some neat secrets and objectives. Some collectibles can be a real sod to track down, though.
The Last of Us Part II is the very definition of a masterpiece. If you've already decided that it isn't for you, then you'll be missing out on one of the defining games of this generation and doing the entire undertaking a huge disservice. The Last of Us Part II is not only an exceptional game, it's also one with something pertinent and relevant to say. Absolutely unmissable.