When Naughty Dog announced they were making a sequel to the PlayStation 3 system seller The Last Of Us I was incredibly dubious. Even with the beautiful trailers and game footage leading up to the release of The Last Of Us Part II I couldn’t help but feel that I wanted the story and characters of this world left alone and for them to instead produce a new IP. In this review I avoid discussing the story and focus on the key elements; as such it is as spoiler-free as I could get it but does allude to some of the elements that make up the game.
The Last Of Us Part II has some big boots to fill with its predecessor arguably being the best game of the last generation and an excellent swan song to the PlayStation 3. After 4 years of teasers and footage, Part II is finally here, 7 years after the original and capitalising on the power of the PlayStation 4 despite nearing the end of the current generation.
The Last Of Us Part II tells the story of Ellie, Joel and various new faces as we see the aftermath of the infamous ending of the 2013 game. You get to see new locations and new conflicts arise with a religious cult (the Seraphites) and a much more organised, almost military-like entity (the WLF); all whilst also dealing with the deadly infected.
The Last Of Us had relatively simple gameplay mechanics that took inspiration from many games before it; simple shooting, a rudimentary crafting system and a basic skill tree allowed you to tailor how you played whilst not distracting you from the goals at hand. With some stealth mechanics mixed in and enough room in the levels to explore it really felt like a tight and grounded experience.
What The Last Of Us Part II does so well is it takes all of the mechanics seen in Part I and evolves them. This is all fuelled by the truly excellent level design and very natural feeling AI of enemy grunts. Gone are the days of static patrols and short-sighted soldiers unleashing hell the moment you’re seen. You’ll notice that enemies on alert will try and track you down (without miraculously knowing your exact location), by peering around corners to try and find you; even on their normal patrols they’ll dawdle or move their heads around to make sneaking up quite unpredictable and challenging.
Fortunately for the player the game truly lets you take control of how you want to approach these situations; my personal style is to start off as stealthy as I can to either get into the perfect position or thin out the enemy before I get overwhelmed. I found, for the most part, this worked really well and I always felt like I knew how things would unfold – interestingly it’s at these points you start to notice the attention to detail that Naughty Dog has delivered. As bodies start to get found or you kill someone in plain sight you’ll hear another the other guards yell “Oh no, Alan?!” or “my god, Lucy”; that’s right Naughty Dog has named every single NPC in the game to add a little depth and character to proceedings – and with that potentially some guilt as the story unfolds and you start to recognise dialogue, notes or belongings relating to these characters.
A mentioned above the level design in The Last Of Us Part II is incredible; there is so much to explore in an otherwise linear experience and with that collectables, crafting material and most importantly new weapons and items for upgrading. When you’re engaged in an encounter you’ll find so many different ways to navigate your way around you can truly run around as loud or as quiet as you want and cause distractions and chaos in your wake. One small let down is that early on you’re presented with a massive open area to explore with landmarks and small enclosed sections; however, this only happens once and I was really hoping this would happen a handful more times throughout the game as it really did give you a taste of what the world had become these 20+ years after outbreak day.
At a high level The Last Of Us Part II has a repeating gameplay loop; enter a new area and check for enemies, if all is clear start exploring and finding ways into all of the buildings, piece together any notes you find and use that to get every time you can from the safes or locked rooms in the area, craft everything you can and upgrade your gear and skills and then move on. What is truly a testament to the level of detail and design though is that this never gets repetitive with each area being so unique and the enemies being so varied you’ll always be on your toes.
I’d be remiss not to mention that the mechanics aren’t perfect; often you’re forced into a gunfight you’d rather have snuck around or an infected will track you to your exact location despite being triggered by an unrelated event on the other side of a room – but these moments are so few and far between it wasn’t much of a detractor.
I played The Last Of Us Part II on a PlayStation 4 pro using a 4K, HDR-enabled TV and it is quite frankly the best-looking game I have ever played. There is such a rich variety of locations you’ll see jungle, snow, sand and the ruined city streets of Seattle.
It’s one thing to just watch the screen without moving and see all the little detail such as debris blowing in the wind or the sheer volume of leaves and plants that make the world feel full but when you start to explore this world and have small pieces of detail start to jump out at you it really does make the world feel alive.
It was also satisfying to have a PlayStation exclusive that didn’t rely on the yellow markings to highlight what you can grab on to. There is so much overgrown flora it does this job for you by leaving some parts exposed or by drawing your eye without ever looking out of place.
I can’t think of a single area in the game that could have been touched up or needed work and I am certainly looking forward to the inevitable PlayStation 5 upgrade of this game to really see how things pop.
Whilst the environments of The Last Of Us Part II look incredible the real tour de force is the characters in the game. This game is quite frankly a masterclass in voice acting, motion capture and character animation that gives every single story beat or encounter an added level of realism that’s unparalleled. Whilst games like Gears 5 set a new standard for visual fidelity and Cuphead and Ori show what can truly be done with a unique art style Naughty Dog are the masters of characters and performance capture.
The soundtrack for The Last Of Us Part II is really good. The music knows exactly when to ramp up to add tension and then completely disappear to fill your speakers with ambience.
At certain points you may find yourself struggling to actually hear what is being said if you’re close to a waterfall or there’s some heavy action taking place at the same time but with the accessibility options on offer you’ll likely be able to tweak things to just how you like them.
There’s also some surprising use of licenced music at parts – one Pearl Jam song you’ll not only hear on several occasions but it will form a strong emotional bond with certain scenes and how they play out.
My entire playthrough of The Last Of Us Part II clocked in at around 29 hours and that was with a decent chunk of the collectables but certainly not all of them. Upon completion, you’re able to access New Game + and also chapter select which enables you to revisit specific areas looking for elusive trading cards or coins. I would hazard a guess that to complete the game to 100% and unlock the platinum trophy you’d potentially be looking between 32-40 hours depending on how thorough you were on your initial run through the game.
There’s also a separate menu that acts as a chapter select but specifically for the encounters of the game which is quite a neat addition if you want to hone your skills or repeat a particularly good fight.
I will say the game is perhaps a little bloated in a few places and the pacing is really strange at times; I can think of at least 3 or 4 large sections of gameplay that you could remove from the game entirely without ruining it however for those who like to get value for money when purchasing your games you will certainly find it here.
Ultimately almost everything about The Last Of Us Part II is an upgrade of what came before; the expansive level design, the in-depth encounters and the performances prove Naughty Dog to be market leaders in their craft.
Unfortunately one of the biggest challenges that Naughty Dog had is following on from the ending of the first game; the ending that left some fans wanting more and others wanting it to stay as a standalone game. Unfortunately, it does not quite deliver the unique tale I had hoped for – The Last Of Us Part II has given us incredible characters and amazing set pieces but is ultimately wrapped up in quite a generic plot with some strange choices made at key moments that really try and force your emotions. That being said if you’re not playing games for the story or this story resonates with you regardless then you’re not going to have a problem.
The craftsmanship Naughty Dog put into their games is really unrivalled and it’s hard to believe what they’ve managed to achieve on, relatively speaking, out-dated hardware – whatever they have planned on the PlayStation 5 is truly going to be mind-blowing. Hopefully, if they revisit the world of The Last Of Us it will be from a new perspective that can really capitalise on showing what has become of the world after the outbreak.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.
For more articles from Jay, click here