By: Dylan Lepore | @dylanslegos
The Last of Us Part 2 is a challenging game to experience. It takes a 32-hour toll on my heart and mind; however, it is also why I love and play videogames as Part 2 is the most unforgettable adventure I've ever witnessed in any media.
[This review contains no spoilers for The Last of Us Part 2; however, it may contain some significant spoilers for The Last of Us Part 1].
Unlike other mediums, in videogames I am actively playing a role in what's happening on the screen, and I can't say I'm proud of my actions in The Last of Us Part 2, but the game asks of you "what would you do if you were in Ellie's shoes?"
This question is not easy to answer with just a "Yes" or "No," but I do know one thing, Bill, from The Last of Us Part 1, was right when he said, "You know, as bad as those things are [the infected], at least they're predictable. It's the normal people that scare me."
The Last of Us Part 2 picks up right after the events of Part 1 in Jackson, Wyoming, playing as the grizzled father figure Joel, who is on patrol, chatting with his little brother Tommy, on the bloodshed Joel undertook to free Ellie from the Fireflies at St. Mary's Hospital, how he lied to Ellie, and how he plausibly stopped a vaccine for the Cordyceps Brain Infection (CBI) from ever being created.
After coming to Jackson with Ellie and having this exchange with Tommy, Joel seems no longer the ruthless survivor he once was in Part 1, which finally allows him to be the father figure to Ellie he always wished he was since Sarah, his actual 12-year-old daughter, was taken from him on Outbreak Day Sept. 26, 2013, and not even by someone who was infected.
The game then quickly skips five years later, passing the wheel on to Ellie, who is now 19 years old and has seemingly helped create a beautiful life for herself, Joel, Tommy, and others in the City of Jackson.
Ellie has been through relationships, friendship, arguing with Joel, survival training, ups, downs, learning how to swim, playing the guitar, and typical teen drama. Still, overall everything seems to be going well for them, as much as a post-apocalyptic world can offer, other than the ongoing threat of the gruesome evolving infected, desperate scavengers, and other societies of people with friendships and moral codes so paper-thin that you didn't even know a knife is in your back until it's too late.
Then a significant event happens that completely changes Ellie and the people around her, which sets Ellie on a ruthless journey of revenge to Seattle, Washington, as she hunts those responsible one by one in a physically devastating and emotional journey that had me shaking, tearing up, and angry as heck.
Before the second half of this game, I was enraged, only seeing red, furiously wanting the same revenge Ellie wanted, and then once you think the game is over, the second half begins.
I won't say much about this part of the game, but I was seriously questioning my notions of right versus wrong, good versus evil, and hero versus villain. I mean, lots of these scenes are tough to watch and play.
The Last of Us Part 2 draws a comparison to Spec Ops: The Line (2012), a sleeper hit, that upon the game's completion, showed that every life taken in the game meant something - that these are not just some generic enemies, but good people with families and lives. It's a hard lesson to catch on after years of mowing down countless enemies in games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield without a care in the world.
This thought process is something The Last of Us Part 1 didn't grasp as much until near the end; however, in Part 2, everyone has a background and story, and no roles are too small. Even when you take someone down, other combatants yell out that person's name like, "Oh no, they got Frank!" The worst part is when you take out an enemy with a dog before killing the dog, the dog goes to its owner and starts crying before seeking revenge on to you.
"I struggled for a long time with survivin'. And you- No matter what, you keep finding something to fight for."
The first hour or so in The Last of Us Part 2 acts as a tutorial for those unfamiliar with the controls of the original game, however, demonstrates new mechanics as well, such as switching Shoulder Swap to the Square button, allowing you to jump, dodge, prone to the ground, quick-swap, and even quick throw brinks and bottles to stun and strike your enemies to death.
The prone position in videogames is something the industry has struggled implementing for along time, which is simply lying on your stomach or back out of the way from your opponent's sightline. Moving your characters this way has always been stiff and clunky, but Naughty Dog, on the first attempt, has seemed to prefect that movement and make the prone position feel natural.
When you get knocked back on the ground by an enemy and quickly go for your weapon, you don't have to wait till you get up to strike, you can attack from the ground on your back with almost any weapon. Players can also hide under tables, trucks, and in Seattle's tall grass, go through your backpack, look around 360 degrees, and attack. It feels real and convincing, and I can't believe it's taken a post-apocalyptic game to get there.
Fighting The Big Fight
Instead of Part 1's simple Square button to attack or take out an enemy, Naughty Dog has brought their hand-to-hand combat from Uncharted 3 and 4 to the world of The Last of Us where you have to dodge, know when to strike, and learn your opponent's methods as they learn yours. Early on, learning these mechanics is necessary to understand since the developers have brought over brutes into the series. Similar to Uncharted's brutes, big mean-looking people, these guys aren't so easy to take out by hand, which offers nice little boss fights that further enhance Part 2's pacing; however, in some cases, you can shoot them in the head and go about your bloodthirsty journey.
Other features that evolve gameplay is the ability to break windows and glass to reach new areas. This new feature is not only an excellent highlight that offers more variety but makes the world seem open as fewer car windows and buildings are blacked-out, as was the case in Part 1. Even going the extra mile in adding far more working mirrors that don't offer much but take a reasonable amount of effort to implement and something I appreciate.
I'm Glad You Have My Back
In far too many games, allies can seem like a burden, but like most aspects of The Last of Us Part 2, I am quite pleased as allies have saved my life far more times than I can remember. For instance, once you get to Seattle, you are soon sidetracked into this vast open downtown Seattle area that makes Part 2 feel a sense of open-world and decision making, similar to a moment in Uncharted 4. I then began sneaking around in a downtown Seattle Bank quietly taking out infected, then suddenly I hit a bucket, and they all come after me. I was running and gunning trying to stay alive, they got me cornered, there's one clicker left, I'm out of health and ammo, and then bang, the clicker falls to my feet from the gunshot of my ally, my mouth dropped in awe, I was alive - intense and impressive all the same time.
Some other features include:
- Bringing over the rope mechanics from Uncharted 4, which Part 1 had but was limited to in-game cinematics.
- Having to solve safe combos instead of merely finding the code and pressing Square, and some safes are more straightforward to crack than others; however, it's worth noting that these codes seem not to change.
- Along with safes and combos, artifacts and maps have more meaning, and some can change throughout your playthrough.
- Plus oddly enough, learn how to play the guitar, this is not the best method but can be quite fun.
Crafting and Upgrading
It seems one of the questions Naughty Dog asks themselves repeatedly is, "why reinvent the wheel, when we can improve it?" Naughty Dog has taken mechanics from the Uncharted series and The Last of Us Part 1 to enhance, simplify, and overall streamline the player's experience in Part 2 - one of the best places to see that is within The Last of Us Part 2's crafting and upgrading system. For Naughty Dog, long are the days of complicated upgrade trees to bring in a new era of getting to the action without wasting time in menus and having upgrades that make a difference in gameplay and aesthetics.
First, upgrading weapons is a breeze with only four upgrades to choose from per weapon, which drastically compensate for weapon sway, reload speed, ammo capacity, zoom, and damage. These upgrades are incredibly efficient in combat and change the way the gun looks. Ellie physically takes each gun apart and crafts their attachments right before your eyes on one of the many crafting tables scattered throughout Seattle.
If you want these upgrades, it's a necessity that you search high and low for parts to create these improvements; however, depending on your playstyle some will want them, others will need them, and even some that don't use them at all as many of Part 2's encounters, players don't have to engage. Still, they're great to have when the time comes ... and it will come.
Upgrading Ellie is different as there are five trees to go through: Survival, Crafting, Stealth, Precision, and Explosives. Survival is your pre-unlocked default tree and is highly recommended to fully upgrade first as it helps enhance listen mode and increases overall health, which are both beneficial in all situations. One downside is that you have to go through each tree in order from first to last to unlock all upgrades where some upgrades may seem redundant, for instance: twice upgrading how many times you can use a silencer before it breaks. However, most upgrades can help you craft faster, improve weapon handling and accuracy, learn to more efficiently blow up stuff, and make explosive arrows - which the last one is just fun to use.
The four other trees (Crafting, Stealth, Precision, and Explosives) can be unlocked by finding survival training magazines that no longer are used for one-off insta-upgrades like making shivs more durable as in Part 1. These magazines are relatively easy to find ... that is if you are looking; however, some do require solving a small puzzle to obtain, which are quite fun as the game made me feel smart for overcoming the puzzle and rewarded me with the unexpected magazine.
New Enemy Types
There are newly infected, such as Shamblers and evolved Stalkers. Shamblers are called Shamblers, well, because they shamble over to you and try to secrete an acid-like fluid to burn your face off. These guys tend to be on the same difficulty level as the other infected; they're just newer. My tactic usually on Normal difficulty, similar to Woody Harrelson in Zombieland, is to stand in one spot, throw a bottle, and toss a few Molotov cocktails there way because the less ammo I have to use, the better.
But for Stalkers, it's a little harder, as they are better at hiding and finding you before you find them, plus they are faster than there fellow infected. These Stalkers add a much-needed layer to the combat as there are more cases where I'm hunting rather than being hunted. I advise a fully loaded shotgun for Stalkers as it's rare ever to catch one-off guard.
For uninfected, Naughty Dog's AI seems smarter than before. Still, they seem to fall for the same tricks, however, with the introduction of brutes and dogs, both mentioned earlier, the dogs make sneaking around more difficult as they can smell you if your nearby, which then you can either move further way to lose the dogs smell or try to take out the dog. While sad, I go for the latter.
Graphics and Sound
The Last of Us Part 2 has some of gaming's best graphics to date, and that starts from the opening scene of Jackson in the Fall to the dark and infected sewers of Seattle. There is no detail too small as the world is populated by books, letters, fake advertisements, company meetings, graffiti, animals, engravings on the player's guns, tags, knick-knacks, PS3's, Dungeons & Dragons spoofs, and so much more. The world of The Last of Us Part 2 feels real and lived in with character, charisma, and passionate game design at its core.
Along with Ellie's workbench animations, players can see Ellie put items in her backpack instead of what videogames usually do, wave a hand over their bag, and an item magically goes in there. There is no part in The Last of Us Part 2 that feels out of the scope of reality, that what Ellie is capable of doing, how she does it, and the events that follow all feel possible - even down to Part 2's collectibles.
The cards and letters that Ellie finds throughout the world don't feel like randomly placed dragon eggs in Spyro. No hidden items are hanging in trees or located in areas where they wouldn't be in real life. They add value, and I'm happy to admit that I read everything because the world kept pulling me in. What Part 1 and Part 2 did so well is creating letters and artifacts that are simple, short, and easy to read that come with its own stories and added lore that entices me to learn more.
The sound mixing and Gustavo Santaolalla music make The Last of Us Part 2 an emotionally involved, surreal, and beautiful videogame that pulls at your guitar strings like no other experienced I've witnessed before. It's beautiful, ugly, and sad all at the same time.
After completing the game, I tried a bit of Part 2's New Game+, where you can play through the game again with all of the upgrades and equipment obtained from your previous playthrough. When choosing a new difficulty, you can either pick between Very Light, Light, Moderate, Hard, and Survivor.
Nothing new there; however, Naughty Dog has implemented a new feature called Customize Challenge where instead of making the entire game Light or Hard you can make different aspects Lighter or Harder such as the player's damage intake, how aggressive enemies or allies are, and how common or scarce gathering resources can be. Along with helping add more accessibility options (which I'll talk more about below), having Customize Challenge allows for more than 120 ways to play through Part 2, which is fantastic. Still, emotionally, I'm already having trouble getting through another playthrough.
Jump to Anywhere
Once you play through Part 2, you can jump back to different Chapters and Sections within those Chapters. Plus, The Last of Us Part 2 tracks all of your Artifacts, Trading Cards, Journal Entries, Workbenches, and Safes opened through your playthrough. It will tell you which Chapter and Section you missed something in, so you can easily find them, as the Platinum in Part 2 is more accessible to obtain than Part 1.
Furthermore, players who want to get to the action, can jump to what Nauataty Dog states as Encounters - it's similar to jumping to Sections within a Chapter. These Encounters are great for experimenting with weapons and routes you wouldn't think of before. Even if you die or waste material, you can either restart from checkpoints or use the "Restart Encounter" feature to start from the very beginning with all of your material intact.
Options and Accessibility
The Last of Us Part 2 is the most customizable and accessible 3rd person action-adventure narrative-based game I have ever played on console, and it works well. Naughty Dog isn't worried about people using these setting to cheat, make the game easier, or get trophies faster. They want people to use their features, as it's blatant that they just want everyone to play their game. Like Part 2's other game mechanics, these are unnecessary but highly appreciated and add way more to the game than you might expect.
Players can completely customize controls, aim assist, HUD (you can even turn it all off), in-depth subtitle setting, adjusting audio to a T, and language setting.
- Alternat Controles allows you to change how a player interacts with something like turning on Auto Pick-Up, which automatically picks up nearby ammo and parts. Auto Pick-Up is excellent for not having to smash Triangle all of the time.
- Magnification and Visual Aids allows enhancing the HUD for players who are Colorblind and/or have trouble seeing.
- Navigation and Traversal enable players to have an Enhanced Listen Mode, automatically perform specific actions when the game senses it's time for something or near something, adding a Ledge Guard, so players don't fall to their death and a Skip Puzzle option.
- Text-To-Speach and Audio Cues allow players to have a slightly creepy voice automatically read text to you and provides audio cues and vibrations when specific in-game actions need to take place.
- Combat Accessibility is designed to make combat accessible for all players. Still, they can significantly alter gameplay such as turning on Hostages Don't Escape, Enemies Don't Flank, Turning off Weapon Sway, or even turn on Reduced Enemy Accuracy and Preception.
- There are also settings for Motion Sickness.
The Last of Us Part 2 is nothing I can say I have ever experienced before. It's emotionally complicated, dark, beautiful, scary, and real. Part 2 pushes the PS4 to its limits creating gameplay that's slick, immersive, and heart-pounding with a narrative that would make the toughest men cry. It fulfills every promise made in Part 1 and then some. The Last of Us Part 2 is an experience not everyone will love because of Naughty Dog's 'pull no punches' game design, as it seems they make games as if it were their last. Part 2 is a human story with significant ups and downs, and I felt as scared and nervous as Ellie in every step of the way with a second-half and ending that kept me up thinking about life, values, and if Ellie was at all justified in her actions. By far, The Last of Us Part 2 is not a perfect game, but is nothing short of a masterpiece. Endure and survive.
10/10 - Masterpiece
The Last of Us Part 2
Release date: June 19, 2020
Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Developed by: Naughty Dog
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment