No Rest For the Wicked: Our Review of The Last of Us Part II

Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us was one of the most well-received and polished action adventure games of not only the last generation, but of all time. Its story was captivating and endearing, its world-building was immersive and engrossing, and its gameplay was tense and realistic.

It is probably my responsibility as the reviewer of its sequel then, to admit to you that The Last of Us is my absolute favorite game of all time. I did however, do my best to play through The Last of Us Part II while setting aside all of my pre-conceived notions and anticipations and my experience was all the better for it.

This game is definitely going to be decisive amongst the fanbase of the first game mainly due to the fact that it was made to be so. There is little to no fan service to be found in this game but there is an experience that you are likely to never forget.

Let me give you some of my thoughts and observations in each category of review.

Gameplay

The core structure of gameplay hasn’t been changed all that much from the original but what changes were made are definitely improvements if only minor ones.

You will still make your way along a linear path gathering supplies, wait for some kind of indicator that enemies are around, scout out their numbers and locations, take out as many as you can stealthily, and ultimately run around from cover to cover taking the rest down or attempting to re-establish stealth.

Accessibility Options

Accessibility options for gamers are present in this game and are actually quite extensive. They range from changing color modes and indicators for color blind people to a visual indicator of stealth for those who have difficulty hearing the normal cues. These options are great for gamers to have and are easily turned off for those who don’t need/ want them.

Crafting/ Collectibles

Crafting remains largely the same but new items and variations of items to craft means more choices to be made and opens up the chance for individual play styles to show through. One new addition, the silencer for your standard pistol, forces you to use crafting supplies that could be used for medkits, Molotovs, or either one of the very useful explosive devices.

Crafting supplies are also located a bit more believably in the world this time around. Scissors and tape are found around classrooms and near reception desks, canisters and water are found in kitchens and restaurants, and explosives are found near other ammunition in armories or garages. These small details are what help a Naughty Dog game to feel so immersive and lived-in.

The amount of collectibles per level is about on par with the first game. Most of them are pretty easy to spot with a bit of general sleuthing but this game goes out of its way to reward players that go out of theirs. There were even a handful of cutscenes and story elements that I came across that I know for a fact many players will miss their first time through.

Artificial Intelligence

The AI in this title is definitely a step above any other Naughty Dog game that I have played to date (which now that I think of it is all of them). Each human faction that you will come across has unique fighting styles and methods of communicating with each other that really helps sells them as actual people living in this messed up place.

The way they will call out each others names in horror as you take each one down really makes you hesitate just a little bit to put an arrow in their back and all of this is truly by design. Every aspect of this game seems geared toward making you count the cost of what you are trying to accomplish and it does it all to great effect.

Re-establishing stealth is a bit more tricky this time around as enemies do a better job of flanking you and keeping an eye on you as you run around. Smoke bombs and vegetation for you to crawl through will help you to hide again, but once the enemies in an area are alerted their observation of you becomes almost instantaneous.

The infected still leave something to be desired in my book though. A handful of new variations and surprises helps to bring back some of the tense gameplay from the early hours of the original, but most encounters fall a little flat especially near the end.

Shooting Mechanics

Once again the look and feel of the third person shooting gameplay feels roughly the same as before. It can be a bit jarring at first but the mechanics are purposefully intended to be a bit clunky and weighted. Everything is intended to make you feel like a real and fallible person and not some zombie-slaying god of the apocalypse.

Near the end of the experience I found myself hitting just about every shot that I was taking. Part of it was due to the upgrades that I has been making for each weapon along the way and part of it was due to experience and practice as this is quite a long game, especially for Naughty Dog.

All in all, the shooting gameplay is serviceable and works well, but isn’t anything revolutionary or note-worthy.

Level Design

The Last of US Part II has some of the best single player level design that I have ever had the privilege to play through. Moving from one location to another feels seamless and well though out, enemy encounters start off large and foreboding and can easily move into tighter, smaller areas after the shooting starts, and verticality now plays a much larger role making connecting areas feels massive at the same time.

The locations this game takes you to are varied and incredibly realized. No building or set piece ever feels like it has been placed there for the sake of being there but rather it all fits like what we know of the world today. There are multiple avenues to take through every major area of the game yet it still does a great job of making your overall objective obvious to you as far as where you are supposed to end up.

Also there is a semi-open world section early on in the game similar to what Naughty Dog did with Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. It suffers from the same problems that it had in that game as well in that it was hard to tell what areas were important and what areas were dead ends. This was made a bit easier though due to a map with helpful markings on it.

Environmental Puzzles

There are some who have already gone on record as having hated the environmental puzzles in this game but I could not stand farther away from that position if I tried. I loved the puzzles in this game because for possibly the first time in a video game they were all believable. There are far less conveniently placed ladders and pallets and there is more of a reliance on physics-based puzzle solving and ideas.

As a matter of a fact, the puzzles are so cleverly integrated into the environment that you wouldn’t be faulted for missing a lot of them entirely even if you were looking! Don’t get me wrong, the puzzles aren’t difficult at all, but they aren’t meant to be either.

These puzzles are meant to be a short and sweet diversion from what is otherwise a very tense and dark game and they do their job well.

Violence

This not the most violent video game that I have ever played (although it is up there), but it is definitely the most real feeling violent video game out there now. This is sure to be a point of contention as many have already stated that it was too much for them to handle but once again it serves a very specific purpose within Naughty Dog’s overacting narrative in this game.

Shooting someone in the head with flame rounds from a shotgun does exactly what it sounds like that might do to them and shooting someone in the leg with a high powered rifle will remove it, leaving them screaming in agony and begging you to end them.

While the temptation is to persecute Naughty Dog for adding that level of detail into a game such as this, it is best to remember that this game is there for a very specific set of fans and there are many other types of games available for other people. Violence for the sake of violence isn’t really my cup of tea, but it has a purpose and a place in an experience such as this one.

Graphics

For several years now there have been a handful of game developers who continue to push the boundaries of what we thought was possible and Naughty Dog is definitely among that list. This game is gorgeous in every way and extremely easy to lose yourself in. The impressive motion capture work really stands out in this game and might be the best I have ever seen up to this point.

Naughty Dog basically performed this exact same feat with the first game back in 2013 as the Playstation 3 was winding down its life cycle, pushing that console to its absolute limits and showing us what to expect from our next-gen experiences. Simply speaking, they have done that again and set a new bar for developers to follow going into the ninth generation of gaming.

Atmosphere/ World-Building

All the graphical fidelity and resolution in the world couldn’t save a game that was bland in its environments though, so it is a good thing that that is not a problem with The Last of Us Part II. I have played enough games to be able to spot overused or low poly-count assets and there aren’t any to be found here.

I actually counted eight different colored and designed containers that could be picked and used in crafting. Whichever one happened to finish off the necessary requirements for a silencer or an explosive device, that particular container would visibly be a part of whatever you crafted which is an astounding level of detail!

The environments are as terrifying as they are beautiful with overgrowth and fungus covering just about every surface that you see. If the first game was witnessing nature in its infant stages of taking back the landscape, this game is seeing it leap forward into adulthood.

Locations are varied and interesting and each major set piece such as a beached yacht or a hardware store (a clear knock-off of Home Depot) is begging to be explored and scavenged for its secrets. The safe puzzles in particular were some of my favorite moments of this game as they are all contextual-based and rely on your observation skills as you move through the world.

Even though I know I will say the same thing in five years, it is beginning to become incredibly difficult to imagine games being more immersive and real than what we have with this one.

Animations

Let me get right to the point on this sub-category, The Last of Us Part II has hands down THE best cutscene and gameplay animation work that I have been able to see. Facial animations have a slight “uncanny valley” feel to them at various points, but other than that the work here is flawless. It is a standout feature of this title that I doubt will be passed by any game anytime soon, even with next-gen titles right around the corner.

Gameplay animations in particular are fluid and natural. The way the camera presses in for a close combat encounter animation only highlights what an excellent job they did in crafting them. I was never pulled out of the experience by any animation, big or small, and that is saying a lot because that is usually where games fail to feel real for me.

Performance Issues

I only had two or three extremely minor hiccups throughout my playthrough with none of them being game breaking at all. Once I had my frames dip slightly after being lit on fire (which could be due to the game loading up my death animation) and once more during a particularly “chaotic” portion of the game near the three-quarter mark or so (also had lots of fire).

Overall, everything ran smoothly and I really don’t have any complaints about bugs or glitches. That doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, I just didn’t come across any.

Story

This where the rubber will meet the road for most gamers, whether you were a fan of the first game’s masterfully told narrative or not. The clear and obvious theme of the first game was what we are willing to do out of love whereas the sequel is about how much we are willing to lose because of hatred.

This change is jarring, especially considering what most fans, including myself were expecting from a sequel to such a beloved game. I din’t think Naughty Dog would cash in with a safe, feel-good story, but I did not think they would literally flip the script this much either.

The story is a good one to be sure, if not even remotely close to what we expected in any way. Sadly, however, it does falter a bit in the final hours to really wrap things up in a memorable and meaningful way, which is by far my biggest complaint with the game and keeps the story from being as seemingly timeless and classic as the original.

Voice Acting

As always, Naughty Dog put together a great team of talented voice actors, most of which fans will already recognize. Troy Baker is once again phenomenal in his role as Joel Miller but the true standout in my eyes was Ashley Johnson as Ellie.

Without giving too much away, we see Ellie in many lights and in many stages of her life in this game and Ashley Johnson delivered Ellie’s character in a relatable and believable way for each of them.

Newcomer Laura Bailey was also asked to perform a nearly impossible task with her voice-over work and at least for me she ended up succeeding. I realize that she may not with every fan and that is more than understandable but I personally think she did a phenomenal job.

Those who have finished the game or at least its prologue may know what I mean by that. I will be going into more detail about how I feel about her character and story in a heavy spoiler-filled defense of this wonderful game to be published soon. I hope that if you are on the fence about getting this game for any reason you will give that article a few minutes of your time.

Narrative and Theme

As the credits rolled on my playthrough, I knew that this was a game that I would be thinking about and mulling over for a long time. It isn’t nearly as simple and as straightforward of a story as the original and as unbelievable as this is to say out loud, it isn’t as pleasant as the first one either. With many flashbacks and perspective shifts, I am sure that a second playthrough will be almost necessary for many players to come to grips with what this story is.

Because what it is… is real life. It is real people. Many times in this story characters do dumb things or unreasonable things in the name of vengeance and many cried foul saying that no one would ever do that but they are wrong. That is exactly how hurt people respond to things. They see nothing but revenge as their answer instead of seeing what they already have and what they have to lose.

If you had handed me a piece of paper in 2013 as I finished The Last of Us and asked me to pen a story for the sequel that I would enjoy, I could have written it one hundred times and I would have never come close to what was actually written for it. At first I was upset about that, even angry.

But as I pushed myself into the main body of this game, I realized that I needed to set aside my pre-conceived notions, submit to the story before me, and allow it to grab my attention like the original did. This is not a story that is meant to be enjoyed, it is meant to be pondered, considered, and ultimately appreciated.

My fandom of the first game wanted me to hate the direction that they took such beloved characters, but my appreciation for a well-thought out and expertly told, original story had me loving it in the end. To be fair and honest, I do not hold it in as high a regard as the original, but it did win me over in the end.

You could read all the reviews available for this story online and you still wouldn’t know how you would feel in the end. This game must be experienced before you can decide that.

Final Verdict

There were many times in the journey of The Last of Us Part II that made me wonder if Naughty Dog had messed up a guaranteed win, but it won me over in the end with a real and desperate, if at times tragic, tale of blindly pursuing vengeance.

It’s polished gameplay and visuals are on another level and the extra time and dedication that the developers took to perfect all of it really shows through. I would encourage every fan of the original to play this game with an open heart and mind and decide for yourself how you feel.

I have seen how some review sites have come under fire for their glowing praise of this game and while I am not completely head over heels about it or ready to name it “the best game of all time” like some are, I do find it to be a much better game than what many so called “fans” have claimed it to be.

It is more than okay to hate it, everyone has their own tastes and opinions that helps shape who we are, but if you give it a chance you just might discover what I did. A wonderful game that, although not as pleasant or heartwarming as the first, stands as both a worthy and worthwhile sequel to one of gaming’s greatest masterpieces.

Overall Score: 9.3 out of 10

Adam Rahn

From the moment I could pick up the controller of my family's Super Nintendo I have developed a deep and continuous passion for the world of gaming. From narrative-driven adventures to sprawling open worlds, my love for the medium has only grown with every new title on the horizon!

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