It's been 7 long years since Naughty Dog's The Last of Us debuted and the sequel is finally here so let's see what Ellie has been up to.
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By far, the most impressive aspect of The Last of Us Part II is its jaw-dropping game world. Not only are its visuals the most spectacular out of any game that I've ever played, everything in the world seems real from the way that the overgrowth sways in the wind to how each empty house seems like someone used to live there. On top of this, the characters are animated exceptionally well. I mean, they have some exaggerated cartoonish expressions but that somehow makes them feel more authentic and lively. Anyway, simply exploring the environments for collectibles offers a breathtaking and rewarding experience and I frequently found myself stopping to admire sights such as gorgeous waterfalls and picturesque landscapes. Of course, there are gritty parts but I'll discuss those later.
Although working your way through the environments is a very immersive endeavour more often than not, one element that took me out of the immersion from time to time is the fact that some scenarios repeat a bit too many times throughout the campaign. Namely, you'll fall through weak floors on what seems like a dozen occasions only to end up in a sticky situation. Another repeated scenario is when you have to work your way from point A to point B and while at point B, you'll open a door which usually requires a quick-time event that makes you susceptible to being seen and heard by enemies. Although you'll overcome plenty of varied situations, these couple of events occurred too often which made me wish more originality was utilized to make these moments feel more distinct.
I should mention that The Last of Us Part II features oodles of accessibility options and even visually impaired individuals can enjoy the entire game which is just awesome. I experimented with these options and it's incredible what the developers managed to implement so gamers of all walks of life can enjoy what The Last of Us Part II has to offer. Now, that's taking immersion to the next level!
Throughout The Last of Us Part II, you'll battle a wide variety of enemies and each type has surprisingly unique behaviour which makes every encounter come across like a puzzle with multiple solutions. Of course, there's the infected which may run at you, grab and kill you instantly, or throw explosives at you and this time around, there are new kinds of infected such as stalkers which honestly scared the crap out of me. They basically scamper around and it's easy to lose track of them then they'll jump out at you from behind. Human enemies are even unique in that some are ragtag groups who use basic strategies, some have dogs that can sniff you out, and some are survivalists who communicate with their own whistle language. Obviously, the latter are the most intense to take on.
You can fight enemies with melee attacks, guns, arrows, and crafted items such as mines, Molotov cocktails, and shivs. No matter how you choose to fight, each battle will keep your stomach in your throat as you try and take out foes one at a time while ensuring that their comrades aren't alerted. In more intimate melee fights, you'll have to dodge and strike with perfect timing and it's quite a thrill. My only complaint about combat is that you'll sometimes be thrown into the middle of a battle with no explanation and figuring out what to do can be rather frustrating. For example, one boss kept killing me and I had no idea how to hurt it. Sometimes, you simply have to wait and other times, you may have to run away so it's irritating whenever it's unclear what you're supposed to do.
Even though fighting is mandatory on many occasions, you can work through a lot of situations simply using stealth which, in my opinion, is much more exciting than the combat. For starters, you can use your environment to hide behind walls or within grass and you can also throw things to make enemies temporarily distracted. I absolutely loved sneaking my way through seemingly impossible situations and it made me feel like Solid Snake all over again. On the other hand, the AI is sometimes kind of dumb such as when your NPC partner runs right up to an enemy and they don't even see them. Once, my partner hung back and I couldn't progress so I ran up to them and inched my way to the goal that I was already at and that was the only way I could get them to follow me and advance.
Another aspect of The Last of Us Part II that knocked my socks off is its practical puzzles. I usually don't enjoy solving puzzles in these kinds of games as you're often needlessly limited in what you can do. However, you can do almost anything you can think of here. To illustrate this, in an early puzzle, I thought, "There's no way I can throw this rope over this fence then climb over and use it on the other side." but that's exactly what I was supposed to do. Honestly, if they made a whole game where all you did was solve similar puzzles then I'd thoroughly enjoy simply playing through that. It's the most fun I've ever had solving puzzles in a 3D action adventure game.
Warning: the following 3 sections contain minor thematic spoilers and graphic descriptions of violence against uninfected humans.
"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent" - Isaac Asimov
In the bleak world of The Last of Us Part II, compassion is dead and only bloodlust remains. With that in mind; to disregard or justify the amount of repulsive acts committed by the cast of characters would be irresponsible. In fact, everyone in The Last of Us Part II's world has their hands figuratively and often literally dripping with blood. Sure, some characters are more depraved than others but only marginally so. As a result, I found it extremely difficult to root for any character; never mind put myself in their shoes.
All of this may sound harsh so allow me to share a few examples of violence against uninfected humans in The Last of Us Part II. You'll find yourself biting the ear off an enemy then jamming your thumb in the hole, ripping someone's cheek open with a knife thus exposing their teeth and jaw through the resulting gaping wound then pulling on their lower jaw to cause them more pain, and bashing someone's head in with a crowbar. Thankfully, that last example is merely implied but it's still utterly and shockingly disturbing.
Please keep in mind that these horrific acts of senseless violence are not optional which makes me wonder: did the developers intend to show that violence is wrong by presenting such disgusting imagery? If that's the case then shouldn't they have given the player the option to not perform such acts? Besides, if their whole point simply boils down to "violence only begets more violence" then showing such graphic scenes doesn't really help flesh out their message. I'd even argue that it's glorifying violence which makes it much more disturbing. Plus, with all of the accessibility options in place, it's surprising that the over-the-top violence remains mandatory.
I'll end with this: if The Last of Us Part II is intended to have an anti-violence message then I can easily say that the John Wick films are anti-gun, Cheech & Chong are anti-drugs, and Debbie Does Dallas is anti-pornography. We have enough violence in the world already.
The original The Last of Us told a simple story of survival, love, and hope. Believe it or not, the overarching story of The Last of Us Part II is even simpler as there is very little love and no hope. Speaking of which, that hope provided the main motivation in the original game and without it, the only thing that kept me engaged in The Last of Us Part II was to merely see what happens next. It's as if they took the tone that the first game ended on and extended it for an entire new campaign. Some people may find this alluring but I did not. Also, the infected don't play any role in the plot and they're sort of just there. This may be intentional to show that humankind is simply dealing with them at this point but I found that to make the story even more depressing and inconsequential.
As I've already discussed, every character in The Last of Us Part II is reprehensible to some extent. However, they do have their own stories and some of them are quite intriguing and complex despite the simplistic nature of the overarching plot. Although most characters are stubborn and don't evolve much throughout the story, the few that do make them somewhat relatable but it's still difficult to wholly embrace them with their past actions in mind. At the same time, you'll observe relationships blossoming as well as falling apart but to be frank, these moments felt more like I was reading a teenager's diary than witnessing adults handling their relationships in an unselfish and mature manner. Heck, one scene made me laugh out loud as it seemed like it was ripped straight out of an after-school special from the '90s. Whenever such cutscenes played, I couldn't help but feel like they jeopardized the momentum of the unfolding plot.
While the end credits rolled, I felt hollow, hopeless, frustrated, and downright disgusted. I'll never play through it again. With that being said; there's no denying that what The Last of Us Part II accomplishes with its visuals, mood, and gameplay is nothing short of amazing.
- + Fantastic practical puzzles, rewarding exploration, and visceral combat
- + Astounding graphics and sound
- + Amazing sense of tension throughout
- - Appalling level of violence that doesn't feel justified within the simple narrative
- - Some scenarios repeat too often
- - Plenty of frustrating moments