16th Jul2020

‘The Last of Us Part 2’ Review (PS4)

by Xenia Grounds

I’ll be honest. I’ve had over a week to really reflect on this game and I’m still digesting what it had to say. Prior to its release, there was already controversy thanks to the unfortunate leaks which I purposefully dodged which created backlash from fans saying it was a betrayal of the game or that Naughty Dog dropped the ball. It’s hard to make lightning strike twice especially if you had the monumental acclaim that the first part had so I wasn’t expecting the same thing to happen again but what The Last of Us Part 2 does is take things in a direction that won’t be for everyone but I think it’s different from anything that you would expect for better or worse.

To really delve into the story involves talking about massive spoilers and it’s where the heart of the controversies surrounding this game really lies and being vague won’t explain why the story has been so polarizing among the fanbase. Honestly, it’s another article in itself (hint, hint). The Last of Us Part 2 takes place five years after the events of the first game. Ellie and Joel have settled into Jackson and have got a pretty normal life all things considered in the post-outbreak world. However, this all comes crashing down after a mysterious group attack and Ellie decides to seek revenge which results in a lot of brutal violence and murder. The revenge theme has people split in the middle. Some see it as a lazy aesop saying ‘revenge is bad’ when in truth, it’s a bit more complex than that. Yes, this game does make it clear how revenge is a constant spiral but what I took away from it was how love can put anyone on a path of vicious hatred and how dehumanising it can be for the person and how they view others if that person is hurt enough. When the story starts, you are wholeheartedly on Ellie’s side but as the game goes on and you keep committing these horrible acts again and again, you can’t help but start to think about the other side of this. How Ellie must look in the eyes of others and if Ellie really is any better than the very people she’s fighting against. The story challenges you and removes that narrative bias for the player because it really goes into exploring both sides of the story. It’s made clear that there’ll be no catharsis or peace from going after the person that wronged Ellie but Ellie herself doesn’t realise that. In fact, the bleak reality hits you in the face so by the end, you aren’t longing for a final confrontation. You just want Ellie to walk away. The story is effective in that regard but the way it tells this narrative is divisive which I’ll have to talk about more another time.

The pacing is a point of understandable critique for many. There are a lot of time jumps in this game from present day to events that take place years and months ago regularly. There is a lot of ground to cover considering it’s been five years since we last saw Ellie and a lot has happened since the end of the first game. Also this game has a habit of getting things to a dramatic and tension-filled high point only to send you into an elongated flashback which kills the momentum the scene originally had going for it by the time you return.

Another thing that has been a subject of debate is how The Last of Us Part 2 handles certain plot points. The key plot thread that got most of us wanting a Part 2 was the lie Joel told Ellie which could have been its own game. It was heavily implied it would have massive consequences and to some degree, it does but not the ones people were expecting which can feel like a wasted opportunity to some. Another part of the story which has been critiqued is the guerilla warfare plot. In Seattle, there are two warring factions. One is military and the other is a religious cult. Both are interesting to learn about but being dragged into their war has no real consequence for any of the main characters. It reaches a climax in the last few hours of the game but you’re basically a witness to it rather than a key player in it. It feels like the game was building up to confrontations with certain people or leaders on both sides in the second half but it results in massive anticlimaxes to tie up loose ends which everyone quickly moves on from.

Moving onto the gameplay, there isn’t much change from the last game. Naughty Dog obviously expects you to have played the first game so there’s nothing more than brief refreshers at the beginning about how the combat mechanics and crafting works. You still have to sneak around infected or humans and strategically take them out one by one. If you get swamped by enemies then you are most definitely going to die unless you manage to find your way out of an area while under fire. There’s a lot of exploring and walking around to collect resources to craft weapons like trap mines, stun bombs, molotov cocktails. Depending on the difficulty you’re playing on, these resources can be hard to find so try to save weapons for when they are an absolute must. There are a few new enemy variants like dogs and new infected creatures. If you’re a dog lover then this game will already be tough because they track your scent and if you can’t lose them then you’ll be left with no choice but to brutally kill them. It could just be my experience but there were moments when I had an enemy in my sight and then inexplicably they managed to dodge my shot like they knew I was there even though there was no way they could have seen me. Admittedly because of the game’s thirty hour campaign, there are times where it starts to get repetitive especially the first half which is a lot of rinse and repeat of ‘get rid of a certain amount of soldiers or sneak around infected’ until you reach the next bit in the narrative which is just finding another target. The second half switches things up in a bold way narratively but also gameplay wise because it’s more action heavy, has proper boss fights and set pieces.

Graphically, Naughty Dog continues to deliver. The first Last of Us was a swan song for the PS3 and pushed it to the limits of what it could achieve and Naughty Dog has done the same here. It looks and sounds like the real world. You spend a majority of the game in Seattle and it’s absolutely stunning. Nature has completely overtaken the city where roads and pavements are covered in luscious grass, buildings are tilting over, animals are roaming free and the seas are raging. It makes you wish there was a bit more than rain for most of the game but it’s Seattle so at least it’s an accurate representation. Video game characters have never looked and felt so close to reality with their subtle changes in expressions, body language that is uncomfortably realistic when it comes to violence as there’s no glamourising in that regard which is intentionally sickening.

For me, the story and characters is where The Last of Us Part 2 really shines and for that reason alone, I recommend checking it out. This sequel didn’t take the safe route by repeating the same themes or too many of the narrative tropes from the first game. The secret to understanding The Last of Us Part 2 is that the characters defy the plot you would expect to see. I’m still grasping at the meaning of it all after sitting through the emotional and harrowing challenge. You may beat the game and completely miss the cautionary tale about grief and pain (and judging from the disgusting reactions and death threats sent to the actors and developers, many have) because you’re too caught up in that initial brutal punch in the gut Part 2 starts with which feels like life imitating art. The ultimate lesson that we can take away from it especially in a time where there’s a lot of bigotry and hatred being spread is how we don’t have to necessarily forgive the people who wrong us but we should do better than viciously lashing out.

The Last of Us Part 2 is out now on Playstation 4.


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