06th Aug2020

Second Opinion: ‘The Last of Us Part 2’ Review (PS4) *SPOILERS*

by Chris Cummings

I’m not sure there’s been many more highly anticipated games in the recent history of gaming than The Last of Us Part 2. The first game was a triumph, blending horror and character-based drama to tell a story of hope, redemption, loyalty and pain. It was incredible, and it became one of the most beloved video games, perhaps ever. Fast-forward to 2020 and a couple of unavoidable delays, and The Last of Us Part 2 hit the shelves. Since its release I’ve noticed a real split in opinions about it, with some praising it highly and others denouncing it. There’s a whole lotta love and a whole lotta hate for this game right now, so… on which side of the fence do I reside?

We begin the new title from Naughty Dog with a jump in time from where we last saw Ellie and Joel. They’re both older and living in a community in Jackson, Wyoming, with Joel’s brother Tommy and a bunch of other town-folk, including some new friends. The previous game ended with Joel “saving” Ellie from death, as the Fireflies wished to operate on Ellie in order to use Ellie’s immunity to the virus to create a vaccine and perhaps save the world. The small settlement keeps themselves safe by patrolling the localised area and taking out any infected they encounter.

The game begins normal enough, nothing too out of the ordinary for a sequel to The Last of Us. It doesn’t take too long for things to take a major detour, however, in the most dramatic and shocking way. When Abby, who you play as a little early-on, encounters Joel and Tommy, she winds up taking them back to a house to hide-out from the hordes with her friends. Oops… Abby winds up knocking the two of them out, before (HERE’S A BIG OLE SPOILER FOLKS) killing Joel, just as Ellie arrives and witnesses it all occur.

I was shocked and confused when Joel was killed quite early on in the game, but also impressed that the developers had made such a hefty decision in order to insist that things aren’t the same this time around. The game then splits apart. We play as Ellie, out for revenge against Abby and her friends, all of whom she holds responsible for the loss of her father-figure. In the midst of this we’re introduced to Dina and the relationship between her and Ellie grows as we play, with the two of them becoming closer and sharing stories from their lives.

We get a few hours into the game before we begin to play as Abby, which took me by surprise. The idea of playing as the character who, for hours of gameplay so far has been painted as the villain of the piece, is brave stuff, and I was completely hooked and dumbfounded, excited and intrigued. Abby is such a wonderful character to play as. I was unsure at first how I was going to feel playing as this new woman, but I ended up loving her. She’s strong as hell and the relationships she shares with her friends are built wonderfully. We begin to see her story unfold and the motivations she holds are made clearer and clearer, with our opinions becoming less clearer. It becomes quite obvious that Naughty Dog aren’t going to make this easy for us.

The love story between Dina and Ellie is built and delivered beautifully. I know that there has been some horrifically bigoted responses to this storyline from “fans” that have been going around since the trailer was first released. That will, sadly, always happen while bigotry and ignorance exists, but I applaud the developers for bringing a tender, funny and wonderfully acted storyline love story like this to gaming. Ellie and Dina, pixelated as they may be, have a chemistry together that is mind-boggling to witness. The wonderful performances and visuals take it to another level. I’ve never seen a video game nail romance in such a brilliant way before. What a step forward. The rich and absorbing world that has been created here is something to celebrate and enjoy, not fight against or put down. But, what’s the gameplay like?

The actual gameplay isn’t a whole lot different to the first game, but I felt it was just that bit more smooth and slicker, with animations being that much more grotesque and sinister. Seeing Ellie stab a knife into the gullet of a soldier before watching them fall from the roof of a building is one of those gory joys of playing this. There are some additions in weaponry and upgrades and such, but much of the actual fingers-and-thumbs play is the same as the first, which I was happy about. I felt like stealth was even better this time around, whether or not that was a personal response to the game itself or not I don’t know, but I loved hiding in grass or behind walls before creeping out and throttling an enemy. Very cool. I liked having collectables, too, with Ellie collecting cards and Abby collecting coins. It gives you more of a reason to look around and loot containers. I’m a fan of that.

I was often shocked by this game, often taken aback by the decisions it forces you to make or watch. It doesn’t shy away from taking incredibly big side-steps, taking your preconceived ideas and ripping them to pieces like a monster with a piece of meat. Whether it was the death of Joel or the twists and turns the story takes as we learn more and more about Ellie, Abby and even Joel himself, I was constantly kept on my toes. The new characters, of which there are many, all offer something unique and necessary for the tale to be told. I didn’t only love playing as Ellie and Abby, but really enjoyed getting to know characters like Dina, Owen, Tommy and the “Scars”, a primitive faction who debut here, that Abby meets later in the game, Lev and Yara.

Lev is another example of the forward-thinking and wonderfully inclusive core of The Last of Us Part 2. Lev is a transgender teenage boy character who we meet as Abby. He is with his sister, Yara, and we become closer with these characters over time. Lev, who was assigned as a girl when he was born, is a boy with a shaved head who has suffered oppression in his life. He is an excellent character to get to know, bringing not only a relevant and necessary story to the game, but also offering some fun scenes with Abby too. I won’t go too far into the fact that there has been further backlash to the game having a trans character as part of its narrative, because I feel like those with these disgusting hateful opinions aren’t really worth mentioning, but I do want to point out that I think it’s a very important progression for video games, and hopefully the start of change when it comes to inclusion and diversity in the medium.

Whether it was the wonderful and unique selection of characters we meet, the beautiful stories that take place or the fact that the gameplay is so bloody addictive and fulfilling, I found that this game was everything I’d hoped for and more. Regardless of the opinions of others, I would happily say that I preferred this game even more than the incredible original. Controversial or not, I personally found myself more emotionally involved in the story and the actual play, be it exploration, puzzles or combat, was a blast. I loved the backstories that occurred from time to time, whether in a museum or aquarium, and liked that the game really kept things balanced. It wasn’t constant combat, which meant that the moments of combat felt intense and exciting. It wasn’t constant cut-scenes, which meant I didn’t get bored of sitting and watching. It wasn’t just constant exploration and combat-free moments either. They kept things nicely balanced up.

The Last of Us Part 2 is an important game in the history of gaming. It offers more than just a couple of characters fighting against monsters. Many of the monsters here are humans with weapons, which says a lot. The two characters we play as are imperfect but brilliantly developed. There are huge grey areas here. Nothing is simple. Nothing is “good or bad”. There’s this in-between that is explored and I was thankful and impressed completely by it. Slick, engaging and beautiful, it’s one of the best video game experiences I’ve ever had.

***** 5/5

You can also check out Xenia’s review of The Last of Us Part 2 here; and read more of her thoughts in her Opinionated piece right here.


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