|Dev: Naughty Dog|
|Release: June 19, 2020|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 1080p-4K||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, and Use of Drugs|
by Jenni Lada
There are games that are extraordinary endeavors. Titles where in every moment, you can imagine the care and effort that went into their creation. Even if they aren’t “your” thing, you can appreciate the artistry. The Last of Us Part II is one of those games. People who love this series, its characters, and its gameplay will likely be in awe of everything Naughty Dog has accomplished here. Those who don’t or who take issue with excessive amounts of violence might similarly appreciate what it does for games as a whole mechanically and graphically, even if it clearly isn’t for them.
The Last of Us Part II begins with a refresher and a reminder. Joel is telling his brother, Tommy, about what happened with the Fireflies and Ellie at the end of the original game while fiddling with a guitar he has found. He then brings it to a younger version of Ellie as a gift. The two seem happy and safe in Jackson, a community that has come together to support each other and survive against the Infected.
But in a world such as this, peace can’t last. Not forever. After a routine shift patrolling the area doesn’t go as planned, Ellie finds herself heading out on a journey that is essentially the antithesis of the one she went on so many years ago with Joel. While someone might set off on that adventure with hope for a cure and salvation on their mind, there’s a singular goal here: revenge. There will be blood, even if you occasionally use the environment and Infected to your advantage to avoid directly hurting anyone.
There has been a lot of talk about how bleak The Last of Us Part II can be, and it is absolutely true. It is violent. It is gruesome. It will make Ellie, and by extension you, do things you absolutely won’t want to both to people and animals. If you don’t already care about certain characters, things will happen that will make you feel some degree of affection for them. There are people who will be hateful to and use slurs against Ellie. Even people you might not expect to like—to The Last of Us Part II’s credit, it is good at humanizing people.
I couldn’t play for more than two hours at a time because it was such an intense and emotionally exhausting experience. I often felt it was excessive to the point where not only was the point hammered home, but the nail was driven so far in that everything around it was irreparably damaged. That isn’t to say there aren’t occasionally moments that are “lighter.” Ellie might find a bit of solace in a song, for example. But it is overwhelming in driving home its message in a way that can be uncomfortable. Which, frankly, seemed a part of the point.
I suppose it helps that The Last of Us Part II has a satisfying gameplay loop. You’ll go through an area or areas that, frankly, are gorgeous. Naughty Dog went all out on creating stunning environments that show a civilization that is falling apart, but is hauntingly beautiful. When you have these brief periods where you can appreciate a creek, take in how nature is reclaiming cities and expressways, and how an “unintentional” waterfall can come up as a result of broken sewers and roadways in Seattle, it can leave you awestruck. The characters, even when battered and broken, often avoid that uncanny valley look and come across as utterly human. Especially when they are performing mundane actions, like putting on a backpack, getting dressed, or playing a guitar.
After you explore, maybe solve a brief puzzle or two, you will probably run into some enemies. They could be Infected. (Clickers are still terrifying, as are some of the others you’ll encounter.) They could be human. You could happen upon a spot with both and use that to your advantage to have them attack each other and allow you to slip by undetected. Regardless, it could be something minor and provide looting opportunities so you can restock, craft some supplies, or maybe even get some supplements that boost different abilities to make you a more competent fight. Then, you get some major altercations. These are typically high risk situations in locations that can be remarkable and filled with nuances, cover, an optional space or two to check out, and even some alternate pathways that allow you to use the space to your advantage.
What’s great about any and all of these is how satisfying the combat works and feels. There are workbenches where you can update your weapons with modifications that can cater to your chosen playstyle. (You want to try and be more stealthy? Go for it.) The cover system works well, being able to use the listening mode to keep an eye out for and ambush enemies is great, and lying prone provides plenty of incentives in some areas. I always felt like I had options and like I could easily swap to different weapons, projectiles, or even a melee option to try and use my equipment, the environment, and even other enemies to my advantage.
The level of accessibility is also rather remarkable. Ahead of launch, both Naughty Dog and Sony were talking up the various presets to assist people who might be hard of hearing, have visual impairments, or fine motor skill issues. I played around with the default presets for all three, and many seemed quite helpful. I went with the oversized font full time and adjusted the listening system so it would help me detect both enemies and items in my vicinity, and both helped me proceed and succeed in such a way that I wished they were commonplace options in games.
The Last of Us Part II is difficult to play, and not because it is a poorly constructed game. Rather, it is a challenge because Naughty Dog forces people to take such a long, hard look at the terrible things people are capable of doing to one another. We can see people who we should hate and despise in situations where we pity them and can be appalled by what a character we like goes through and does to others. It is a bookend to its predecessor. People will be talking about The Last of Us Part II for years to come. They’ll be analyzing the story, if it needed to go to the lengths that it does, and considering the effect its world-building, gameplay mechanics, and accessibility options will have for years to come.