Somehow, despite those infamous leaks, I managed to avoid them. Though from any fans perspective, it doesn’t take much to guess what some of the outrage was all about. It had me thinking, “what I am letting myself in for?”, “will I be outraged?”, “have they ruined one of my all-time favourite games?” Despite this and being a fan of Naughty Dog for a number of years, they had earned the benefit of the doubt from me and for better or worse, I was excited and nervous to jump into a sequel that we have waited seven years for. A sequel that in some cases, perhaps didn’t need to happen from some perspectives, but it was a sequel that I personally wanted.
Yes there were moments in the game that made me feel uncomfortable, angry, nervous, and happy and had me questioning the actions of characters in the story. But when it’s all said and done, a story that can pull the strings of so many emotions, especially in one that lasts so long and manages to keep me gripped throughout, this is a master-class of powerful storytelling like little I have ever experienced, in some cases, more so then the original. I can see why The Last of Us: Part II has divided so much opinion, and from some perspectives, anger is warranted and as soon as I had finished the story, the first thing that I did was to check out these rage videos to see if it was justified and while I won’t go into specifics into what so many believed to have happened, as the old saying goes, “don’t believe everything you hear on the internet”.
Despite what is already out there, I will be keeping this as spoiler free as possible, although it’s going to be difficult without glossing over certain aspects of the story, so there may be some mild spoilers, but they’ll all have a purpose in my review. Whatever you may or may not have heard, the first piece of advice that I would give before purchasing The Last of Us 2 is that not all the leaks and rumours are true, especially regarding the sexuality of a lead playable character by the name of Abby. I will say straight away, that she is a woman, built like a brick-shithouse and whichever way you look at it, she’s a badass. Also, it is possible for a woman to be built in such away and it’s silly to think otherwise, as proven by my friend, as well as Colleen Fotsch, the woman in which Abby’s body is based upon.
In many ways, Naughty Dog has pulled a Hideo Kojima in respect to Metal Gear Solid 2 (if you know, you know) and despite playing a large portion of the game as the beloved Ellie, you do also play as Abby. Yes this has split the fan base, but it offers a new perspective to the story, one that is not so one-sided. As many people often say, “there are always two sides to a story” and that is certainly the case in The Last of Us 2. You very well might not like Abby, or perhaps you do and it may anger you being forced to play as her, but I will say, go into this game with an open mind and if you let it, you just might appreciate the story from Abby’s perspective. If you don’t, that’s ok, because we all have own our perspectives and personal preferences.
Now let’s get on to the story. The Last of Us 2 takes place five years after the conclusion of the first game and almost instantly, it’s clear that Ellie and Joel’s closing moments have lead to a lot of tension and trust issues from the duo, at least and understandably from Ellie. Though what I will say, and I will be going into spoilers here from the first game (which you should have finished if you’re reading this), Joel makes a choice to save Ellie from being killed at the hands of the Fireflies. The Fireflies believed that Ellie held the cure to the Cordyceps pandemic, which has turned much of the world’s population into crazed zombies. However, in order to extract this cure from Ellie, it meant that she had to die. Now during the events of the first game, Ellie and Joel had been through a lot, and Joel saw Ellie through the eyes of a father. So he made the decision to stop the operation on Ellie and as a result, many Fireflies, including at least one surgeon, had been killed.
But to be fair to Joel, when he and Ellie arrived at the St. Mary’s Hospital in Utah, they didn’t give him the warmest of welcomes, despite what they had both been through to get there. So if Joel was to rescue Ellie from almost certain death, even if it meant at the expense of a potential cure, he would have to go out guns blazing and that’s what happened. At the end of The Last of Us, Joel tells Ellie that there was no cure and that she would have died for nothing. Right at the end of its conclusion, Ellie asks Joel one more time to make sure he was telling the truth about what had happened with the Fireflies and Joel stands firm on what he had said, though it’s quite clear that Ellie knows that Joel isn’t being completely honest.
However, this is why I have an issue with a particular plot point in this sequel. If like me, you search for every hidden collectible, you may very well would have found some documents and voice recordings in the St Mary’s Hospital. In these collectibles, it was revealed that there were others like Ellie, who the Fireflies had believed to be a cure and following the same procedure, all the subjects died during the operation. If you found these documents, they gave an added perspective as to why Joel stopped the operation on Ellie. Yes, Joel wasn’t completely honest with Ellie when he said that she wasn’t the “only one” and that there “is no cure”, but he wasn’t exactly lying either about her being the only one, because these documents, some recorded by Marlene, a leader of the Fireflies and someone that had helped raise Ellie from a young child, revealed that there were in-fact others and they all died, for nothing. So granted Joel made a decision which could be described as selfish, but there was every chance that Ellie would have died for nothing and from a parent’s perspective, he made his choice, for better of worse.
So five years on, Ellie and Joel are now living in a settlement located in Jackson, a location which we got a glimpse of at the very end of the first game. Among the 1000’s living in this settlement, are Joel’s brother Tommy, and his wife Maria. With the Fireflies seemingly being no more, there are other large militia grounds, one being the Washington Liberation Front or “WLF” for short, which also have ties to the Fireflies. Which includes Abby as one of the lead members, and certain members of this group want revenge for what happened at St. Mary’s Hospital and after a long search, Abby and her WLF comrades find Joel and his brother Tommy.
While this is happening, Ellie is on patrol with her love interest, Dina, who by the way is easily one of my favourite characters in this game. She is very grounded, but also fiercely loyal and there’s something special about seeing the early stages of Ellie and Dina’s relationship unfold, which certainly plays a huge role as this story develops. However, upon finishing their patrol, it is discovered that Joel and Tommy did not return from their patrol and it is here when Ellie and Dina go in search for the brothers. It is soon after (and this is where spoilers become difficult to avoid), that Ellie witnesses something truly horrific and sets her on a path of revenge, seemingly no matter the consequence.
This from what I can tell, after finishing The Last of Us 2 and going in search of those leaks that angered so many, was the result of so much outrage online, because following this horrific event, not only do you play as Ellie, but you also play as WLF member, Abby. Now I’ll be honest, I really, really didn’t want to play as Abby and there were certain parts of the story that angered me too and I certainly didn’t want to play out some actions that I believed might happen. After all, with The Last of Us being considered by so many as an all-time classic with Ellie & Joel being a beloved characters, it was difficult to see things from the flip-side of the coin, especially when Naughty Dog had done such an incredible job building up our love for these characters established in The Last of Us.
It’s also a part of this character building that allows the player to share Ellie’s rage, which when flipped, offers an almost exact opposite of reaction when we play as Abby. However, about 60% to 70% through the campaign, a thought had hit me. While I was sharing Ellie’s lust for revenge, I thought to myself, “if the first The Last of Us had us playing as Abby and her father as the protagonists, and we went into this sequel then being introduced to Ellie and Joel as the antagonists”, we’d probably share that same rage on the side of Abby and the story would be seen from a totally different perspective. So as difficult as some scenes were to play out, I started understanding things from the perspective of Abby and even though I’ll always side more with Ellie, both Abby and Ellie are two individuals suffering from massive amounts of grief, they struggle with PTSD and they both want justice for the cruelties imposed upon them and in truth, they may very well sit on opposite sides of the battlefield, but they perhaps share a common bond that neither would likely admit.
Story and controversies aside, how does The Last of Us 2 play? Well, if you’re used to how the first game played, you’d pretty much feel instantly at home with its sequel. It’s a third-person, action /stealth game that lets the player decide how to approach certain situations. Though as with most games that give you the action or stealth “choice”, stealth is often the best way to approach most situations, especially if you don’t want to burn through your ammo and resources quickly. Often watching routes of enemies, scouting the area and then deciding your chosen approach is always advised. I would also advise to look out for any possible escape routes, because most often than not, plans won’t always come together and when this happens, often your best tactic is to run away from danger and assess the situation once more, before jumping back in.
In terms of resources, managing them will be of the utmost importance and depending on the difficulty your taking on, resources and ammo will be of short supply. So if you can take out enemies via sneaking up on them with a stealth kill, that’s the best way to go. As with the previous game, you can craft your very own items with the likes of health kits, Molotov’s, shivs and more returning. However in this sequel you can now craft arrows (at last), stun bombs (which are upgraded smoke bombs), ammo for your Hunting Pistol, trap mines, a silencer and even incendiary shells for your shotgun.
You will also rely heavily on your Listen Mode, which helps to highlight any enemies that may be nearby, which is one of the abilities along with health, weapon efficiency, crafting skills and more that can be upgraded. Unless of course, you’re taking on the highest difficulty, in which case the Listen Mode will be de-activated, which I would only recommend trying after finishing the game at least once. Knowing which abilities to upgrade first, is importance, so it’s wise to think about how you approach the game before committing to a certain upgrade tree, though I would recommend at least focusing on health and you’re crafting skills.
As already touched upon, stealth plays a key role in the sequel, as it did in the original, but perhaps more so here. While The Last of Us 2 is far from a perfect stealth game, it is a fantastic action game with satisfying gun and melee mechanics. But if you can, you might want to attempt to stay out of direct combat for as long as possible and in order to do so, developers Naughty Dog have made a number of improvements to aid you along the way. Though they may seem basic features, now having tall grass to hide within, as well as under trucks and being able to crawl, they’re welcome additions none the less. However, if any enemy gets too close, they will spot you, so if you can, try to sneak out of their line of sight.
Naughty Dog has also giving enemies a few new tricks too, such as improved A.I, being able to check under trucks and beds, and quite possibly the most important new feature to (human) enemies, are the dog companions. These seemingly cute mutts will sniff you out and track your scent if you’re too close, and they will lead enemies to your location. You can lose their scent by sneaking out of harm’s way, preferably to a high vantage point or by smashing bricks and bottles to distract them. If things get a little too hairy and there’s no way of escaping a dogs tracking skills, before it picks-up your scent, you can kill the mutts, though you’ll need to quickly dispatch its handler to avoid detection.
You may or may not have seen the various enemies that you might encounter throughout the story of The Last of Us 2. I won’t spoil anything here, because there are some truly great and terrifying moments, especially when it concerns the infected with one particular intense, horror scenario. There are one or two new infected types, but I’ll keep their encounters a surprise. On the human side, the two main villainous factions are WLF, a militia group in which Abby is a lead member of and you have the SCARS, a cult-like group that very much reminds me of The Whispers from The Walking Dead. While WLF are very much in your face, all guns blazing, the SCARS are a sneaking group that will use the same stealth tactics and rather than talking to one another, they communicate by whistling, which can be oddly unsettling.
Much like the first game, for the most part of this sequel, you won’t be alone. With Ellie, she will be often be accompanied by the lovable Dina and as already mentioned, Ellie’s love interest. Ellie in some part will also be accompanied by Jesse, a cool dude, but with him being Dina’s ex boy friend, things might get a little awkward within the triangle. On the side of Abby, when she’s not with her WLF members, she will be accompanied by members of the SCAR cult, a woman named Yara and a young boy called Lev, who has escaped the cult. I won’t say too much about their story, because I don’t want anything spoiled, but they play a fairly big role in humanising Abby to the player and lets us know beneath her badass exterior, she has a softer side, a side that Abby is perhaps too scared to let anyone see.
For the most part, as I did with the original game, Naughty Dog have done an awesome job in building character relations with the player, whether you like certain characters or not, they will most certainly drawn an emotional response from you. I also have no issue with love stories if done right, but sometimes they can feel forced and as a result, a little cringy. Now in respect to Ellie and Dina, I love their relationship. Everything about them feels organic and Naughty Dog do a great job early on in making their relationship feel meaningful, but they also show us some of the prejudices that that relationships of the same sex might have to deal with. If you’ve played the fantastic Left Behind expansion from the original game, Ellie’s sexual orientation should come as no surprise and for the large part, Naughty Dog has crafted a wonderful relationship with Ellie and Dina.
However, as wonderful as Ellie & Dina’s relationship might be, not all relationships are handled quite as well in The Last of Us 2. Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a relationship dynamic between Abby and her long standing friend, and ex Owen. For one reason or another, they are no longer together, and through their story, you can see that despite their strong bond to one another, they just seemingly weren’t meant to be. Unfortunately, their relationship does take a turn to the side of cringy late on in the story.
Now, whether its movies, TV or videogames, sex scenes often make me feel somewhat uncomfortable in most cases and over the years, sex scenes haven’t always been represented in the best way within videogames and The Last of Us 2 is no exception. You may or may not have seen or heard of the sex scene between Abby and Owen, but in terms of feeling forced for the story, this seems to be the case here. It doesn’t leave much to the imagination at all and if this scene in question would have started with Abby and Own kissing, with the next scene cutting to them lying in bed, we would have got the exact same message and it would have saved us from that cringy moment.
Visually, The Last of Us 2 is a master-class in getting the best out of the PS4 console and if Naughty Dog can get games looking this good, it excites me furthermore to see what they can do on PS5. At the very least, The Last of Us 2 is visually on par with the likes of God of War (2018), everything from character animations, facial expressions, the design of the world and its inhabitants, to the incredible lighting and particle effects, The Last of Us 2 is simply stunning in so many different ways. It also runs at a super-flick framerate and from the best of my memory, I can’t ever remember encountering any slow-down playing on the PS4 Pro. The world also invites you to explore and takes it to the next level when compared to its predecessor. The game might not be open-world in the traditional sense, but certain sections of the game are very open, filled with dangers and secrets. Keeping to the tone of the original game, it’s also a joy reading notes, letters and posters scattered within the world, which tell their own stories, for characters you will never meet, but it gives you a great sense of what this world was like before Outbreak Day.
The soundtrack once again composed by Gustavo Santaolalla is nothing short of sublime, which adds the perfect dose of tension and tranquillity just when it needs to. Then you have the incredible work performed by the talented voice-cast. Every actor from top to bottom such as Ashley Johnson (Ellie), Troy Baker (Joel), Jeffrey Pierce (Tommy), right on through to the amazing Laura Bailey as Abby and Shannon Woodward as Dina all delivering performances to that of a high-budget Hollywood flick. There is not one single performance in this game that didn’t have me believing in the characters portrayed, and that includes even the briefest of encounters with NPC’s. Regardless of where you feelings lie on the story to The Last of Us 2, I can’t think of many other videogames that has so many talented ingredients that gel together so well.
I don’t think there has been a game quite as polarising as The Last of Us 2 for a number of reasons and if there was ever a game that I was happy not being able to get a review for a launch embargo, it’s this one. Because now that the dust has settled, I feel that I can look at the game more objectively some weeks after its release. I feel if I was able to get a review out for an embargo, I wouldn’t have been able to take my time with a game that took me more then 30+ hours to finish, especially as I like to explore and soak in everything that a game has to offer. I feel that if I had got a review out for embargo, my review may have been rushed, clouded by emotion, but with time to reflect and from someone that is now on my third playthrough, I believe that I can appreciate the story that Naughty Dog wants to tell with added reflection.
There were moments, plenty in fact, that had me not wanting to continue playing. Not because the game was bad, far from it, it’s because Naughty Dog has done such a great job in making me feel so strongly towards their characters, I wanted nothing but good for them. So when my favourite characters are put in any kind of danger, I want to avoid it as much as possible, but when that choice is taken out of your hands, it’s only natural that you feel some form of anger or resentment. However, it’s this clever drive of passion that whether you may realise it at the time or not, that anger that makes you want to turn away, in-fact helped drive me through the game and come its conclusion, Naughty Dog somehow managed to not only make me feel empathy for characters that originally brought me anger, I understood their motivations and in an unexpected turn of events, I was rooting for them too.
The Last of Us 2 is one of the most emotionally challenging games that I have ever played and it has without question split its fan base. But I believe that as a result of those leaks, some fans already had pre-conceptions that perhaps impacted their enjoyment of the game. Because whether it’s a movie, TV series or videogame, if you go into anything already hating it, it’s difficult to be swayed any other way. My words are unlikely to sway the minds of anyone that may have already stated to play The Last of Us 2 and didn’t enjoy it for whatever reason. But if you’re a fan of the original game, that is yet to play this sequel, especially as a result of what you may or may not have heard, please give this game a chance. You very well may hate it, but then again, you may love it or perhaps you’ll sit somewhere in between. If you loved the first game and if you go in with an open mind, and can push through the more challenging moments of this sequel, when it’s all concluded, said and done, just like its predecessor, you very well may find that The Last of Us: Part 2 is one of the most emotionally provoking ,and ultimately, one of the greatest games of this generation. Or you might hate it.