When the Last of Us was released back in 2013 it looked like it could be something special and it turned out to be a masterpiece. After having gone through the Last Of Us Part II I can safely say that Naughty Dog has proven once again that they are one of the top studios in the industry delivering another adventure of epic proportions. Joel’s ambiguous actions at the end of the original raised a number of questions about whether or not he did the right thing and that depends on your perspective. Similarly, Part II provides the same quandary but on a bigger scale. The Last of Us Part II certainly has its share of narrative twists and turns and how you feel about some key events will be dependent on how you view these events. As we have seen in some of the trailers leading up to release, the Last of Us Part II is a violent and brutal experience, perhaps even more so than the original. In some ways, the original was a little bit more shocking since it was the very first one, however, this game does a wonderful job of keeping you guessing. There will be parts where you might think you know what is going on but then the game does something unexpected and what you thought you knew becomes irrelevant. Amid all of the violence and chaos, you will experience moments of relief so you aren’t constantly barraged with brutality, similar to the giraffes in the original but, again, on a bigger scale.
When the game begins you see that Ellie and Joel are part of a community. The world is still filled with infected, but at least they have a home and are no longer nomads. You immediately start forming bonds with new characters that will play a role in your journey, whether you are with them for five minutes or five hours. You don’t hang around your new home for too long though as it is still a dangerous world out there. As I went through the environments in the game I was in awe of how spectacular everything looked. The team over at Naughty Dog really did push the PS4 with this game, which meant I used the photo mode quite often to take environmental shots of a beautiful vista in the background or perhaps a key moment with a character. One of the nice features of the photo mode is that you can take characters out of the picture so you just get the environment, especially if you are in a later stage of the game. By doing so I can show friends these pictures to showcase the beauty of the game without spoiling anything in the story.
As far as the story is concerned, it is pretty damn amazing how it evolves. I won’t have any spoilers in this review but as I reflect on how I spent my first few hours with the game and my last few hours with the game, the evolution is pretty remarkable. Not only that but the events at the beginning of the game seem like such a long time ago by the time you get to the conclusion. There is so much packed in here that you don’t really see the scope of it all until after you have beaten the game and are reflecting on what has taken place. The locales that you visit are stunning and the area where a significant portion of the game takes place is a character unto itself. If you hope to survive you will definitely need to use the tools around you and be aware of your surroundings. There are a number of different groups in the game and there are some points where I would just hang back and let them kill each other before I fully entered the area. The Last of Us is a game (and franchise) where discretion can often be the best decision. Just because you see an enemy doesn’t mean you should engage in combat. Especially if you are going through one of the hardest difficulties, avoiding battles can be a key strategy for your survival whenever possible. When you do need to engage with the enemy, stealth is always the best option. You will want to sneak behind them and perform a stealth kill without anyone noticing. Sometimes this means just observing enemy patrols for a couple of minutes to scope out the best possible opportunity you will have with the least amount of risk. This isn’t a Call of Duty game where you can go in guns blazing and quickly eliminate squads of enemies. You also want to pay attention to the type of enemies in front of you. Some of them will have dogs with them that can smell you and pick up your trail. If they catch a whiff of you they will begin barking and, depending on the situation, might immediately start attacking you. If the dog can’t get to you he will certainly alert the enemies in the area to your presence. It is for this reason that if you see someone with a dog patrolling the area that you want to stay as far away as possible. Even if it would be quicker to just cut across a street or a piece of land, go around whenever possible and keep your distance lest you get detected and then have no choice but to participate in a firefight with limited resources that you can’t afford to waste.
Anyone who has gone through the original knows what I mean when I talk about the lack of resources. The resources in the Last of Us Part II are no different but it is dependent on your level of difficulty. If you are trying to go through on the hardest difficulty, resources are almost non-existent. If you find a shotgun with a few bullets in it, for example, you will want to save that for a situation where you will truly need it, not just quickly use it on the first standard enemy you come across. If you are playing on an easier difficulty resources are a bit more plentiful, however, you still need to be strategic when approaching different situations. If you don’t plan ahead you will certainly pay for it later and make things much more difficult. You will need resources to craft health packs, different kinds of ammunition, learn new skills, and more. As you make your way through the game you will level up your character in different ways, depending on how many resources you track down. Also, different enemy groups might have different weapons as well. There will be times when you might be able to pick up an enemy’s weapon to help you out. There is a militarized group you’ll come across, a crazy religious cult that is at war with the aforementioned militarized group, the Infected, and more. Each group seems to play a game of one-upmanship as far as how brutal they can be in killing their enemies. There are some scenes with the religious cult that can be particularly hard to watch and it wasn’t an uncommon sight to see people strung up, their neck snapped after being hung and tortured.
As you progress through the area you are in you will come across some different locations that a lot of people should recognize. There were a few buildings where when I saw I had to go through them a bit I smiled because I have been to the real-world versions of these buildings. The development team absolutely nailed these buildings and the environment as a whole. When I was talking about your plan of attack earlier in this review, the environment absolutely plays a factor in that. The enemies are a part of that too as the enemy AI here is pretty damn awesome. They will search the area on their respective patrols and do a pretty thorough job of it. I remember one instance where there was someone by me so I crawled under a nearby car to avoid being spotted. As I was watching him walk by he kept looking around the area and then stopped. He knelt down to look under the car and there I was, staring face to face with him. He quickly grabbed me and yanked me out from under the car and alerted his friends. I had to quickly eliminate him and then find another spot to temporarily hide as reinforcements were showing up. Now, this didn’t happen every time I hid under a car or something similar. There were times when they would walk on by and never notice me. It is this dynamic nature that raises the challenge of the game even more. Nothing is for certain and just because you got away with something one time, doesn’t mean you will get away with it the next time, especially if dogs are around like I mentioned above. They will definitely smell you under the car and alert everyone to your presence. You can also potentially use this to your advantage. If you perform a stealth kill on a solider, depending on where you did it, one of his buddies might see it and run over to inspect what is happening. In some instances, he might shout out that someone is down and to start sweeping the area. I was able to use this to my advantage at times and hide until someone ran over to inspect the body and then I could quickly eliminate them as well. It is important to note that when you perform a stealth kill like this it isn’t an instantaneous thing. It takes a few seconds to do, which means it is possible that you get discovered by someone so plan accordingly. I tried to see if I could lure someone into some tall grass or somewhere else where it would be hard for anyone else to see him. If that option wasn’t available at the time, I always tried to do it in a way that minimized the risk of the body being discovered. If you need to gain someone’s attention you can pick up a brick, or a water bottle, or whatever else might be lying around there and then throw it in the direction you want them to go. This could be used to draw them toward you so you can get rid of them or to send them in the opposite direction so you can get through an area without being noticed since, again, there will be times when not engaging in combat is the best option.
The Last of Us Part II features a number of different collectibles that you will want to keep an eye out for that will further enhance the world around you. There are notes lying around that you can read, some of them painting a picture of the desperate situation that the author was in. Some notes will give you important information, such as a combination of a vault that will have some supplies for you. There are also coins and trading cards to find. In addition to that, you will want to keep your eye out for workbenches so that you can use the aforementioned resources to upgrade your weapons. There are also a number of wonderful easter eggs that you will come across throughout the game. I used the photo mode to take pictures of them like I mentioned above but don’t worry, I won’t spoil what they are here. All of these collectibles do tie into the trophies for Last of Us Part II. If you are a trophy hunter you will be happy to hear that this trophy list is significantly better than the original. Since there isn’t any multiplayer here you aren’t expected to spend an additional 50 hours playing that mode to get the platinum. The trophy list is nice and straightforward and if you are someone that does indeed want to add a Last of Us Part II platinum to your collection, you will definitely appreciate that.
As I was putting this review together I was trying to think of whether I had any big complaints with Last of Us: Part II and I really don’t. There was the occasional thing where if I was in a really tight spot it would take the camera a quick moment to adjust but that wasn’t an often occurrence. There was actually one really annoying battle that is unavoidable and took me multiple attempts to successfully get through for reasons I won’t share due to being cautious about spoilers. My save file tells me I spent approximately 39 hours going through this game though so one small annoying part in that whole time is pretty damn good. I have no doubt there will be people that get through the game much quicker but I am someone that likes to search the environment for everything and tend to take a longer time going through titles than most. With that said, looking at my chapter list I still missed quite a bit so I’ll definitely be going through this game again to track down the items I missed. For those who are wondering, Last of Us Part II does also have a “New Game+” mode where things carry over from your first playthrough so you might want to go through it a second time just to enjoy using all of the items from your previous playthrough.
I could continue to go on about Naughty Dog’s latest opus but doing so would be going into narrative details that I don’t want to ruin for anyone. Although I am very interested to see what people think about certain things and will probably be watching Twitch streams to see people react to certain points in the game. The original Last of Us was without a doubt one of my absolute favorite games of the PlayStation 3 generation. I wasn’t sure if Last of Us Part II could repeat that feat on the PlayStation 4. After finishing the game and thinking about it a bit, it absolutely did. Naughty Dog, once again, pulled off something special here. Going through the game on the highest difficulty settings also gives you a new appreciation for what has been accomplished. You truly feel the desperation of the situation that the characters are in. You can feel their struggle. You are nervous when trying to slip past a checkpoint or have Infected in the area because of the dearth of resources. You can’t “listen” to enemies like you can on easier difficulties so you don’t know what is awaiting you in the next room or around the next corner. It elevates the game to a whole different plateau and is definitely something everyone should experience. Regardless of the difficulty though, the Last of Us Part II is a game that should be in everyone’s library. If you own a PlayStation 4 this is a “must-have” title. If you don’t own a PlayStation 4 but plan on picking up a PlayStation 5 later this year, you need to buy this title and play it on the PS5. I will say that you really do want to play the original before Part II though. There are narrative reasons for this plus the events of Part II won’t have the same level of impact if you don’t know what happened in the original. Whatever group you find yourself in though, be sure to pick up this game and enjoy the ride.
**Sony provided us with a code for The Last of Us: Part II for review purposes.
Originally posted on Gaming Target