This is the first time I’ve written a review, but after finishing Naughty Dog’s long awaited sequel to their genre defining horror-survival, ‘The Last of Us’ I felt that it was my duty to share my thoughts. The original game, first released in 2013 on the PS3, focuses on a smuggler named ‘Joel‘, who has the task of escorting a young girl, ‘Ellie‘, from Boston to outside the quarantine zone.
Twenty years prior, the ‘Cordyceps fungus virus‘ affected the majority of mankind turning them into the infected, leaving the pair travelling through a dangerous and hostile post-apocalyptic world. The ‘Fireflies‘, who are a militia group, want Ellie to study her brain for a cure, as she became infected but never developed as somehow she was immune. At the end of the game, upon arriving at Salt Lake City, the pair are captured by a Firefly patrol and taken to their hideout at the local hospital. Upon learning that Ellie will have surgery that will kill her, Joel battles his way to the operating theatre and rescues her.
The Last of Us was remastered for the PS4 and was released 29th July, 2014, and like all of Naughty Dog’s games, they are exclusive to PlayStation. The game received extremely positive reviews, and instantly generated a cult fan base due to the brilliant story telling, the atmospheric and terrifying locations, the combat and the incredible musical score from ‘Gustavo Alfredo Santaolalla’. The only way that it can be described as is a master class in gaming and visual storytelling, and fans eagerly awaited news of a possible sequel, but little did they know it’d be a seven year wait until ‘The Last of Us Part II’ arrived.
The Last of Us Part II finally arrived on June 19, 2020, after six years of developing, and on April 27, hackers had broken into Naughty Dog’s servers and stole videos and leaked plot details online, causing heartache for the development team, and ‘Neil Druckmann‘, Vice President of Naughty Dog, and creative director of the game tweeted to fans at how upset he was that something he’d devoted years of his life had been cruelly ruined for people anticipating its release. Fortunately, I was able to avoid any plot leaks, and I went into the game knowing nothing about it.
In the The Last of Us, you mainly played the character Joel, but a portion of the game had you controlling Ellie, as in the expansion pack, ’The Last of Us: Left Behind’. In The Last of Us Part II, you control a 19 year old Ellie, and a similar aged Abby, who’s fiercer and much more ruthless. I guess living in a time when everyone is at odds makes you that way, as not only is there a threat of encountering the infected, but brutal militia groups patrol the broken world. The back of the game box says:
“Experience the devastating physical and emotional consequences of Ellie’s vengeance as you embark on a relentless pursuit of those who’ve wronged her.”
The game starts with Joel and Ellie living at a settlement in Jackson, Wyoming, who encounter a militia group called ‘Washington Liberation Front‘ (WLF), who’s patrol is led by a woman called ‘Abby‘, who Joel and his brother ‘Tommy‘ rescue from an attack by the infected. Little do you know that whilst you play Abby’s character at the start, she’ll be responsible not long later for Joel’s death when she realises who he is. He killed the surgeon who was going to operate on Ellie at the end of The Last of Us, who just happened to be Abby’s father. Ellie then goes on the hunt for Abby, after witnessing her murdering Joel. She plays a game of cat and mouse with Ellie, and encounters a cult called ‘Seraphites‘ (Scars), and more WLF, who are hunting her for going AWOL, as well as have to fight through many infected.
About halfway through, you take over the character of Abby, and view the story from her perspective where she’s captured by Scars, and is saved by ‘Lev‘, and his sister, ‘Yara‘, they then take on a journey to escape the Scars who are hunting Lev, and Yara, as they are former associates trying to break free from the cult. Both Ellie’s story, and Abby’s story involves them eventually meeting up, and fighting for their lives. Abby gets the better of Ellie, but lets her go free so long as she doesn’t ever see her again. ‘Dina‘, who’s become Ellie’s partner, who was pregnant to ‘Jesse‘, who you encounter as a supporting character, sets up a ranch with Ellie and the baby, but Joel’s brother Tommy arrives, and tells the pair that he’s located Abby and he wishes for Ellie to end it. Against Dina’s wishes Ellie travels to Santa Barbara to find her, only to realise that Abby and Lev are being held captive by a militia group, called the Rattlers. The rest, I will leave for you to find out by yourself, but every time I thought the game had concluded, and the screen went dark, I was back in another quest, so don’t expect it to be over too quickly.
Just like The Last of Us, you fight your way through hordes of infected, and human militia groups, and as you progress you acquire new weapons, which you can upgrade at work benches with scrap that you discover. You can also discover supplements which can be used to upgrade abilities, like crafting, speed, listen mode etc. Survival, Crafting, and Stealth are the three main modes to upgrade. My only issue with The Last of Us was it’s linearity, which means sequential, as in only really one path to take, but The Last of Us Part II doesn’t suffer from that, and it’s much more of an open world for you to explore and discover, which was especially pleasing for me being a big fan of Far Cry, and recently completed the open world survival horror, Days Gone. Naughty Dog have really excelled themselves with this game, and it’s a visual and audial spectacle. The musical score is not only tense, but it’s scary and jumpy, and when the music starts you know you’re in for trouble. The weather sounds, especially during thunderstorms and rain are spectacular, especially if you listen through headphones, but the game can also be set up for a variety of sound systems, be it 2.1, 5.1 or Sound Bar.
If you’re lucky enough to have a PS4 pro, and a HDR supporting television, then there are many visual options for you to experiment with, including an accessibility options for the visually, or hearing impaired.
The controls have been altered slightly from The Last of Us, and combat seems much more fluid, and you have the advantage of permanently having a knife, rather than needing to craft a shiv when you play Ellie, Abby needs to still craft shivs. If you’re squeamish, then you may have a little trouble with the combat, as the two leads will bring down their combatant any way they can, and it’s extremely brutal in places – people choking on their own blood, and faces of horror knowing that they are moments away from their deaths. Due to Ellie being more agile than Joel, she’s got the ability to reach higher destinations, and this is where the game really does become a visual spectacle. The world is huge, and really gives you the feeling of a city, especially when Ellie reaches the Ferris wheel in her stolen boat, and you see the vastness of the harbour. I got a strong Inception vibe, which was also influenced by some of the Hans Zimmeresque style music.
For me, as quite a keen gamer, especially this generation, I think that The Last of Us Part II is nothing short of a masterpiece in storytelling, game design, and gameplay. It exceeds its predecessor in every way, and obviously it would be nothing without the genre defining The Last of Us, but we’ve got the sequel that Naughty Dog wanted, and what the fans deserved. Anyone who claims that this is an awful game, is delusional, and has the inability to appreciate art. The game is centred around strong female characters, who you are given the chance to play as, and what I found was interesting was how my feelings changed throughout the game. I was initially bothered by the brutal death of Joel, as it wasn’t initially explained why it happened, but as the game progresses you realise that a young girl loses her father, who’s attempting to create a vaccine, for the greater good, and at the hands of Joel, he brutally murdered him in The Last of Us. It’s an eye for an eye story, and it’s very unusual to see a game from two perspectives of opposite sides, and you can’t help but feel pity for both Ellie, and Abby. What I particularly enjoyed was the elements of storytelling that went back several years, showing younger Ellie and Abby. You almost feel like they could have been friends under different circumstances.
There has been controversy surrounding the game, unfortunately, and some people have even claimed that it’s the worst game ever made, but I’m not sure if it’s the storyline that they disagree with, or their prejudice towards lesbian and transgender people. It’s not even as though their presence is forced on you, they just happen to be characters amongst a number of presumably heterosexual characters. The game is not influenced, or governed by sexuality, and I’m starting to think that it’s people who saw the spoilers that were leaked that are writing the negative reviews, not the people who genuinely put between 25 and 35 hours of gameplay in. Some of the LBGTQ community have caused an uproar because the transgender character, Lev, who’s living as a young male, is deadnamed, ‘Lilly’, which is considered disrespectful. If anything, does this not show how much of an intolerant world they live in, rather than Naughty Dog purposefully attempting to upset. I know it’s a personal issue for some transgender people, but the voice actor for Lev is transgender, and he clearly didn’t have a problem with it. The violence in the game is beyond brutal in places, and we see multiple animals die ruthlessly, but someone’s birth name has caused the most controversy, and some people are even boycotting the game because crazed cult members, who refer to Lev as the apostate, call him Lilly a few times.
Naughty Dog have created the game of the generation, and it’s nothing short of a masterpiece in every way, shape and form. Other developers are going to really have to up their game if they are going to rival Naughty Dog and their ambitious storytelling.