Game Review: The Last of Us Part II is a Beautiful, Brutal and Bad Game
Naughty Dog has had a tough couple of months in the lead up to the release of The Last Of Us: Part II. From the majority of the game’s plot being leaked online to backlash from both the gaming and YouTube community over DMCA strikes regarding leaked content and the memes which have generated from the resulting backlash, it isn’t hard to see that Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us: Part II would inevitably generate a huge amount of controversy upon release.
In the days before June 19th, the release date for The Last Of Us: Part II, critic reviews came flooding in as a huge amount of media outlets were able to get their hands on Naughty Dog’s newest creation early for judgement. As expected, the reviews which flooded in were overwhelmingly positive earning an (initial) incredible 96 score on Metacritic with only the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2 and Grand Theft Auto V placing above it. Critics called The Last Of Us: Part II, ‘the defining game of this generation’ and needless to say, many were excited but many were also hugely concerned and rightfully so given the backlash that preceded release.
After The Last Of Us: Part II officially released on June 19th, the majority of fan reactions were not good. A number of defining factors such as plot, characterizations and gameplay were heavily criticised by fans and no one was quite ready for the bombardment of user reviews that scored The Last Of Us: Part II a worryingly low 3.3 score on Metacritic.
Needless to say, I was genuinely worried as the first game was a truly incredible gaming experience but I knew I needed to play it for myself and make my own opinions of this next installment of The Last Of Us journey. So that brings us to the all important question – is The Last Of Us: Part II the genre defining achievement critics have hailed it as or is The Last Of Us: Part II the crippling disappointment fans have feared?
In The Last Of Us we assumed the role of Joel supported by the ever charismatic Ellie as they journey across a post-apocalyptic United States in search of humanity’s salvation. With The Last Of Us: Part II, Ellie becomes the pivotal focal point of the story and instead of the road movie-esque structure of The Last Of Us’ plot, The Last Of Us: Part II is a more straightforward tale of bleak, brutal revenge. That’s as far as a synopsis can go because simply elaborating more would inevitably lead into spoiler territory so I will do my best to keep spoilers to a minimum here.
Very early on it is clear to see that The Last Of Us: Part II is one of the greatest looking games ever made, if not arguably the greatest. Visually, Naughty Dog have created a world that pulsates with undeniable beauty as you traverse a tormented world ravaged by the Cordyceps infection. Never before has a ravaged world been so meticulously realized in a video game and on multiple occasions you will find yourself simply lost in the moment, admiring your surroundings, dissecting each and every little detail this vast world offers you. Whether it’s the simple swaying of grass in the wind or the wildlife chirping and conversing around you, the world Naughty Dog have created here feels truly alive. It’s an incredible achievement by Naughty Dog.
Once again Naughty Dog have assembled an extremely talented cast to work on The Last Of Us: Part II. The voice acting is superb and the motion capture is so believable that it evokes, at times, the same emotional weight you get from watching an extremely well acted movie. Naughty Dog also do a magnificent job of adding their own trademarks to proceedings that call for superb voice and motion capture acting. For example, one of the factions within the game, The Seraphites or Scars, communicate via whistling and howls which, spurred on by the brilliant sound design and voice acting works, extremely well and quickly immerses you in this brutal world. With regards to visuals and bringing these characters to life, no one can fault the brilliance of Naughty Dog who have managed to bring this world to life before our very eyes.
With regards to the gameplay, unfortunately, not much has changed over the last seven years since the first game’s release back in 2013. The stealth loot and shoot approach is the same but Naughty Dog have added very little to spice things up a bit and truly progress gameplay to a ‘defining’ standard.
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Issues with stealth and AI are still as blatantly evident as they were in The Last Of Us. Just like in The Last Of Us, AI enemies become incredibly predictable early on and if you captialize upon the use of long grass to your advantage, it is rare that you will be spotted or attacked as you simply creep through each area undetected and without any real conflict. So much so, that on numerous occasions I found myself worrying because enemies were inches away from my positioning behind cover or in grass but instead of fearing conflict, AI will simply walk straight past you without a care in the world. It’s extremely disappointing seven years on to see the same issues that plagued The Last Of Us existing and remaining seemingly unaddressed.
To counteract the stealth issues, when you do eventually find yourself spotted by the enemy, within seconds you have a small army of oppressors attacking you leading to a near immediate death, the only real option being to run. This may seem understandable but when almost every encounter ends in being swarmed simply running away to safety completely dismantles any tension The Last Of Us: Part II possibly serves up. Add in how remarkably easy it is for the most part to evade detection and you have a seriously disjointed stealth experience. You can tweak the difficulty settings to your tastes with extensive options available but after tweaking things I found it had very little impact positively on combat and stealth gameplay.
Just like in The Last Of Us, NPC’s are as broken as ever. With The Last Of Us, when tension would peak and you would find yourself hiding to survive and remain undetected, Ellie or other NPC’s will simply run out into the open as you switch cover positions or awkwardly stand up for a few seconds while you hide behind cover giving away your position to enemy AI. It was extremely infuriating back in 2013 and truthfully, nothing has changed.
On numerous occasions I found The Last Of Us: Part II’s NPC’s, in particular Dina, repeating these same issues over and over again but incredibly, the enemy AI in The Last Of Us: Part II, most of the time, completely disregards these moments of frustration and disregards these NPC’s ever being in view. It’s head scratching stuff that ultimately feels like an unfinished product in terms of pushing AI intelligence as far as it can go.
For the first two hours of The Last Of Us: Part II, Naughty Dog presents us with the bulk of exposition in a build up to the initial conflict that will shape the plot. Within these first two hours you shift between Ellie, who we all know and love from the first game and Abby, a new character who is pivotal to shaping this game’s conflict. When the pivotal conflict that shapes the plot does eventually make it’s appearance around the two hour mark, it can only be summed up by anger and disappointment verging on immense hatred. It’s a ballsy move from Naughty Dog that will rub almost the entire fan base of the first game the wrong way, myself included but I must commend them for at least attempting it.
Realistically though, it is a moment that aims to evoke thoughtful deconstruction but personally, it is handled without any genuine care. Narratively speaking it should work on paper but emotionally it is wrong given how early this moment happens in the game. In the lead up to this moment, established character traits from the first game are completely disregarded as a means of justifying this sudden blow and one can’t help but scratch their head in disbelief and question how this would ever happen. Remember it is only two hours in and already the walls of the first game come crashing down but in saying that, the conflict it creates ignites a genuine drive for a satisfying resolution and you feel the emotion this moment instills in our protagonist Ellie. You are there with her now, just as angry as she is and committed to this journey.
From there you continue on as Ellie and things progress how you would expect as Ellie journeys across Seattle brutally murdering all within her path and things do get incredibly bleak at times. However, about the 10 hour mark (the middle essentially) when you feel you are coming towards the moment you’ve been waiting for, you are forced into changing your perspective and I emphasis the word, forced. The roles change entirely and it is a direction I personally detested. Everything you have been building towards and are committed to is turned on it’s head and quickly it becomes clear that Naughty Dog are attempting to sway you towards salvation and ultimately, some sort of newfound moral forgiveness.
This may have been more acceptable if the perspective change wasn’t almost entirely rooted in an extremely unlikable character, exposition that feels contrived and unfaithful to the first game and a backstory that just doesn’t work or evoke much of an emotional response due to the earlier devastating conflict we witnessed. To add to this, we are then presented with an almost identical 10 hour pathway to more brutality that becomes increasingly tedious and uninteresting as it progresses. In simplest terms, when Ellie disappears from the foreground, The Last Of Us: Part II loses everything it attempted to achieve subjecting players to a 10 hour stint that feels more like an unwanted side quest or DLC. It is extremely disappointing stuff from a game hailed by the majority of critics as the defining game of the current generation.
Some supporting characters are fleshed out in likable ways during this 10 hour stint but to counteract this, you just don’t feel much care for their cause as it usually ends with those characters being killed off. Abby’s awkward love interest, Owen, is probably the most likable of the bunch for Owen see’s that everything he is doing is just not worth it anymore. Owen seems to genuinely want to change his future and make the most of it while he can far and away in California but it is inevitably undercooked and serves very little purpose by The Last Of Us’ conclusion.
The new change in perspective also concludes fairly poorly. Two separate timelines eventually merge together and result in yet another conflict that just doesn’t work. Naughty Dog puts you in a situation during this conflict where your only wish is to simply switch sides and change the outcome. Numerous times I just lay my controller down and refused to do anything watching the conflict end how one would hope only for your last checkpoint to reload and force you to endure an outcome you don’t want. By this point in The Last Of Us: Part II’s tale, I simply just wanted to stop playing as I felt anything I was positively taking from this tale was long gone and inevitably became a distant memory by the 20 hour mark. It is probably the first time I can safely say the actions and words of a video game demoralized me to the point of nearly giving up entirely.
After your second 10 hour stint comes to an end you are finally thrust back into control of Ellie as things come full circle and work towards that resolution we have all been waiting for. About another hour or so of gameplay ensues and we are finally rewarded with… nothing. Yes, you aren’t dreaming and your eyes are not deceiving you. We are rewarded with nothing.
For every conflict there should always be a resolution and with The Last Of Us: Part II we get that conflict as hard as it may have been to endure, we get a less than appealing middle but by it’s final push, we get no resolution whatsoever. The ending is simply devoid of any and all of the fundamentals that Naughty Dog has achieved with previous titles like Uncharted: Among Thieves and The Last Of Us. It is an ending that will be sure to infuriate many fans of the franchise condemning their involvement in any sort of sequel and may result in a couple of broken controllers as well.
The Last Of Us: Part II culminates in an end that feels utterly contrived and once again dismantles anything the first game may have achieved in favour of a newfound moral forgiveness and humane outlook. Naughty Dog’s writing hits rock bottom and consolidates very quickly that everything this game was marketed as was a lie. Every concern fans voiced about the preceding leaks were entirely justified as The Last Of Us: Part II crumbles under the weight of poor characterizations, run of the mill gameplay standards and impressively poor writing.
I feel for many years to come, The Last Of Us: Part II will be talked about as one of the most divisive moments in PlayStation’s entire history and to call it the ‘defining game of this generation’ is, and I don’t say this lightly, absolutely ludicrous.