Naughty Dog has evolved quite a bit over the years, starting out making a simple math-based educational game and some other Apple II titles before eventually trying their hand at a 3DO-exclusive fighting game. They hit real success with Crash Bandicoot, segued into the Jak and Daxter series, and finally hit megastar status with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune on the PS3.
After a trio of Uncharted games (and a Jak and Daxter Collection) they struck out into new territory again with 2013’s The Last of Us – another major hit. And now, after going back into the Uncharted well a couple more times, they’ve returned to the world of Joel and Ellie (and the mutant zombies) with The Last of Us Part II.
Not much has changed in the gameplay from the first game, and the loop of stealth-action-escape-stealth-action-encounter done returns largely unchanged. You’re not able to turn off the Listen ability, which gives Ellie a radar vision that Daredevil would be jealous of, even on the highest difficulties – but at least there are enemies that can’t be picked up by it. Ellie can jump now, something Joel wasn’t capable of for some reason, which expands environmental traversal quite a bit.
Enemy AI is solid in most situations. They’ll alert others and start a search if they find a dead body, and they’re surprisingly vocal – relaying ideas on where you might be hiding back and forth as they search. They’ll even check behind them every so often, aware that they have a blind spot and that you’ll likely be found there. Everyone seemed to have a name, including the dogs you’ll have to take down to avoid detection or – if that’s failed – being hunted down, and that certainly ups the realism.
You can even use the human and zombie enemies against one another, drawing them together so they’ll fight it out. Unfortunately, most of the time – though there are rare exceptions – you can’t use the chaos to simply slip by as, for all its talk about how awful this world is, the game doesn’t walk the walk and most of the time you’ll need to kill whoever is left, no matter who wins. And these kills are brutal – not as over the top as a Mortal Kombat fatality, but perhaps worse because they’re so firmly seated in reality. The fading gurgle of someone you just stabbed in the throat is haunting, even when you’ve heard it for the hundredth time.
I don’t want to spoil the story, and Sony actually forbids talking about anything past a certain point, but it ties back to the ending of the original, where Joel makes a decision with enormous ramifications to the world as a whole. Set four years after the events of that final day, Part II gives us an Ellie that’s older and still dealing with what she’s been through.
Really the only problem I have with the story is that Ellie doesn’t learn or grow at all. Even though she’s the main character this time out, she gets less development than she did as the secondary one in the first game. The game spends endless time preaching at you about how needless and awful violence is, and then sends you back out to murder another dozen people – and their dogs. I mean I get it, it’s an apocalypse story – but for all the time she spends moaning about having to kill people, maybe Ellie could just NOT kill someone occasionally? The game is releasing at a tough time for such a dark, brutal story, and the events in the world around us show how poor a job it does at working with some of the themes it touches on.
What I Loved:
- Stellar graphics, especially on a PS4 Pro
- Beautifully written dialogue, even if the plot loses the thread a time or two
- Ellie has far more movement options than Joel did
What I Liked:
- Good environments, with well designed puzzles
- The ‘wide linear’ design keeps players from getting lost/distracted
- Markedly better gameplay than the original
- Killing time ‘playing’ the guitar using the touchpad
What I Disliked:
- Almost no stealth option – Ellie complains about violence, but won’t shy away from it
- Can’t shut off Listen ability this time out?
What I Hated:
The Final Word: The Last of Us Part II feels like a movie about revenge – I spent a lot of time being preached at about themes of hate and obsession, then being carried along for the ride because I wasn’t allowed to make any meaningful decisions to affect the path of the story. And no matter how well-made it is, and it is, it’s not a movie I’d have chosen to watch right now.
The Last of Us Part II releases on PS4, June 19th. Reviewed on PS4 Pro using code provided by the publisher.