The Last Of Us Part II Review

The Last of Us is a game that was known not only for its graphics, pushing the PS3 to its absolute limits when it was released, but also for its story, which was critically acclaimed. People fell in love with the characters known as Joel and Ellie during the duration of the game. The father/daughter bond they formed was groundbreaking and the extent to which Joel went to save Ellie was both empathizing but also incredibly controversial in that it asked a question, if it meant saving the world, would you let a loved one die in the hopes that a vaccine could be developed against a deadly disease that wiped out a majority of humanity? It is a question that absolutely makes you think, and one that considering the circumstances, absolutely made you empathize with Joel for what he did at the end of the first game. The game sold extremely well, to the point where fan demand for a sequel was made.

During E3 of 2018, Sony officially unveiled that sequel, The Last of Us Part II, the game had been in development long beforehand, starting shortly after The Last of Us Remastered hit the PS4. Developer Naughty Dog pulled out all the stops to hype the game up and it showed. People were immediately drawn to the trailer, taking note of every painstaking detail they could about the story, where it was going, and how the world was going to be fleshed out in comparison to the original. There were rumor mills buzzing about how it was all going to pan out. Originally slated for a 2019 release, The Last of Us Part II was delayed until 2020 due to Covid-19, ultimately being delayed twice before finally being released in June of 2020.

Just days prior to its release, the game was the target of a practice known as review bombing, where viewers would go onto sites and purposefully give a game a low score in order bring the average down. The reason? The entirety of the game’s plot was leaked before the official release, and it stirred up quite the hornet’s nest of anger.  So much so that one of the voice actresses ended up receiving death threats, and the game itself ended up being very divisive for many reasons. Ultimately receiving praise from just about all major gaming web sites, but getting harshly panned by personal reviews via retailers. Now that this is out of the way, let’s move on to the bigger questions, did this game live up to the hype? Did it deserve all the hatred and review bombing that it got?

I’ll address some things out the gate, first off, Naughty Dog is an extremely talented team of developers that really knows how to push the PlayStation platform to their limits graphically regardless of the system they develop for, they use every last bit of power in order to produce something that gets talked about years down the line. People were ooh-ING and ahh-ing over games like Jak and Daxter, Jak II and others on the PS2, and they were especially blown away by The Last of Us when it hit the PS3 and even on the PS4 when it was remastered for that system sometime later with all the DLC included. When it comes to system pushers, their pedigree is basically second to none. When it comes to crafting worlds with characters you come to care about in the end, they’re basically some of the best of the best at that too.

Suffice it to say, Naughty Dog seemed determined enough to live up to the hype with The Last of Us Part II, which was designed from the ground up for the PS4 architecture and it shows, the amount of detail teeming in the game is just ridiculous. They really put out all the stops, just look at the character models. The amount of detail in the pock marks and skin tones of each character alone is something to behold. All the main characters are based off real people, making the amount of detail put into each character model of each human and infected creature really hit home in terms of how realistic and detailed they all look. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, some of the best-looking character models that I’ve seen in a video game to date. Considering the humble beginnings this team came from, they should be proud of how far they’ve come.

Naughty Dog also did a wonderful job of making the city of Jackson, WY where you start the game, a believable town sprawled out in the middle of nowhere and showcasing the resiliency of humankind, that no matter what, humankind can survive and thrive even after a post-apocalyptic event. The ruins of Seattle, where a majority of the game itself takes place, are packed with absurd amounts of jaw-dropping stuff to look at and a decent amount of it to explore, it’s semi open-world, in that there are some places you can check out in between set pieces of the main story, it’s not a huge one by a long shot but for its purpose with the set pieces present in the game, it just works. It’s safe to say that this is easily one of the best-looking games on the PS4 and one that is a great way to showcase just how powerful the system truly was and is, especially considering its architecture is almost a decade old, the game runs smoothly with hardly any slowdown whatsoever. Apparently, it also gets a bit of a boost in terms of detail and FPS when played on the PS5 too but on my PS4 Pro in 4K, it looked incredible.  

Sound design wise, the game nails it on all fronts as well. Footsteps have a unique environmental sound depending on the surface you’re walking on, each gun has its own unique sound when shots are fired, you can easily tell which is which and what is being used against you or which one you are using. The voice actors execute their roles almost flawlessly. I like how human enemies react when one of their own is taken out. Sometimes each one is given a name just to make taking them out that much more personal, a very cool touch if I say so myself. The infected also have their own presence. Each one has a set of growls and grunts that makes each one easy to detect and identify. Again, the voice actors and actresses all do one hell of a job with the roles they were given. Plus everything sounds amazing when you play with a sound system connected to your TV. Fair warning though, this game is loaded with curse words, more than enough of them to make even a team of sailors or truck drivers blush, this is absolutely not a game you want to be playing with your kids around, that’s for sure.

The in game soundtrack features the return of the legendary Argentine composer Gustavo Santaolalla, whom takes a surprisingly minimalistic approach to it. Rather than big, booming, orchestral pieces being present throughout, the soundtrack consists more minimal leitmotifs that are present and noticeable. However, what is there is damn good and doesn’t feel out of place at all. If anything, It fits the atmosphere perfectly all things considered, and served its purpose of being in the background very well.

From a gameplay perspective, it’s satisfying enough when it does things right. Combat feels like a mix of Gears of War meets Metal Gear Solid. An odd merger that somehow works all things considered. Allow me to explain what I mean, you see, you can actually stealth kill enemies in this game if you have the means to do so. Either a switchblade or a shiv will allow you to successfully kill an infected creature, and with humans, you can also use your hands. However, you always run the risk of getting caught, and when you do, it’s go time. That’s where combat becomes Gears of Wars like in that each gun or firearm you use has a weight to it, and you need to nail the aim down pat before you fire away. If you do not and you are low on health or have nowhere you can hide, let’s just say you will become worm food or infected food before you know it. Basically, The Last of Us Part II takes what was good about the first game and adds to the foundation of what was already a solid game. New to the mix is the ability to go prone on the ground and the ability to jump during certain segments, adding some light platforming to the mix. The jumping isn’t exactly what I would call useful though, only necessary in certain segments of the game, while going prone in grassy areas provides a huge advantage in terms of lining up for stealth kills of either humans or infected.

The item crafting system returns from the first game as well, allowing you to create even more types of weapons than before including things like trap bombs, smoke grenades, explosive arrows, etc. All of them can be quite useful, provided you have the materials necessary to craft these items. Fortunately, the game does provide that in abundance in between combat arenas, and at times even during those intense firefights. There’s definitely something about using those items to aid you and make combat that much easier that proves to be satisfying as well, especially during difficult battles where you are being attacked from all directions. It can be fun, especially when you use the environment to your advantage too.

However, I am going to warn you flat out, the game really becomes an exercise in tedium and frustration as you proceed further into the story, you will die and you will die often. It’s really all about trial and error in the end, you find out what worked right and what didn’t in each combat sequence, of which there are a ton of in the game. This becomes problematic, especially later in the game, when combat sequences end up dragging out for far longer than necessary. When you get killed, you continue from a previous checkpoint, which can set you back a bit depending on where you die. It becomes mind-numbingly tedious, to the point where I can safely say that calling this game an absolute slog-fest would be an understatement.

So, between the amazing graphics, awesome sound design and the solid gameplay that when done right, really shines through, plus Naughty Dog’s pedigree for making incredible looking games complete with characters you grow to care about, you’d think this game would get everything right and deliver us a straight up masterpiece, right? It’s entirely understandable to believe this is the case, considering what an amazing storyline the first game had, and come on, Naughty Dog seldom let’s us down. To understand this game’s story, you need to understand some of the back story behind this fictional alternate reality and also from the first game itself.

Allow me to fill you in, you see, in this worlds timeline, a fungal outbreak wiped out 75% of the world’s population in the year 2013. The fungus, known as cordyceps, spread rapidly, either killing people outright or mutating them into what is known as infected, of which there are multiple kinds with varying degrees of difficulty to kill. The survivors end up in areas known as “Quarantine Zones” around former US Capitals, everything is highly regulated by military presences. However, people known as “smugglers” still go outside these militarized zones, either to get additional supplies or medicine, or smuggle other things into these zones that were all set up to keep people safe and keep the infected out.

This backstory sets up the events of both games. In The Last of Us, which takes place in 2033, 20 years after, you play as Joel Miller, a grizzled smuggler who lost nearly everything, including his beloved daughter Sarah, during the events of what is now known as “Outbreak Day” in this timeline. He was assigned to deliver Ellie, a girl who was bitten weeks ago but somehow developed an immunity to the cordyceps fungus, from Boston, Massachusetts to St. Mary’s, a hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. During their time together, he begins to see Ellie as like a daughter to him, thus a bond was formed between the two. He succeeds in his goal, but learns that Ellie is going to die if the surgery is performed. Upon finding this out, he goes on a killing spree, murdering anyone who dares to stand in his way, including the main surgeon who was going to perform the surgery to remove the cordyceps fungus from Ellie’s brain stem. He then gets Ellie out of the hospital and hightails it to the town of Jackson in Wyoming, setting up events of the second game.

The story of The Last of Us Part II itself starts off strong, it takes place in the year 2038 in this fictional timeline, 25 years after Outbreak Day and 5 years after the events of the first game. The cordyceps fungus still ravages this world, but mankind’s population is beginning to slowly rebuild. Ellie and Joel, the Deuteragonist and Protagonist of the first game respectively, have both settled in the town of Jackson, Wyoming, becoming members of the town watch, keeping a look out for infected and other hostiles. Jackson, which has now become a sprawling village complete with electricity and everything, stands as a beacon of hope in an otherwise bleak world.  The game’s story starts off decently enough, picking up shortly after the events of the first game, with a cutscene showing Joel singing a cover of Pearl Jam’s “Future Days” to Ellie even beginning to teach Ellie how to play guitar as he promised to do in the previous game, and giving her one for her birthday.

We then see the game flash forward five years to 2038 in this timeline, Joel and Ellie’s relationship has become strained but we are not given the reason as to why this is at first. This is where things begin to fall apart, to say this game has serious pacing issues with the story would be an understatement. You briefly play as Joel after he gets done a round on the watch, where he returns to the town for a break before going on patrol once again. You play as Ellie as she readies herself to go on patrol for infected, but Ellie is not alone. She’s accompanied by Dina, a new character introduced to this game who serves as a romantic interest for Ellie, but is also the ex-girlfriend of Jesse, whom serves as another important character in this game as well. Believe it or not though, in a refreshing touch, what you’re seeing is not a love triangle. Jesse is surprisingly mature and puts aside any personal feelings to help both Ellie and Dina out on their quest for revenge, and when he finds out what’s going on with Dina, he wants to step up and help. Props to Naughty Dog for making him genuine and likeable during the short time he is with you in the game.

The game then shifts to the perspective of another character, an unknown at this point, but one who becomes extremely important later on Her name? Abigail “Abby” Anderson, and the reason she becomes important becomes blatantly obvious within not even two hours of the game’s start. It’s here where the game begins to fall apart. You see, the story suddenly takes a turn for the worse. Those who played this game know exactly what I mean. The events that take place angered many, again, to the point where the actress who voiced Abby Anderson, Laura Bailey, ended up on the receiving end of death threats. Something I absolutely do not condone whatsoever, Laura Bailey is an extremely talented actress who was just doing her job. But that’s neither here nor there. The game places you back in control of Ellie after these events. The same Ellie, who now has one goal in mind after the events that take place in the chateau where Abby and Joel’s world’s collided. That one goal? Revenge.

Ellie’s anger towards Abby outweighs everything else, and she wants nothing more than to kill off Abby and her friends, she ends up traveling with Dina to what is now an abandoned QZ in Seattle, Washington. I won’t go into too many specifics, but the story just starts becoming a hot mess after Ellie’s arrival.  You end up finding out that there are a few additional wrinkles in Ellie’s plans, not only do you have to deal with infected, you also have to deal with what is known as the Washington Liberation Force or WLF for short, the reason? Abby and her friends are all part of this group of militants. Adding to that, another splinter group of cultists known as the Seraphites or as they’re called “Scars” because of the markings on their faces, while in turn WLF soldiers are called “Wolves” by these Seraphites. The story becomes a hot mess because of all these elements being added to the mix, they contribute to the pacing issues.

Between each chapter, the game fills you in on the events that lead up to Ellie and Joel’s fracture using flashback sequences. These flashback sequences are easily some of the best parts of the game, as you see Joel and Ellie during happier times, bonding as father and adopted daughter, to the point where you truly sympathize with Ellie and want nothing more than for her to be happy. There is one flashback sequence that was absolutely brilliant and it could’ve been that much more so if the team had acquired rights to use David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” during the final part of said sequence. Seriously, they had a golden opportunity to use that song, I’m genuinely shocked they didn’t obtain the rights to do so as that would’ve been the icing on a delicious cake served during a feast of awfulness. Either way though, it was the best part of the game, and it makes the main story a massively bitter pill to swallow.  

Adding another wrinkle to the mix, around 65% of the way through the game, Abby finds Ellie’s Seattle theatre hideout and from there, you’re then forced to play as Abby to recall the events leading up to this showdown at the theatre from her perspective. This is because Naughty Dog wanted to attempt to garner sympathy for her and what she went through shortly after the events of the first game. You learn some of her backstory, but it’s the execution of this that I found myself having a major problem with.  You find out that she’s the daughter of Jerry Anderson, the surgeon who was going to perform the life-ending surgery on Ellie in the hopes that a vaccine against the cordyceps infection would eventually be developed. A detail that wasn’t even present in the first game and one that felt pigeon-holed into the second one. Then they added another wrinkle to that mix in the form of two former Seraphites who want out, again, trying to garner additional sympathy for the game’s main antagonist. The game just unnecessarily added complexities to the mix that just didn’t mesh well with what was already present, all in an attempt to actually make you feel sympathy for Abby and what she apparently went through.

I’m going to be brutally honest though, not only was this a poor attempt at padding out the game’s length, but the segments themselves are absolutely a chore to play through, I found myself wanting to get back to the main game and kept wondering when this train wreck was going to end. There is hardly any combat in one sequence where Abby is being deployed, and during another, you end up overloaded with it while having an invisible sniper shooting at you. Yup, those pacing issues I brought up? They are especially present here, making Abby’s part of the story nothing more than a massive slogfest. I honestly found myself loathing her during this timeframe as she showed me what an awful person she was during this timeframe. The jokes with her friends fell flat, she showed absolutely zero remorse for what she did, she was also a total hypocrite to boot, murdering someone but then getting pissed off when her friends are picked off for their participation in her horrendous deed, and there was a even sex scene with her featuring nudity that was painful to watch. Fortunately, no genitalia were depicted during this scene, so kudos to Naughty Dog for at least hiding the naughty bits. Didn’t make the whole thing less agonizing to watch though.

Speaking of jokes, I will give Naughty Dog credit for containing some good ones peppered throughout, like when you see Ellie and Dina go to an abandoned library occupied by a former Firefly, and find a series of porno tapes that have titles that are both parodies and a major nod to the titles that Naughty Dog developed in the past. They did, however, miss a golden opportunity when Dina revealed her secret to Ellie, she then said, “Don’t worry Ellie, it isn’t yours.” I’m surprised they didn’t have Ellie say, “Well that’s obvious, considering I don’t have the equipment to help make one.” Definitely a missed mark, and I so wish there were more light-hearted moments scattered throughout the game. Still, it made the final part of the game that much more painful to play through knowing what was coming next.

This hits another sore spot, the game could’ve ended sooner, but nope, they padded the length even further, making it that Abby takes one of the two former Seraphites with her to LA to track down rumors of a Firefly splinter group. Ellie finds out through Tom, Joel’s surviving brother, where Abby is heading and pursues her, leaving everything she loved behind in her quest for revenge. You deal with one final gang, The Rattlers, as you plod through their territory, the song “Young Men Dead” by the Black Angels, cranks in the background. The story eventually comes to an end with a final battle against Abby that was dis-satisfying and painful to play. All those survival skills you used to get to this point? They mean naught, the game literally changes to a limited one on one fighter during the few boss battles it has, and this one is no exception, it is over and done within five minutes and unless you screw up really bad, you’re in no danger of dying whatsoever. The ending after the final battle was also very dis-satisfying, and felt like a giant middle finger to those of us who wanted to give this game the benefit of the doubt.

All in all, The Last of Us Part II is one of those games that ends up being less than the sum of its parts. The graphics and sound design are top notch, the game totally plays fine and does polish what made the first game such a memorable experience when it comes to combat, but then the problems come as you proceed further in, pacing issues galore, a main antagonist that you end up loathing even after all that effort to make you feel empathy for her, and an ending that just flat out sucked. I’m going to safely say that The Last of Us Part II left a bitter taste in my mouth after its conclusion. It’s a shame, because had Naughty Dog taken a slightly different approach, even with what assets they have here in terms of story, they could’ve made this franchise into an entire series, read more on that in my editorial. As is though, this is a game I cannot recommend to anyone but the most die-hard fans, but even they will find plenty to gripe about here.

Written by J.T. Melanson AKA Desert Rain Reads. Published on July 14, 2021
Review Copy Info: A digital copy of this game was purchased by RealGamerNewZ for the purposes of this review.