The long-awaited sequel from Naughty Dog finally debuted June 19th, 2020 for the PlayStation 4 and has been a clear success. With a 94% Metacritic rating and over 4 million copies sold within three days after launch, The Last of Us Part II became the fastest-selling Sony game for the PS4.
However, while being a clear success with the critics, it remains one of the most polarizing games ever released. Currently, it stands with a user rating of only 5.3 on Metacritic. This article explains why The Last of Us Part II is in fact, a good game.
Graphics and Audio
To begin, the graphics of the Last of Us Part II are undoubtedly stunning. Every character and environment is meticulously crafted to consistently deliver jaw-dropping visuals throughout the entirety of the game. Tiny details such as the foliage, lighting opacity, reflection on different materials, and dilution of blood in water may be completely overlooked by some players but were still added to make a seamless and elaborate playthrough. The acting and motion capture were excellently delivered; the reactions and facial expressions gave life to the characters, even in a harsh and unforgiving world.
The voice acting and sound design are also incredibly well-implemented. Not only does the soundtrack fit perfectly in context, the in-game audio is clean and clearly localizes the sounds in a stereoscopic image. Players can easily identify the location of a speaker, an infected, or even rushing water.
Though in some places not even necessary, the consideration to seemingly insignificant details is what distinguishes this game from others. The acting, audio, and visual aspect of the game are phenomenal—the developers truly went above and beyond in creating a detailed and atmospheric game.
The gameplay in The Last of Us Part II is greatly improved over its predecessor. Characters’ movements feel much more fluid and new mechanics are introduced to let the player swing, jump, climb ropes, dodge, and go prone. The combat is harsh and bloody; every gun has a purpose and every swing of a punch or melee weapon holds weight. New infected have been introduced and each human settlement uses different tactics and weapons to make gameplay more interesting. The problem-solving aspect is smarter compared to the previous game and upgrading is enhanced to allow more options through various skill trees. Overall, the gameplay is engaging, fun, and a great improvement from the first game.
Naughty Dog has also taken accessibility and control to the next level—allowing every player to customize their experience. There are three pre-sets designed to help with vision, hearing, and motor accessibility; alternate controls with input remap; additional in-game assistance with camera, weapons, navigation and traversal, and item pick-up; combat accessibility; and motion sickness assistance. Although there are already five different difficulty levels, the game also allows the player to specifically customize granular aspects such as enemy aggression, quantity of ammunition and supplies, weapon durability, and even conditions for grabbing enemies during stealth. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list; the entire amount of accessibility options is impressively massive, with too many features to cover individually. The amount of consideration taken for accessibility and controls is admirable and gives everyone an opportunity to customize the game for their own experience.
Major spoilers ahead!
From the success of its predecessor, The Last of Us Part II invites the player to explore the world as Ellie. It challenges its players with a new, non-linear story-line that introduces the audience to a brand-new playable character. However, in a very controversial decision, the game also kills off a main character within just a few hours of gameplay.
Joel is tortured and killed by Abby in, quite possibly, the most disrespectful way for a beloved main character. Within just a few hours of gameplay, players are thrown off their feet as they’re forced to watch Joel’s brutal death from Ellie’s perspective—only to be confronted halfway through the game with the requirement to play as his killer for a 10 hour-long segment.
Clearly, this is an unconventional decision for a sequel that leaves some players angered and confused. However, after completing the game, one may realize it is an ambitious and brave choice that is necessary to clearly emphasize the meaning behind the story and put the player in Ellie’s shoes.
What The Last of Us Part II does exceedingly well is reflect the brutality of an apocalyptic world. From the story to gameplay, the death of a character is not required to be dramatic and exhaustive, but is rather presented as a harsh and unforgiving consequence. Joel’s death was a direct repercussion to his choice at the end of the first game; his decision to save Ellie may have destroyed the population’s only chance at a vaccine—his demise was inevitable. He died a villain’s death simply because he was a villain to many.
But why kill Joel so early in the game? After only a short segment as Joel, players weren’t given a chance to explore Joel’s and Ellie’s character development before he died. The reasoning behind this is to really place the player in Ellie’s shoes. It gives the audience a real and strong motive for revenge and does an excellent job to provoke a real hatred towards Abby.
At the end of the game, this is emphasized even more as we learn Ellie was just beginning to forgive Joel the day before he died. From Ellie’s point of view, she was robbed of the chance to forgive Joel’s decision, just as the player was robbed the chance to play with him as it was hoped. This tough decision made an amazing impact by truly forcing the audience into Ellie’s perspective. Both the player and the character journey through Seattle with the same motive and anger; the chance to relive The Last of Us with Joel is gone.
However, throughout the story the player gains more insight about Joel’s and Ellie’s past in a series of well-crafted flashbacks that reflect the atmosphere of the present. The transitions may be jarring at times but are not a complete juxtaposition. In fact, the memories serve to represent Ellie’s increasingly deteriorating mental state as she searches for Abby. Although these flashbacks could have been placed before Joel’s death to gain more insight about the characters at the beginning of the game, it does an excellent job as a slow revelation to mirror Ellie’s journey through grief.
Diverging from the straightforward storyline from that of the first game, The Last of Us Part II takes another risk by using a dual narrative to not only tell Ellie’s story, but Abby’s as well. The gameplay between these two characters draw intersecting parallels as the player journeys through Ellie’s path of revenge and then again as Abby—restarting the last few days to explore the world from her perspective. Players do not have to necessarily like Abby, but to understand her motives behind her revenge. After playing with her, it is clear to see that not only does her story correspond with Ellie’s, but it also draws parallels from the game’s predecessor.
Much like the rest of The Last of Us Part II, the ending is harsh. After her vigorous effort for revenge, Ellie does not kill Abby. Instead, she lets her leave and ends her need for blood and vengeance. It is clear that an underlying message of the game is that there are no winners in revenge. We see that Ellie loses everything—her family, her ability to play guitar, and her worst fear of isolation becomes true. Abby, after completing her revenge, is still plagued with nightmares until she finally makes peace with her past by helping Lev and Yara. After playing both Ellie and Abby, the game makes the audience hesitant to root for either character’s deaths in the final, grueling fight.
But to call revenge the only theme of the story would be reductionist—The Last of Us Part II offers so much more in following the characters’ journeys through grief and acceptance. While the first game was about hope and saving humanity, The Last of Us Part II is about what is left of it. In the end, Ellie finally accepts that she wasn’t able to give Joel the forgiveness she had promised, but that it was enough for Joel that she wanted to try.
The story is unconventional and innovative, and the themes are complex and thought-provoking. There were many risks Naughty Dog chose to take, and while many people may not agree with those decisions, it is undeniable that a tremendous amount of work was put into making the story a reality. The characters have depth and the graphics, audio, acting, and details are incredible. Overall, The Last of Us Part II is an amazing game from start to finish.