by Editor In Chief, Mark Bohdanyk
The credits for me rolled after 35.5 hours, a good 10+ more than what I was hearing was the norm. And as I have attempted to collect my thoughts, I have realized that in order to fully review this game, there is no way around spoilers. So if you do not want the game spoiled for you, this is your warning. Come back after you’ve watched or played and want to see thoughts containing story elements.
Spoiler Review Commences:
Naughty Dog has always excelled at visual fidelity, ambient atmosphere and music within its games. This game is no exception. And when we get into presentation, we have to call out the insane amount of accessibility features – I have a feeling that Sony will use this as a template for all its first party games moving forward, which means more people will be able to play their games than ever. Everything from high-contrast to text-to-speech for …well, everything… some people are calling it the most accessible game ever made. The motion capture, graphics and sound are spot-on. The animations are great and very rarely is a character’s appendage doing something it shouldn’t. The Last of Us Part 2’s ambient audio cues (for example, a lack of noise) is just as powerful a statement as hearing the forest to put you at ease. The very aggressive brutality in this game is akin to Mortal Kombat – I actually think this is more brutal than even Tomb Raider’s Laura-being-murdered-simulations by a long shot, and it’s rendered shockingly. Watching someone take a shotgun blast to the face is… you can’t help but be unsettled. (For me, that’s great – I had a visceral reaction to it – the game made me FEEL something. For other people, I could see that being too much)
There is a lot to unpack in this section, both good and bad, so let’s dig in. If you played The Last of Us (the original) predecessor to this game, you already know what you’re getting into. R2 is a very strange reload button, but you adapt pretty quickly. (square is melee and circle is crouch/prone) – there are times that I did die trying to jump over something. The hitboxes on some areas could have been improved. Steering characters (yes, since we’re in spoiler territory, there are multiple) isn’t as ‘leany’ as Joel was in the first game; I found for the most part it was fine for moving around and interacting with the environment.
I played on Medium difficulty and found that AI was still mostly dumb enough that I could shank an entire area of guards easily, which became my preferred modus operandi if not using a bow and arrow to shoot people through the neck.
Speaking of the AI, move seven inches in grass once they are alerted and they will have lost you. I also noticed the game actively reroute AI to flank you from two separate directions if you were turtling/taking your time. Like the first Last of Us, Part 2 also has difficulty spikes, and the gameplay gets a bit predictable based on the quantity of items you are suddenly finding. At several points through my streamed playthrough, I would say “We haven’t had a jump scare in a while, here comes one.” As if I was Nostradamus, it occurred at that exact moment. And the gameplay cycles. Oh, I just took out an area of clickers. Now it’s time to take on the WLF… then it will be time for a cutscene and character development.
The gameplay encourages exploration, but also kind of nags you by letting you know constantly that ‘Hey, if you’re stuck, press R3 to see a hint!,’ even though I still haven’t explored over half the area I just got done shanking everyone in. After the third or fourth time, I felt it was a commentary that I was moving too slow for the game’s liking.
Don’t get me wrong, I *enjoyed* the adrenaline rush of sneaking through a complicated level and possibly being discovered – or being discovered and having to shoot my way through ten guards… but to be honest, I had logged 24 hours before I reached the halfway point (what I thought was the final third – surprise, it wasn’t!). And I suppose even though this is intertwined with the Story section of the game, we need to discuss pacing here.
I felt as though I had played a complete game through Ellie’s Day 3 in Seattle. But to be honest, the game overstayed its welcome with me for another 11.5 hours. Let’s get into the Story section and I can address this further.
Story – 6/10
We are set 4 years after the end of The Last of Us in The Last of Us Part 2, and Joel and Ellie live in the ‘gettin’ back to normal’ town of Jackson. Joel has mellowed. Ellie has mellowed. There is a little weirdness between Joel and Ellie at the beginning of the game, but things are ok. You play for a few minutes as Abby, a person searching for Joel and his brother Tommy. It just so happens Abby gets into trouble, and Joel and Tommy save Abby and work their way back to Abby’s group’s base. Ellie had chased after the duo because they missed a check-in and gets to watch Abby, the daughter of the doctor Joel had killed when rescuing her, murder Joel in front of Ellie’s eyes with a golf club. Ellie vows revenge. You then play as Ellie until around the 20-25 hour mark (depending how much searching you do of areas) vowing to track Abby down.
You methodically kill all of the people that were there and involved/complicit in Joel’s death and then Abby is the only one left. And then you have to play as Abby. This is where the game went off the rails for me. If you played the original game, Joel and Ellie were most likely one of the strongest pairings and narrative devices you’ve ever seen develop before your eyes – it was that good. And no, I don’t mind Joel dying for story purposes. But when you have me play the antagonist of the story – and then fail to make her in any way likeable (let’s face it, she’s not a good person – she’s part of a cruel government-like organization, she’s an adulterer to friends that are ‘like family’ to her and her singular goal in life is revenge)…there’s not much to like there about her (in fact, that revenge is the only thing that makes her smile) – I simply had no desire or interest to play as this character. Yes, she does one good thing eventually and grows. Let’s throw her a party. And then I had to continue playing her for 10 hours.
This entire part of the game was pure padding. They could have easily summarized this story in 3 hours utilizing cutscenes and the worldbuilding they so excellently use throughout the rest of the game – but instead this was crammed down my throat for scenario after scenario. It was straight up drudgery. New guns, new skill trees. To quote John Oliver: …Cool.
Add flashbacks inside of flashbacks, and the story became very disjointed for me – it constantly seemed like I was getting farther and farther away from the goal rather than making progress towards it. And when Abby and Ellie’s stories finally reconverge once again, I was still playing as Abby, a character I pretty much loathed after 10 hours past me wanting a conclusion to the game, and I *wanted* her to die by Ellie’s hand. But the game continually forced me forward. As a narrative arc, I get it. They wanted Ellie to experience loss and give her justification for the game’s late third act of finally having the life she dreamed of, but now revenge was consuming her, so off she went again leaving everything she loved behind to kill Abby once and for all. For her, for Tommy and for Joel. The problem was, this could have been done much more concisely than making players do everything required here.
Even this was… I was glad to be playing Ellie again, but I had checked out 10 hours prior and wanted the credits to roll. By the time the story wrapped, while I feel it was a fine ending, (making sure to leave that ending open for a potential third installment) I was simply tired.
I suppose it could be said that there might be a meta narrative, that opposing sides of an issue have more in common than we may think, and that discourse from both sides could heal wounds – but to be honest if that is the narrative agenda, it’s even worse in my eyes. Simply cut about 7.5 hours of gameplay as Abby, and this game would be much closer to perfection; especially when you have included a new game plus mode.
Verdict and Final Score (not an aggregate of section scores)
The Last of Us Part 2 is a masterclass in creating a story, manipulating a player (in a good way) through fun, intense and brutal gameplay, but is hampered by narrative order and editing (flashbacks within flashbacks), overstaying its welcome in length and forcing you to play as a character you may not care about, for far too long. I would still recommend it to anyone who played the original – good, bad or otherwise, it’s worth your time to see the progression of the story. For fans of third person shooters, stealth games or survival games, this is a good time, if not a little long in the tooth by the time the ending wraps.
7.5 / 10 exploding arrows through the neck.
Check out our playthrough here:
If you want to see a video review, since I will not have time to make one, I recommend this: