Review originally published on 12th June, 3:01 pm.

Platform: PS4
Genre: Action-Adventure, Survival Horror, Tear-Jerker

The Last Of Us. It’s still unbelievable how much of a pop-culture juggernaut it has become since it originally launched for the PS3 back in 2013. Seven years is a long time.

To this day, Naughty Dog’s brilliant masterpiece is still widely-regarded not only as one of the best video games in history but also one of the games that’s meant to be a testament to how the medium should be seen as an art form, just as much as movies and music.

How can a sequel possibly live up to that? Well, the folks at Naughty Dog have done their damndest to make The Last Of Us Part 2 a worthy successor, and it surely comes close.

Does that mean The Last Of Us Part 2 is a bad game? Hell, no. If anything, it could even be considered as one of the best games this generation has had to offer to date.

More Than Just Ellie’s Story

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The Last Of Us Part 2 takes place five years after the end of The Last Of Us, which means that we’re treated to an older Ellie and Joel who have settled in the peaceful town of Jackson in Wyoming. While the first game was pretty much the adventures of Ellie and Joel, the second game introduces a bunch of new characters, many of which have been revealed in promotional trailers and material for The Last Of Us Part 2.

Ellie is no longer tied to just Joel for human companionship. She now has friends and potential lovers, like Dina (whom she kisses in the previously-revealed Paris Games Week trailer) and Jesse, the Asian guy who can also be seen in one of the trailers. Things start to become relatively normal for Ellie, until one day when disaster unexpectedly strikes. While I can’t reveal what happens, this tragic event spurs Ellie onto her new journey.

The themes being explored in The Last Of Us Part 2 (as previously-revealed by game director Neil Druckmann) are hate and the cycle of violence.

In fact, hate is what drives Ellie on her new adventure, and, as a result, the game’s narrative is more complex than the original, where all Ellie and Joel were concerned with was safely reaching the Fireflies to make a potential cure for the Cordyceps virus.

Things aren’t as clear cut or as black and white in the sequel. Throughout the game, Ellie performs questionable actions and unspeakable acts of violence to achieve her mission. In her mind, the ends justify the means and violence begets violence. The consequences of her actions (and of those closest to her) are real. The lines start to blur, and what happens when you can’t distinguish between good guys and the bad guys?

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In the original The Last Of Us, it was a matter of survival for Ellie; a kill or be killed situation, but now it’s entirely her own personal and independent choice to pursue these ‘antagonists’ for revenge. I’m not ashamed to say that I sometimes squirmed a little watching the gratuitous and near-realistic violence in The Last Of Us Part 2.

While other current-gen games like Sony Santa Monica’s God Of War also depicted similar levels of violence and blood, that game featured acts of violence against beasts and monsters that don’t exist in real life. In The Last Of Us Part 2, you’ll be killing human beings and even dogs.

You can choose not to kill the dogs, but it’s not like the game has a non-lethal option or alternative for stopping them. The violence is visceral and graphic as well; heads get bashed in, and gallons of blood will be spilt. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted or squeamish.

The moral and philosophical conundrums in The Last Of Us Part 2 aren’t exactly subtle, but the game also subverts the idea of conventional protagonist and antagonist roles, twisting these tropes.

It’s not hard for me to predict that the narrative choices made by Naughty Dog in this game will likely be extremely divisive to many fans of the original.

I won’t lie; many fans will probably hate and abhor what Naughty Dog has done with their beloved characters. Heck, I personally have mixed feelings about the story and where they decided to go with the plot myself, but everything ultimately lines up with the inherent themes of the narrative, and in service of it.

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It gets better once you comprehend that all of these characters are meant to be flawed human beings, even the protagonists Joel and Ellie. Trauma can change even the best of us and in a post-apocalyptic world like in The Last Of Us Part 2, that’s even more truth to that. You know what they say; love and hate are two sides of the same coin.

Halfway through The Last Of Us Part 2, players should expect a paradigm shift. In fact, the story in The Last Of Us Part 2 benefits from being told from more than one perspective, expanding the game’s narrative beyond just Ellie’s side of the story.

I’ll just say this: everyone’s a villain in someone else’s story, as you will learn in The Last Of Us Part 2.

What is this paradigm shift, you ask? Well, halfway through the game is when the game thrusts you into the role of another playable character. You will then continue playing as this character (who’s not Ellie) for quite a while, and this isn’t a half-assed attempt from Naughty Dog either. This other playable character plays differently from Ellie, as well as having her/his own unique weapons and skill tree upgrades.

Let me just tell you that this character change will change the entire game, for an experience that’s more than just Ellie’s story. That’s all I can say without spoiling more, but while you may question why you need to play as this new playable character at first, you’ll later come to understand how important she/he is to the game.

The Last Of Us Part 2 also employs various extended (and playable) flashback sequences to fill in the blanks of its narrative. The player will learn about stuff that happened in the past, and understand how they affect the present (or future). For the purpose of this review (and coverage of this game), I’ve actually played almost two playthroughs of the game (the first playthrough took me almost 27 hours), after which I realized several things that I could only have learned after doing so.

It was only after two playthroughs that I realized that there were moments that foreshadowed future events sprinkled throughout the game, and certain details that you’ll only notice in subsequent playthroughs.

Oh, and yes, The Last Of Us Part 2 does have a New Game Plus mode, where all weapons, equipment and unlocked skills/abilities will carry over.

However, I do have one complaint; sometimes the flashbacks will happen at odd times, breaking the pacing and momentum of the game. The reason for this is because these flashbacks can be quite lengthy to complete.

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This means that you’ll sometimes be taken from the heat of the current moment to delve into an entire flashback chapter from the past. Don’t get me wrong though; these flashbacks contain some of the best and most memorable moments in The Last Of Us Part 2, but they do sometimes break the flow of the game.

There’s even a point in the game where, as it reaches the climax (a pretty pivotal moment at that), players are suddenly yanked into a flashback. This is actually when that aforementioned ‘paradigm shift’ officially begins, but it’s still a jarring and bizarre choice on the developer’s part nonetheless.

It’s like reaching a cliffhanger or getting the ‘To Be Continued’ screen when watching a TV series, and we all know how frustrating that can be.

A Lean, Mean Killing Machine

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Its story notwithstanding; where The Last Of Us Part 2 shines the most is its gameplay. While not really innovative or revolutionary, the new mechanics introduced in the sequel somehow manages to improve the already tight and polished stealth, shooting and third-person action mechanics in the original The Last Of Us.

Naughty Dog started experimenting with semi-open world hubs with 2016’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and 2017’s Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. These segments allow for more non-linear exploration in a slighter bigger setting than the usually straightforward progression and setpieces that the developer is best known for in previous games.

The Seattle hub (which can be seen in the promotional trailers) is the biggest and most ambitious one yet in a Naughty Dog game. I spent perhaps a good two hours or so in that area alone, and what’s surprising is that a lot of it is actually skippable. Yeah, you can go straight to accomplishing the objective if you don’t feel like exploring.

However, that would be a total waste, considering the wealth of optional and missable cutscenes and missions that there are waiting for players who take the time to explore every nook and cranny.

These missable story sequences are often personal and light-hearted character moments, giving players a break from all the violence and killing.

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For example, when I entered a music shop in the Seattle hub, I was rewarded with one of the game’s most memorable highlights which I’m sure will be shared to death on social media when the game eventually comes out.

If you’ve seen the new TV commercial for The Last Of Us Part 2, you’ll notice that Ellie plays the guitar and sings to Dina. Well, in this amazing sequence, she does the same thing, but I won’t spoil what the song is. You’ll definitely be pleasantly surprised.

Most of the core gameplay from 2013’s The Last Of Us have remained intact, albeit with several new mechanics and quality-of-life improvements, all of which feel like their natural evolution into the realm of current-gen gaming, while retaining its gritty and grounded elements.

Running away from combat is a viable option in The Last Of Us Part 2, allowing players to rethink their combat strategies on the fly and reestablish stealth again. This is great for guerilla (hit and run) tactics or if you tend to make mistakes during stealth.

What really makes a huge amount of difference this time around is how much more mobile and smoother the combat is. Unlike Joel in The Last Of Us, The Last Of Us Part 2‘s Ellie is significantly more agile.

This new agility owes itself to the new dodge mechanic, which was also weirdly something that was also newly-introduced in Capcom’s Resident Evil 3 Remake earlier this year.

Is this going to be a trend now? If so, I welcome it.

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Players dodge by simply pressing the L1 button and moving the analogue stick in the direction they want to go. It’s pretty intuitive and forgiving in terms of having to time your responses, as the dodge timing window is quite generous. Due to that, spamming the dodge button will only lead to you getting killed faster.

The dodge mechanic is versatile in that it can be used to even dodge bullets (if you time it right, she’s not The Flash) and get to cover faster.

It feels wonderful to play when you’ve gotten a steady rhythm of knowing when to dodge and attack, especially during melee fights. It’s like the late Muhammad Ali said; “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”.

Even playing at normal difficulty, resources (especially ammo and materials for crafting) can be hard to come by, despite the fact that I took my time exploring, scouring and scavenging. Resorting to melee never feels like a chore or a hassle, and I find myself favouring stealth and melee over using ranged weapons. Except when I’m fighting the Infected, of course. Melee-ing a Clicker or Shambler is an instant death sentence.

Another mechanic that lends further to the increased agility during combat and gameplay is the new dedicated jump button, which means there are now actual platforming sections in the game (and swinging from ropes).

You don’t have to worry about Ellie suddenly turning into Nathan Drake or Chloe Frazer 2.0, because she’s a lot less agile than those two slick adventurers. I actually fell to my death a couple of times; it was hilarious.

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That said, The Last Of Us Part 2 does feature a lot of that one Uncharted series trope; the one where jumping to a fragile ledge or whatever will result in a sudden anxiety-inducing jump-scare when it conveniently crumbles at that exact moment. In The Last Of Us Part 2, that also happens to floors, so expect falling through floors to be a random but strangely-common occurrence.

In 2013’s The Last Of Us, players could crouch, but that’s all they could do, which means that stealth options were more limited. In The Last Of Us Part 2, Ellie can go prone (lie face down on her belly to avoid detection) and even move while in that position. This expands and enhances the game’s stealth gameplay. Now Ellie can hide in tall grass, underneath certain vehicles and other hiding places. From these hiding places, Ellie can ambush enemies or just shoot them,

I’ve even cheesed the combat in the game by following that strategy. Find some tall grass, go prone, and shoot my silenced pistol or bow and arrow. Most of the times, I could kill a number of enemies in the area by doing that and waiting for them to come near my position, as I lay there undetected. Well, unless they have dogs, that is.

With all the new movement options available, traversal options in The Last Of Us Part 2 have also been expanded to include more horse-riding and even boats. Riding horses feel similar to how they do in 2018’s Red Dead Redemption 2 (with weight factoring in and realistic movements), but the boats actually feel clunky to move around in.

That may be realistic, but I found it to be a chore every time I have to ride a boat. Thankfully, the boat segments are few and far in between, except for one segment. Thankfully, you’ll be doing a lot more swimming than riding boats.

Naughty Dog initially made a ridiculously big deal about how this game will feature dogs as enemies, as if it’s such a revolutionary new concept when many games before The Last Of Us Part 2 have already featured the same thing. Still, that doesn’t mean that the dogs in The Last Of Us Part 2 are any less annoying to fight, as dog enemies in games often are.

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They can smell and track Ellie’s scent, but it’s actually not hard to trick them into losing her scent trail. The unique animation for physically killing dogs is quite brutal and disconcerting, as you hear their final whines before they drop dead from your stabbings.

Yes, that’s how you kill dogs if you attack them with melee, since Ellie uses a switchblade by default.

Unlike other stealth games, there are no non-lethal combat options in The Last Of Us Part 2, so you either kill the dogs or avoid them through stealth, which would make the game unnecessarily and frustratingly harder for no reason. Oh, and unlike the Resident Evil games or most other games, these aren’t zombie dogs or mutant dogs; simply regular and angry dogs.

The Listen Mode makes a triumphant return here, allowing Ellie to use her heightened sense of hearing and spatial awareness to more effectively locate enemies, strangely enough (since she’s not supposed to be superhuman in any way), even behind walls and from a distance. Gamers who decry this mechanic and accuse it of breaking the game’s immersion can simply choose not to use it, but it’s still there for the player’s convenience.

Tools Of Vengeance

As for weapons, Ellie will have access to a 9mm pistol and hunting rifle at the beginning of the game, while the rest are optional and must be found while exploring the world. These include returning weapons like a shotgun, bow and arrow (you can even craft explosive arrows), a revolver, and a variety of craftable items like molotovs and smoke bombs. There are also various (breakable) melee weapons like hammers, machetes, and more.

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There are actually more weapons, but I can’t reveal what they are without spoiling anything. What I can say is that they all pack the same satisfying punch and feel distinctive enough from each other during combat. They can all be upgraded at workbenches strewn throughout the game, and players can look forward to intricate unique animations for every single upgrade.

For instance, you’ll see Ellie adding and attaching an actual scope to the hunting rifle when you purchase that upgrade using Parts (the resource required), or you’ll see her disassembling the weapons and tinkering with them when you purchase the upgrade for less Recoil or more Stability.

Players will also have to actively search for Training Manuals, which will unlock brand new skill trees for Ellie to learn new abilities and passive skills. Some of these are more helpful than others, such as faster movement when crouching and going prone. Some help you conserve materials by allowing you to craft more ammo and items from fewer amount of materials.

As for enemy types, there are two new types of Infected; the acid-spraying Shambler and the Stalkers, who travel in packs and use annoying hit and run tactics.

These new Infected are interesting to fight because Listen Mode doesn’t work on Stalkers, so you’ll have to stalk them the old-fashioned way, while it’s important to keep a safe distance from Shamblers, which means that players have to stay mobile at all times.

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It’s already been previously established that there are several factions in The Last Of Us Part 2, including the militia group Washington Liberation Front (WLF) and the cult-like Seraphites or Scars. Unlike the conventional militia troopers of the WLF, the Scars communicate with each other not by speaking, but instead by whistling as if they’re descended from dolphins.

Imagine getting stalked by a bunch of fanatical weirdos who whistle to signal their friends, like they’re aliens from outer space. These enemies also use bow and arrows, which can get lodged in Ellie’s flesh and inflict continuous damage over time.

Players need to press and hold the R1 button to pull it out, though this rarely happens (only once or twice in my playthrough). Still, the first time will likely have you flinching.

These different factions are a result of extreme tribalism, which is commonly explored in post-apocalyptic stores like The Last Of Us Part 2. We only saw glimpses of that in the original The Last Of Us, like that group of cannibals. It’s terrifying to what extent people are willing to kill for their beliefs and tribalistic tendencies. People can be more vicious than the Infected.

Despite all the gameplay improvements, I would have liked the AI to have been smarter. For all the talk of enemies calling out the names of their fallen comrades, they behave just like enemies in any other game, and are not particularly smart either. I’ve cheesed a lot of them simply by avoiding detection by hiding in tall grass or elevated positions, but they still couldn’t pinpoint my exact location.

Should I really care if I know the names of the enemies I kill? Not really; plenty of other games have done the same thing. It’s sometimes even somewhat comical when enemies scream out the name of their dead partners in such a melodramatic fashion. I’m sure that wasn’t the intended effect, but it is what it is.

Turn That Frown Upside-Down

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Let’s not mince words; it’s Naughty Dog and we’ve come to expect sky-high standards for graphics and visuals from the developer over the years. Say what you want about the story or gameplay but it’s undeniable that the graphics and visuals in The Last Of Us Part 2 are some of the best I’ve ever seen.

The entire game looks downright gorgeous, with character models looking well-detailed and featuring lush environments. The lighting effects in The Last Of Us Part 2 is a huge improvement over the last-gen The Last Of Us, which is expected considering how great these aspects were in recent Uncharted games as well.

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That being said, the cherry on top of it all and the crowning achievement of The Last Of Us Part 2 are the facial expressions. These are award-winning motion-capture on Andy Serkis’ level, the likes of which is an incredible sight to behold.

I’ve seen only a few games that have been able to render such detailed facial expressions.

Of course, the out-of-this-world facial expressions are necessary for the game’s emotional narrative to be fully-realized. Just like Sony Santa Monica’s God Of War or even Naughty Dog’s own recent Uncharted titles, motion-capture in gaming has come a long way. They bring considerable emotional heft and value to these games, and none more so than The Last Of Us Part 2 (though you should expect a lot of grimacing and serious faces for the most part).

If you’re wondering, The Last Of Us Part 2 will have a Photo Mode at launch, and it’s a fun feature that accentuates the beautiful visuals. There are multitudes of breathtaking views throughout the game, from lush green vistas to overgrown cityscapes, but my guilty pleasure is capturing the most violent moments in Photo Mode, like when I’m stabbing an enemy or even during cutscenes (don’t judge me, you’ll be doing that too).

Naughty Dog’s Most Accessible Game Yet

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Accessibility in games is more than just subtitles, larger fonts, or colour-blind options. More and more developers are realizing that adding more accessibility options for those less-inclined to vigorous gaming or to accommodate disabled gamers. In The Last Of Us Part 2, there are 60 different accessibility options in the game’s menu.

These cover aspects from controls, visual aids, audio clues, and navigation to traversal and combat. While some are standard features, other elements are game-changing to allow everyone to be able to play the game. Those with sight disabilities can utilize the text-to-speech option that reads out everything in the game, including menus and the notes Ellie picks up on her journey, as well as even audio cues that indicate nearby items or climbable ledges.

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A new high-contrast mode changes the visuals entirely for low-vision players or those who have difficulty distinguishing between different character models. This renders the world in The Last Of Us Part 2 a light grey while turning allies blue and enemies red. In addition, players can also fully remap the controls,

In particular, I appreciate the options to change button prompts from having to tap them repeatedly to just holding them down. It’s not that I can’t tap buttons, but holding them down is a better alternative for me, and I’m glad to see it available as an option.

The Last Of The Last Of Us?

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The Last Of Us Part 2 is not a relaxing game, nor is it something that you’d play to release stress. It’s an emotionally-exhausting, and even traumatising, game. One that will likely make you angry (or sad) on more than one occasion. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments to make you happy or cry, but they’re often fleeting, just like in real life.

If you’re looking for a relatively happier and more light-hearted experience, I suggest replaying any of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted games. But if you’re ready for the thrilling ride that is The Last Of Us Part 2, all I can say is: brace yourself.

Will The Last Of Us Part 2 be as iconic as the original The Last Of Us? I don’t think so, but I’ll be damned if it’s not a great game in its own right.

Still, to answer the question, I personally think that The Last Of Us Part 2 is a better game in almost every aspect (gameplay and graphics, especially) compared to its predecessor.

You’ll notice that I said “almost”, because I still like and prefer the story and narrative in the original The Last Of Us than its sequel.

How you ultimately feel about the game will depend on whether you’ll like The Last Of Us Part 2‘s narrative choices. Like I said before, this game will split fans and gamers into radically different and divisive camps, which I expect will happen when it’s out 19th June.

Trust me on this.

Pros

  • Naughty Dog’s greatest visual work to date.
  • New gameplay mechanics that expand the stealth and combat gameplay.
  • Meaningful weapon upgrades pack a punch; also fun to watch in action.
  • Takes bold risks with story & narrative.
  • A wealth of accessibility options.

Cons

  • Incredibly divisive story and narrative-wise.
  • AI is sometimes too dumb and easy to take advantage of.
  • Flashback sequences break the pacing of the game.

FINAL SCORE: 90/100

The Last Of Us Part 2 was reviewed on a PS4 Pro via a review copy courtesy of PlayStation Asia.


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