The Last of Us Part II is equal parts bold, brutal, and beautiful. It’s not for the faint of heart. As the credits rolled on my 30+ hour journey through the ruins of Seattle, I was struck by just how much of an effect it had on me. It is the kind of once-in-a-generation game that elevates the medium as a whole, presenting the type of story that only works as a video game. This is due in large part to the game’s stunning presentation and a pair of truly incredible performances from the game’s two leads - Ashley Johnson and Laura Bailey. Filled with nuance and pathos, they are the kinds of performances that prove the medium can compete with the best Hollywood and “Prestige TV” have to offer.
Graphics That Tell A Story
The Last of Us Part II is the best looking video game I’ve ever seen. From a pure graphical fidelity standpoint, it’s a sight to behold. But the game’s true superpower is its art direction. Walking through the ruins of towns, exploring the homes of people who either died or left in a hurry - every space feels lived in. Each painstakingly rendered bedroom, schoolhouse, and shop has a story to tell about who was there before and what their deal was.
For a game hellbent on selling you the concept of real human characters in this chaotic and violent world, studio Naughty Dog doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable, the dramatic or the hyper-realistic. They are serious about making you reckon with the violence you dish out. Not just in TLOU2, but in all the violent games you’ve played before.
Gameplay in The Last of Us Part II
The gameplay in TLOU2 will be familiar to anyone who’s played a stealth-action or survival horror-game any time in the past decade. Scrounge for ammo, hide in the shadows, stealth kill, shoot, and repeat. It’s easy to look at the gameplay from a purely mechanical standpoint as anything but revolutionary. And yet from an execution standpoint, it’s polished to a mirror sheen. The enemies are intelligent, the shooting mechanics are exceptional and the level design is top notch.
You spend much of the first chunk of the game exploring an “open world” of downtown Seattle. You’re given the freedom to comb through the ruins of destroyed businesses, banks, and municipal buildings on the hunt for collectibles and little bits of lore. It’s a true high point for the game.
Shortly after this first chapter, though, the game becomes significantly more linear. The action largely moves in the other direction. Your adventure will take you through many smaller, yet still expansive and impressive encounter arenas, each of which have their own flavor and unique aesthetic. Picture an overgrown city street with gas stations, businesses and shops, a partially flooded multi-level shopping mall, a crumbling parking garage. You get the picture. Believe me, they’re incredibly impressive, but had The Last of Us Part II committed to the “open world” of the opening chapter, I would not hesitate to call it a perfect game.
Compelling, Dystopian Story
I will be delicate here to avoid some of the pretty major spoilers this game has in store (if you happen to be one of the people who’ve managed to avoid them thus far). Suffice it to say it is a sequel to The Last of Us, another exceptional game from the previous console generation rife with shock and violence that forces players into difficult situations.
Our story picks up five years later with our previous leads, Joel and Ellie - survivors of a global virus that has decimated the population, causing society to crumble and turning many into zombie-like creatures. Through the use of some truly bold (and divisive) story decisions, what follows is a revenge tale told from two perspectives. Truly remarkable and nuanced performances from all the actors involved elevate what could easily be disastrous material in the wrong hands. It’s a story about the cycles of violence that propagate through this ruined world, and how these cycles become impossible to pull out of. It’s often unsettling, and demands that you, the player, move out of your comfort zone. I often found myself wincing at some of its hyper-realistic gore, even though I couldn’t bring myself to look away.
For example, the game goes to great lengths to remind you that the armies of goons our protagonist spends hours upon hours killing are, in fact, human beings. By the end of the adventure I was supremely aware of the body count I had racked up in my quest for revenge. You might say it’s easy to write this off as violence for the sake of violence. There’s more there under the surface, though. Even if it’s not much more. It worked on me, even if it overstays its welcome by the end of the lengthy campaign.
It’s not all killing and bloodshed, however. A lesser game wouldn’t take a quiet, extended detour through an abandoned museum. Instead, TLOU2 opts to slow the action down for around an hour in favor of character development. A bold decision for a AAA game in 2020, one that yields one of the game’s most memorable sequences.
Is this a formal review? Not really, just my experiences with the game as the guy who puts the content together at your favorite comic conventions. There’s so much more to say about this game that I didn’t have time to get into. In closing, I’ll say this - Last of Us II is challenging, in the way that all good art should be. As we prepare to close the door on this console generation, Last of Us II is something that should not be missed. It’s a must play game and an experience we’re sure to continue dissecting for years to come. Even if you only have the stomach to play it once.
Buy The Last of Us Part II at Gamestop for $59.99.