Naughty Dog is a developer that never fails in delivering games that are simply amazing, pure masterpieces. It’s something we witness every Playstation generation. Whether it’s Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter, or Uncharted, Naughty Dog has brought forward some of the most famous franchises in gaming. However, for many gamers, the studio’s crowning achievement would be their last game released on PS3. Released back in 2013, The Last of Us was an outstanding success that received critical acclaim from both the media and players, not only becoming the fifth-highest-rated PS3 game on Metacritic, but also chosen as the best game of the decade by Metacritic users.
It’s no surprise that with the success of the first game and the expectations for its sequel, Naughty Dog was under considerable pressure to make sure it would live up to those expectations. Director Neil Druckmann has explained, on many occasions, that The Last of Us Part II would be Naughty Dog’s longest and most ambitious game, and I can see why after playing it. Despite a somewhat troublesome development cycle, I can definitely say that The Last of Us Part II is yet another masterpiece that surpasses the original, and delivers one of the most memorable experiences in gaming that goes beyond what the industry has been able to deliver so far.
Following the events of the first story, Joel and Ellie left the hospital where the Fireflies were working to develop a cure for the Cordyceps Brain Infection (a mutated fungus that either killed or infected roughly 60% of the human population) and set out for Jackson City, where Joel’s brother Tommy resides. The Last of Us Part II takes place four years later, and Joel and Ellie are now living a peaceful life. The people in Jackson City still manage to live ordinary lives where it’s perfectly normal for kids to be outside playing, families on walks walking with, and organized community events, despite the horrors that are still very present in the world. However, this peace that Ellie treasures so much is soon shattered, which prompts our protagonist to leave the peaceful walls of Jackson City and embark on a quest to find those responsible and seek vengeance.
Without going into too much detail, I can definitely say that with The Last of Us Part II, Naughty Dog delivers an ambitious story that goes far beyond what its predecessor offered; it’s a story not just focused around Ellie, but also all the other characters around her, where we get to see their interactions, motivations, perspectives, and flaws. It’s these well-written and realistic characters, along with a well-crafted story and clever use of flashback sequences that manage deliver an experience that will keep you interested and engaged in these characters’ adventures and their fates from beginning to end. But Naughty Dog decided to go even further in a brilliant way. The Last of Us Part II is a game that focuses around the theme of loss, more precisely, how each character reacts to loss and how far their actions are influenced by their feelings of emptiness and revenge. At the same time, throughout its story, the game cleverly offers you different perspectives, and by the end, you will be left wondering if you agree with Ellie’s actions or not. The world established in The Last of Us is cruel and dark, and Part II shows us that there’s good and bad in everyone, and that sometimes, being a “hero” can be a matter of perspective.
If you have played the original The Last of Us, you will feel right at home with the gameplay in Part II as it remains almost identical to the original. Unless you are playing on easier difficulties, scavenging and careful management of whatever weapons/ammo and items you have are the key elements to survive in The Last of Us Part II as you can’t just charge in guns blazing. The game offers a lot of freedom in how you approach combat situations, as you can take out enemies silently using stealth, kill them with your weapons and items, or in some cases avoid conflict by sneaking past enemy patrols. Whatever approach you take, with limited resources and often many enemies in your path, you will have to be adaptable in how you approach each situation and how you make use of whatever you have at your disposal. For example, a clever way to take out a few infected without using many resources is to make noise with a bottle or a brick to attract all the infected to one location and then use a molotov when they are all together. Another example is avoiding being discovered by dogs, as they can easily track you down by scent, and to avoid being found you either need to be constantly be on the move or take the dogs out. A clever way to kill the dogs with minimal effort is to have them detect your scent, leave a mine on the ground, and move somewhere else. While it’s true that the explosion will alert other enemies, if you manage to remain hidden and can move to another location without being seen, you can start planning your next move.
Scavenging for ammo and items is crucial to survival, and with the jump to PS4, The Last of Us Part II takes this a step further with the introduction of vastly larger locations and even a few “semi open-word” areas; a similar approach to what developer Naughty Dog accomplished with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. While nothing is stopping you from just progressing the story, exploration never feels like a chore and ends up being rewarding in ways that just go beyond find some items or ammo. If you explore every corner you are bound to find parts that can be used to upgrade weapons, or pills which can used to unlock a variety of skills to increase maximum health, improve crafting, improve hearing, and faster movement. In addition, some of the game’s weapons can be obtained early or only obtained in specific locations. Even collectables go beyond items that are just there to be collected, as often these tell additional stories about events that took place several years before or characters whose fates you might learn later if you pay close attention to the world around you. One example I can give here is a note I found that was left behind by a sick woman apologizing to her husband who had gone to search for some medicine for being a burden to him, and later I found the husband’s corpse with a note next to him where he reveals that he managed to get the medicine but was attacked on the way back and was not able to return to her wife’s side, and begged for whoever found this note to take the medicine to his wife. Whether you decide to explore or stick to the main story, The Last of Us Part II is without a doubt a long game and never feels like it’s dragging out for the sake of playtime. If you just stick to the main path, a playthrough of The Last of Us Part II should take around 20-25 hours to complete, but if you decide to explore every corner and optional areas, you can easily add another 10 hours of playtime.
From a visual and presentation perspective, The Last of Us Part II is just what you would expect from Naughty Dog: a visually impressive game that easily stands among the most beautiful and detailed games of this generation. From the impressive degraded skyscrapers and stunning abandoned cities, to the vast jungles environments and snowy areas, everything is so incredibly detailed and realistic that I would often find myself stop exploring to just enjoy the beautiful environments and vistas around me. In addition, having played the game on a launch PS4, I can confirm that the game manages to keep a stable 1080p/30fps performance without any issues. The game also sounds just as great as it looks, with a fantastic musical score and an overall stellar performance from the voice actors, that makes it one of those games you should definitely play with headphones to feel immersed in the experience.
After the original The Last of Us, expectations were high for the sequel, and despite all the pressure on Naughty Dog, the studio proved once again why it’s one the best developers in the industry, as The Last of Us Part II is without a doubt one of the best games of this generation, improving and expanding on every aspect of the original. The game tells a compelling and emotional story, supported by a great cast of characters, but it’s the way the story is told and the several layers it features that make it a masterpiece. It’s one of those games that you will definitely want to play again just to experience it from a new perspective. This coupled with very solid gameplay and an outstanding presentation make this a spectacular experience. The Last of Us Part II is Naughty Dog’s crowning achievement.The Last of Us 2 was reviewed using a PS4 Digital Copy provided by Sony Entertainment America. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|Ellie’s journey is an emotional ride that will shake your perspective by the end.|
|Solid combat system that relies on careful item management while offering different approaches to combat situations.|
|Exploring the “semi-open world areas” and optional locations is engaging and rewarding.|
|Beautiful and detailed visuals, and fantastic musical score.|
|20-25h campaign with plenty of replay value.|