The Last of Us Part 2 Review: A (Rewarding) Test of Faith

 

7 years ago, I finished the original Last of Us on PlayStation 3. Moved by the story, the characters and the scenes that culminated to the finale. Then I realize I was going to be late for work. I find myself in a similar scene, finishing The Last of Us Part 2 as the sun begins to rise. But did  I feel the same amount of awe as I did before? It has the same character, and the same world, but it clearly decided to be different. 

‘Part 2’ is a pretty apt thing to slap onto the title given that this new game pretty much picks up shortly after the events of the previous game. But with the fate of the world pretty much decided what other questions are there to ask? In certain ways it feels the same, but how it decided to be different sticks out a way lot more.

Now, I know there are those who care about spoilers a whole lot, and I’ll tell those people not to worry as I’ll be keeping things vague, in case you’ve managed to dodge all the spoilers that came out thanks to some unfortunate events with Naughty Dog and the internet. Which is why all you’ll see here are generally screenshots of the earlier parts only, and I took care to make sure I avoided anything that would give away too much for the story.

So, does The Last of Us Part 2 stand up to the expectations of its predecessor? Not going to lie, it’s a tall ask. And honestly I have a hard time giving a direct answer, because I can see this work for some people but not for others, like me, for example. Anyway, let me run you through the highs and lows that I experienced as I played this title.

 

Production (4.7 / 5)

I would hold the production values that Naughty Dog can give their games pretty much around the same level as Square-Enix, though they have different aesthetics. So whether or not you appreciate one, the other, or both is more of a matter of personal taste. One can’t deny the quality of the models in-game. Capable of making complex expressions while looking wholly believable, it makes it that much easier to invest on the more dramatic moments.

Environments are also pretty impressive, as they have continued to make these areas that are look like something out of a photography session, and they don’t miss the opportunity to make a photo mode accessible either. For the most part, the music fits the role of improving the atmosphere when you’re out and about. However I’m not a big fan of the guitar coming in every now and then trying to signal that ‘it’s time to feel feelings, fellas’ as it feels a bit hammy.

The characters portrayed in the game are mostly presented as down-to-earth characters, perhaps to make them more relatable. Unfortunately I think they tried a bit too hard on this and they became pretty bland in my opinion. As you’re riding out to a further location or scavenging empty areas they generally all sound the same, monotonous and stoic. I get that they’re trying to be quiet and all, but even their conversations while travelling can put me to sleep. They do act pretty well when the stakes are much higher and they get to the point that they’re fighting for their lives, but how they contrast from that in other moments feels like a serious disconnect.

The most impressive part about this game in terms of graphics was the consistent performance. No matter how many people, enemies, or spore-infected zombies were in your immediate area, the game was able to run stably even on an older model of PS4. There was a loading bug, once, for a random grunt, but that’s about it.

 

Mechanics (4 / 5)

In terms of how the game plays, when you manage to get there, will continue to cycle through the interesting game play loop made during the first game. You’re either scavenging an area for whatever you can find useful, sneaking around enemies or hunting them down, or managing your items and deciding what you need for the next set of encounters. I guess if you want to wrap that up in a nice bow and give it a word that’d be ‘survival.’ Seeing that this was already quite well-executed in the past, they had no need to reinvent the wheel, they just added some new bells and whistles to it.

Weapon upgrades and skills have been revamped a bit as well, it won’t feel like anything that new but you’ll be at least making a few considerations on where to spend your scavenged upgrade points depending on how you like to play. Note that you won’t be able to attain all of the upgrades, at least on your first playthrough, so this will make you feel the weight of your choices over the length of the game.

In general you’ll always be at a constant dilemma if you’re about to walk into an encounter. You can try to sneak past them and not use any of your supplies like bullets or healing items but you also risk not finding even better items for your future use. That includes finding new weapons that could bolster your arsenal or upgrade materials for your abilities and more. On paper, you can clear a lot of the game without having to rely on more than the most basic weapons and gear. That is if you have the patience. But there will come a time where you’ll be forced into situations you couldn’t foresee, so when that happens? Are you prepared to take on the challenge?

Well, that’s the idea, at least. Apart from you not wanting an entire room of baddies being after in an instant, gunplay feels particularly bad, especially when you don’t have any upgrades to compensate for how unwieldy they feel. Luckily there’s a flexible aim assist option, but even this can get in the way when you’re trying to snipe at enemies from a distance.

 

Content (3.8 / 5)

The Last of Us Part 2 does give you a decent selection of weapons and skills to choose from, each with an intended way to be used. For example you’ll want to use silenced pistols for sneaky ranged kills, and then you’ll want to save your shotgun shells for those unwanted close encounters. It’s pretty much the same deal with skills that become available to you to learn.

There are also new kinds of enemies to deal with, both living and previously so. Since these enemies are designed quite differently from you usual mooks in the previous game, a bit of your creativity may be put to the test on figuring out what method is best to deal with whatever you’re up against. Of all of them the one I found most interesting would be the sneaky types, who turn the game of cat and mouse around on you. I also really hated dealing with them when they’re hidden around beefier enemies to deal with.

The game is pretty much on-rails but it does feature an open world section on the initial parts of the game. Which seems to be pretty staple now for Naughty Dog, I personally found it a kind of a waste of time because nothing was happening except you going from location A to location B, find a clue or find loot, then repeat. Obviously no story progression could happen here, and the same was true for the characters involved.

So here’s the big question. Is the story any good? Because let’s be honest, the story and its characters are what did a lot of heavy lifting back in the first one. I think the simplest statement I can make about it is that I understand what they’re going for, and the main characters feel well written. However the characters around them and the subplots resulting from their presence feel quite heavy-handed and distracting. Back in the original you’re only tracking the relationship of two people and how they develop through your journey. For this one, it’s not that simple anymore, so if you end up not being really that interested in the other characters, sitting through their scenes can feel like a drag. Yes, I said sitting, while the first game also had its fair share of cut scenes, this second one felt like it was more interested in telling its story rather than you interacting with it, which I am definitely not a fan of.

 

Features (4.2 / 5)

First, The Last of Us Part 2 offers a difficulty slider which you can adjust anytime. This can be handy for those who just want to witness the story or help handle a hurdle that felt particularly unfair to the player. Next, it has inserted features for those who may have issues with hearing or seeing color, which can be taken as a measure to make sure it’s as accessible to as many people as possible.

It also has an NG+ Mode where you can either restart the game while keeping all of your upgrades or simply revisit certain encounters or cutscenes. It also has a gallery mode wher you can view various model in the game, additional content is unlocked upon completion.

 

Conclusion

Being at the denizen of the internet, the major plot points of this title became known to me without me even trying to look. But in this case I’d have to say Troy Baker was right, even if you know those things, experiencing the actual game will be different. Even as the online outcry was saying that I should be prepared for a huge disappointment, that I should be ready to be offended by what it would show, I steeled myself and pressed on. And I what I found after the initial shock would be a fine game, it’s not what I had in mind for the title, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t good.

I firmly believe that The Last of Us Part 2 accomplishes what it promised to do, bring to you a compelling story. However, I’d have to say that how the story turned out didn’t exactly win my favor. Not that it was a badly written story, even though I’d have to say it has its share of moments where I was glued to the screen and others where the skip button looked particularly attractive. Still, I don’t think it was a bad story, not at all.

Minus the open world section of this title, I did find this game rather engaging, even though it took about a solid 5-6 hours until I could say that.

So bottomline, do I recommend it? And to who?  If you’re into a story about people and how they act after the world has ended (wow this sounds oddly relevant today), this is probably a good pickup for you. Especially if you’re the type that enjoyed something like the Walking Dead back then. It’s a story without heroes, or a lack of a proper one, I can appreciate what it set out to do, but it’s not to my own taste.

The Last of Us Part 2 manages to scavenge enough to stand at a formidable 4.18 / 5.

 

Available only on the PS4.

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