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The Last of Us Part II Review – Dreadful. Painful. Brilliant

The Last of Us Part II is a dreadful experience in all the best ways. From the moment the game begins to the second the credits roll, I was taken on a ride that tore me apart emotionally and mentally. There’s no happiness here to enjoy. Instead, the game is a dark and sombre experience and fills you with constant anxiety. Everything from the world to the story and its characters manages to elevate the original game’s setting to a new level.

Watch out The Last of Us Part II video review down below;

The story is a heartbreaking tale. One which questions your own humanity as you fight through dark thoughts about the characters you meet along the way. Never have I experienced so many conflicting emotions in a video game before. I went from absolutely despising a character to rooting for them more than others. Naughty Dog manages to answer so many questions left at the end of the first game well at the same time taking you on a brand new journey of self-discovery.

Throughout the game, you meet and interact with new characters who leave a lasting impression. At the same time, you experience this through a handful of interwoven plotlines that merge together in surprising and unsuspecting ways. However, the story of The Last of Us Part II has some weak points with underdeveloped characters, weak and forced LGBT representation and some cliche and predictable outcomes. While it is far from perfect, the game hands the player a fleshed-out world to explore and delivers an experience that evolved from the original game.

The Last of Us Part II Review

The same can be said for the gameplay which manages to improve on so many aspects while at the same time deliver new ways to approach it. Crafting on the go is still as fluid as ever. Moment to moment combat is intense and sneaking mechanics have received some much-needed attention. Not to mention the game’s locations and hubs are now bigger offering more ways to approach every combat encounter. Everything in The Last of Us Part II has received some spit and polish and while some story arcs are weak and the overall plot has some major pacing issues, the game is unlike anything you’ll experience.

So Much Left To Say

Before I get into the meat and juice of this The Last of Us Part II review it is important to note that the NDA with Sony and Naughty Dog prevents me from mentioning some of the key features of the game. This includes non-spoiler gameplay arcs and even some key locations you visit which helps evaluate the flow of the game even more. 

The Last of Us Part II takes Ellie on a journey into Seattle to track down a group of dangerous people. While there’s a lot more going on, I can’t say much more. The game takes place five years after the original but every now and then, it flashes back to that dreadful day when Joel massacred the Fireflies in order to save Ellie from being sacrificed as a cure for the world-ending plague. Ellie now has a girlfriend named Dina and they live happily in Jackson with Joel and hundreds of other survivors.

Whatever you are doing, you always feel alone against the world”

During the first few hours of the game, I was given comfort society was functioning as much as possible in this town.  However, things go south pretty fast and Ellie heads into Seattle along with Dina in order to find this group of people called the Wolves.

The Last of Us Part II Review

As the story expands, so does the discovery that Seattle is in the middle of a war between the WLF and a cult known as the Seraphites. Not to mention, the Cordyceps virus that destroyed the world is still a threat. This means that the infected is back and deadlier than ever. They have evolved to a certain extent. Most of the time, whatever you are doing in The Last of Us Part II you always feel alone against the world. This makes exploration and the combat daunting.

A Constant Stomach Knot

The first few hours of the game acts as a sort of open-world like hub where Ellie and Dina can explore a range of buildings in an abandoned city centre. Some buildings have puzzles to solve like a safe to crack or a group of clickers to defeat. This in a way acts as the game’s tutorial throwing every possible scenario at the player to give them a taste of what is to come. Just like much of the game’s optional objectives and buildings, it also offers rewards like new weapons, crafting materials and collectables. It was a great way to set up the gameplay for what’s to come.

Exploration is vital to surviving in The Last of Us Part II. Sometimes exploring can be your downfall as every dark and abandoned building is not as empty as it seems. Instead, you would fall into a dark basement filled with infected and forced to survive the onslaught. This is where combat comes into play. Most scenarios in the game can be approached in two ways. You can go all silent and deadly and take enemies down one by one. Clickers can kill you instantly so sneaking up to them and shivving them is the best bet. Ellie no longer needs to craft shivs for combat as her trusted pocket knife does the job. However, every combat encounter benefits from a new smarter AI challenging you at every turn.

No matter how much ammo or crafted gear Ellie has at her disposal, The Last of Us Part II proves that life is fragile. I had to be smart with every single move I made. If it was planting an explosive trap and then tossing a bottle nearby to get the infected to come close, I had to take into account I would not be able to kill them all with my pistol. Sometimes I went shotgun mad only to die to a Clicker that came running at me through a crack in the all behind me. I spent much of my time hiding behind a table using R1 to listen through the walls for the glowing outline of enemies. It’s frightening, to say the least.

The Last of Us Part II Review

Enemies Are Smarter

Where the AI has seen a drastic improvement is with the human enemies. Firstly every enemy now has a name and it is quite dramatic to hear their friend scream it when they see him or her die in from of them. The feature sort of gives the game this sense of humanity and you feel bad for a second or two. The same sneaking approach can be taken with human enemies. However, they are smarter than they look. Ellie can slide under trucks but stay there too long and the AI will pull you out.

You can also prone in tall grass but if they come close they will spot you. Sneaking is heart-racing and taking down an enemy silently after they plead for their life is intense. Ellie is able to craft Molotov cocktails, smoke bombs, explosive arrows and other equipment to help your approach to the encounter. However, no matter how kitted out Ellie is, the game is tough and when an enemy sees you, they want you dead.

The Last of Us Part II Review

“I would not go as far as to say the AI enemies are groundbreakingly smart”

Shoot outs between factions can get dicey. When Ellie is shot, she falls onto her back and the kick of an enemy’s gun makes the experience even more intense. Enemies don’t just sit in one spot. If they know you are aiming for their cover, they will sneak around to another vantage point and try to shoot you. The talk between them while hunting you down also adds to the tension. The Seraphites insist on whistling to each other to communicate.

The sudden loud noise often made me jump while I was sneaking up behind someone. If all else failed, I could just melee someone to death thanks to Ellie’s ability to craft enhanced weapons that deal more damage. With that being said, even those fights can get a little dicey if I did not dodge at the right time or went up against a brute wielding a massive mallet.  I would not go as far as to say the AI enemies are groundbreakingly smart. However, the small improvements make combat feel like nothing I have played before.

A new type of infected called a Shambler is an armoured creature that shoots out poisonous gas when you get close. They can also toss balls of exploding poison at you if spotted. The infected are often a lot easier to get through than humans. This is thanks to the multiple ways you can kill large groups of them including fire or just putting a shotgun shell into them.

Crafting is Still Key To Survival

By about midway through the game, Ellie is kitted out with a load of weapons. These can be upgraded using weapon stations found throughout the game. As you search houses and ruins, Ellie finds materials which can be spent to purchase a scope for a rifle, extra magazine space for your pistol and much more. The crafting system is basic but the improvements are felt in every encounter. At one stage, you can even make fire shotgun shells. I loved the way the crafting too place though. Ellie places the gun on the counter and you can see her unscrewing the barrel and putting a new one on. Its a new level of immersion in the experience and a small detail that makes a world of difference.

Ellie can also upgrade abilities which you unlock by finding training manuals throughout the game. These skill trees are often disjointed in each tree and don’t follow a set path. Being able to craft improved health kits, the fire shotgun shells, and even increasing the listening distance and moving speed while sneaking. Skills are unlocked by spending pills you find throughout the game, especially in bathrooms.

It All Gets a Little Tedious

The Last of Us Part II‘s combat is okay. I won’t say that by the end of the game I was enjoying it as much as I did when I started. It can kind of get dated very fast. Other than one encounter where I was able to let loose some infected on my enemies, it does not evolve enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. Nothing changes to make the end-game encounters different from the starting ones. Sure, enemies have better weapons but twenty hours in, I kind of got tired of sneaking around and taking enemies down one by one. I just ended up going into every encounter guns blazing. It was faster and much more entertaining. With that being said, I am sure the tougher game difficulties would offer ways to force you into a specific playstyle.

The same can be said for general exploration. The game puts a large emphasis on exploring every nook and cranny. It is important as you need the materials, collectables and skill points to survive the game. However, running around an empty building, opening cabinets and spamming the triangle button to collect everything kinda gets dated after twenty hours of doing it. Sure, the game has a new rope mechanic where you can toss it and climb to new hidden areas but it all just feels one-note. Thankfully, the world is gorgeous thanks to the breathtaking landscapes and the great sound design. It was the only thing that kept me going at times. I had my headphones on and the rain trickling off the trees and Ellie’s footsteps through the puddles of water really add to the experience.

The world of The Last of Us Part II is unlike anything I have explored. The ruins of Seattle and every other location you visit throughout the game have been carefully crafted to the utmost detail. Not to mention the game’s visuals are stunning and it has some of the best use of HDR to date. It makes the mindless running around easier on the eyes at least.

Pacing is a Problem

The Last of Us Part II wants to tell a unique story and succeeds for the most part. There’s a lot going on when it comes to the game’s narrative and most of the time, it works. I always say that a good story is a good story regardless of how diverse it is trying to be. Sure, a lot of themes in The Last of Us Part II could have been left out. It comes across as an afterthought. Ellie’s relationship with Dina felt like it was being shoved down my throat. Often, it does not add to the focus of the game and chapter and comes across poorly-delivered. With that being said, the plot, in general, is weak. I feel as if the game delivers this immersive world with new locations, factions and characters, but it is washed out by the focus on Ellie at time. As I mentioned, the game includes new characters who are far more layered and interesting than an angry teenager.

“I always say that a good story is a good story regardless of how diverse it is trying to be”

Perhaps Niel Druckmann just did not get enough time to flesh it out? It is a shame, the game’s best parts, in my opinion, are overshadowed by Ellie. There are better characters and better story arcs in The Last of Us Part II to experience. However, Naughty Dog does not want me to speak about them. While the game manages to do service to existing characters and introduce some fantastic new ones, its the new ones I cared about more. Unfortunately, Ellie’s one-note personality and drive get in the way of enjoying them. Not to mention the rushed final act feels slapped together. I often felt as if the game was trying so hard to be “out there” that it lost what made the original so great in the first place.

Verdict

Naughty Dog’s questionable marketing for The Last of Us Part II makes you believe one thing is happening in the game. However, it is not the case. There’s a lot more to love here than meets the eye. While the game’s plot has some major holes in it and never actually gets anywhere, the gameplay has seen a major improvement. It is also one of the most visually captivating games on the market and at times I could not believe it was running on the hardware. The Last Of Us Part II is a game you would want to play and you should. Even if it is once. It will play with your emotions and deliver some intense inner conflict. The series is known for. It is just a pity the plot was trying so hard to be outstanding it often feels rushed and forgettable.

The Last of Us Part II Review

This The Last of Us Part II review was based on a code sent to us by SIE

Reviewed On: PS4 Pro | Release Date: 19 June 2020 | Price: R1,055

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