The Last of Us, released in 2013, was one of the first games to seamlessly blur the lines between cinema and video games, and Neil Druckmann’s compelling and heartbreaking tale of Joel and Ellie made its way into an abundance of players’ hearts. Seven years later, the sequel, or more aptly described as ‘Part II’ to Joel and Ellie’s story is finally here. Does it stay true to its predecessor’s cinematic accomplishments, or does it fall short of player expectations and let not only its fans, but itself, down?
It’s tricky to review The Last of Us Part II without having to re-analyse and examine everything that made the original fantastic, but to do that would make this review far too long and a drag to read. However, The Last of Us Part II gets its namesake for a reason – this is a continuation of the story, and to describe it as a mere sequel would be undermining this game’s content and purpose in their entirety.
In Part II, Ellie takes centre-stage. Some may find the lack of a Joel and Ellie dynamic throughout the game frustrating and disappointing, but this narrative decision was made for good reason. In the four years since the chilling conclusion of The Last of Us, Ellie’s developed and matured relationships with new people during her time at Jackson. These relationships push their way into the forefront of Part II in order for us to get a complete perspective of who Ellie is as an adult woman, and though it’s understandable to have reservations, there’s enough joy to be found in the new characters introduced, alongside their voice actors’ performances, such as Shannon Woodward as Dina, to dispel any feeling of being cheated.
Narratively, the game is magnificent. Ellie’s heartbreaking and intense journey out from the sanctuary of Jackson is as emotionally intense as we were led to believe, and though the light-hearted comic back-and-forth between her and Joel is near enough extinct, the darker tone Part II wields feels natural and compelling. There is a narrative beat occurring about halfway through the game that might initially upset players, but again, every decision in this game is made for a reason, and to feel apprehension when faced with this narrative direction is understandable and almost intentional by the game and its writers – there has never been a game so capable of invoking potent emotions from the player, be they positive or negative, and that stands as testament to how phenomenal Part II’s story is. Itstimulates thought on the philosophy of morality from the player that most would argue is impossible for a game to do, but Part II executes its story, themes, and character development in such an artful and incomprehensibly mature way that it will leave you mulling over the experience for days after playing.
Part II enhances and improves upon the gameplay of its predecessor, and Ellie has grown significantly and become almost a professional at the art of survival. With youth comes nimbleness and mobility, and her different perspective to Joel’s reflects itself within how she controls. Five specialised skill trees, the ability to go prone in tall grass, and an actual jump button are to name but a few of the new mechanics in the game that allow Ellie to stand out from her mentor, and Part II is all the better for it. From when the phenomenal AI frantically try to locate the unknown assailant picking them off one by one, to when they finally track her down and start to corner her with surprisingly logical tactics, the game not once feels monotonous or repetitive to play.
The enemies Ellie faces have improved with her. The game’s two factions, the militarised WLF (commonly known as the Wolves) and the religious fanatics, the Seraphites, both possess different means of combatting Ellie; whether it be through the spectacular tracking abilities of their dogs or their terrifying archery skills, it’ll take all of Ellie’s tools of survival to overcome an encounter with these worthy foes.
The fungal zombies that infest post-apocalyptic America have evolved too, in both design and elsewhere. They have been given a horrifying fresh lick of paint and are horrible to look at, let alone deal with. New types of infected stand as new obstacles for Ellie to face, whether it be the self-destructive shamblers or the sneaky stalkers, it’s no longer as easy as shanking the strongest one from behind and making a break for it. Nothing in this world stands still, and as Ellie gets smarter, so does it.
Although Part II doesn’t involve a trek across the country like the original and instead centralises Ellie’s journey into one, singular location, it does an exceptional job at making sure there isn’t a hint of fatigue felt whilst you navigate its urban jungle (quite literally). There’s new additions in its exploration such as verticality, mobility, and puzzle-solving, and though you’re exploring a world that has been destroyed for years, Naughty Dog does what it does best through documents, treasures, and level design to make everything still feel somehow alive.
Whilst we anticipated Part II’s release, its creative director, Neil Druckmann, warned that its content would be divisive and tragic, and he followed that through. There’s a lot in Part II to be loved and commended, but there’s many polarising decisions that will frustrate and upset many; The Last of Us Part II is not, by any means, perfect, but nor was its original. It’s safe to say, however, that it’s one of the most impressive games to be released on PS4, in many more ways than one. Whether it be its masterful and unashamed LGBT representation, its challenging and provocative story, its breathtaking environments, or the incredible performances (particularly from the likes of Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson, Laura Bailey, but others too), there’s truly something here for everyone. The Last of Us Part II is not necessarily a cinematic masterpiece to be enjoyed, but rather experienced.
May your survival be long, and your death be swift.