Naughty Dog – a studio known for their class leading visuals, stunning attention to detail, incredible story telling, and absolutely unforgettable set pieces – they are what many consider the crown jewel of PlayStation World Wide Studios.
Getting their start on the 3DO with the Way of the Warrior – the studio has evolved with each passing generation. Bluntly, when you think PlayStation – a Naughty Dog game is almost always in the same sentence. Whether it was Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, or Uncharted – Naughty Dog have given birth to Playstation’s most beloved icons.
Enter their most recent franchise: the Last of Us. Originally released in 2013, the Last of Us was the most mature, somber, tactile, and cinematic Naughty Dog game yet. A game that doubled down on mocap, story telling, and most importantly tone. It would become the defining game of it’s generation.
Fast forward seven years and anticipation is at a fever pitch. After a spectacular debut, fans have been wondering just what is the next chapter for Joel and Ellie. But things are never this simple:
Leading up to this review, things have been wrought with all sorts of pandemonium. Multiple delays, a REAL life Corona Virus pandemic, and unfortunate circumstances have all contributed to added anxiety to an already anxious fanbase. One thing hasn’t changed though – and that’s timing. So it’s almost poetic that we are here seven years later – we have a single question: Can the Last of Us Part 2 manage to live up to the lofty expectations of the original? Spoiler alert: it obliterates them.
Here’s Remote Play’s review of the Last of Us Part II.
The Last of Us Part II takes place five years after it’s predecessor. Ellie finds herself in Jackson, Wyoming, where society is rebuilding and trying to maintain a civil order outside the backdrop of a world of infected and tribalism.
The first big tonal shift is Ellie’s age. As she progresses into adulthood her demeanor, maturity, and ability to cope also evolves (for better or worse). The game will not shudder to investigate themes of sexuality, the definition of morality, the concept of loss, and most importantly: violence.
The Last Of Us Part II centers its core around the fragility of the human condition. Characters aren’t rote two dimensional plot points set to move the story forward. Instead, moral gray areas and tragedy are thrust at the player to consider events in a traditional and nontraditional manner.
Player’s (without spoilers) will be faced to recognize and acknowledge ulterior, alternative, and opposing perspectives. In fact, the game insists on justifying and explaining every action and it’s consequence. From narrative beats to gameplay – player’s won’t walk away without a modicum of regret.
Also say goodbye to senselessly killing enemies – Naughty Dog goes out of their way to inform players that they aren’t just killing an NPC. Each character has a name, each faction has a back story, and enemies will grieve as they lay fallen on the battlefield. When combined with the almost surreal facial animation – things take on a rather vivid simulation that I have never played anywhere else.
In any case, as the first few hours pass a series of tragic circumstances hit our main characters. Eliie, Tommy, and two new characters Dina and Jesse have to figure out just what the hell happened.
In an impulsive charge – Ellie is now transfixed with setting out to “make things right” by heading to the state of Washington. The journey to Seattle harkens back to the Naughty Dog trope of globe trotting. From here you encounter your first human opposition: WLF aka (Washington Liberation Front).
This is where I think I’d be comfortable to shy away from story beats. The game is best played by your discretion and not laid out in a giant diatribe. The story is just a mesmerizing web of complexity, drama, and unforgettable moments. In other words – no spoilers here.
The gameplay in the Last of Us Part II is focused on two themes: urgency and options. Ellie can move much faster than Joel – and her nimble attributes allow her far more options during encounters. The first new addition is the dodge mechanic. While an enemy attempts to melee attack or bum rush the player, Ellie can quickly dodge in an almost Souls fashion if timed correctly. This is an absolute must to master on higher difficulties and can make the difference between life or death.
The second innovation is the prone stage. Ellie can now lie completely flat against the ground, under automobiles, or in heavily vegetated areas. This mechanism is one that I found using more and more as I played. Which brings up another point: you will fail if you stay in one place too long. The game focuses on pushing you towards momentum and constantly thinking of your next move.
Next, Naughty Dog has given Ellie a rope to introduce a level of verticality that would make Nathan Drake proud. There are multiple ways to dispatch a group of foes and it’s now infinitely more satisfying. There’s no greater feeling than climbing atop a vantage point, stealth killing from above, grabbing a secondary enemy, using them as a shield, and than running into the tall grass whilst laying prone to do it all over again. It’s adrenaline in its most pure digital form.
Lastly, crafting returns. Ellie now has multiple new weapons including a silent pistol, modified shotgun, and even variations to her bow. You will scavenge every nook and cranny for supplies to craft your arsenal of weapons. On the default difficulty, I found just enough supplies to get the job done while not feeling to weighed down by scarcity.
Graphically: this sets an entirely new benchmark. Motion matching animation is married to Naughty Dog’s famous hand drawn team to make the world feel incredibly alive. Characters react, move, and animate unlike any thing I have ever seen. Often times I would play thinking I’m in a cutscenes when it dawns on me that I am actually controlling the character. The only nitpick I have (and it’s admittedly a very fine nitpick) – is that I wish there was an option to disable the film grain.
Textures and assets are abundant and varied. From the broken down interiors of buildings, snowy mountain tops, raining city scapes, long fields of high vegetation, or even the underground – the game seems to one up itself at every possible turn. And let’s not forget the incredible audio design: Gustavo Santaolalla returns and has crafted aural magic. The simple, emotional, and sharp sounds of a guitar are juxtaposed into this dreary, melancholy world into an unforgettable experience.
One final thing I want to note is the sheer amount of accessibility options. While some of these may not be for me, one in particular was something I’ve seen other studios charge for: the ability to easily find collectibles. Naughty Dog has went out of their way to cater to any person with any ability or disability. It’s something that shouldn’t just be commended, but made a model out of. Thank you so, very much.
The Last of Us Part II is a benchmark in storytelling and realism. A game that is both uncomfortable and inspiring, visceral and beautiful, violent and apologetic. A game that necessitates a discussion and is an essential playthrough for any enthusiast of our medium. Do I have to spell it out? It could be the greatest game this generation – and one of my favorite games of all time. I’m absolutely speechless and in awe of this mastercraft. After 30 or so hours I was left with tears, empathy, and most importantly – a finer appreciation for the human condition.