Just as its predecessor in 2013, The Last of Us Part ll comes right at the tail end of a console’s cycle; but while the game serves as the culmination of what developer Naughty Dog has been able to do with the technology from this generation, it is also the culmination of the story which they’ve started seven years ago — and you are not going to want to miss it.
The game’s director Neil Druckmann has openly talked about how the theme of the game is hate, and that is palpable throughout protagonist Ellie’s journey in the story in seeking justice for events that happen early in the game.
Ellie is 19 now, with four years worth of development both on herself and with other characters like newcomer Dina that the game delves into, making you understand why Ellie has undertaken this journey; you too will be compelled for her to follow through to the end, even if her actions may be morally wrong. It is raw, unforgiving, but most importantly it is an emotional story for players to experience — especially for those who played the first game.
Beneath the game’s revenge premise lies several layers to its narrative which I won’t spoil here. But suffice to say, it is a definite improvement over the first game which, while good, was in my opinion propped up mostly with the character writing. That same level of writing continues for The Last of Us Part ll and combined with the now extra depth afforded to the narrative, it makes for a substantial experience to play through.
The Last of Us Part ll is a meaty game, easily eclipsing the playtime of the original. More of the game is great, but it does have some caveats. Being invested from the get-go in Ellie’s journey for justice, I was anxious to see how it unfolds. But later portions of the game seem to drag on more than they need to.
Stepping back in the world of The Last of Us exuded a sense of familiarity for me despite not having played it since I rolled credits in the first game a few weeks after its launch; it is a strangely comforting feeling, ironic considering almost everything in that world can and will kill you.
Movement, shooting and using stealth all clicked back for me once I’ve gained control over my character and the same goes for other areas like exploration and resource crafting. Upgrades also make a similar return, with weapons upgrades done at workbenches using tools found within the world while you can improve your own skills with supplements and finding manuals. Not everything is the same from the first game though, Naughty Dog has added elements like tall grass and a dodge mechanic for encounters with enemies.
Generally, dodges are a nice addition to combat; pressing L1 allows you to dodge an enemy strike that brings a little extra thought to fights, even if it can be somewhat easy for one-on-one bouts. Tall grass’s inclusion is significantly more impactful, adding extra depth and choice to its stealth system. While tall grass is more plentiful in surroundings than covers, enemies can still spot you if they get close, giving a sense of risk-reward when navigating through enemy situations.
The one tiny blot for The Last of Us Part ll is that as a survival game, I’ve never once felt low on supplies or ammo during any combat sequence. Playing on Moderate difficulty, the game was fairly generous in the number of resources it gave. Perhaps consider choosing a higher difficulty if you like survival games that make you agonise over your resources.
That isn’t to say the game isn’t tense at all because of how well-stocked you are, it still has its moments even if you may be better equipped to deal with it. Human enemies are smarter, employing dogs to track your scent, forcing you to move away from the safe spot you occupy. The titular infected are also back, and are more ravenous and numerous when you do encounter them; dark environments that are hard to see are particularly anxiety-inducing to play through, especially with the new enemy infected Shambler that explodes clouds of acid when close; the world is more dangerous than ever.
How I got a fighting chance was with the expanded levels within the game. Areas are now more open and have extra vertically to them, giving you options in navigating around enemy encounters. These expanded spaces also apply outside combat. There’s an entire open area that is so vast that you use a horse to travel within it, and the inclusion of jumping now allows you to access hidden areas which may hold extra resources and other goods. Most importantly, exploration was to me a much-needed reprieve from the stressful skirmishes.
The Last of Us Part ll is a game I found to be all about the details, details and details. Visuals will be the easiest one to point out — the character models, the environments; everything is beautifully designed and gorgeous to look at. But it is how Naughty Dog has specifically placed and woven them into the game that should be taken notice.
Realism has always been a core aspect for The Last of Us and that is heightened with Part ll; animations for characters are the best it has ever been, playing a huge role both in the poignant and ugly moments of the game. You could feel the gentleness of Ellie in her smile as she interacts with her horse while also seeing her anger in equal measure with tensed up facial expressions when she is slashing out an enemy’s throat.
And this level of detail isn’t limited to Ellie, the whole game is incredibly intricate in its design to fuel the world. The series’ signature world-building staple returns; you’ll regularly find scattered notes detailing the stories of people who were there before your arrival, giving extra tidbits of what went on and how the place came to be as it is.
This has translated unto the living characters as well, namely the enemies. They are uniquely individualistic, with a particular highlight going towards the religious group of the Seraphite who mostly use bows and arrows and also use a system of whistles to communicate with one another. Enemies will also cry out a compatriot’s name if they are killed in front of them, even dogs whimper at the sight of their slain masters — it very much presents a world that is lived in and has more than succeeded in getting me sucked in.
Capping out the details ingrained into the game is the sound design. Each enemy that falls by your hand is rendered out in realistic and gruesome detail, whether it be by a head-shattering thump from a bash with a pipe or the disgusting splatter of body parts that have met the end of an exploding arrow.
And we can’t speak about sound without mentioning Gustavo Santaolalla who returns to score the game. Once again he delivers a performance like no other, not only welling up the emotional scale during pivotal story moments with the strums from his signature ronroco instrument, but also heightening the feeling of dread during battles with the use of low droning music.
Seven years ago, I was treated to the best of what PlayStation 3 could offer. And now, I am quite certain that Naughty Dog has delivered that once again. The Last of Us Part ll will sit with you long after the credits roll on what is a defining journey for Ellie, and it could quite rightly be defined as PlayStation 4’s best game yet.
Visuals courtesy of Sony Interactive Entertainment Singapore.