Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II was a fitting name for the sequel to the PlayStation 3 classic. Sometimes sequels shake things up or dramatically evolve from one instalment to the next, but not this franchise; it was cut from the same cloth. It evoked similar feelings of despising and pitying the protagonist. It smothered us with stories of humans being absolutely awful to each other. And it gave us plenty of opportunities to dispatch or sneak by infected and humans alike.
Part II felt instantly familiar as someone who replayed The Last of Us via its remaster last year. There were evolutions and expansions on ideas, but it largely played the same on Hard difficulty. Snuffing out infected and humanoid enemies alike without expending too much resources would often yield even more resources. It all quickly snowballed the two protagonists into powerhouses. Being careful paid off too much in this case.
Ellie was a playable character in The Last of Us, but she wasn’t a full fledged playable character with her own skill tree. Ellie starring in the Part II was expected, but her sharing the spotlight with Abby, the daughter of the late surgeon that Joel killed in that Colorado hospital operating room, was a bit of a surprise. She had her own story, skill tree, and set of exclusive weaponry.
The two protagonists were more capable than ever having remembered that they were humans that could go prone and crawl through grass like Metal Gear’s Solid Snake. They could even shoot while on their backs which gave me Metal Gear Solid V vibes. New gadgets and skills mixed things up a bit, but they weren’t enough to stave off the familiar feeling of it all. The characters continued to consume decades old pills or “supplements” to expand their skill trees in-between firefights involving makeshift bombs and Molotov cocktails. Fighting off infected felt as natural as swimming (which you can now do) while human enemy behaviors stood out like a sore and inadequate thumb in 2021. Many of these issues exist in newer full-fledged stealth games, but I was hoping Naughty Dog made further advancements in that area.
I was also disappointed by two new enemy types: the dogs hunting along with humans and the Stalker from the infected ranks. They were annoying to deal with and didn’t really pose the interesting threat that the developers intended. I see how these two can seriously ruin someone’s day in the higher difficulties, but on hard difficulty? They were either silenced unceremoniously, lured into a makeshift bomb or greeted with a shotgun blast to the face. Yeah, the game is still very violent.
The Last of Us was violent and occasionally cruel, but I felt Part II was very violent and often cruel. Abby and Ellie were monsters in their own way and they displayed it often in both gameplay and cutscenes. They were born into a world where the most monstrous survive and where restraint and compassion often leaves you lying in a pool of your own blood later down the line. The story’s twists and turns didn’t surprise me, but its expansiveness did. It felt like they made two games that joined at a single event before concluding with yet another decision made by characters that I personally did not agree with, but understood.
The developers sprinkled minute and overt touches of humanity amongst the enemies this time around. Enemies would often call each other by name. They’re often heard discussing plans for their own communities and the threats they faced. And by the time the player swap occurred, it was apparent that people were just trying to survive and many of them were following orders to ensure the survival of their friends and family. I’m not sure what it says about me, but I didn’t change my approach even after these details were made very apparent. You could say I just played my side’s role to the extreme, but I just wanted to loot in peace.
Exploring the environments was the highlight of the game for me. I tried to explore every nook looking for “environmental story telling”. The hotel and the basement floors of the hospital were my favorite spaces because they told epic tales from the early days of the outbreak. There were dozens of tiny awful discoveries through the course of the game, but the one where this small town’s greatest archer drugged his friends and neighbours and locked them in a spore infested mechanic’s office stuck with me. The brilliant touch was me stumbling across this hell room first; before piecing together the journal entries and notes to discover the grim reason for this room full of infected.
I’m glad I chose to wait a whole year before playing The Last of Us Part II. In that time, the PlayStation 5 launched and a free PS5 update unlocked the framerate to 60 FPS among other tweaks. The game ran extremely well on Performance mode; I’m certain it’s playable at 30 FPS, but I’m opting into the 60 FPS life when I can. The animations were top notch and was a technical highlight. I don’t know how they kept everything looking so smooth and responsive. I didn’t feel like I was waiting for actions to play out.
The Last of Us Part II wasn’t a wild or earth shattering sequel like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was, but Naughty Dog did just enough to keep me locked in. I want them to shake up the gameplay systems for the next game, but I don’t know what that would look like. All I know is that this loop of seeking out supplements and silently snuffing out humans and infected is well worn territory. I wasn’t bored or tired of it by the time credits rolled, but I don’t know if I can tolerate a third installment of the more of the same on the gameplay front.
As for story? Questions linger. What are the fates of the survivors? Will there be a bitter sweet ending one day? Is there hope in this world or will humanity be doomed to succumbing to barbarism? Only Naughty Dog knows and I’m looking forward to finding out how it all unfolds.
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