Title: The Last of Us Part 2
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: June 18, 2020
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Throughout the existence of video games, we’ve become accustomed to elements of an adventure that reminds you that you are playing a game. Whether that’s in the graphical design or over-the-top story, you understand that this is a game.
The developers at Naughty Dog don’t seem to be okay with this concept seen in their newest release, The Last of Us Part 2. Every inch of this game was crafted to insert the player into this post-apocalyptic world and guide their emotions through this narrative of survivors. While the environments are something to marvel at, the pacing and mechanics keep you grounded in a constant state of recognizable scenarios and repeated strategies.
The Last of Us Part 2 has no doubt a compelling narrative to tell. They take the emotions that you’ve developed over the first adventure and use them against you in more ways than one. We catch up with Ellie years later as she has distanced herself from Joel for reasons unknown. She’s made a few new friends and has become an essential asset in the community of Jackson.
However, everything is taken away from her in the blink of an eye, and she runs away on a quest for revenge. Her anger is mirrored by my own as she sets out on a few leads. It’s essential to hold onto these emotions through these early sections of the game because the desire for revenge is exceptional draining. The moment you open your eyes and think about where you are and what it took to get, there might even cause you to feel sympathy for the ones you’ve killed.
There are a few interesting moments that occur during the story, but between those is a lot of unnecessary padding. The pacing falls apart when the second act begins, and you start to piece together why all of these happened in the first place. From the beginning of the game to the end, you are on this constant adrenaline high that is being brick-walled by random moments of calm. It gets to the point where you just expect it, and this ends up hurting the more powerful moments because you are so used to it by now.
However, when the third act kicks in, you are in for some of the best moments of video game storytelling that you have ever encountered. You begin to realize your place in this world. Ellie and Joel are very similar in their role as protagonists. You aren’t sure if they are good or bad, and this conclusion expands on that wholeheartedly. Unexpectedly, you begin to feel pain for those other than Joel and Ellie, but this would have happened sooner had the story handled itself a little better.
The second act introduces Abby, but it will have you thinking, “I really don’t care about any of this.” And it’s true, the elements of it could have been fine had they rushed the story sections a little more instead of having the player slog through long drawn out relationship-building between characters who you don’t care about. I think the biggest issue stems from the entire second act appearing like it should have been the first.
Even though The Last of Us Part 2 will consistently take the controls away from you to tell its story, this is still an adventure game. Interestingly, you’ll find that nothing much has changed in terms of collecting scraps and exploring the environments in this new adventure. Everything just feels more fine-tuned.
Encounters play out a bit interestingly given the fact that you have other means of cover, but many of the strategies you learned in the first game can be applied here. The developers created these really cool arena-like areas for encounters that encourage stealth and strategical trap placement. Still, after knocking out one enemy, someone will come by to check on them, and then everyone will come to you. This limits the amount of actual fighting you’ll do around the level to a small section or corner unless you are not prepared to take on the group of enemies.
No matter what the encounter, I never really had an issue with getting detected. The AI is smart when it comes to pinning you down and closing in on you, but stealthily taking everyone down reveals some of the weak points in their design. Encounters just become repetitive to the point where you’re begging to be caught so that you can finally use some of your weapons.
The messiness of the second act creeps it’s head into the encounters as well, given that Abby is back to using a shiv to take out Clickers. Furthermore, you are given a mass amount of supplies and powerful weapons during this act, and you don’t encounter any new gameplay elements. It just feels like this should have all been played first. If that was the case, I definitely would have had more of an attachment to Abby’s group.
There are several new elements of exploration that provides this adventure with a sense of scale. You’ll be able to walk through and explore a few city blocks of Seattle as you follow leads and find items stashes and travel by boat to get to a few different areas. These moments don’t overstay their welcome, but like the story and encounters, exploration becomes predictable.
If you put the time into searching everywhere, you’ll find notes, items, and crafting materials. Missing some of these might even make your experience in the game more challenging. It’s fun, but it mostly feels like the proper extension of The Last of Us. It reminded me so much of the skills that I have already developed in the previous game that I was pretty much using the same gameplay strategies, but you are pushed to do more, explore more, and strategize more.
The Last of Us Part 2’s level design is an absolute masterpiece. These developers have created some of the best set-pieces in video game history. Every room you find yourself tells a story, whether it be in the pictures on a shelf or the scattered items on the floor. It’s so hard to make your way through this game without looking at all the amazing and incredible work that this team has crafted.
The audio and sound design kept the emotions high, and the voice actors provided us with a fantastic portrayal of these characters. I was crying, laughing, and yelling along with them during story scenes. It was just an incredibly emotional experience, and everything really comes together, in the end, to provide that to the player.
The Last of Us Part 2 has a lot to say about us as people after we connected ourselves to these characters in the first entry. The journey is one that is not for squeamish, but it was one that deserved to be told. As the player, we must once again witness the reality of this harsh world and those who are brought up in it.
The Last of Us Part 2 is a masterclass in environmental design, and that cannot be overlooked. The messiness of the second act doesn’t overshadow how significant this adventure is.
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