The Last of Us 2
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre: Survival, Single Player, Horror
Our rating: ★★★★ 1/2 (4.5)
The Last of Us 2 split the critics
Name me a game in recent years that has been as divisive as the Last of Us 2, I’ll bet you can’t. It has completely divided the internet and not in a healthy spirited debate way, no. There are those who loved the experience, the storytelling and there are those, who well seem to hate it with such venom, that they felt it was their right to send death threats and target the creators and the voice actors. I will say right now, this type of behavior is neither tolerated nor acceptable. Now I’ve said my piece, let’s get on with the review!
The world of The Last of Us 2
Right from the opening The Last of Us 2 is visually impressive, the level of detail in Joel’s clothing and his character model is astounding. His jacket looks so worn and frankly comfy af, the textures are so tactile I can imagine the feeling of the material. This is only later outshined by Ellie removing her shirt without any clipping. Normally we’d cut away and fill in the blanks but not now. The shirt bunches and stretches, the light adjusts when it hits her back and her pony tale naturally just falls back into place. This is not just an immense feat of video game animation but animation in general. The Last of Us 2 did not just push the boat out with the advances in the visuals in this sequel, they launched a whole damn fleet of boats.
The early shots on horseback are absolutely stunning, reminiscent of Red Dead Redemption’s vast openness with the screen drenched in sunspots. From the sun-drenched or the snow-covered vastness of Jackson to the concrete ruins of Seattle, the world feels alive and not just with zombies! But the wind through the trees, the rushing water, nature claiming back a landscape torn apart first by name, then by the outbreak. I would have loved to see the cause of the destruction in Seattle.
The beauty isn’t just in what you can see
I am a sucker for a high pixel count and some intense visuals, you won’t find me really playing anything too retro because of this. However, for me, there is something that raises The Last of Us 2 to the next level, and that is the writing. Now, by writing I mean the story, the characters, and the interactions. This is where that glutton for punishment really started to kick in. Despite the gruelling, painful torturous events these characters went through, I still went back for more.
So by now, a lot of the nuances of the story have been screamed about in hate, but also praised. I was lucky, no. I was diligent in my avoidance of spoilers. Heck, I did not even watch a trailer beyond the initial trailer in 2016. It was not easy, especially following the leaks. But I managed and I am so glad I did. Certain things were inevitable, I know how stories progress and there is nothing stronger than love to motivate people, except of course, for death. But it hurts still, especially when we then see flashbacks. hooo boy.
Where the beauty really shines is those small details: the bad jokes, the whispered truths, the vulnerability. The acoustic cover of Take on me.
I consume a hell of a lot of media week on week, and hand on heart, this journey is like no other. It is the blurring of those lines between black and white, good and evil. It answers the questions of what if? What if, our hero… is not actually a hero at all? It’s cut and dry no longer, who can honestly tell me, upon finishing The Last of Us, that any of these characters are worse, or eviler than the others?
The good and the bad, they’re the different sides of the same coin
What the writers of The Last of Us 2 did is create Ellie’s equal. An equal to her rage and dedication, that equal is Abby. Now, I have no interest in ANY hate on Abby. I happily accept people have different opinions and tastes. However, to me she is fantastic. We see her at her darkest moments, her redemption, and her shining goodness. There is so much good in both Ellie and Abby. They are a reflection of one another. They are the product of growing up in a world so dangerous, so harsh and so cruel. Something I needed for Ellie was her to retain was her kindness, and it looked for a minute there, like that might have been extinguished.
These two characters, alongside Lev, Dina, Jesse, Manny, and so many others are an absolutely glowing step forward in terms of representation. Not just female representation, but POC and LGBTQ+ representation as well. These relationships, romantic or just friendship feel authentic. These are not token gestures of representation. This is an example of a diverse group of characters that are well crafted, well animated and considered. If you consider a diverse group of central characters ‘woke’ then you must not get out much. Look around you, diversity exists.
Some things remain the same in The Last of Us 2
Something’s have not changed. The combat remains similar to its predecessor, focusing on stealth over a full-frontal assault. At least that’s how I like to play, creeping in bushes and firing arrows left and right and centre. Human enemies arguably outnumber zombie enemies on the streets. Which in a zombie survival game, at first feels odd. But with the time that has gone by and the threat of these new factions, it is not surprising.
When we do encounter the zombies, there are some we’ve come to know, the clickers for example and there are some new additions to the mushroom-headed family. Some that absolutely freaked the PANTS off me upon the first meeting. But, you know how we feel about spoilers, so I am not going to go into detail about these new ones.
What did feel somewhat underutilized is the zombie hordes we are introduced to early on. That first encounter is so out of the blue my heart rate was through the roof, but I would have liked to have seen more of them.
The quiet between the scenes
The Last of Us series is at its best whilst letting you explore and traverse the landscapes. Like in the Uncharted series, the combat with humans is, for me, my least favourite part. Scenes of quiet between the brawls, getting to explore the gorgeous scenery, or learning about these characters, is where this series shines. The writers created such depth, that as I said early, there is no one winner. Everyone has lost something, they’ve all lost of a piece of them, that’ll likely never heal. The flashbacks from both characters, showed such different sides, formative moments in both their lives that led to these rage-fuelled moments. Some of the tensest moments were not standoffs with enemies but creeping under debris or squeezing into small spaces, not knowing what lay on the other side.
All in all
Playing through The Last of Us 2 is not a lighthearted experience. Don’t get me wrong there are moments of levity that boost these characters to feeling like proper meaty realistic characters. But it is grueling. Is it the best game to be playing whilst in the midst of a pandemic? I honestly do not know. Would I have waited forever for them to release this game? Absolutely, The Last of Us 2 makes you really care for these characters, you aren’t just throwing them around, you want them to survive. If they’d failed to make these characters so relatable or likable it wouldn’t have the same effect. But we DO care and that just made those hits, hit even harder.
Is this game absolutely perfect? No, but nothing is. What it is, is an incredible feat of video game creation. It is a celebration of so many incredible technical leaps and advancements. An example of brilliant storytelling, character creation, and diversity that will inspire so so many people for years to come. It was the perfect way to bid farewell to characters as well as the PS4. If ND does decide to create a Last of Us 3, which frankly I am not convinced we need, I hope it is not for at least 10 years. Let this be the crowning jewel it deserves to be.
Now if you don’t mind I am off for my second playthrough.
So needless to say, I’m odds and ends, But I’ll be stumbling away, Slowly learning that life is okay…
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