The Last of Us 2 is the latest title developed by Naughty Dog, published by Sony Interactive Entertainment and is available exclusively for the Playstation 4. This action-adventure, post-apocalyptic, survival horror will take you on a journey across the USA. Played in third person view, the playable character Ellie must use her skills of stealth and improvisation, to craft weapons and ammo in order to fight cannibalistic creatures and mysterious cults.
Having played The Last of Us back in 2013, I never really got the hype for it. I mean I enjoyed it, but I definitely wouldn't consider it to be one of the best games I've played - in fact, it wouldn't even be in my top 10. The story was obviously amazing, but I felt myself somewhat let down by the gameplay. It felt rather janky and unpolished. That being said, the storytelling alone was enough to have me anxiously awaiting the release of The Last Of Us 2. Would it be more of the same? Or would I be blown away like everybody else seemed to be with the original back in 2013?
In order to avoid any spoilers, this review will not discuss any major plot points of the story other than those we already know from trailers.
The Last of Us 2 takes us on a journey of unapologetic violence and revenge. You play as Ellie, a 19 year old who was born during a fungal illness that has decimated the human population by turning the majority into cannibals and zombies. The Last of Us 2 starts in Jackson, where Ellie has been living as part of a community of survivors. It is from here that we embark on our journey that takes us to wonderfully overgrown, post-apocalyptic locations such as Seattle, Washington and Wyoming.
I'd like to preface this review by saying thank you and well done. Well done to Naughty Dog for some of the most magical accessibility settings I have ever seen. They truly have gone to spectacular effort to make The Last of Us 2 the most accessible video game that I have ever experienced. Included are modes featuring high contrast visuals, advanced listening options, text to speech, audio cues, magnify, pan and scan, the ability to fully remap and customise all the games controls; including being able to turn the controller upside down plus many more. I think this is amazing as it gives more people than ever the chance to experience gaming in a way that is comfortable to them. Now to the meat of the review.
Graphically I would say TLOU2 is simply unrivalled. Whilst playing, it was hard to distinguish the difference between the cutscenes and the gameplay. The character models are almost lifelike; from facial expressions, to the way they move, there’s almost nothing about them that breaks the immersion even for a moment. Aside from character models, the biggest visual aspect is of course the vegetation, Mother Nature's way of fighting back and erasing any slither of evidence that humans ever existed. The world looks unrecognisable; highways and cars have plants growing through them, making them barely visible to the green of nature itself. It truly feels like time has passed and the earth is reclaiming what belongs to it. Naughty Dog have taken what they did with the original in terms of visuals and improved on them immensely.
After being so heavily invested in Ellie, due to the brilliant story telling of the first game, immediately I found the story compelling, interesting and although some might argue that the story in the original had a little more substance to it, I would have to disagree. There’s nothing like a good revenge plot to keep me going, every kill comes with a little bit of emotion and every action has extra meaning with revenge as your driving force. That being said, the quality of the story in the first one definitely contributes to what makes the story for TLOU2 so engaging. The use of flashbacks only heightens the ability to understand the motivations and really add substance to the relationships between characters.
The biggest issue I have with The Last of Us 2 was the damn camera. I found myself all too often literally fighting with the camera's natural movement. I think it's intended to stop that usual awkward moment that happens in some games when you swing the camera around a little and accidentally clip through a wall or an object. It happened way more frequently in smaller areas such as houses, where there were more walls etc but for some reason if I wanted to turn left, it didn’t matter how hard I pulled on the stick, the game wanted me to look right unless I moved far enough away from the object and it allowed me to turn where I wanted. It doesn’t really sound like a big deal, but when you’re playing a survival horror, where watching your back is about the most important thing you can do, it becomes a massive inconvenience and was the biggest of only two things that ever broke immersion which is a real shame.
The gameplay this time around feels much better, the gunplay feels slightly more refined and the movement feels much more comfortable and fluid. Naughty Dog has added a few new mechanics, such as a more responsive dodge, which greatly improves the feel of the melee combat and makes every encounter feel way more natural. While the melee combat is still somewhat “button mashy”, it's definitely an improvement on the original. Another new feature is the ability to go prone, a feature that is very useful for squeezing through tight spaces to avoid a hoard of runners and for hiding in the tall grass to avoid detection. The Last of Us 2 also includes a jump feature and while it's definitely an improvement, it was very underutilised and could honestly just as easily not have been there. The only time you needed to jump was when you were at the end of a ledge, and the old mechanic would have sufficed. Any other time you jumped, it just resulted in very awkward looking jump animation that is just about the only time (aside from the war with the camera) that the game ever broke immersion.
The level design in TLOU2 is incredibly clever, it gives the impression of a semi-open world; despite in fact being very linear. The large open spaces that you can roam and explore, truly give you a feeling of an open world. You loot your way through seemingly endless buildings, from houses to theaters and everything in between. Despite the feeling of openness, all paths do inevitably lead the same way. Apart from this “semi open-world” feel, the general level design feels much better this time around with many more nooks and crannies to explore, including a lot more tight spaces to fit through to gain access to hard to reach places you may have otherwise missed.
The game introduces a few new enemies, which I won't go into detail on as to avoid any possible spoilers. I will say that these new enemies are way more formidable than anything we faced in the previous game and will force you to change up your tactics and th