The Last of Us Part 2 is a masterful swansong for the PlayStation 4, and arguably the finest, most accomplished project Naughty Dog has ever embarked on. It’s far more than a traditional sequel, taking the original’s core message and expanding upon in ways that will be looked back on as brave, ambitious and undeniably controversial.
- A deep story that builds upon the original
- Ellie’s story and the tales of those around her are all touching and nuanced
- Combat is viciously satisfying
- Sets a new benchmark for diverse representation in gaming blockbusters
- Small parts of campaign could have been paced more gracefully
- Certain villains could have benefitted from further development
- Review Price: £49.99
- Release Date: June 19, 2020
- Platform: PS4
- Developer: Naughty Dog
- Genre: Action
The Last of Us didn’t need a sequel. Joel and Ellie’s post-apocalyptic fable was a touching, sombre experience that concluded with a masterful aura of ambiguity. You were left to draw your own conclusions, leaving this world behind as its characters finally grasp onto a semblance of peace, despite the troubles that might await them. The final message was a powerful signature of hope, positivity and trust; showcasing how far some will go to save the ones they love.
But this resolution was pushed aside when Naughty Dog announced a sequel, which would be a direct continuation of the original’s events. The gates of a tale with ambiguous closure were now blown wide open, with Joel and Ellie once again placed at the forefront. To my jubilant surprise, it more than exceeds expectations, subverting storytelling conventions to tell a broad, emotional story that is the best Naughty Dog has ever produced.
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The Last of Us Part 2 opens in the idyllic future we all dreamed of after the first game. It’s been five years, and the two have forged a new life in the picturesque mountains of Jackson, Wyoming. Relationships and routines have been formed as Joel reconnects with his family and Ellie becomes more confident in herself as a fledgling artist amongst a new circle of friends.
But reasons you’ll come to uncover have caused them to drift apart, a void they’re both afraid can never be filled. From here their relationship is analysed in some fascinating ways, bonds we once thought sacred are torn apart and scrutinised in ways that force you to contextualise actions previously set in stone. I won’t delve into any spoilers here, but it’s beautifully depicted in a way that will pluck at your heartstrings with the finesse of a machete.
The core narrative thrust is brought into the limelight after Ellie witnesses a traumatic, life-altering event, placing our heroine on a path for revenge that will force her to confront her past and contemplate whether or not this reckless cycle of violence will truly bring her happiness, or if she is simply carving an inevitable monument to her own self-destruction.
Even with lovers and friends helping her along the way, I began to question her actions and whether I, as the player, was complicit in all this even when I wanted to put down the controller and walk away from it all. Ellie deals in indiscriminate violence to track down those who wronged her, even when the human beings she dispatches are humanised with journals scattered across the map and dialogue that cements their own existence in this world.
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The moral dichotomy between my own feelings and Ellie’s thirst for vengeance were constantly echoed as the story moves forward, forcing me to analyse the relationship I’ve built with this character and what she truly believes in. I’ve never had a blockbuster challenge me like this before, presenting a quandary that concludes in one of the greatest final acts the medium has ever seen.
I’m forbidden from delving too deep in this review, but rest assured that The Last of Us 2 houses so many surprises, even with the controversial leaks that have dominated online discourse in recent months. Much like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End before it, Naughty Dog has filled marketing and trailers with red herrings so devious that even the most hardened fans of the original won’t see them coming.
The relationship between Ellie and Dina, the latter being our heroine’s primary love interest, is touching and realistic throughout the campaign. While her sexuaity was explored briefly in Left Behind, and sadly resulted in the death of her childhood sweetheart, The Last of Us 2 does a far better job of portraying queer relationships as a subject of normality.
Ellie is a young woman, and we see her struggling with her identity throughout the campaign as she awkwardly discusses crushes with Joel and deals with roadblocks many of us are familiar with in life. It’s a smultzy, touching slither of romance in a story oftentimes devoid of hope, and it’s worth stepping back and admiring these moments for what they are – morsels of happiness these characters cling onto while waiting for the next tragedy to strike.
LGBT representation throughout The Last of Us 2 sets a new benchmark, especially in the AAA space, and Naughty Dog should be commended for it. I will admit it is somewhat exhausting to see a post-apocalyptic hellscape more accepting of queer identities than some parts of modern society, but perhaps this hard reset of society has put aside prejudices that once held us back. If the end of the world ever comes, at least we’ve got that to look forward to.
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If the brutality of its predecessor left you squeamish, The Last of Us 2 will not be an easy pill to swallow. It’s drenched in violence both literally and figuratively, challenging you to overcome its vicious depiction of human suffering through performing it yourself and realising where the limits lay. Armed with a switchblade, Ellie can swiftly murder any poor soul or corrupt infected that crosses her path. That is, so long as she moves quietly enough.
Stealth is a far more viable tactic this time around, with the majority of environments awash with overgrown foliage you can dive into, crawling past mercenaries and infected waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Some encounters can be avoided entirely, leaving your adversaries to search fruitlessly for a ghost that has long passed them by. Being spotted is a common occurrence though, so you’ll need to emerge from your shrubbery fortress and face the music.
Fortunately, Ellie is more than capable of murdering everything in her path. Perhaps too capable. Pulling the trigger of firearms results in a bloody explosion of flying body parts and gut-wrenching screams, while each bout of melee combat feels like a genuine fight for survival. Stepping over enemies as they writhe in pain, clutching the aching wounds where their limbs used to be never fails to shake your resolve, purposefully gratuitous in a way that services the game’s wider themes.
The areas you’ll explore across Downtown Seattle are abundant in their variety, embracing a sense of verticality where Ellie can use her increased range of movement to deal with threats from above, below and on a level playing field. This is the best combat system Naughty Dog has ever created, possessing a level of impactful weight which makes every fight feel like a multifaceted triumph, with so many tools at your disposal that simply experimenting with them is a joy.
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General flow remains largely unchanged when compared to the original, it’s simply been enhanced and refined in a way that will honestly make it difficult to return to Joel and Ellie’s fledgling effort without feeling like something is missing. Crafting items such as traps, arrows and healing kits in real-time adds a venerable level of tension as you desperately search for resources in the heat of battle. On hard difficulty, I was always on the cusp of having nothing to defend myself, having to use everything I had to make it out alive.
Naughty Dog is a master of knowing when to give the player room to breathe, putting aside violence in favour of quieter, more contemplative moments that serve the narrative. The Last of Us 2 is full of such glimpses into its characters’ lives, pulling from the past, present and future to showcase what makes their fight for survival so important. You’ll go from adoring certain characters to absolutely despising them, or perhaps even the opposite, since you’re expected to draw your own conclusions and think about what isn’t shown.
Years have passed since we last spent time with Joel and Ellie, and throughout the campaign you only view small snapshots from the months they’ve spent building a new life, trying desperately to leave the past behind while being inexplicably defined by it. It’s a bittersweet affair, and one that had me crying, laughing and even shouting at the screen in hopeless desperation. I can’t think of a blockbuster that has twisted my emotions like this, leaving me eager to discuss its thematic importance with whomever I could.
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The Last of Us 2 is a masterful swansong for the PlayStation 4, and arguably the finest, most accomplished project Naughty Dog has ever embarked on. It’s far more than a traditional sequel, taking the original’s core message and expanding upon in ways that will be looked back on as brave, ambitious and undeniably controversial.
But the impression it leaves behind is palpable, and one I hope future blockbusters will aspire to replicate. Its approach to diversity, mechanical execution and unwillingness to hold the player’s hand even in its darkest moments build to a closing chapter that will leave you in stunned silence.