The Last of Us Part 2 Review
Naughty Dog’s reputation as a maker of premium, cinematic games with soaring budgets and intricate sequences needs no further elaboration. The craft they’ve been refining since Uncharted’s release is best represented by TLoU2—both the good and the bad.
The game’s kickstarted by Joel’s death: a dramatic event that happens within the first two hours and serves as your quest’s motif. Having rescued Abby, until then a stranger, Joel and Tommy are tricked and captured by her and her group. The moments between Ellie discovering this and arriving where Joel’s held are tense and despairing, with his doom clearer the closer you get. There is nothing you can do about it, a message that gets progressively weaker as the game hammers it against you time and again.
THE MANY WAYS TO MURDER
Armed with nothing but her guns and motivation, Ellie then sets out to seek revenge. Early on you already get a good idea of how the game will work: hordes of enemies litter Seattle’s landscape. You must deal with infected, scars, wolves and deserters, always in the same violent way. With limited ammo and health, stealth is the name of the game and mandatory if you plan to be successful. You’ll have to crawl through the grass, hide behind counters, equip silencers and use sneak attacks to clear the environments you need to traverse. Ignoring enemies is also an option, but the game makes it too costly for you to seriously consider. Without cleaning up an area, it is difficult to search around for the many resources and collectibles. It’s almost a false choice, given how reliant you are on those.
While it isn’t quite Metal Gear, the framework for the stealth and gunplay is surprisingly solid. No matter how hard the writers tried to make me feel bad about killing Grunt #1 to #573 by giving them names and making them show up as NPCs in the game’s second half, plotting out a plan to silently eliminate every enemy without getting swarmed or spending too many resources was the game at its best. It gets repetitive once you’ve seen every type of enemy and encounter, and here the game’s hampered by its length.
Whatever joy I had doing it at first vanished when the game forced me to do it again… and again… and again, in situations so similar they almost seemed (poorly) procedurally generated. For its final six hours I hoped I could just make it to the next story segment and cutscene without killing more people.
BEAUTIFUL (ON THE OUTSIDE)
The game has enough visual variety to keep things interesting throughout its entire length. You’ll go from the snowy woods of Jackson to the rewilded urban sprawl of Seattle, all crafted in meticulous detail. Trees, grass and flowers grow everywhere and broken roofs make way for beautiful lightrays. There are minor animation and clipping issues but they are few and far between.
The game features a subdued soundtrack that ups its tempo as you come across dramatic or poignant moments in its story, and the sound design for everything else is detailed almost to a fault. What most impressed me was how life-like the rain sounded, with distinct pattering for dozens of surfaces. If I had to level one complaint, it’d be the ringing noise you get when you die. It’s intrusive and along with the violent death animations made me feel uncomfortable as I played.
And now we must address the elephant in the room: the story. When people found out Joel dies, many couldn’t accept it and thought it a poor plot device. Rest assured that they’re completely wrong! The game’s story falls flat for many reasons, but Joel’s death is both credible and well-employed by the game’s storytellers. It serves as motivation and contrast to the flashbacks that show us Ellie and Joel before the game’s events. These are the best moments in the game’s story and offer us a much needed respite from its usual darkness. Getting to see Ellie and Joel interact with one another made Joel’s death all the more powerful.
Its issues stem from the decision to divide the game into two halves. The pacing slows to a crawl and every other gameplay flaw bursts into plain sight. I could’ve forgiven all this if Abby’s side had been more interesting.
Instead, it seems like they wrote it exclusively to try and make you feel bad about the decisions the game forces upon you. The ten to twelve hour segment feels stretched thin, best replaced by a handful of cutscenes. Your burden for playing as Ellie is to now see all the lives you took as actual people. I quickly numbed to the misery the game tried to force-feed me. What could’ve passed in a TV show or book felt almost ironic in a game, as if the writers were slapping you on the head and calling you a violent idiot for going through the script they’d written.
AND IN THE END, THERE WAS NOTHING
Its lack of a deeper message made Ellie’s journey, and the time I spent on the game, feel pointless. She lost nearly everything and, when all seemed done and settled, went through it again. Her incapacity to learn and grow was infuriating and reduced an otherwise complex character to basic single-mindedness.
There’s a quality to The Last of Us 2’s technical and artistic aspects that only a budget as big, and a team as qualified (and overworked), as Naughty Dog’s can get. It is a beautiful-looking game that is at its best when the story stops going forward and goes sideways, such as with Ellie and Abby’s flashbacks. When it moves ahead there is only misery (Kotaku’s Riley MacLeod said it best when he called it a misery simulator), and while it is successful—I was certainly joyless most of the time I played the game—what is the point? The game never answers that question, perhaps intentionally. Though if so it did not have the effect on me that the writers likely thought it would have.