The Last Of Us Part II review: 5 things to know
The Last Of Us Part II will have you in tears of emotion and fear.
'Last' is the operative word in The Last of Us Part II. Its maker, Naughty Dog, is out to prove once again that being one of the last to release a game on a now-gen console isn't a bad thing, but something to be savoured.
UPDATED: The Last Of Us Part II is now available to buy. We can't recommend the game enough - but, be warned: it will take a lot out of you, emotionally.
What The Last Of Us proved some seven years ago was that you didn't need to ditch the PS3 to get state-of-the-art graphics and gameplay. All you needed was a publisher that learned how to use the console to its full potential.
The result was a pitch-perfect game that was packed with emotional heft, graphical prowess and some of the best on-screen scares this side of Resident Evil.
Seven years on and, on the surface, the same rules apply. Naughty Dog is once again unleashing another Last Of Us on a console in its twilight years.
With the PlayStation 5 on the way, though, does The Last Of Us Part II offer enough of a swan song? After playing the game for some weeks now, here's what we think...
1. Ellie is as fearsome as the enemies
The Last of Us Part II takes place five years after the first game. Ellie and Joel have found a community in Jackson, Wyoming. There's a peace and stability there that we get to see, much of which creatively acts as a primer for how to run, jump, shoot, ride and hide - all of which you definitely need to complete the game going forward.
That peace is soon shattered, however, after a bout of violence. This is the first gut punch of many that the game throws at you. It leaves Ellie with no choice but to go on a mission that takes her away from the community and into the unknown.
Like the first Last of Us, this is a story of survival and struggle - inside and out. But there's a change: Ellie now is a character used to her surroundings, where the fear of seeing the undead sulking about just isn't there anymore. There's been a sort of Ripley effect in her, where she tackles huge, horrible bouts of nastiness with, well, aplomb.
Whether that's shooting a bullet into the head of the enemy, or sneaking up on them and dealing a devastating blow, she's sort of not fussed. As a player, though, we were.
There's a brutality here that wasn't seen in the first The Last of Us but, thankfully, the game also allows you to gauge that level of brutality.
It's not just about 'route one, kill the enemy to proceed' game play anymore - you can be more thoughtful with it.
2. Fighting isn't the only option
The Last of Us Part II allows you to think about your approach to enemies more. You can tackle each conflict differently. The new option to hide in long grass, or under a vehicle, then sneak up to attack is welcomed, and one we favoured the most. But it doesn't work all of the time.
When it does, though, it is pretty graphic. Once you get up close and personal with the enemy to kill them, the camera doesn't flinch as your knife goes in. There's an audible whimper from them when you surprise them, like they know their time is up - then the wet gargle sounds as they die is a lot to take in. It's pretty barbaric.
But there's also the option to run. When you're over powered and enemies are all around, sometimes running is the only option. And these zombies are '28 Days Later' fast, complete with terrifying shouts and screams while they try and track you down.
These bits are the most fear-inducing of the whole game, but lucky they are balanced by some elongated moments of solace.
3. There's beauty among the brutality
If you have watched the trailer then you know that the guitar is a big part of proceedings. Among the carnage and savagery, there's times when Joel picks up the guitar to play.
Ellie, learning, does the same and these moments soften the blow for the rest of the game - offering up a few minutes' breathing space where you still have to strike the right chord but you're not bludgeoning someone to death.
At first glance, these moments do nothing more than act as silent spaces among the savagery but you start to welcome them given the chaos that surrounds them.
This also goes for other elements of the game - things are slowed down somewhat thanks to the amount of scavenging you can do. Pick up bits of metal and it can mean a significant upgrade to one of your weapons. There's also drugs you find along the way that 'enhance' you in certain ways, as well as trading cards scattered all over the place, as well as training manuals. It's an Easter egg hunters' dream.
The beauty we're talking about is also about the graphics. This is a brilliantly bleak and bright world at times - you get both throughout the game and the graphics are exceptional.
Yet again, Naughty Dog has created a game that makes you question why the next generation of consoles are so close.
4. There is a bigger world out there
For us, this was a blessing and a curse. The Last of Us Part II opens up the canvas, allowing you to explore more of the world around you.
It feels a little Fallout-lite in this respect. As we traversed a mangled world that's been ravished by a pandemic (and there was us thinking that we were escaping real life for a moment), there were times when we just fumbled along waiting for a hint to pop up.
It's fantastic that there is much more ground to explore, and it did feel like the barriers we hit were natural (overgrown shrub, a broken bridge or too-high fence), but we found ourselves going round in circles on occasion.
It doesn't help that there is a map you can use but the controls are similar to the opening your rucksack up to find stuff, craft and the like. We kept getting these options mixed up and it was frustrating.
On the plus side, you are guaranteed to stumble upon little mission asides that are well worth exploring.
5. It doesn't go how you expect
We're trying not to veer into spoiler territory here but we will say this: The Last of Us Part II defied our expectations, taking us to places we never thought it would, confronting enemies and inner struggles that have never been seen in gaming before. This is an epic, courageous game that's not pandering to anyone.
The Last of Us Part II is bleak, brutal and beautiful in equal measure and we can only applaud it for the chances it takes with both narrative and gameplay.
The Last Of Us Part II is event gaming like no other. It stuns in its journey into darkest recesses of horror, while allowing enough light through for love and friendship seep in.
By the end there will be tears. With every emotion rung out of you, you'll be stumbling along for days afterwards like the undead Ellie is now so adept at killing.
The Last of Us Part II also proves there's much life yet in the PS4 - like its predecessor, it saves the best game for the now gen until last.
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