When Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us was first released back in 2013, it took the gaming world by storm. Players were drawn into its tense gameplay mechanics, as well as its fresh take on the zombie genre and heartfelt story that hit like a sledgehammer. Now, seven years later, Naughty Dog has finally released a sequel to the hit video game. While it’s ultimately not as good as its predecessor, The Last of Us Part II is still a memorable time despite its big flaws.
The issue with analyzing and reviewing The Last of Us Part II is that Naughty Dog has been incredibly secretive about the game’s plot. Because of this, it’s impossible to properly talk about the game without diving into details that some might consider spoilers. While The Last of Us Part II will have been out for over a week by the time this review is posted and has been subjected to several high profile leaks, we at Heroic Hollywood wouldn’t want to ruin the game for anyone who hasn’t had a chance to play it yet. So here is what we’re going to do: I’m going to tell you right off the bat that Naughty Dog’s latest game is a solid 7/10. Its gameplay is tense, suspenseful, and rewards exploration with combat that makes you think about every move carefully with some of the most unsettling monsters ever put in a video game. The characters are all interesting but the plot runs out of steam in a big way in the second half, which doesn’t lack ambition but goes on for far too long. From here on out, though, the rest of this review will contain some elements that some might view as spoilers, so consider yourself warned.
The Last of Us Part II picks up roughly four years after the events of the first game. Joel and Ellie have been living relatively peacefully in a settlement in Wyoming in that time. Unfortunately for them, a group with a grudge against Joel comes knocking, brutally killing everyone’s beloved video game dad right in front of Ellie. This leads Ellie down a bloody path of revenge, putting her in the middle of a conflict between two warring factions in Seattle, with consequences that she could never have imagined.
As you can probably tell. the storyline for The Last of Us Part II will undoubtedly be divisive. It’s a game that is full of risks that will likely unsettle and disgust players with its gameplay, twists and turns. The whole thing is set up to show just how all-consuming violence and revenge can be, giving an otherwise standard revenge story an extra layer of depth that these types of narratives often lack. The path that Ellie takes leads her into this war in Seattle and forces her to do horrible things to many people as our protagonist looks on with a cold and indifferent stare that only turns to rage when something gets in her way. Friends and loved ones begin to question her motives and worry about how far she will go for revenge and whether or not they will drag her down with them. And for the first 13 or so hours, the game is damn near perfect in this regard, giving us a dark and twisted revenge story that sees one of the decade’s most beloved video game characters go down one of the darkest paths possible. Unfortunately, Ellie is not the only character we get to play as in this game.
Roughly halfway through The Last of Us Part II, there is a bizarre point of view shift. During this half, we take control of the game’s de facto antagonist, Abby, who was responsible for killing Joel. During this half, we meet her friends who were with her when she killed Joel, discover why she was so hellbent on revenge, and a bit more about the conflict between Seattle’s two warring factions — the WLF and the Scars. It’s all interesting enough to keep us around and again dives into how all-consuming revenge can be to those around you, albeit in a different way. The problem is that it’s just not nearly as interesting as Ellie’s revenge quest. The whole thing goes on for far too long and the shift happens at the worst possible time imaginable.
Thankfully a lot of this is smoothed over by The Last of Us Part II‘s fantastic level design, worldbuilding, and gameplay mechanics. The game is a third-person survival horror shooter that outright discourages running and gunning tactics. In any given situation you’re outgunned, outnumbered and outclassed by nearly every enemy around you. Attacks from all of your enemies pack a wallop, so players will have to think carefully about when, where, and whether to fight, stealth kill, or sneak around enemies. The environments themselves allow the player to use any of these tactics but the game always rewards the smarter approach.
Like the previous game, resources in the world of The Last of Us Part II are scarce. You’re required to go through every nook and cranny of every building in order to find the precious few bullets this world has to offer as well as other resources to craft additional items such as med packs and other weapons. While exploring these areas, you often come across notes and journal entries that tell you the story of just what went down in Seattle. They also give the scavaging sections of the game a little more depth. The only downside to this is that the game does fall into a bit of a repetitive pattern of scavage sections that go right into combat/stealth sections and so on. It also has to be said that the little notes and storylines say stuff that we have seen in a million other survival horror games and unlike the revenge story, there isn’t anything about them that you would call original takes on the setup.
There’s one area where the Last of Us sequel remains original, and that’s its take on zombies. The fungus-based infection remains one of the most nightmare-inducing concepts the zombie subgenre has ever produced. Creatures like the clickers are unsettling and disgusting to look at with runners remaining a constant threat due to their speed. Meanwhile, stalkers are basically anxiety in a physical form. The game also offers a few new types of infected that give previous zombies you’ve seen a run for their money. They’re disgusting and will haunt your dreams for weeks after you see them. If nothing else, Naughty Dog is responsible for perhaps the most unsettling zombies to ever hit the video game medium.
Ultimately, The Last of Us Part II is a flawed creature. The gameplay, monsters, enemies, and environments are all phenomenal. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the story. While everything involving Ellie is genuinely great, the story suffers greatly from its bizarre placement of a perspective shift and an ending that goes on for far too long. While it is an otherwise compelling journey to take, Part II‘s story is one that I feel will leave a big impression on gamers, but for the wrong reasons.
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