PlayStation 49.50
Overall 9.50
It is a difficult task to follow up such a beloved game like The Last of Us, one heralded with one if not the best story in gaming. When it released I claimed it was the best story I ever experienced in gaming, the game wasn’t great only because of its excellent narrative but how the gameplay and story worked together to create a highly emotional journey. TLOU2 follows in its predecessor’s footsteps and weaves another incredible gameplay and narrative powerhouse whose scale is unmatched in this genre. It is extremely difficult to discuss this game without spoilers but I’m going to do my damn best except for one major aspect that MUST be discussed. I will touch on the story but not spoil the details, on a separate post I plan to dive into my full thoughts on it, for now I’ll focus on the game as whole. If you want to know nothing, just read the last paragraph, if you are ok with knowing something central to the game but that has been hidden read ahead.

The core gameplay of stealth action is brought back but refined to such a degree that it is easily the best controlling game Naughty Dog has made. Every action feels snappy and with the right weight and backed by some of the best animations in the industry. Two simple additions to character movement drastically changes how smooth the gameplay feels, being able to dodge and go prone. Going prone allows Ellie to hide in shorter grass and have way more avenues to stay hidden while enemies hunt you down. The transitions from crouch to prone and back all feel great and the dodge button can be used in tandem with prone to dive jump into cover.  

The shooting greatly benefits from the ability to fire from the ground in secret or right after an enemy drops you with a bullet hit. Every shot feels like it has weight, enemies react to hits in realistic ways with great hit detection and full dismemberment. It’s incredible how the sound design helps with the feel of the combat, never have I felt the power of a gunshot quite like in this game because of how amazing the sound is, it’s timed perfectly with a rumble on the controller and the screen shaking. Combat is such a well created visceral experience, all aspects of the game work together to create action sequences that feel like I am deep in the shit.

The first game was at its best when chaos erupted and I had to frantically improvise to survive, this game doubles down on that offering more options, more space for more paths to escape with improved AI and enemies so that each encounter feels like a joy to go through. By far my favorite improvement comes from the infected which feel far more like something out of a Resident Evil game. In the first these infected sections sort of felt like stealth puzzles as clickers forced the player to either use shivs or improve ways to attack them safely. This game still has moments of that but they doubled down on the more hunting by horde style of combat. Runners and clickers still work as they did but there are usually far more of them with thrilling sections where hordes rain down. There is the new shamblers which shoot out giant acid clouds if you get near them, they will charge at you and try to explode. Stalkers get a huge makeover, they were hardly even noticeable in the first but here they feel so much more like their name sake. You will see them peak out of a door way then quickly disappear warning the player that they are around you just dont know where. They are quiet meaning that listen mode you rely on is now useless. They will pop out and strike quickly and many times retreat to regroup. I loved the quiet dark creepy segments where these guys stalked you, felt far more RE like than it did in the first.

Then there is the bloater which is now more of a boss battle than a regular enemy and it’s such an improvement. These guys will destroy and entire location, walls will crumble, shelves with tear apart, it’s like fighting the Hulk. There are only a few encounters with them but they feel so exciting, I loved it. To top it off ND finally made a proper boss battle with a new monstrosity which borrows totally from Resident Evil and quickly became one of my favorite moments of the game. When all these infected are together in one moment it’s such an adrenaline rush and serves a very different style of combat than the more strategic human enemies. It's actually a shame that there were not too many human and infected together in the same area, the DLC Left Behind introduced this kind of gameplay and it only happens in very few sequences. I thought being able to manipulate the infected to kill human enemies would be a bigger aspect but I guess they tested it and figured less was more, it works well when it does happen.

Human enemies are constantly communicating with each other, even using unique names which leads to them screaming out in horror when they find “James” dead. It doesn’t impact the gameplay much but it’s another nice attention to detail that makes this world come alive. Dogs are also thrown into the mix meaning you can’t simply hide in bushes, a dog can catch your scent and follow where you have been forcing you to keep moving. And that’s the point of this games combat, the enemy encounters can be overwhelming with soldiers coming from all sides because it wants you to engage. Yes stealth is totally a valid option and I took great pleasure in thinning the numbers before I was either caught or chose to cause noise to get soldiers moving. Still best moments are when that carefully laid plan is interrupted by that sniper you didn’t know was out there or that soldier called a friend down from a building you didn’t clear yet and now it’s time to improvise.

The secret sauce to the first games combat was how the melee played a big part in engagement, for instance it allowed you to throw a brick at someone and run in for a stunning finishing kill. Melee mixed with limited shooting created violent scenes of action that felt like something straight out of a movie, this game refined and improves this aspect so that melee now is a bit more involved than just mashing a button. The dodge comes into play here allowing you to get into a melee battle with enemies, dodging at the right time allows you to quickly strike with a counter and eventually overtake the enemy and initiate a brutal animated kill that is chosen based on the environment. There are so many different animations based on where you are or positioned, you will bash people on tables, ram them against walls, steal their weapon and stab them with it; when it all works perfectly I can’t help but just let out a scream of “yyyeeeaahhh  take that!”. Maybe I’m supposed to be shocked at the excessive and disturbingly detailed violence but if they were going for that they shouldn’t have made killing everyone so damn fun.
I guess what I spent four paragraphs describing is that stealth and combat feels amazing. You all know my affinity for MGS games, why because those games allow the player to approach enemy encounters in so many ways and when a plan goes astray the fun really begins. TLOU2 is the closest a game has come to me to feeling like MGSV which I hold to the highest regard in terms of character agency.  It is no where near as deep as a MGS game but it nails the feel of combat, it made me want to reach the next encounter just so I can see what crazy scenario the game has next for me.

Encounter design is so important for any linear game and TLOU2 has such varied and constantly evolving situations that I was in awe at the scope of it all. This game is MASSIVE, a 30 hour epic that takes place in the most insanely detailed and varied environments I have ever seen put into a linear story driven game.  Little by little the game unfolds the layers of the gameplay, starting off with mostly infected and then introducing the more complex human enemies. Areas started small and compact and slowly opened more and more until what felt like an entire neighborhood sized areas become your playground. New enemy types are constantly introduced to keep you on your toes and new weaponry to match it. Just when the game needs it an adrenaline pumping setpiece hits at the right time.

There was a stretch of the game from around the 8 hour mark to about the 17th hour where I seriously felt this was reaching RE4 levels of encounter design greatness. It was a constant parade of memorable moments, new situations to keep me on my toes. Extremely powerful story moments sprinkled in to keep the emotion levels high. But there is only so much variety you can do in a 30 hour game before you hit some form of repetition. I felt a lull hit during the final third of the game before ramping up again for the explosive finale.

That’s just thing with this game, the first TLOU was a perfectly designed game that builds and builds and builds to a crescendo that is perfectly executed. This game has extremely high highs but is uneven in terms of the encounters and especially the story. I never felt this game has a “winter” moment, the section of the first game that I felt cemented TLOU as an all time great. This games story and gameplay never mesh quite in that way and it’s so big it never focuses its energy into just one moment like that. The result is while the gameplay is clearly better the pacing suffers and never reaches that peak. For some the more disjointed story will negatively affect how one views entire sections of the game. I think overall for the size it’s paced extremely well but I do wish it had the emotional highs the first did.

Much of the discussion with this game has fallen under the umbrella of what is in the story, the first had an ambiguous ending that allowed the player to formulate their own idea of what would happen next. When any story captures the attention of so many they feel ownership over those characters and what should happen next, TLOU2 plays with these expectations in ways only the medium of video games can allow.  Sadly the most vile aspects of this industry has clouded the discussion around this game instead focusing on hate campaigns and clearly bigoted behavior toward the developers and actors. I think it's clear this games story does not connect to people in the way the more simple story of a man and his "adopted" daughter did, how could it, that premise is so primal and easy to relate to. Instead TLOU2 goes into far greater themes of revenge, guilt, anger and even expectations. It forgoes the simple and more direct narrative structure of the first and instead decides to go for an epic tale structure with dual protagonists, each going through a similar journey but at different stages of the journey. I think some people will find this game more thought provoking and I don't think anyone can argue that it is not more ambitious, but when you take on something this complex you better hope all aspects are as strong as what was built before and I feel thats where the story faulters.

Abby is the second protagonist, she is soldier on the opposing side of Ellie's battle and is the reason for the events that start Ellie's path for revenge. The first half you are Ellie, a character you know and love and have every reason to want to succeed. At the half way point the game shifts to Abby putting you on the other side of the war, you begin to see things from her perspective, enemies you brutally murdered are shown as more fleshed out characters. It's a great idea, especially when you are in control and your actions are now being called into question. The problem is Abby is put in a losing postion from the start just by the mere fact that she is new and Ellie and Joel have been established for an entire game. There is just no way to create that same of emotional investment, it also doesn't help that her supporting cast and her personal journey is done in such a way that its not that relatable. Even if Abby had the most charming lovable characters around her it would still be an uphill climb to equal what the player feels for Ellie, but the cast they put around her really gave her no chance. That said the story is still compelling and I found the themes and especially the ending to be quite powerful for reasons I will describe in greater detail in a different post. For many though just the idea of leaving Ellie and spending so much time with characters that aren't as compelling was enough to hate the entire story. I am not like them, screaming "its total trash!!" just because the story didn't play out like you wanted to is childish to me. The story is not as well done as the first, but it is still far better constructed and acted than the grand majority of games. When this game has emotional moments I was engrossed, I nearly teared up in certain scenes. It is powerful mostly because of the incredible acting, once again some of the best in the industry.

Combat is phenomenal, story not as good but still great overall, what else is there; well before release Naughty Dog made a big deal about the character progression and how deep it is and how you can't complete it in one playthrough. Yes you cant complete it in one playthrough but it does not mean you can customize your character so much that my play is different from yours. The game has classic skill trees like stealth, explosives, firearms, and health; you will get plenty of upgrades in one play to cover all major skills on all trees, all that will be left is some refinements like the ability to craft more ammo per unit, thats it. What I did find interesting is how Ellie and Abby have their own skill trees and weapons. Ellie is more stealth focused, she gets her trusty bow which makes stealth a joy. Abby is the Terminator, she is built around punching enemies in the face and using more explosives. I loved that shifting focus on gameplay style midway through the game. The core gameplay is still the same but its nice having some new moves and different weapons to play with.

Since Uncharted 4 Naughty Dog games have included an open world segment in their games and TLOU2 has its segment near the start, which made me wonder if this game would be all open world, alas it was tease and the grand majority of this game is a straight linear adventure but I did enjoy the open world section. Like the uncharted games you get a map and in this area there are multiple optional areas to explore to gain upgrades and resources and battle some optional groups of infected. Here we also get to see some puzzles which do litter the entire game and are improved over the first. Most involve a rope and finding a place to throw it to reach some new area. Others include somne physics based puzzles with moving dumpsters around and some observation based riddles used to unlock safes. It's not complicated and I always enjoy puzzles in my game, this game does so in ways that it never really gets in the way and by the end of the game they mostly disappear letting the action really drive the pacing. I do feel there is room for improvement in the games formula to be a liitle more flexable than just enemy encounter, rummage from supplies, walk to next area, enemy encounter, rummage, maybe a puzzle, walk, enemy encounter... and so on. More open areas, maybe entire optional sections would be nice, but this is a linear story driven game and it excels as one.

I don't care if this sounds like hyperbole, The Last of Us 2 is the most impressive game graphically I have ever played. I cannot even begin to fathom how these environments were created, so merticulously detailed and so different from one another. The game just keeps taking you to new locations, so many made me gasp at how beautiful it was only to be toped a few hours later. It is a stunning achievement from the models, the animation, the lighting, everything really. It is insane that this generation can still produce games that look this incredible. The sound design is just as impressive, I don't think I have ever heard gunfire that sounds as powerful than when playing this game with headphones on. Every noise can easily be picked up in surround sound, so much so that the listen mode isnt even needed at times. This game is a technical marvel, the artists and designers all deserve countless awards for what they achieved here.

Time will tell how this game will ultimately be recieved, right now there is just so much unwarranted hate that we wont know until the dust is settled to see how history views this sequel. I feel it is an ambitous but flawed sequel. The gameplay mechanics being so improved really bring this title up to all time great status where with the first it was more how the story and gameplay worked in perfect unity. I think issues with pacing and story connecting means this game won't leave such an impact as the first. Taking all that into account I will score this the same as I did the first but for different reasons, this one way more because the gameplay can stand up to the genres best but pacing and keeping that intensity throughout a game is so important, the first nailed that. Naughty Dog continues to show that they are gold standard for narrative driven action adventure games and The Last of Us Part 2 is another fantastic game that will deservedly win many awards.

Posted by Dvader Sun, 05 Jul 2020 22:12:15
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