Dig two graves…
Rarely does a video game narrative expect anything of the player; the only instances of narrative projection would be the commonly used system of player agency, which inherently feels false and formulaic. Video game storytelling is a rather structured organism which rarely falters off the beaten path. The Last of Us Part II is the exception to the rule, as it is not only told in an unconventional and unpredictable manner, but it also challenges the player’s own sense of righteousness and perception. It capitalizes on this brilliant sense of emotional struggle and turmoil, perpetuating an enthralling narrative that projects our own ability (or inability) to love, hate, empathize, and forgive. The Last of Us Part II is a profound case study on self-reflection and requires far more empathy and perspective than the status quo, which is understandably difficult to digest. It is a relentless experience that is psychologically exhausting, placing the characters we love in horrifically brutal and uncomfortable situations, and having them do unspeakable things that undoubtedly churn our stomachs. It not only focuses on the dark and brutal nature of this realized world, but also its lush beauty and poignant moments of hope. Naughty Dog has a clear intent of telling their story, and we are only here for the ride. Further accentuated by its unbelievably immaculate performances, unprecedented attention to detail, exemplary level of graphical prowess, exceptionally brutal combat, and a somber – yet ominous – score that pierces the soul, The Last of Us Part II is an ambitious work of art that serves as the new gold standard for interactive media. It is a profound piece of storytelling that could only be this effective and prominent in the medium of video games. This is easily Naughty Dog’s greatest game, and given their illustrious pedigree, that statement holds significant weight. The Last of Us Part II is a phenomenally well-crafted masterpiece, and its greatest achievement is how effectively – and unexpectedly – it sways your perception, exemplifying a provocative test of empathy.
On the surface, The Last of Us Part II drives a gripping narrative of revenge, and the residual effects of its self-destructive nature. As with Part I, Part II retains its fundamental core of moral ambiguity, humanity, and hopefulness, while challenging the player’s preconceived notions on established themes and character justification. It unapologetically highlights the best and worst elements of humanity and how far people are willing to go for love. Its true brilliance lies in its profound ability to twist this conventional component and project character actions and justifications onto ourselves, in a manner of self-reflection. The Last of Us Part II indiscriminately holds a mirror up to your face and requires you to empathize with these characters. While Naughty Dog inherently propels the story forward in a controlled manner – with no real sense of player agency -, it heavily relies on the player’s ability to self-reflect and empathize for its conditional success, and ultimately delivers on this ambitious premise in such an unexpected and insightful manner. This unparalleled experience will leave you conflicted with emotions that were inconceivable in the inaugural segments, and sign-off with a harrowing sense of emptiness and desolation, that will continue to permeate long after the credits roll. Part II also brilliantly harmonizes many thematic elements of the original, identifying an impeccable semblance of parallelism between critical instances of character growth and narrative progression. The Last of Us Part II is provocatively ambitious and profoundly insightful, unabashedly pushing the envelope in video game storytelling and character perception. It fully introduces a novel sense of player interaction, while not obstructing the impeccable format of storytelling that Naughty Dog is renowned for. The Last of Us Part II fully respects and continues the legacy that Naughty Dog crafted in 2013, resulting in a psychologically exhausting experience that constantly raises the bar with each passing moment.
Set five years after the events of Part I, The Last of Us Part II begins in Jackson, Wyoming, with Joel and Ellie now settled down and accustomed to civilized life. We are introduced to a plethora of new, exceptionally well-written characters, and begin to fall in love with these newly developed relationships and character interactions. From the charismatic Jesse and Dina, to the infamously controversial Abby, each idiosyncratic character brings a new light to the established universe and has a dignified place and sense of purpose in this narrative. Key relationships from the original are given the development and treatment required for necessary moments of tranquility, solace, poignancy, and grief, further cementing the narrative’s level of emotional complexity. Whether it be the beauty of Joel serenading Ellie to “Future Days”, the unbelievably heartwarming birthday surprise, or Ellie’s beautifully poignant musical performance, each moment defines our connection to these loveable characters and truly exemplify our level of growth and attachment. The Last of Us Part II is littered with exceptional moments of immaculate beauty, showcasing the light in a time of darkness. The pristine combination of Neil Druckmann and Halley Gross’ impeccable writing and the exceptionally talented performances of the brilliant cast, Part II’s presentation value exudes an astronomical level of quality and is undoubtedly second to none. A returning element that was fostered in the original, and later adapted in Uncharted 4, is the inclusion of optional conversations and dialogue. These explorative segments offer further insight and poignancy to character development, relationships, and their history, while also building upon the tangible structure of the overarching world. Following the events of an unbearable tragedy, the narrative removes Ellie from the safety of Jackson and propels her into the unknown depths of Seattle on a quest for revenge. The player shares Ellie’s sense of rage and animosity, and our connection and sense of moral ambiguity is put to the test. Aside from the masterful storytelling and provocative character direction, The Last of Us Part II is an absolute graphical marvel and a stunning technical achievement. Its vivacious vistas are exceptionally breathtaking, cascading a unique set of interpretive tones that implore an excellent illustration of pathetic fallacy. Its meticulous attention to detail breathes an organic sense of realism and tangibility to this beautifully horrific world. The perfectly crafted facial animations provide an unsettling amount of realism that enhances the player’s ability to connect, empathize, and react to situations and respective actions. Each presentation element acts as an extension to serve the narrative and characters, elevating each component to meteoric heights. Part II’s soundtrack is a dynamic set of melodic personification, with bombastic tones violently piercing the stage – initiating an aura of intensity and discomfort – and somber melodies reflect poignant realizations of solace, each serving the directed intent of the established situation.
While The Last of Us Past II’s narrative component strikes resounding chords of ambition, innovation, and unpredictability, its gameplay and mechanical counterparts evolved in a more minute, subtle manner. Each returning gameplay element is impeccably refined and polished, exuding an impressive level of quality that surpasses its predecessor. Combat and its brutal sense of violence still carry significant weight; the visceral act of murder and its repercussions are addressed appropriately from a narrative and gameplay perspective. Whether if you blast an enemy’s face to pieces with a shotgun or watch the blood ooze out of their neck from a stealth kill, this unapologetic level of brutality takes a visible a toll on the player and Ellie, and perfectly encapsulates the relentless nature of this dire world. Enemies will scream in immense pain after losing a limb, painfully cry out the name of their friend you murdered, grovel and plead for their life, or send attack dogs to hunt you – which you may have to kill in the name of defense and survival. Each oppressive element is mentally exhausting and harrowing, further cementing the weight of every kill. Part II also introduces new Infected types, furthering the gameplay’s level of variety and strategy. From the grotesque Shamblers that release a cloud of burning acid when in close proximity, to the swift Stalkers that are resilient to Ellie’s listening mode and combine the speed and ferocity of Runners and Clickers respectively, these visceral enemies create an additional layer of intensity and adaptiveness that perfectly compliments the established combat system. Combat encounters have been expanded and enhanced tremendously in both a physical and mechanical manner; there is a profound sense of flexibility in player approach, with Naughty Dog expanding the conventional scale of its level design and gameplay mechanics, offering players a semblance of choice and further control. With the introduction of new craftable items that cater to a surreptitious or aggressive playstyle, and further development to its geographical scale of verticality, The Last of Us Part II offers a generous amount of player flexibility that is virtually comparable to the expansive nature of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. This expansive element to the core level design results in a more open, larger playable world that promotes a welcomed sense of exploration. Exploring the vast remains of an exquisitely realized Seattle is such a tangible experience, further developing the original’s brilliant execution in environmental storytelling. Through collectible documents and environmental cues, you slowly piece together different stories that took place in these vacant locations, resulting in some extraordinarily moving anecdotes. Playing as Ellie is a far more agile and fluid experience as you are not only able to dodge enemy attacks and go prone to enhance stealth, but you can also jump. It is a little strange to praise a game for implementing such a traditional element, but this addition creates a reliable window for nuanced exploration and problem solving. The inclusion of a rope establishes insightful traversal, rewarding exploration, intermediate critical thinking, and combat flexibility, enhancing Ellie’s overall sense of mobility and fluidity. This cadence of exploration rewards players for their curiosity, encouraging you to venture off the beaten path. Locked safes and hidden locations are filled to the brim with resources, ammunition, new weapons, and holsters (which increase your weapon capacity), all of which are tantalizing forms of compensation, given the scarce nature of the survival gameplay. Additionally, players can make use of these exploration segments to scavenge ammo and the required materials for craftable items, character upgrades, and weapon customization. The Last of Us Part II implements a robust character upgrade tree that can range from enhancing the effectiveness of Ellie’s listening mode to reducing the speed at which you craft items or apply a health kit. Through exploration and discovery, you can also find training manuals which unlock brand new upgrade paths or new craftable recipes. Lastly, Ellie can salvage mechanical parts to upgrade her weapons at various workbenches; here she can increase the ammo capacity of her weapon of choice, attach a scope for added accuracy, or reduce the weapon sway or reload speed to enhance its proficiency. Each customizable element is a welcomed attribute of player freedom that highlights its commitment to this level of flexibility. The Last of Us Part II is a mechanically sound experience that is exceptionally well placed and fosters an exuberant amount of curiosity; it is diverse, flexible, profound, brutal, and exhilarating, a robust gameplay ensemble that perfectly compliments the nuanced story and characters.
The Last of Us Part II is an ambitious masterpiece that exudes a phenomenal sensation of discomfort, exhilaration, horror, beauty, and desolation, with both its narrative and gameplay components mirroring this burdening sense of weight and exhaustion. Its unparalleled level of provocation and environmental storytelling raises the narrative quality to unprecedented heights, and its ability to evoke tangible emotion and conflicted perspective highlights its true eloquence and virtuosity. On the surface, The Last of Us Part II is a story of revenge and hate, a relentless example of the cycle of violence, and the repercussions to obsession, addiction, and self-destruction. However, as you slowly unravel and dissect each fundamental layer, profound elements of empathy, forgiveness, redemption, and love become more prominent and identifiable. The Last of Us Part II manages to subvert any trace of reservation and arguably surpasses the insurmountable expectations set by the original’s legacy. This is by no means a conventional sequel, The Last of Us Part II is not afraid to take risks and redefine preconceived notions. The phenomenal performances conducted by Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson, and Laura Bailey are undeniably the industry’s best, breathing nuanced life and emotional depth into these weighted, tangible characters. Its brutal gameplay and use of violence are intentionally gruesome, complimenting the ominous world and desolate aspect of the narrative. It is unsettling and further accentuates a profound sense of moral ambiguity and player choice. With immaculate attention to detail and beautifully constructed environments, The Last of Us Part II’s atmospheric aura is far more harrowing, embracing its survival horror tendencies. The Last of Us Part II resonates so profusely as it plays off the lingering emotions and connections established in the first game, while testing the player’s ability to empathize and reflect on their actions. Despite its divisive nature and the potential inability to connect or empathize with specific characters, The Last of Us Part II warrants a conversation in reflection, actualization, and interpretation. It delivers a gripping narrative that is emotionally shattering yet pulls us back with each hopeful glimpse of light. This is a whirlwind of an experience that will unabashedly test your limits and values on comfortability and righteousness. The Last of Us Part II is an evocative masterpiece and easily the game of the generation.