Review: The Last of Us Part II (PS4)


Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: The Last of Us Part II
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (77.35 GB)
Release Date: June 19, 2020
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Original MSRP: $59.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: M
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

 

Video Review:

Gameplay:
This review steers clear of all story elements for The Last of Us Part II (TLOU2). So, if you’ve managed to stay away from the leaks and spoilers circling the internet, nothing will be spoiled here either.

It’s tough not to get into the narrative for this game when it, and its predecessor, are so steeped in lore and characters that gamers have grown to love. But I will say this: The Last of Us Part II has a story that is worth experiencing. It shows a level of maturity in pacing that only works in literature, film, and in a game like this. In a time when characters are jumping over each other’s lines, just to keep momentum moving for viewers, it’s refreshing to see a “pregnant pause” in dialogue and expression. None of it feels forced, nor does it come off as pretentious. What it does, instead, is make these characters emote like real people, not actors in a video game. Imagine the original Resident Evil’s acting. The Last of Us Part II’s performances are the polar opposite of that spectrum.

Gameplay feels familiar here for those who played the original game. Choices can be made between approaching enemies with stealth, or making a lot of noise and getting those Clickers riled up enough to charge you. But much like the original, you do not have unlimited ammo. Not even your melee weapon lasts forever, so it’s a constant balancing act between when to fight, sneak, or just outright avoid. I’m a paranoid player, so I would never feel safe until every enemy was eliminated. But there were instances when I just wanted to get through an area and get the hell out of there (no thanks to the brilliant audio design that I will discuss later).

TLOU2 introduces new gameplay elements and puzzle styles that are a welcomed addition to the familiar gameplay discussed above. Some of these have been seen in preview videos. Ellie can jump at will now, so traversing environments will feel natural to veterans of the Uncharted series. She can also swing across chasms, again, much like Nate does in that other game. This cross pollenating of game mechanics felt natural, in that TLOU2 introduces environments that are much larger than the previous title – one might even say it’s a micro open world game. With the added jumping and climbing options, exploration takes the place of combat and stealth at times, making for a deeper gaming experience, and one that rewards curiosity and investigation.

Speaking of exploration – something that I highly recommend for reasons unsaid here – you can still upgrade your character with elements found in the environment because… you know… you explored. You can expand your life or extend the range of your listen ability (the ability from the original game that allowed you to perceive where enemies were lurking). Similarly, you can upgrade your weapons by expanding their ammo capacity and more.

Returning to that discussion about pacing, TLOU2 has a pacing that begins with the narrative but continues into gameplay. Fans of the original game understand this. This is not a murder simulator for cordyceps (cordyceps is a real thing, by the way). Sometimes gunplay takes a backseat to simply absorbing the environment and knowing you can return to the game proper whenever you feel like it. There’s no doubt that pacing like this could potentially turn off certain types of gamers, so I say this only to bring awareness to those who might be playing a Last of Us game for the first time with this title.

Otherwise, it’s business as usual for folks who know that Naughty Dog places as much emphasis on organic character development (characters developing as you traverse the environment) as they do every other aspect of the game. A testament to this is how it seems like every person you kill on the field has a name (including the patrol dogs). Stealth kill an individual and his companions will acknowledge his death by name, “Guys, they got Bobby!”. This component is a reminder that what you are doing carries a weight beyond the usual video game murder mayhem.

The Last of Us Part II managed to keep things interesting by not settling on one gameplay style for too long, but also introducing some new puzzle elements that can be surprising, as well as natural, in their application. One of them in particular made me exclaim, “Oh, I can do that?!” because I didn’t expect to be able to manipulate a certain object in that way.

It was also far from the only time this game caused me to spit out expletives in surprise as to how it handled certain situations. I specifically remember saying, “No…no, they’re not actually doing that? Holy shit, they’re actually doing that!”

Without even hinting at the details, I’ll have to leave it at that.

Visuals:
While exploring a certain area of TLOU2, I sent a text to one of our writers and said #PS5canwait. It was a joke based on how absolutely phenomenal this game looks. By now Naughty Dog has probably learned the ins and outs of the PlayStation 4, so it’s no surprise to see this level of detail, given how amazing Uncharted 4 looked. But still, a current generation game should not give recent previews of next-gen consoles a run for their money, and there are times that TLOU2 did just that. My agreement prevents me from showing screenshots – or videos – from certain sections of the game, but your jaws will drop when you see this in motion.

Beautiful environments are a telltale sign of a Naughty Dog game. But it’s those little attentions to detail that shine here. Some of them you will only notice if you’re really paying attention. Watching Ellie’s face as she takes out a Clicker is one example, and I only noticed it because I rotated the camera as she attacked an enemy from behind for a stealth kill. Her eyelids tightened as she struggled to hold on to the enemy and her face flushed.

The artists didn’t have to add this detail; after all, you mainly see the character’s back when you execute stealth kills. But for folks like me, who like to spin the camera around and watch the action, you will be rewarded with facial expressions that are respective of the actions being performed.

Audio:
If a Clicker’s guttural “clicking” sounds don’t unnerve you, then you have my respect. There are many examples out there that showcase why sound design in gaming is just as crucial as any visual elements. Some might disagree, but one experience with a Clicker, at full surround volume, might make a believer out of you.

This is what I was referring to earlier. Sometimes just hearing the unnatural sounds coming from a location was enough to take all bravado from my person and turn it into “do whatever the hell you need to exit this place as quick as possible”.

The zombie trope always comes packaged with familiar sounds of moaning and grunting. What makes the enemies in TLOU2 so unique and terrifying is that phase 2 infected scream as if they are suffering. They aren’t grunting for effect – they are screaming and crying, which makes them far more terrifying than the boring exhaustive zombie nemesis. Similarly, the Clickers throaty audible emote comes from the creature barely having a tongue, or mouth for that matter; thus its sound is an expression of a human’s voice minus the things we require to formulate words. These are the things you think about as you crawl down a dimly lit hallway and hear these terrifying sounds coming from an unseen location.

Bravo, sound team at Naughty Dog. Bravo for scaring the hell out of me.

Voice work takes us back to pacing. Pacing isn’t necessarily credited only to voice talent. After all, a director instructs an actor or actress on how to deliver certain lines. But a great voice actor knows how to deliver a line with weight, particularly when that pacing is so crucial to its appropriate delivery. TLOU2 has so many moments where that delivery and the masterful talent behind it create a blend of emotions and tone that would simply not work if there were any deviation in either direction.

The talent behind these roles had to understand that they were living in a world where hope was not always available, and so every phrase carried a weight, even when joking and lighter conversations were taking place. Melancholy despite levity, I suppose.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single-player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
There are going to be so many candidates for Game of the Year in 2020. I certainly am not naming The Last of Us Part II as GOTY. It’s too early to tell, what with the year barely being half over. But folks will be adding this one to the list of the nominated. It’s clearly Naughty Dog’s Swan Song on the PlayStation 4, and it shows a cumulation of expertise generated over years of striving to create games that push the envelope across every aspect of their development.

It struggles only because it is a video game that expresses a narrative that goes beyond the “gamey” aspect of its surface. These are not polygonal characters on the other side of your TV. They are real people reacting to real situations, not often with the bravado that you see in the heroes of other titles (hell even ol’ Nate Drake is an example of that extreme). This isn’t fun for them. They don’t want to be in these situations, but they have to be, and you’re along with them for the ride, like it or not. Being able to make this believable within a video game is a challenge that Naughty Dog met with success. It’s this tonal level of storytelling and gameplay that very few game developers have matched, and one that garners the perfect score that this game deserves.

Score:
10

* All screenshots used in this review were provided by the publisher to avoid possible spoilers.

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