I went dark on selected social media platforms and news feeds shortly before the release of The Last Of Us Part II (TLOU2) and decided to stay away from them until I’d finished the game. To wait this long to experience Ellie and Joel’s next chapter and have it spoiled by seeing a thumbnail or headline that gives away a plot twist would have been devastating (believe me, there were a few close calls). After rejoining the internet, it’s fair to say that I, along with one half of TLOU2’s players, was shocked at the divisive reception that the game had received.
I reached the end of Seattle Day 3 with Ellie and expected to begin the coda section imminently, reaching the conclusion of Part II. All of a sudden, I’m playing as the “villain”, Abby, with a completely fresh skill tree to build up. This character flip and the death of Joel has divided the internet with some of the hardcore fans of the first game feeling betrayed by Naughty Dog and the game’s marketing. I was as hyped as you could be in wanting to finally play this game, and honestly, I couldn’t see it taking any other direction. There had to be consequences to Joel’s actions in the first game. TLOU2 didn’t re-use the same formula; the themes were much more mature (which, it seems, there’s a surprisingly large male chauvinistic and narrow-minded fan base out there), Joel was still very much a key part of whole game and I was thankful for every extra hour playing it. Listening to the game’s writer/director, Neil Druckman, on the official podcast, he describes the first game as a movie but Part II as more comparable to a great novel. I started the game hating Abby and I was shocked when I started playing it from her perspective back on Day 1, but the lines started to become blurred at the end as to who actually was the villain. That’s a great piece of story telling and something that I feel could only really be achieved through video games, with the player becoming complicit in the actions along the way. Abby didn’t have to die at the end and after playing through the story from her perceptive, I couldn’t see why some players felt cheated by the ending.
The graphical fidelity of TLOU2 is unparalleled. The first game looked fantastic when it was first released on the Playstation 3 in 2013 and so does the remastered version on the Playstation 4, even in 2020. I’d say that the average video game with a focus on its story will take around 20 hours to complete. My runtime for TLOU2 clocked in at 29 hours and 58 minutes and a large part of that time was spent in awe of the surroundings. It was almost too detailed and I did have a slightly overwhelming feeling of sensory overload with the need to explore every single corner of the environments before moving on. I disabled the L3+R3 photo mode shortcut when I first started playing the game with the intention to be fully immersed “in the moment”, but this quickly changed after the first few hours and I was snapping away like a tourist (and much like in real life!). I love this feature in AAA games and I’m currently using photo mode in a New Game+ play through to capture some more of those unique macro shots (you can see a handful of my shots so far in the gallery of this post).
Needless to say, as expected if you’ve played the first game, the acting is of the highest quality. It has a much darker tone and the addition of Mac Quayle’s heavier electronic input to Gustavo Santaolalla’s acoustic score (who’s scored films such as Babel and Biutiful) provides a soundtrack that conveys the theme of duality to consequences that carries throughout the game. The electronic soundtrack is used during tense moments of survival and dread, whilst the acoustics are used to bring the emotions up with optimism and hope.
Collectible tracking has also improved in TLOU2. Whereas in the first game displayed a summary of each chapter at the main menu, meaning that you had to reply an entire chapter if you missed anything, TLOU2 goes a level deeper and breaks these up. Going back to the novel analogy, you could say that Seattle Day 1, Seattle Day 2, etc are parts and the bookmarks within them are now chapters. This allows the player to reply specific sections where collectibles have been missed rather than an entire chunk of the game. With the “collectible tracking” accessibility option, it can place a tick next to previously collected item, reducing the frustrating risk of missing things on a subsequent play though using New Game+. I’ve replayed some chapters and the game does have a fair amount of replay-ability value. I say this as I started replaying Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End a few months back and felt that the pace was off when skipping cutscenes. It left me with short bursts of gameplay, when all I wanted to do on my second play-though was to get lost in the stunning environments. TLOU2’s cutscenes are much more fluid and there aren’t many major interruptions during gameplay. Not to say that it’s light on the story (that it most definitely is not) but the slow and tense pace offers longer sections without having to be removed from the experience with loading screens.
The Last Of Us Part II is another epic milestone in video gaming and a sequel worthy of its predecessor. I’m already looking forward to seeing a remastered version debuting on the PS5 and being wowed by the technical achievements all over again. It’s one of those stories that I wish I could experience for the first time again too.