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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: The Last of Us Part II (2020)

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

Original Review Date: 22 June 2020

I don’t normally talk about video games, but I have to discuss what I just experienced with The Last of Us Part II; Naughty Dog’s follow-up to the original 2013 title which is quite possibly my favourite game ever.

Neil Druckmann returns to direct the highly anticipated sequel that initially, wasn’t even asked for. The previous installment’s ending was the perfect way to close out a potential “once-off” and I for one was satisfied entirely with it not coming back. But the moment they dropped the teaser years ago for the sequel, the anticipation became completely overwhelming, and it didn’t help with delays pushing the release date further back as well.

But, at long last, Part II dropped on Friday and I was nowhere nearly ready for the journey I was about to take. One thing to remember with this going forward is that you need to play the first one. You can’t just casually arrive at this one or else the weight of it all doesn’t hit as hard as it should. Now before we head further, I won’t spoil any major plot points on this one or even gameplay elements and moments that took me by complete surprise. However, there will be some spoilers pertaining to the last game.

Part II is set four years after the events of the original. The world is still completely ravaged by the fungal virus, but this time, Ellie and Joel are living more comfortably and freely in a settlement called Jackson County. The same city they returned to after escaping from Salt Lake City in the previous game. As you know (I hope), Ellie is immune to the virus, and whilst she doesn’t know the truth about why Joel saved her, she suspects what he said is not the truth. If Joel let her die at the hands of Firefly surgeons to create a vaccine, would her life have meaning? When does this all end? Could it ever end? The seemingly endless cycle of survival, violence, and meaning plague these characters throughout the world Druckmann and his team of writers, developers, coders, etc. have so lovingly crafted.

To be honest, the less I say about the plot that unfolds, the better. The more you go into this without viewing trailers, reading reviews (and the ghastly comments sections), the more rewarding it will be, even though the rewards come at emotionally devastating costs. I know it’s a cliche, but the emotional rollercoaster the game takes you on is brutal and uncompromising to the fullest extent.

Not only is the game much longer and deeper, but the gameplay has also been improved upon and perfected. No small detail goes unnoticed from character and enemy mannerisms to the tiniest details in the environment. It’s all so beautiful (and ugly) to look at. The encounters with infected and non-infected are even tenser, ranging from breathless stealth gameplay to terrifying monster horror to white-knuckle brutality that we all got acquainted with from The Last of Us back in 2013.

If television is in its golden age right now, then video games are as well. Voice acting and motion capture have put games of the past ten or so years on an even higher cinematic realm than ever before. Games like Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill were particular game changers for me in terms of storytelling and the cinematic experience the medium can provide. Naughty Dog has been the leader of that front for me (with Rockstar Games of course), providing incredible gameplay, graphics, iconic characters, and absolutely top draw writing and directing.

The cast of the first game was sensational, with performances of such a high caliber very rarely seen in video games even to this day. The cast returns along with new faces and voices, and this time it completely blows anything and everything out the water. I have never seen such nuanced and emotionally raw performances in a game like this before, with some stunning voice acting, and truly mind-blowing motion-capture work capturing every subtle nuance expressed in the actors’ faces and body language.

The cut scenes are paced to perfection, allowing us to soak up every single word, look and moment shared between these characters. You can't rush it. New characters have us fighting with the morale hardships and dilemmas we face as the audience navigating these characters through a cruel world. I found myself crying numerous times throughout and that is thanks to the massively powerful performances and the genius of the writing. The twists and turns that take place over the story had me constantly dreading each new area and especially the anxiety-inducing interactive cinematic fight scenes. If there is any justice in the world, Ashley Johnson (Ellie) and Laura Bailey (new character Abby) would be given all the awards. Best performances of the year so far. Period.

Another aspect of the game that is groundbreaking is the sheer diversity and LGBTQ+ representation within the narrative. Several of the leads, including the protagonist of Ellie, are LGBTQ+, with the storyline being propelled by strong female, queer and Trans characters. I have never seen characters like this portrayed so smartly and devoid of stereotypes in a game like this before. Important messages are addressed through great story and character beats that stop it from coming across as preachy.

It’s sad to see the game getting review bombed by toxic gamers. Although being completely praised and adored by critics for its storytelling, characters, gameplay, and themes; there has been an ugly trend of negative user reviews on aggregate-driven review sites. It’s one thing to not like a game if it wasn’t for you, polarizing work is often the best kind of artwork (last year’s Death Stranding is a prime example of that), as it creates discussion and challenges the audience, but the trend of gamers attacking the game’s queer themes and female-driven storyline, shows the toxic nature of said-gamers. But at the end of the day, it’s a game that will always create a discussion with another ending that is bound to spark debates like the last one did back in 2013 (and still does).

This is all just my opinion of course and at the end of the day, it’s just another review of an experience I had that might differ from you and reviewers who just didn’t like the game for other reasons. It’s a resounding piece of art that resonated with me in ways I never expected. The polarity of it all is a testament to the kind of work that is on display here, it's a challenging work of art that people will either love or hate, and for me, I opted for the former.

The Last of Us has been dethroned. Part II is, as it stands, the greatest gaming experience I have ever had. It’s a bloody, heartbreaking masterpiece that is among the most cinematic experiences you can ever have.

You can purchase a digital copy of The Last of Us Part II over at the PSN Store, or purchase it physically at any retailer that sells games.

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