The Last of Us 2 review: A profound, harrowing sequel

You will breathe a sigh of relief when the credits finally roll on The Last of Us Part 2.

With a time of just under 30 hours, it is twice as long as the original. But the length isn’t the only thing that gets increased in The Last of Us Part 2. It’s more challenging, harrowing and more thoughtful than its predecessor. When the last scene turns black, you will feel the satisfying tiredness that comes from the fact that your emotions are really well stirred.

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The Last of Us Part 2 starts on June 19.

 

Naughty dog

The last of us part 2 is one of those exceptions. You only need to see the character models of Ellie and Joel, for which the adjective “lifelike” is more literal than figurative to understand where the seven years and who-knows-how-many millions of naughty dogs have invested in this game. But as you play, it becomes clear that Naughty Dog’s real ambition is not in cutting-edge pictures or set-pieces (though both are there), but in the story it is trying to tell.

In this regard, Last of Us Part 2 is a success. It’s a game worth playing, with a story you’ll remember long after you put the controller down.

Can I have a light

It is 2038. 25 years ago, a fungal brain infection spread all over the world, turning much of the population into “The Infected”. Zombies basically. Five years ago, in the events of the first game, Joel wandered the country with 14-year-old Ellie, who is immune to the infection. Joel was supposed to hand Ellie over to a researcher who could examine her to develop a cure, but when he discovered that Ellie would not survive the process, he instead killed almost everyone in the hospital to save her from the operating table.

At the beginning of Part 2 of The Last of Us, Ellie and Joel live in Jackson, Wyoming, in a settlement that is (reasonably) safe from infection. We find out that their relationship is no longer the same as it used to be. The mishap strikes soon and you as Ellie travel to Seattle to fight back.

The last of us part 2 is dark – this time both figuratively and literally. As you travel through Seattle torn apart by the Apocalypse, visit places plagued by an unimaginable horror and read written reports from people who were there when it happened. Like its predecessor, Part 2 creates a ruthless atmosphere in which you have to kill or be killed. It asks questions about our worst traits without resorting to clichés.

Much of the game takes place in the shade, from underground environments to abandoned buildings without lighting. Naughty Dog populates these places with just the right amount of danger. Infected are not as numerous as you might expect at some corner, but they are plentiful enough to let you know they may be nearby any Corner.

It is much worse. You will think twice before entering every building, opening every door and crawling through every crack. This is a problem because you get most of your most important supplies by flushing – that is, you enter buildings, open doors, and crawl through crevices.

As a self-described wuss, I was surprised to go through the first Last of Us without experiencing a real, permanent psychological trauma. Part 2 is much more painful.

Think of me as traumatized.

Kill them all

While The Last of Us Part 2 is certainly a journey, the game itself is less about adventure than survival. However, clearing up supplies is only half of survival. It also means killing quite a few infected people and a whole lot more people.

There are several types in each case: infected can be runners, stalkers, clickers, bloaters or shamblers, which represent people in different stages of infection. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Clickers are blind, but kill you immediately. Stalkers do relatively little damage, but don’t appear in List mode (which allows you to see enemies through walls). Bloater and Shambler are tanks: slow but difficult to kill.

Humans are either wolves or scars. The former is a Seattle-based military faction that uses dogs to sniff you and weapons to kill you. The latter is a religious cult that uses bows and arrows and heaviness with huge axes.

Combat plays like an improved version of the system found in the Batman: Arkham games. You have a vast area and dare to see how many enemies you can kill before you or one of your bodies are discovered. They collect pills everywhere to unlock new skills and screws to upgrade weapons. Both are slowly defining your style of play.

Gunplay is often chunky, but in a well-considered way. You are not meant kick in a door and shoot everything in sight. When you are shot, the camera shakes and red splashes in the vague direction of the fire. It’s disoriented in a way that prevents you from being circled because you can’t always shoot yourself out of trouble.

Much of the struggle is to crouch, watch, or listen to cover to identify the location of your many enemies. One of the most subtle strengths of The Last of Us Part 2 is how well it differentiates enemies with sound. Scars communicate with each other through eerie pipes, the specific meaning of which you miss. Wolves react to corpses in a way that implies familiarity (“they killed John!”). However, the most effective and disturbing are the infected. Runners scream and scream as their brains anticipate the spreading infection, while the harmful wheezing of a shambler and the sharp clicks of a clicker are more than enough to let you know you’re in trouble.

The most worrying sound is silence. They often lurk in cavernous environments that are only lit by your flashlight. They know that infected people are nearby, but are not sure where. You will listen to them, but you will hear nothing other than the creaking of a door or the rustling of debris nearby.

As I said, consider me traumatized.

Beat the tropics

The fight is not without problems. Many battles take place in huge, multi-level environments. Sometimes there is only one enemy left that you have to look up and down to find and kill before you can continue. As mentioned earlier, gun game is not conducive to heroism, but there are cases when the game prompts you to wave enemies into Rambo and create a square pin / round hole scenario. Elsewhere, you get lots of stealth kills – sneaking up on, grabbing, and stabbing an enemy – within sight of other human enemies that, strangely, you don’t see or respond to.

This last point seems small, but it’s the most annoying. For a game about monsters that eat your face, The Last of Us Part 2 has an admirable sense of realism. It is little moments like this that break the lifting of unbelief.

There are also examples outside of combat, mostly in the form of eye-catching video game tropes. Your route through a stage is often extended by artificial means. When the end is in sight, the ground falls out from under you, or you jump on a ledge, don’t quite make it, and plunge into an area infested with infection. Get used to the fact that Ellie complains about closed doors, which of course takes a longer way.

Although these mishaps feel like a formula in the second half of the game, they trigger intense combat phases and intensify the feeling of danger. But it just smells like everything Video games.

It is not necessarily a bad thing. These tropes, which are easy to accept in most games, are characterized by the fact that part 2 largely rises above them. This is a compelling story told through the video game medium, not a compelling video game with an open story. It could have worked as a film series or as a Netflix original. The merging of game mechanics and story is so smooth that even slightly rough spots stand out.

But it’s not fair to rate Last of Us Part 2 as a kind of futuristic hybrid. It is a game – an exciting, shattering and thoughtful one. Prepare to be riveted, surprised, and traumatized.

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