Troy Baker as Joel
Written by Neil Druckmann and Halley Wegryn Gross
The Last of Us Part II Review
Revenge is the name of the game for Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II, a wicked, though somber, shoot-em-up that can succinctly be described as the morbid, bastard-stepchild to Uncharted. Where Drake’s adventures reveled in brightly lit environments, wild action scenes and sharp-witted dialogue, The Last of Us thrusts players into a nightmarish world filled with monsters, violence, and reclusive folk who would just as soon slice your throat as strum a guitar.
As Ellie, the thrifty heroine from the first chapter who discovered she was immune to a horrific virus that causes people to mutate into the monsters from Stranger Things, players clamber about the rain-drenched city of Seattle battling masses of faceless baddies in pursuit of Abby, a complex baddie with a tragic past and enormous, Schwarzenegger-sized arms.
That’s essentially the plot. And while the results are a tad predictable, there are still a few shocking twists and turns offered up by writers Neil Druckmann and Halley Gross to ensure players are engaged in the storyline from start to finish.
Controversy has surrounded this title for some time now. Plot leaks revealed the game’s biggest surprise months before its release; and fans were none too happy. That’s understandable. Anticipation is a bitch.
For those unaware, in the first hour or so of the game, after a few playful snowball fights and some weed-filled sex scenes, the aforementioned Abby bumps into Joel Miller, the quasi-hero from the first game who made the decision to save Ellie rather than sacrifice her life to find a cure, and proceeds to beat the holy cuss out of the man with a golf club with predictably bloody results. Oh, and Ellie forcibly watches the whole grisly scene at gun point — just in case the moment wasn’t dramatic enough.
Conversely, the sequence was reminiscent of Glenn’s gruesome death in the opening episode to Season 7 of The Walking Dead in that it feels more gratuitous than necessary and a tad exploitative.
A few questions about Joel’s death: did he really need to die for Ellie to grow? Did the character deserve such a horrific fate? Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to explore Joel and Ellie’s relationship post hospital-crusade — and not just during dinosaur museum-filled flashbacks? People will debate such questions for years, which is probably the point. Suffice to say, subverting expectations doesn’t always equate to smart writing.
In any case, Joel’s death drives Ellie to Rambo up and march straight into Hell to exact bloody vengeance on
A comment on one of our Facebook posts suggested that Ellie, not Abby, was the game’s main antagonist. Honestly, that claim makes a lot of sense. The story does indeed take the time to warm players to Abby whilst simultaneously transforming Ellie into something of a cold-blooded, remorseless killer, which is interesting from a narrative perspective. Abby, we eventually learn, works hard to protect those closest to her after witnessing the brutal murder of her father at Joel’s hand. Ellie runs amok in Seattle like Juno on crack and kills practically everything in sight; and works the holy hell out of the numerous machetes, shotguns, arrows, explosives, and knives she carries about her person. She is ruthless, cunning and — admittedly — something of a badass. Except, a lot of people die by her hand.
No, really. A ridiculous amount of people die in this game. For a story that takes itself as seriously as The Last of Us Part II, you’d think the makers might have decreased the body count to add to the realism. Does it really matter if Ellie kills Abby after all the bloodshed?
Regardless of your feelings on such matters, or the plot in general, The Last of Us Part II succeeds in delivering an intense, nail biting gaming experience. Players traverse gorgeously rendered maps occupied by massive skyscrapers and eye-popping locales (including The Clink for you Seahawks fans); and engage in savage, stealth-filled combat using a wide range of guns and hand-crafted weapons. Environments are easy to navigate and typically provide the necessary means of cover for Ellie to operate from; even if the throngs of baddies often prove too impossible to thwart with the limited ammo at your disposal. In that case, the only option is to run like hell and hope you reach the next checkpoint before a bullet or arrow finds its way into Ellie’s back.
A word about the violence. In one sequence, I crawled under a bed after luring some bad guys to my location and proceeded to wipe them out with a pump-action shotgun. The gun blew their legs clean off and left them screaming and hollering in a manner that made me feel more guilty than pleased.
Therein lies one of the game’s true flaws. For all its visual splendor and amazing gameplay, The Last of Us Part II feels less like an adventure than an advert for depression. Characters mope about and converse in overtly melodramatic dialogue; and the vast number of vicious confrontations are almost too realistic to enjoy. When Ellie shoots bad guys, their body parts — read: arms, legs, heads — are strewn about in ghastly fashion and covered in blood and entrails. Yikes!
The episodes involving the mutant zombie people things are just as grim. It doesn’t help that as Ellie (and later Abby) players must sneak up behind the damned things and slice open their throats again and again and again … it’s pretty damned gross and quite unsettling.
Yeah, yeah. The apocalypse isn’t supposed to be fun. But this is still a video game, right? The Last of Us Part II strikes a deadly serious tone early on and never relents. And while the game still packs a wallop, it’s also about as “entertaining” as Schindler’s List. More dramatic thriller than fun-filled adventure.
Such nitpicks obviously stem from personal preference more than anything. To some, The Last of Us Part II will be a godsend. And why not? Naughty Dog has crafted a video game that transports players into a fully realized world filled with flesh eating mutants that smash through walls and mutate like that thing in John Carpenter’s The Thing; complex villains, and extreme, blood-soaked carnage. In other words, if these types of games float your boat you won’t be disappointed, even if the experience often feels more like a souped up chapter of the never-ending Resident Evil series than a truly groundbreaking milestone.
Performances deserve a round of applause. Ashley Johnson lends Ellie an aura of innocence and naivete during her downward spiral into darkness. Troy Baker does wonders with Joel in limited screen time. As Abby, Laura Bailey strikes the perfect blend of machismo and raw emotion.
Controls are fluid, once you get the hang of them. An auto-switch between guns would have been nice, especially considering the lack of ammo provided by the game. Even so, players are given a number of strategical advantages over enemies so long as they remain patient. Don’t run (unless you have to). Move slowly. You’ll be fine. Even the crafting works much better here than the recent Resident Evil 3 remake; and additional details, such as when Ellie disassembles and reassembles her weapons during upgrade sessions, add to the cool factor.
Environments and maps are indescribably beautiful. In one extended sequence, Ellie speeds through rapids in a tiny motorboat while a thunderstorm rages in the distance. Later, as Abby, players go toe-to-toe with a hammer-wielding zombie in a wild smackdown amidst a raging inferno. The dank, crumbled ruins lurking beneath Seattle are just as exciting, but their details are often lost in darkness and ultimately trivial during exacerbated skirmishes with those damned infected.
The technical craft in The Last of Us Part II is dazzling to behold and ranks up there with 2018’s God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 as one of the more memorable visual spectacles in recent memory.
Next time, can we lighten the mood just a smidge?