There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the fan reception of The Last of Us Part II over the past week. Here, we will set the background and dive into the specifics on the new Naughty Dog title. While we agree that it is not as good as the original The Last of Us, we believe that this sequel's bad rap is a bit exaggerated.
It's been seven years since the original and award-winning survival horror title, The Last of Us, was released for Sony's PlayStation 3 console as a PlayStation-exclusive game.
The dark and gritty storyline was so successful in part because it elicited such strong emotions from players. Combine this with immersive graphics and compelling characters and you have what cemented The Last of Us as a timeless classic.
When The Last of Us Part II was officially announced after years of rumors, the feeling of tension around the internet gaming community was palpable. The internet had every right to be worried because oftentimes sequels released from any form of media are media are seldom as well-received as the original. The affect that The Last of Us had on the hearts of many gamers made them fear that that the title’s sequel would ultimately fall short.
Fortunately, The Last of Us Part II development team seemed to be up to the challenge of breaking the stigma behind bad sequels. The game had an excellent foundation to start off, and developers promised the game was going to bring a storyline that was even more emotionally compelling than the original. That came as a surprise to many because the original title was already incredibly dark and moving.
Unfortunately, many negative reviews have come out for The Last of Us Part II, which the development team attributes partially poor working conditions. However, most of the review bombing came about before the game was even released. This points to the fact that the reviews were not actually based on the gameplay itself, but rather leaked plot points that some thought were made to further a political agenda. Now that the game has been out for over a week, it's given honest reviewers enough time for a thorough look at the game and whether it's worthy successor to the original title.
WARNING: The following contains some spoilers.
The Last of Us Part II
The main character, Ellie, is no longer trading humorous jabs with Joel as she was in the The Last of Us. No, Ellie is grown now, and she's out for vengeance and she's getting it in the most gruesome ways.
The Last of Us Part II is set five years after the end of the first game. Ellie and the others that were able to avoid the Cordyceps Brain Infection are in constant danger from the infected. In this chaotic environment, the game follows Ellie as she journeys to seek her revenge against a cult known as the Seraphites.
Unfortunately, a lot of the story is told through flashbacks and backstories from other characters that leave the player scratching their head from time to time. Players will ask themselves, "why?" a lot as they progress through the story. It does get a bit convoluted at times, but maybe that's why Naughty Dog gave us a "New Game Plus" mode to bring Ellie back to the beginning with all of her skills and stuff to try to make sense of things.
Story Score: 6/10
Like all media taking place in a post-apocalyptic world, players find themselves in the clutches of a never-ending struggle against infected and mankind. That's where the skill tree comes in handy in The Last of Us Part II.
Many players were understandably annoyed when learning that they would need to re-learn some of the actions from the first game. Maybe it was time for Ellie to brush up on whatever she forgot in the five-year gap between the first and second games. Some of these actions include upgrading your health kit usability and listen mode speed through the “Survival” skill branch, upgrading smoke bombs and weapons through the “Crafting” skill branch, and upgrading various Metal Gear Solid-esque abilities through the “Stealth” skill branch.
Fortunately, there are some new abilities available that weren't available in the first game. One of these is the ability to go prone. Laying in the prone position is a little unrealistic at times as anybody except artificial intelligence will see someone lying down in short grass. Nevertheless, sneaking in the prone position is just one of the reasons the stealth mechanic in The Last of Us Part II has improved from the original game.
Of course, you're not going to spend a lot of time lying down in the grass, under cars, or various situations that call for avoiding enemies. There's just nothing like some good old exhilarating combat against the infected and humans alike to balance the stealth aspect of the game. However, this time, you're not playing as scrappy little Ellie anymore in a few scenes. This time you're playing as a more ruthless Ellie throughout the game as she makes killing almost look like an art form. Why won’t deny though that there is nothing quite like guiding a clicker like a puppet on strings towards an enemy to watch them fight it out before killing the victor.
Other than enhanced stealth mechanics and a new dodging mechanic, there isn't a notable change in the combat gameplay.
What is a new game without some new enemies?
Ellie's listen mode allows her to "see" through sounds much like everyone's favorite Earthbender, Toph, in Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender. However, the Stalker, a new infected enemy, is difficult to "see" in Ellie's listen mode due to how sneaky and quick they are. You're also getting an ugly Shambler, similar to Left 4 Dead's Boomer, that stumbles around being a nuisance. While these enemies are unique to the game, the human enemies are a bit cliché with a militant-style group and a cultist-style group.
An interesting aspect of the gameplay is the addition of some accessibility features that weren’t previously available. This has made The Last of Us Part II more accessible for those with audio or visual issues. These accessibility features can be used to quickly spot collectible items.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
Gustavo Santaolalla, the composer from the first game, has retaken the reigns for The Last of Us Part II. That's excellent news for those who enjoyed how immersive the music was in The Last of Us without being obtrusive during gameplay.
Fortunately, the same music aesthetic was brought to The Last of Us Part II with gritty or somber scenes complemented by equally tense tracks. The score just adds that extra bit of "creep factor" to keep us on our toes while pumping adrenaline throughout our bodies. The Last of Us Part II wouldn't be as profoundly unnerving as it is without Santaolalla’s genius.
Music Score: 10/10
Unfortunately, The Last of Us Part II doesn’t leave players with the same feelings of quality contentment as they had with the first game. It’s a darker and grittier sequel that makes us hope there’s an improved third installment, but doesn’t necessarily leave us with a desire to play it again and again. It’s the “Attack of The Clones” of what is hopefully a trilogy.
It's still a solid game, and we praise the hard-working staff who worked on it and are saddened at the many threats that they have gotten. While we did ultimately enjoy our playthrough, we think that the game should only be picked up if you just want to say you’ve gotten through it and can finally stop actively avoiding internet spoilers.
Overall Score: 7/10
Related: Read our review on The Witcher 3