The Last of Us Part 2 is not only one of the most anticipated games for the PS4, but considering the events of the past month, one that’s shrouded in controversy. While we aren’t going to delve into the controversy here, know that it is from the ashes that a phoenix rises. Developer Naughty Dog has garnered a reputation as the studio that strives for perfection and attention to detail.
From the stunning visuals of Crash Bandicoot on the PS1 to the witty Jak and Daxter on the PS2 and even the exceptional narrative of the Uncharted series (including one hell of a train ride in Uncharted 2), Naughty Dog has been the go-to studio for swashbuckling action-adventure games. But everything changed in 2013.
It was the end of the PS3’s lifecycle and the developers squeezed everything they could from the console to give us a visually stunning game. A game that was an original IP, a game that redefined storytelling, a game that would forever be in our hearts, a game called The Last of Us (read our review here).
Considered a swansong to the PS3, The Last of Us numero uno was the best thing to happen to console gaming and propelled storytelling in video games to the next level. But today isn’t about that game. Today is about the sequel - The Last of Us Part 2. A sequel that took me around 30 hours to beat and still left me wanting more. A sequel that once again tells me why the developers are on the top of their game. And a sequel that showcases the prowess of the little machine called the PS4. This review is spoiler-free but I will touch upon some elements from the story and gameplay already out there, with the intention of sharing the impactful experience I’ve had playing The Last of Us Part 2.
French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord has been credited with the saying but I read it for the first when I read The Count of Monte Cristo (another story about revenge) and that’s the first thought that came to my mind during the end of the first act of The Last of Us Part 2.
At the end of the first game, Ellie and Joel return to Jacksonville and the story of The Last of Us Part 2 kicks off a few years later. Ellie is now 19 and is doing everything a 19-year-old does in a town surviving a zombie apocalypse. She has a crush she wants to explore, she has her patrol duties to be worried about, and she has to be careful that no one knows she is immune to the virus that caused the apocalypse. But then something happens. Something terrible. Something that’s reminiscent of the phrase - “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” And with that, we set off on this journey to exact counter revenge.
But that’s not all. Without spoiling the story I’d like to ask you one question. In a situation, where the world is run without laws, where people do what they do to survive, how blurred is the line between right and wrong? Does it become a battle between the two, both of whom think they are right and their actions justified? The perspective the story gives you into the lives of all the people that matter makes this game a lot more than running and gunning your opponents.
The story takes a jaw-drop flip halfway through, leaving you considerably perplexed. Sure, there are some predictable twists and turns, and some that you will definitely not see coming, but as with every Naughty Dog game from the past decade, the devil is in the details with which the story is crafted.
You may love the story, or you may hate it, but you certainly won't ignore it. It will be one you will talk about for quite some time. The only sad thing about the story is that Ellie’s immunity and the whole “infected” aspects of the story aren’t explored as much as they were in the first game and that’s one thing that left me wanting more.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the customization options in the game are very intricate. It’s no longer as simple as — easy, medium, hard, and so on. You can control each aspect of the gameplay: How aggressive you want your enemies and allies to be, resource availability, and more. A slider lets you alter all these options but beware because it has massive consequences in the game.
The game is a third-person action game just like its predecessor, with all the natural evolutions one would expect from a sequel. Ellie now has a few new abilities including the ability to jump (it may seem silly, but it is a bigger deal than you think), climb ropes and literally break a window with her hands or melee weapon. In addition to crouching, you can go completely belly down, adding new stealth elements like crawling through tight spaces, hiding beneath cars and so on. Your arsenal of weapons is expanded and this time you have a knife you can always count on as a melee weapon.
You also have a diverse arsenal of weapons like a bow and arrow, different types of handguns, long-range weapons, smoke bombs, trap mines, Molotov cocktails and more. The pace at which new weapons are introduced to you is well spread out so that you have something new to play with throughout the adventure. You also have the standard skill upgrade we saw in the first game but with a twist. You find books and magazines throughout the game which unlocks new branches of upgrades and if you miss one of these magazines then that upgrade tree is lost to you. This makes exploring every nook and cranny in the game a lot more rewarding. Another new element in the game is safes. Yes, safes are present throughout the environment and you have to look for clues or letters that have the combination. I would urge you to spend time looking for the combination as usually, they aren’t very hard to find and secondly, the loot in them is quite rewarding.
Let’s shift gears to combat for a minute. Straight off the bat, I’d like to tell you that considering how long the game is, each combat encounter has some unique element making the game feel fresh at every turn. It could be the enemies are scattered over a large area or there are infected + human enemies or the enemies of 2 different factions and you have to navigate your way through them. Sometimes the fight is in a multi-story building, sometimes it is in tight corridors, sometimes it is in an area with a lot of foliage for you to take cover behind. The sheer number of permutations and combinations are so many and add to that the diversity in weapons and upgrades you master and the word repetitive will not cross your mind. I haven’t even gotten into the new types of infected and how some of the older ones are there with new tricks up their sleeves.
The two factions you will face off against in the Last of Us Part 2 are the WLF (Wolfs) and the Seraphites (also called Scars). Both of them have a different approach. The Wolf's have dogs that can sniff you out and they don't rely on silent weapons and go straight for a gunfight. They call out to each other when they suspect something and scream to draw ally attention when attacked. The Scars, on the other hand, have a silent approach and use melee weapons and silent weapons like bows and arrows. They also whistle to communicate with one another and you will have to learn what the various whistle sequences mean. The approach of the Scars is more stealth and if you aren’t careful, you could find yourself pinned under arrow fire and not know where it is coming from. Thankfully the “listen mode” is back, giving you a glimpse as to where enemies are and you also have a sound effect hinting when you are in the visible range of the enemies.
All this put together makes for one intense cohesive package and at the end of it all, I can't wait to get into a New Game + to further upgrade my weapons and skills and bump up the difficulty to try it all once again. In New Game + you retain the weapons and skills you unlocked in the first playthrough. And I haven’t even mentioned the puzzles or the environmental breaks or the sombre cinematic moment’s Naughty Dog is known for that breaks up the pace of the game.
Considering the length of the game, I am stunned at the diversity of gameplay a single-player game can conjure up to keep things fresh - something other developers need to learn. Just like Doom Eternal, you are forced to exploit your arsenal, ensuring you try more than your favourite set of weapons.
On a futuristic note, the PS5 controller, dubbed the DualSense, claims to have triggers that can simulate different situations. An example given is that firing an arrow from a bow will feel a lot different than firing a gun, so on and so forth. With the different calibre weapons at your disposal, it will be interesting to see how the developers exploit the PS5 version of The Last of Us Part 2.
It is clear that The Last of Us Part II is squeezing every ounce of power from the PS4 it possibly can and this is very evident if you play the game on a PS4 Pro on a 4K HDR TV. We played the game on an OLED TV and the game looks stunning. From the opening of the game which is filled with bright highlights to the dark corridors of buildings and even basements filled with infected, the game looks stunning.
Even without ray tracing, effects from your flashlight, the reflective shadow cast by fire in the night, are all a sight to behold. One can only imagine what the game will look like on a PS5 with ray-tracing enabled. Since the game takes place in Seattle, for the most part, it is interesting to see the diversity in the environment in one city. There are some open areas which were undoubtedly residential areas and the bustling heart of the city, next we have tall buildings overgrown with vegetation, forests and of course building tops giving you a view of the city.
The game runs at a solid 30FPS and there is no place where I encountered a hiccup. Even the character models look detailed and stunning and a lot better than what we saw in the Uncharted games on the PS4. The fluidity with which your character changes guns, hides, counters enemies and takes damage, all look photorealistic. A special mention to the load times. Even when you die, the game loads pretty quickly, getting you back in the heat of action.
Gustavo Santaolalla’s soundtrack in the Last of Us still gives me goosebumps and while there isn’t one particular tune that does the same in the sequel, it is the main theme of the franchise (the same from the previous games) that kicks off at all the right moments invoking the same emotions. It sounds a lot like an extension to the original theme and maybe that’s why it sounds so familiar. The background score is definitely one you will listen to long after you’ve finished the game.
Coming to the other sound effects, from the swish of an arrow leaving the bow to the thud of the shotgun and the swish of the knife, all the sound effects are spot on. There is this slightly intense music that kicks off bringing you to the edge of your seat when combat begins and fades away as you approach stealth once again leaving you with natural sounds like the rustling of the wind and even footsteps. From Ellie’s heavy breathing when running to the ‘aahs’ and ‘oohs’ of combat, everything is grounded in some form of realism.
Then there are the infected. From the scratch of the Clickers to the screams of the infected, it raises the hair on the back of your neck. Especially when they scream after spotting you.
Moving over to voice acting, we have a whole new cast of people donning key roles. We still have Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson as Jole and Ellie respectively and I don't want to take more names at the risk of spoiling anything, but know that 95% of the cast is spot on with their performance. There are a few here and there that don't match the tone or the sentiment of the scene at hand, but that’s ok considering the grand scheme of things. The one thing I miss is that even though you meet a lot of people throughout your journey, they don't come close to the impact left on the players by Bill in the first game. He was witty with his one-liners, sarcastic and defensive and was one of the stronger supporting characters in the first game. I miss characters like him in The Last of Us Part II.
Overall the sound design of the game is great and this is one you will enjoy with headphones as it adds a sense of immersion I didn’t feel when playing the game’s audio through my soundbar. Another reason for this could be that the PS4 Pro sounds like a jet engine while playing the game and I wanted to drown that sound out.
The sequel will always be compared to the first game. And if you ask me, the first game had a better story but everything else about the second game is a generational leap in the right direction. The gameplay is diverse, the visuals stunning and the story, while slightly controversial, fitting in a scenario where Elle and Jole don't live happily ever after. My only qualm with the game is that it didn’t delve deeper into Ellie’s immunity and stuck closely to the theme of revenge. If you have a PS4 and enjoy third-person action games or story-driven games then this is definitely one for you. It deserves at least 2 playthroughs before you decide to shelve it for a rainy day.
Tested on: PS4 Pro
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Price: Rs 3,999
We played a review copy of The Last of Us Part II on a PS4 Pro.
|Release Date:||17 Dec 2018|
Sameer Mitha lives for gaming and technology is his muse. When he isn’t busy playing with gadgets or video games he delves into the world of fantasy novels.
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