Whenever we hear the phrase “raising the bar,” we think of something evolving, innovating, or heightening a work of art or an idea to a level others must achieve. In gaming, this feat doesn’t come often, but when it does, we take notice and use it as a prime example of what others who design games in that genre must put forth. In years past, Naughty Dog has raised the bar for themselves and accumulated critical acclaim for their projects. With their latest game, The Last of Us Part II, they have once again raised the bar in certain areas but dropped it in some ways.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
The Last of Us Part II continues the story of Ellie and Joel while introducing new characters, even some you’ll control in the game. When the game opens, Joel is retelling the events of what happened that created the present situation. Joel and Ellie have found other survivors, and they live in a peaceful town. At a point when Joel and Ellie meet again, the connection seems to have some cracks in it. As the game goes forward, you are introduced to Abby. Not knowing her role or part in the game, the player just knows she is determined to find a particular person. When Abby does reunite with her people, Joel is brutally attacked. When Ellie realizes what’s going on, she is captured and faces a harsh reality that leads into the rest of the game. The game would make you assume that it’s about revenge, but it’s actually something else.
I Used to Live Downtown
The Last of Us Part II is a mixed bag of sorts; it has a Wild West theme integrated with the modern world. Horror and tension are thrown in to break up the silence that can make players uneasy. Ellie and her people use stealth and the environment to take out enemies; Abby, who still has the modern world on her side, applies the Wild West savagery that makes her a deadly foe. Ellie and Abby both use the same game play controls and freedom to slaughter the infected, religious zealots, and other characters who help to flesh out parts of the story.
This is satisfying yet tedious. Stealth is pretty much a primary use for taking enemies down: you have an unbreakable knife used to attack enemies from behind, or, as Abby, you can snap their necks with your bicep. If that isn’t your speed, you can use blatant attacks. Doing so may get you killed a lot, but if you can multitask and craft with the right tools, you can get through areas quickly. Some enemies won’t be easy to kill, such as Bloaters, who are big tanks that spew poisonous clouds. You will use a lot of firepower to take them down. Other than that, you’ll run around or slowly take them out one by one repeatedly throughout the game. By the fifth stab or gun battle in the game, it really wears on you because the violence you witness becomes mundane and less shocking. It doesn’t provide a lot of set pieces like Uncharted 4 (which may be a good or bad thing) or puzzles when you explore open areas.
One thing that really doesn’t help you in combat is the dodge mechanic. It’s not Bayonetta-level distancing yourself, but it doesn’t help when the distance you dodge is the length of a block in hopscotch. You’ll barely use it or remember to do it because you’re running for cover or running to get to the next area while holding the triangle button to move the door or block area. It ruins the flow, and too many developers have not learned that players don’t want it. It serves no purpose.
Light It Up
You cannot deny that The Last of Us Part II is gorgeous.The green forest or the snowy beginning with destroyed houses and buildings pushes the art design of Sony’s first party titles. As great as Horizon Zero Dawn looks in motion, The Last of Us Part II will make you wonder how they made the city and other areas have a deadly beauty.
The lighting is the highlight in this whole game. A mixture of Japanese horror in the subway portion of the game is just an example to bring the fear that might make you take caution in your playthrough. Gray clouds, evening suns, and lights in dark places–all were placed with care. Some will trick you, but you can’t help but take a peek when the lighting is calling you to go over and explore.
Mix in the weather effects or walking/swimming through the water; the world the art team and lighting team have created may be one of this generation’s highest level realistic 3D models to ever grace a system. Don’t get me wrong: Gears 5 is no joke, and Halo 5’s cut-scenes are top-notch. Compared to this title, though, 343 and The Coalition have some work to do for their next project.
The letdown are certain assets. A Playstation 3, Vitas, TVs, and some other items are disappointing, like they have a disjointed look. Yes, the world is run-down, but it shouldn’t look like a Smackdown re-release in HD when it comes to having non-usable items there just to be in the room. If the trees blowing in the wind appear better than the product placement, it’s time to make better decisions.
The Thing Is…
As I mentioned before with the theme of the game not being about revenge but about the Wild West and modern life, The Last of Us Part II doesn’t deliver anything memorable with it. Though Ellie can play a guitar (which you can strum with the touchpad on the PS4 controller), it doesn’t fit with her singing “Take On Me” after leaving a town that has hoedowns and string instruments. You would expect other country songs to come into play. As for Abby and her organization, you would think CDs of diverse genres would play here and there. Nope. Even when the characters get into a car, you would think some modern music would play (since Sony owns Columbia).
The violence in this game is pretty ho-hum. We have killed multiple types of enemies in various games. The bloodlust these two are forced to have is designed to be that way. They are programmed to do things in order to progress. Ellie and Abby don’t care who they have to rid themselves of. As long as they don’t give you a “continue” screen, you can have your way with them. Blow up a dog, kill humans and infected, have the infected attack other humans, and use other strategies to make your way to the next area–you don’t feel anything but accomplishment because you survived to fight in another area. The revenge motive is meaningless since you constantly kill people who don’t have any importance to the story. It’s Sunset Riders without the scoring.
The 30-hour length involves redundant actions. You’re given a goal, fight the same enemies, hold the triangle button to get through doors, reach your goal, trigger a cut-scene, and repeat again after some Inception moments here and there. In the Wild West, no one was crafting. In this modern day, who is attacking people in stealth mode when they can barely wait in line at a retail store? There’s a premise, but finding one isn’t important when no one is redemptive and revenge didn’t cost them anything. Others around them know of Ellie’s and Abby’s plan, and they all supported them. What made them think they would change?
A Masterpiece of Misery
The Last of Us Part II succeeds in the technical space and bogs all that down with some of its execution. When it does grip you, it works well: a story that plays out fine, a forgettable dodge mechanic, a world that is exuberant in its detail and lighting except certain assets, and replay value only for collecting missed items. The Last of Us Part II does a fine job of being a passable journey. Naughty Dog did a fantastic job, and the delays really helped to ensure the game runs smoothly. However, with certain choices made, The Last of Us Part II doesn’t do enough to make it outstanding, which is a small part that leaves a lasting impression.
8.5 out of 10