The Last of Us Part 2 is a good game. It is not as good as part one, but it still has amazing moments. Yes, there are plot inconsistencies. And yes, it is controversial in its content and way of storytelling. But it is not as bad as early user scores seem to indicate.
If you are as lost as me in the whole controversy, just wait, until the price drops and then make up your own mind. If you are into big production amazing-looking, plot-driven games, you should play this one. If you look for a realistic stealth shooter or pioneering inventions in story telling – this is not it.
First of all:
I played TLOU 2 one week after release on easy difficulty. I successfully avoided all the pre-release leaks. I watched the big main trailer (the barn party) and the second one earlier this year.
I played TLOU 1 (incl. Left Behind DLC) 3 years ago for the first time. I replayed it earlier this year to refresh the experience. I was again amazed by the intensity of the game and its core achievement: make me deeply care about the main characters.
My overall PlayStation experience is very limited. I come from the PC. I prefer mouse and keyboard. Keep that in mind when reading the tech part of this.
English is not my native tongue so please excuse any blunt mistreatment of the English language.
Also: MAJOR SPOILERS!!!! … duh, you are reading an extended review!
Gameplay and Tech:
Just like its predecessor, Part 2 comes as a simplified stealth / cover shooter in third person. The mechanics feel just like part 1 – not very precise, not unplayable. The stealth system is casual, mostly because the AI is not the brightest.
Clearly Naughty Dog did not aim for a hardcore stealth shooter experience with all the potential frustration that comes along with it. So, if you want difficult, realistic gameplay: TLOU 2 does not have that - just like part one.
One week after release the game is pretty much bug free. For a PC-borne gamer this is an important fact. Maybe a flickering texture or an object with wrong lighting but that’s about it. I encountered no glitch or major bug that broke immersion in any way. Naughty Dog did a good job polishing.
Graphics and Level Design:
What can I say: The world of TLOU 2 looks top-notch, there’s no doubt about it. It is amazing what they squeeze out of the PS4’s 2013 hardware. The price is a 30fps lock.
The fully motion-captured cut scenes with very high polygon character models look better than any game I have seen so far. Well, they better do because a lot of character development and storytelling depend on it. But fear not the uncanny valley: animations work surprisingly well. I think I have seen worse in major Hollywood productions.
The biggest jaw-dropper is the level design. Just for the flooded Seattle or the lush nature, which slowly took over civilization, the game is worth to have a look at. Naughty Dog did their homework on scouting real-life areas and placing objects in a plausible manner. I felt even more immersed by this second version of their spore-apocalypse. Humanity clearly has gone to shit and beyond.
And yes, just like TLOU 1, the world is basically a long tunnel. There is only one small, more open area but if you expect an open world – nope, not in this one. The game does not need it anyway.
Quick Story Recap:
In TLOU 1, Joel killed countless people and zombies and finally the (most likely) last remaining team of medical experts / a chance for a cure to the infection. He did not do that for the sake of the good, for humanity or any other just cause but for his own ability to sleep peacefully – the players peace of mind, respectively.
The DLC “Left Behind” in the Enhanced Edition revealed, that Ellie, when it comes to matters of the heart, prefers girls over boys.
Also, the two pre-release trailers are starting the exposition of the game itself. If you want to understand, why certain criticism was brought forward, you should watch both trailers before playing TLOU 2.
The Plot (Well, here we go…):
This is where the opinions are vastly divided!
According to early user review, a big amount of people seem to outright hate the game, often referring to the story as their main complaint. I will try to point out plot points and how I think they serve or deteriorate the overall story.
The Leak (or was it a Hack, who knows):
It never serves a story-driven game when a story is leaked weeks before release. I reckon a lot of people made up their mind without even finishing the game. Just like a film, it is not sufficient to just read the script or quit halfway through if you want to form an educated opinion.
I got the feeling the negative mood was already set and it was mixed with speculation about political agenda. I tried not to let any of this influence my own experience – although I have to say: with the controversy about TLOU 2 I realized how the Internet makes it almost impossible to have an ingenuous experience with anything new in pop culture. Certain circles already have the narrative for you, almost impossible to find your own. If you feel the same and you have not played the game yet, quit reading right now, disconnect from social media and start playing first! Come back afterwards and agree or disagree.
Crucial Plot Points:
Please be aware: the game tells the story non-linear from two sides and in multiple flashbacks. I am now having a hard time to set everything back to together chronologically.
Ellie and Joel have found a safe haven in the town of Jackson. Ellie has a crush named Dina and a good friend called Jesse. Joel has his brother Tommy right next door and enough time to worry about all the things a regular father would, having a teenage daughter.
But peace is boring.
So, what could motivate Ellie to go on another killing spree? Only something incredible horrific. Something that also feels overwhelmingly horrible to the player - hordes of zombies do not seem to cut it anymore.
The answer is the death of a loved-one: Kill your darlings! Joel must die.
The pre-release trailers suggested that Joel would help Ellie on her grand revenge tour (“You think I’ll let you do this on your own?”). Turns out that the scene in the trailer is not part of the game. One might call this deception by Naughty Dog.
But I think the fact, that I thought Joel is alive and well and not the reason for Ellie’s blood lust, made the horrific killing of him even more shocking. It transfers Ellie’s hate and desire for revenge onto the player. I think nothing else would have made it plausible to justify all this pain and killing that is about to unfold by Ellie’s hand.
Joel gets killed by an unknown character called Abby, who is clearly not introduce as a very loveable person. The very masculine appearance and the fact she smashed Joel’s skull with a golf club constitutes my impression. She gets introduced as the unknown evil, that shakes the little happy island paradise of Jackson for no apparent reason - Consider me intrigued!
After following Abby to Seattle, Ellie and Dina fight their way through a large group of people called WLF, or “Wolfs”, which Abby seems to be an important part of. Tommy also went after the killer on his own.
After Ellie and Dina doing some torturing, to get a more precise location on Abby, they set base camp at an old cinema. The girl’s fresh relationship has yet to endure another hardship when Dina reveals that she is pregnant by Jesse, her former boyfriend. The pre-release trailer already mentioned that Jesse and Dina had some history.
Until this point the story feels free of unnecessary dead weight but now it’s starting to load it up. This whole pregnancy-twist instantly feels generic, just placed to serves the gameplay purpose of Ellie leaving Dina to roam on her own.
Why not leave Dina for a much more trivial but likely cause: simple sickness or injury maybe? That stuff just happens in a post-apocalypse. No worn-out plot-twist right there, just the cruel unforgiving world itself.
The fact, that Jesse followed the girls and now must sort third-wheel relationship issues, fits the little soap opera. Could it not have been a party of three people from the beginning? Heading out on a jaunt, I would take two friends, rather than one. If one gets hurt, one can stay, the other runs for help. At least that is what I have learned in first-aid class.
To make matters worse, Ellie and Jesse are not successful in finding either Tommy or Abby so they split because someone has to stay: Dina is unwell, due to trauma by repeated beating, falling and …pregnancy – which was not an issue any time before but now demands extra attention.
Most changes in Ellie’s companionship feel somewhat staged. It serves a gameplay purpose but hurts the credibility of the story.
Ellie is now on her own again, killing her way towards Abby’s suspected whereabouts.
The game sets us up more playable flashbacks. One of which contains a trip with Joel to a rundown museum in which Ellie gets to jump into an old Apollo spaceship. The scene reminds me of giraffe scene from TLOU 1, leaving me equally stunned how good Naughty Dog is in staging intimate character scenes. I instantly root for Ellie again.
We also get to know Abby better, playing her cutbacks. The game reveals that she is the daughter of the doctor that Joel killed in the end of TLOU 1 when rescuing Ellie from the operating table. We learn Abby has an on-off relationship with a man called Owen and how she witnesses the aftermath of her father’s murder.
This is a crucial moment because from now the plot tries to emotionally connect us to Abby, letting us realize that there was a price for running through TLOU 1, killing everybody that tried to stop us.
But there is a problem: we haven’t played a full game aside Abby, like TLOU 1, bonding with both Joel and Ellie. The little flashback did not let me feel the same affection for Abby nor her father. The unconventional character design also is not helping. I suspect most people will never really connect to Abby at all.
Back playing Ellie, she finally hunts down Abby’s group at the Seattle shore in an old aquarium / amusement park. She kills her way through Abby’s companions, ending up killing a woman called Mel, now the girlfriend of Owen, realizing afterwards that she is pregnant. At the right moment Tommy appears to get distressed Ellie out of there, back to the cinema.
In this moment Ellie becomes as vicious as Abby. Both are ruthless and brutal, shaped by the unforgiving world they are living in. For me Ellie’s likable character started to crumble.
Ellie, back at the cinema, encounters Abby, who followed her. Shots are fired and the game reaches its pivot point.
From now on for a long time we play Abby, Seattle, day one. The plot introduces the group of people, who joined Abby to go after Joel. Then we see the Wolf's headquarters, their way of living and their enemies, the so-called Scars. Well, looks like there is always someone even more evil to fight.
Abby’s relationship to Owen and Mel becomes more detailed. There is some love triangle going on. Mel also is a doctor. To be honest, I can’t remember the exact timing of it but Owen dates back to TLOU 1 times. A flashback reveals that he was Abby’s boyfriend back then, but they split up for unknown (or forgotten) reasons.
Owen went AWOL from the Wolfs and now is hunted by his own people. Abby meets the wolf’s boss Isaac, showing us a short moment of him torturing a prisoner, one of the hostile Scars. Yes, Wolfs aren't saints either. Abby then heads out to try find Owen before he gets into more trouble.
Though I do not really want to play Abby, the game now forces me to spend hours experiencing her side of it all. As mentioned earlier, I had a hard time to sympathize with Abby initially, but the extended gameplay surprisingly made up for it. It took a moment, but I started to like her. The moment Abby’s friend Manny parts with her and she is on her own, walking into the sunset, was another scenery highlight.
More and more details about the so-called Scars, or Seraphites, get revealed in the following. They first seem like an evil post-apocalyptic fanatical version of the Amish. But in the middle of the Abby storyline she gets rescued from hanging by the siblings Yara and Lev. They got cast out from the Scars and were supposed to be executed. Yara’s arm gets smashed in the process. They form an ad hoc alliance but split up soon after. Abby makes it back to the aquarium, finding Owen. A short but revealing sex scene takes place and the morning after, Abby feels the urge to go back and help Yara and Lev.
This is another problematic plot point. It does not really make sense to me why Abby would do that. True, the siblings saved her life. But I get the feeling that this was not the first time she was depended on help of strangers to make it in this world. Why does she care so much this time?
In any case, I do not care as much, as I should, according to the plot. And that makes the following somewhat tiresome.
Abby makes it back to Yara and Lev, then brings them to the aquarium. Yara’s crushed arm needs amputation and so Abby and Lev leave on a supply run for a surgical kit. Unfortunately, they have to fetch that from a Wolf’s hospital. Since Abby also fell from grace with her own people, that journey is potentially problematic. On the way we get to learn more about Lev and his sister and what the Scars are all about. We climb through spore-infested skyscraper ruins – awesome setting by the way.
Finally we make it to the old hospital. It is ground zero to the whole spore infection. The ICU is deep down the building so we have to climb down into places that have been pretty much left untouched since the outbreak, basically letting us go back in time.
Again the level design shows its greatness. The ICU is a dark, dismal maze of isolation units, claustrophobic tunnels, and decontamination locks. At the end, the mother of all infected is awaiting us, giving us the most terrifying boss fight in the whole game series.
After getting that surgical kit we head back to the aquarium. Yara gets her arm amputated and the group makes plans to leave for Santa Barbara. But Lev runs off to get back to his mother at the Seraphites headquarters. Abby and Yara (!) go after him.
Well, there is no worse companion for such a search party than a person who was on the verge of dying and got her arm amputated just hours before moving out.
This was the first time the plot development really annoyed me. It felt constructed and implausible. It would have been a good moment to rejoin plotlines of Ellie and Abby but instead I get forced to fight my way through Wolfs and Seraphites, since they decided to eradicate each other in a final standoff battle, just to save characters that have no meaning to me.
We end up with the mother and Yara killed, then returning to the aquarium and finding everybody, who left there, dead - Ellie has showed up.
Abby, accompanied by Lev, now has all the reason for revenge. The big showdown at the cinema commences, leaving Jesse dead, Tommy wounded, and pregnant Dina spared by the intervention of Lev. We play Abby, trying to avoid being killed by Ellie. The fight is similar to TLOU 1, were Ellie fought David in the ski lodge. We end up not killing Ellie and letting her go.
Fast forward, the next scene is a farmhouse which Ellie, Dina and her baby live in. We play house for a bit until Ellie has a major PTSD episode. Tommy shows up and reveals that he has found Abby’s whereabouts. Ellie decides to go after her which drives Dina away for good.
The whole section feels stretched. Some scenes looked to me like they were edited in later. The level of detail in face animations and interaction seemed lower.
In a last act we play Abby, followed by Lev in Santa Barbara, trying to find a remaining firefly outpost. No one is there but they manage to make radio contact with someone. Soon after they get captured by an unknown group.
We switch to Ellie who has hunted down Abby to Santa Barbara. A sling trap hangs us headfirst and the same men, that captured Abby and Lev, show up. They act rather stupid, Ellie frees herself and kills them.
In that moment we see a blood-drenched, lethal, bad-ass Ellie, who really is fed up with things, and humans in particular. Again, a very memorable scene, well produced.
After fighting our way through more people of the same group we finally find Abby and Lev. They are bound to a stake. We free them and for a moment we seem to let it all go. But then Ellie starts a final melee. A flashback to Joel lets us realize that peace is better than violence and we let Abby and Lev escape via boat.
One of the main user criticisms was Abby’s general appearance. Discussing this is a rabbit hole. A brief disclaimer: I can only speak for myself here and I am not trying to generalize sexual preference or taste.
In the debate political connotations of phobia towards transgender people were mixed with allegations of a “woke agenda” by Naughty Dog. I did not follow those discussions in detail, but they seem overblown to me.
In my personal gaming experience though Abby’s exaggerated physicalness made it difficult to sympathize with her initially. Not just because it must be pretty much impossible to keep that kind of muscle mass when you have been born into the zombie apocalypse with constant malnutrition. The fact the game is showing a gym while introducing the Wolf’s home base does not make up for it. I simply think Naughty Dog overdid it on those arms, trying to depict a strong woman and breaking with conventions.
With the whole plot I think the developer’s intention was to create a moral equilibrium between Ellie and Abby, putting the player right between both. They wanted the player to feel the price for ruthless killing.
When I compare TLOU 1 with part 2 there is one major difference. With Ellie I developed paternal instincts, making it highly plausible that Joel would kill the whole world for her. That affection was not rational but highly emotional.
Part 2 simply didn’t make me feel that for Abby. The game just explains her motives. Yes, she also lost everybody she cared about and can blame one person for it. But I only grasped that on a rational level - it did not touch me emotionally.
For sure Abby’s unconventional character design got in the way. The question I probably should ask myself now: am I that affected by visual appearance?
Apparently yes. I am a simple man. And I don’t think that’s a problem considering this story-driven video game is first and foremost a visual experience.
If Naughty Dog’s intention was to show me my bias towards physical appearance: congrats, you did it, but I knew that already.
In the end Ellie and Abby are fighting till death. Surprisingly, I do not root for any of them. Ellie has lost my unconditional sympathy by now somehow. I just wanted it to end but the game forces me to engage in tedious melee combat. I guess serial killing is a chore after all.
If Naughty Dog would have been consistent to the ugly, ruthless, brutal world they’ve created, Ellie should have killed Abby, destroying her own innocence once and for all, leaving her with nothing but grief, alone, in a world of grief.
The Last Of Us Part 2 is a high-level triple A game that did not disappoint me – but it has its problems.
On the one hand the game excels in graphics, level design and theatrical production. I have not seen such compelling cut-scene staging in a game so far. The world feels vivid, fascinating, and brutally convincing, though it is basically a long tunnel.
That itself is something very hard to achieve in game design.
The story however has some major issues as mentioned.
Overall, I must give Naughty Dog kudos for the fact that they tried to make the player see the opposite site of the generally accepted game mechanic of killing random people repeatedly, never asking if it’s necessary or justified.
For almost everybody in the game, Joel and Ellie are the villains, first robbing humanity of a cure, then killing innocent people for their selfish reasons.
The game could have been an outstanding example of showing how morality is a matter of perspective by placing two equally likable characters against each other, leaving the player in an ethical catch 22. But game design choices prevented me from rooting for team Abby the same way as for Ellie.
In the end the game is not consequent in following it's own relentless standards. The ending feels surprisingly ineffectual. It should have just gone all in, leaving the character and player alone with nothing but grief and emptiness. But it’s hard to build another sequel on that, I suppose.