7 years ago now, Naughty Dog released what a lot of fanboys claimed to be the best game of all time. Personally I wasn’t a huge fan of the original Last of Us when it released on the PlayStation 3 and I went and bought it on the day of release. The game featured a relatively dull and dragged out walk across America for the two stars of the game. The voice acting was emotionless and overly moody for little reason, graphics weren’t fantastic even for the last gen and I struggled throughout to feel any sort of emotional connection to Joel or Ellie after the initial shock of Joel’s daughter being killed right at the start.
The above reasons were certainly a factor in me initially not really being bothered about playing the follow up. That and the fact that the fanboys have been out in force over the last 12 months saying that The Last of Us 2 is and will be the best game of all time way before it had been released. Then you get on to the leaks that happened before the repeatedly delayed release date which caused Naughty Dog issues. I personally also think that if the leaks hadn’t happened we still wouldn’t have had the release of the game, it forced the developers hand.
Set 4 years after the original, The Last of Us 2 is certainly a game that brings conflicting feelings to the table. I for one didn’t want to like it especially after my experience with the first. It is an overly dragged out game for the most part, but then the last couple of hours of story feel extremely rushed in comparison. After the events of the last game, Ellie seems to have widened her awkwardness between herself and Joel into more of a rift. As a young adult she does feel a lot more defensive in her demeaner.
In the post apocalyptic world of Seattle, Naughty Dog have certainly upped the graphic violence, something which a lot of people have complained about. Lets be honest however, if this were to happen to us all we would do everything we could to fight for survival. At times it is literally a full on bare-knuckle brawl to the death with blood and guts left strewn over the floor surrounding the person who comes off worse. The great thing about this is the sound effects. The flick of Ellie using her knife to slit a throat or that of shotgun pellets tearing through flesh sound amazing. Is it a little too much? Yes and no. In an apocalyptic world you would expect brutality but it does feel that the developers have gone a little overboard at times just to make the game stand out and to sell due to controversy.
Naughty Dog have consciously taken the decision to make this game about women. Most games will concentrate on the hero being a man. How he can take on the world and not worry about the consequences. TLoU2 seems to have gone out of its way to concentrate on what would happen if women showed great physical prowess, capability as well as how they would deal with the dark impulses that are usually handed to the men of games. The main ones fuelling this game are obvious as Rage, Trauma, Obsession, but above all, revenge.
The game also features LGBTQ+ elements which I am sure that everyone knows by now, but it isn’t something that is thrown in our faces constantly. In my 20 hours of playing through the game till its end, there are only a handful of times that feature an all female kiss. This is something that does seem to have sparked controversy with some narrow minded people, yet not a word has been said about a ‘straight’ sex scene later in the game which is much more ‘detailed‘ shall we say. You just get the feeling that those that have been making such a huge thing about it are the exact people who are keeping the Lesbian section of PornHub in business, but would never admit it.
Throw all of the above elements into the mix and the violence from the women do seem to be above anything we have ever seen in such detail before from any man. It does feel as if Naughty Dog have gone all out for women’s rights and to acknowledge they are far from the weaker sex. The only problem is that at times the game does seem to get away from Naughty Dog and not all of it works. The tone can veer off into distasteful depression and yet again there is some bad Voice Acting as with the first. I struggled to start to get into the game over the first couple of hours due to this. There were more grunts than actual conversational exchange.
At the heart of the game we deal with Ellie and her relationships. The relationship she formed with her father figure Joel in the first game and how it continues 5 years later, but throughout the game the developers have made a conscious effort to fill us in on certain scenes over the last 4 years in playable flashbacks throughout which all add to the growth and understanding of the game. You have to remember that there is a huge difference between the now 19 year old Ellie’s attitude than a 14 year old Ellie. Watching as she grows up over the last 5 years since the last game wrestling her past and trying to hide that she is immune to everyone else does put a strain on some relationships wanting to be open and honest, but cant. The problem is that her character is still hollow like the first and there is no true connection to be had.
TLoU2 introduces us to a decent supporting cast. To make this review as spoiler free as I possibly can I am not going to go into too many plot details, but the addition of a second playable character early on in Abby is interesting. I did spend a lot of time thinking she was just an annoying brat with a buff body that would shame mine. The game pulls no punches and from an early point we all hate her for her actions. The rest of the game does take time to go into her past and the reasons she does what she did. At first I wanted to label her as the bad guy within the story, but we do soon see that her actions are just as justifiable as that of Joel or Ellie
Dina, Ellies love interest, does bring a softer touch to the game. In a world where kindness and love seem to have all but gone, she brings it back to Ellie. This is done in a great way. It’s not in your face all of the time. A relationship is built on so much more than just sex and that is brought to life well by the developers. They could have gone all out on sex scenes in the rubble of an old abandoned Theatre, but it is done much more tastefully.
Joel’s brother Tommy plays a larger part within the story of TLoU2 as well and is nice to see the relationship between the three characters, especially after Naughty Dog introduce the big shock factor into the game. I know that most will know exactly what that is, but I am not going to write spoilers in this review for anyone. The first game started with the loss of Joel’s daughter which, at the time, did actually shock me and I didn’t see it coming. TLoU2 certainly had to deliver something as equally shocking and does; brutally. This then opens up the entire game and causes us to focus on the reasons behind what happened and above all, revenge.
The game has issues, and not just when it comes to the core of the game, but plot issues as well. For instance, in the first game Joel doesn’t trust anyone, its Ellie and himself against the world throughout the entire game, yet the developers seemed to forget that and allowing a stranger into the fold leads to the shock moment. Then we move to graphics. Again, they are far from brilliant. It once again does feel like they have been shipped over from Naughty Dog’s other best seller, Uncharted and there is a massive repeat use of assets. Literally every abandoned home within the game has an intact 60″ TV and a lot have a PlayStation 3 connected to them. Not to mention people still playing the PS Vita [image above].
Now, obviously that is a purpose placed Easter Egg that the first game was released on that console but look a little harder and you will find game cases for Uncharted games near them too. It also seems that one of the team behind TLoU2 has a thing for the Warhammer games of old as well as the characters that even I used to collect and paint myself as you will come across a room in the game that has painted Space Marines on display and a desk set up for painting them in detail.
There were numerous times when I was reached for supplies in the game where the characters arm would over reach and either stretch or break off from the elbow completely. That as well as a glitch where my character gained a third arm and was impossible for me to loose it unless I shut the game down and reloaded a checkpoint. As I stated earlier in the review, the main bulk of the game takes time. It does feel like it drags at times. The last couple of hours could have been designed a lot better and is rushed compared to the rest of the game. If Naughty Dog wanted to, they could have even made that last part into a full blown DLC expanding it in much more detail or even made it as a start to TLoU3 but we would have had to wait yet another 7 years for that no doubt until the end of the PS5 life cycle.
I have said how the graphics are not exactly fantastic, I have seen better on the whole with other games, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored altogether. The cutscenes flow effortlessly into the game and is hard to tell where you start to take over again at times until you realise you are just stood there doing nothing. One of the best pieces of graphical work I have ever seen in a game however is a small scene where Dina takes off Ellies top to help fix her wounds. Just the detail alone in that top and how it moves over the body causing creases to move and straighten is unbelievable. Oh, and don’t worry, the camera is positioned behind so you don’t see anything.
Although there is obvious graphic violence on screen as well as the softer love scenes, a lot of these are actually left to the imagination just off camera or behind a fade so if you do want to judge the game for content that you feel should not have been there, I do suggest you take a look at your own mind.
The Voice Acting is still questionable at the best of times although I did find myself getting a much better emotional attachment, but not with Ellie or Joel. It was in fact Abby. That did take some time however. I know the games world has been through hell as well as everyone within it and they all have their own personal tragedies but I think that Naughty Dog have either purposely done it or struggled to make characters likeable for me.
The game sees us traverse our way through old subway tunnels, dilapidated buildings, skyscrapers even rapids in a boat. The streets of Seattle are a lush green from the growth of the grass without humanity cutting it back and this plays well into stealth aspects of the game. You can use the undergrowth to hide from enemies and plan your assault without them seeing you. Each encounter plays out differently as well and in a good way. In an office block you can have enemies attacking from all angles and heights, but there are also over turned desks, filing cabinets and chairs strewn around the debris to hide behind allowing you to move around and take someone down from behind without having to go toe to toe in an attack.
The issue again as with a lot of Naughty Dog titles is that the controls are clunky at the best of times. I have never been able to feel at one with any one of their games mechanics. If an enemy is attacking you head on you can dodge with the use of the L1 button, but a lot of times it felt more hit and miss to if it would work and its not just down to the timing of it. Quick swapping weapons in the heat of battle is a chore and hasn’t been implemented well. In fact it has just carried over from the first games mechanics. There were a lot of times that I would want to reach for a certain weapon and couldn’t get to it before I was attacked.
If you are looking for a vast improvement over the first game, it really isnt to be found here. Yeah, a lot of improvements have been made, but at the heart of the game it is still the same core loop of looting and shooting before you walk away from the current area you are in and then do it all over again in the next. It just doesn’t feel like a huge leap forward from the last generation first game and it’s a pity.
New enemies in the way of The Washington Liberation Front (or Wolves) seem to have taken over from what was The Firefly’s have raged an all out turf war on the Seraphites (or Scars). Of course, what faction wouldn’t be complete as an organised Cult which is what the Scars seem to be? The issue is that there seems to have been more detail put into the Wolves NPC’s than with the Scars. A lot of the time enemy scars come across as badly copy and pasted assets dropped into the game where the Wolf NPC’s have there own characters and are more varied in design.
New infected enemies have been added to the game and all create their own issues of how you take them down. Human enemies don’t just simply follow a pattern of how they move around, they adapt to the surrounding areas. Take one of them out from a distance and if that body is found, searches intensify. One thing I did notice with the clickers who make a return from the first game is that they now seem to have been modelled on Silent Hill nurses. In fact I had this discussion with one of our other writers, Jonny and he thought the exact same thing when he first saw them. It is both in looks, physical appearance and especially their movement. One battle that I came across, and will share with you as its not really a spoiler was in the underground network.
When I entered the area there were both clickers and human enemies below. For the first couple of attempts I tried to go in and pick both sets of enemies off one at a time and ended up getting killed. Then I realised that clickers attack anything, so I picked up a bottle and threw it next to the group of human enemies. The scene that played out was brilliant as they all took each other out leaving one clicker left for me to dispose of from a safe distance. Enemies do feel a lot better done from the original game, they are certainly more intelligent and less generic.
One thing that I felt the original game lacked was that open world feel to it. Now, TLoU2 certainly isn’t open world, but does have expansive areas within the game. These worked a lot better than the original game ever did. They seem to have learnt some lesson from Uncharted 4 and Lost Legacy and tried to implement the same here. I just wish that they made the entire game open world and gave us multiple paths that we could take to achieve the same goal. When it does boil down to it, the game is still extremely linear however and this showed even more during my second run-through. Just as proof that I have played the game to definite completion..
I needed a second run-through to be able to get the last few trophies to get the platinum, but it was at this point that I remembered the first time round and the game was repetitive running the exact same paths for the major part of the game. To really draw me in to going back to a game of this size and scale, mixing things up is a great way to go about things.
A great touch within the game is how Ellie has learnt to play the guitar over the missing years with Joel’s guidance and on a few occasions we get the chance to play it for ourselves. A few strums of indicated notes and the game will take over to play a beautiful acoustic piece of music. OK, the first time this happens when Joel does it for Ellie is extremely cringeworthy especially when he also sings, but that can be forgiven and easily put behind us. There are instances however where you can practice your guitar skills and this allows free play of the guitar with the use of the touchpad. Get skilled enough and you can pluck each individual string. This has caused a lot of people to recreate pieces of music from other artists themselves, something I was unable to do.
Another great addition to the game from the developers is the accessibility options. It’s beyond impressive and goes much further than the usual control customisation, subtitles etc. We are introduced to a mass of visual and audio customisation as well as motion sickness settings. You can simply turn off options or turn them back on with swipes of the touchpad which are integrated. Personally I didn’t need to use them as a gamer, but they certainly look impressive. If you want to look further into the details for yourself then check out the PlayStation Blog detailing the 60+ settings.
So, to now finally answer my opening question; Worth The Hype? Yes and no. I don’t think that it does fully live up to the hype, but that is the fault of fans of the game harping on about it before it was ever released. Its those groups of people that do spoil things for everyone. I was genuinely bored of hearing about the game for so long. The game is certainly impressive, theres no doubting that and of course it will win GOTY, I think that was easily decided before it was released, but the game does have a lot of issues and is far from a masterpiece as everyone thinks. There are plot holes, clunky controls, bad voicing, glitches, dragged out game and then rushed to pack the last 2 hours in.
It is a game that you will want to play at some point and is already the biggest selling release of all time in its opening week, but I will be taking my copy back and trading it for something else. I’ve experienced it and its not something that I will want to go back to. Possibly when it is remastered for the PS5 as they did for the PS3 with the first title, but only to get an easy platinum trophy again, not for anything else.
Obviously there will be those that totally disagree with this review and can’t see the game in any other way than through rose tinted glasses and thats fair enough. Just because my opinion on the game doesn’t match up to reviews that you want to hear doesn’t mean that my opinions aren’t valid, right, or even wrong. Sales have proved that the game is a big seller already and I can’t argue that point. My advice for people yet to experience the game is please, play it for yourself and make up your own mind, but bear in mind some of the points made in this review.
The Last of Us 2 was reviewed on the PS4 Pro
**PLEASE NOTE: AIR Entertainment reviewed this game on a personal copy. This has in no way influenced our views on the game as per our Review Policy**
Both Naughty Dog's and Sucker Punch Productions' PS4 titles will launch this summer.