If I Ever Were to Lose You
The Last of Us is a strong contender for my all time favourite PlayStation game. I remember sitting with my family and my good friend, TheDblTap, in my living room waiting for the delivery man. It was probably the most excited I’ve ever been for a video game release. Every second felt like an hour as I sat there with an agitated rhythm to my restless leg syndrome when suddenly, a member of my family looked out the window and exclaimed “It’s here!”. I got up, ran to the door and practically tore it off the hinges and… nothing. I had been the subject of a cruel joke.
Luckily, this time around I’m older, less trusting and clued in on the convenience of digital games so there was no waiting for the delivery man. I just had to hold out until 12AM on the 19th.
The Last of Us Part II Review
Well, That Didn’t Suck
After finishing what I can only describe as, the best story-driven experience in The Last of Us, I felt like the story was complete. There was no way that it could be improved and no need for it to be; I didn’t want a sequel. However, one was finally announced and I found myself getting hyped regardless. Three long years—and 2 delays—later and it’s finally here.
Before you get to play the game, you must first choose what difficulty and settings you want to play with. This is where The Last of Us Part II deserves every bit of praise it gets when it comes to accessibility. There is an overwhelming amount of settings you can play with to make the game easier for you, if you’re hard of hearing, blind or have trouble with your motor skills. You can make yourself invisible while prone, turn enemies accuracy down, remove their ability to flank you and a whole host of other options to make combat easier. You can also switch colour modes to make all characters and enemies have red or blue colour overlays which stand out against the grey background. You can change the size of the subtitles, add a background to them and even change the colour. So if you’re one of the millions of gamers with disabilities and you want to experience TLoU2, then you absolutely can!
The Last of Us Part II opens up with a beautiful shot of a guitar neck with a custom butterfly inlay as Joel brings Tommy up to speed on the final moments of the last game. He grabs the guitar by the neck and begins running a cloth over the frets with an insane level of detail that I’ve only ever seen in Naughty Dog games. Joel speaks about how the Fireflies wanted to kill Ellie to make a potential vaccine and how he lied to her to save her life. This is probably Naughty Dog’s way of reminding players of where the story left off, but it’s also a nice scene of Joel confiding in his brother.
Joel puts the guitar on his back and mounts his horse as Tommy opens the garage door. A beautiful light floods the now open garage and again I’m reminded of Naughty Dog’s incredible talents. A few seconds go by and Joel is just sitting on his horse, somewhat motionless. At some point the game seamlessly switched from cutscene to gameplay with no noticeable drop in graphical quality. I pushed forward on my thumbstick and the horse trotted out of the garage, through the overgrown streets and soon over fields of yellowing grass as the sun lights up the individual blades.
Minutes later, another cutscene plays. Joel has come to visit Ellie, but she seems to be distant and tries to hurry him along so he can leave. Sensing her lack of interest, Joel agrees to leave, but not before he gives her the guitar from the opening scene—which I took as a symbolic passing of the torch—but not before we’re treated to a silky smooth rendition of Future Days by Pearl Jam performed by Joel himself. It’s a beautiful and calming scene, but it’s the last one for quite a while as what follows next is possible the darkest and gloomiest few hours of gameplay I’ve ever experienced.
There’s no denying that TLoU2 is a more mature and grittier experience than the first game. A fact that is echoed in most of the gameplay. When stealth-killing enemies, Ellie grabs them from behind, plunges her switchblade into the neck and—after struggling against the enemy’s attempt to fight back—she aggressively flicks the knife out of the front of the throat causing a stream of blood to arc through the air. Every so often, you’ll encounter larger enemies with giant pickaxes that Ellie can pick up and use as a melee weapon and it has some of the most brutal kill animations I’ve had the privilege of wincing at. Another slightly unsettling detail is that killing some enemies will prompt one of their buddies to cry out their name with real pain and loss in their voice.
It’s not all bleak, however, as there are dogs in this game and, yes, you can pet them! However, they mostly exist to track your scent and lead your would-be killers to you so you kind of have to kill them and they have the most soul breaking yelps. But, hey, you get to play fetch with them and the game will let you do it for as long as you want!
Since The Last of Us Part II has only been out for a few days, I won’t be talking about the details of the story too much. Instead I’ll discuss the themes and what did or didn’t work.
TLoU2 is, in its most basic form, a revenge story. It’s also about forgiveness and violence and how nothing good can ever come from it. I feel it’s also about obsession, but I guess you have to be obsessed in order to seek revenge, no? Ultimately, TLou2 doesn’t break new ground with it’s themes, but it does explore them in an interesting way.
There’s an inciting incident (if you’ve played the game, you’ll know what I’m talking about) within the first 2 hours of gameplay that leads Ellie on a quest for revenge. Personally, I would have liked this incident to have happened a little later into the game as it feels a little rushed, but as it is the whole reason for Ellie’s revenge, I can forgive Naughty Dog for making it happen so early. I must say, however, the scene is shocking and raw and amped even me up for revenge. I felt like I was on the same page as Ellie and I were in such a blind rage that wasn’t until I found a collectible Trading Card and it I finally snapped out of it and remembered I was playing a game.
Most of the story happens over 3 days in Seattle, which is overgrown and flooded. As Ellie, you’ll spend most of your time dodging WLF (Washington Liberation Front) members and Scars (Seraphites), a highly religious cult. However, you don’t really get to learn about these two factions until much later in the story. What you can learn is mostly from the collectibles. Once you first reach Seattle, you will enter a semi-open world area where you’re free to roam and explore until you choose to move the story forward. This section is actually pretty cool, but I feel like they could have gone even further with it; made it larger and/or put more enemy encounters and things to find in the area. However, what you can find will reveal a little backstory in the WLF. There’s also a really cool collectible on a body inside a bank which is worth finding.
I think the most polarising part of the story happens about halfway in. We reach the end of day 3 with Ellie and then we’re quite abruptly thrown into someone else’s shoes. We’re now in control of Abby (we also briefly play as her for about 10 minutes at the beginning) and the time has been turned back to the start of day 1. Abby is a pretty awful person and players will rightfully hate her by this point in the game so playing as her was quite jarring at first, but you get used to it. TLoU2 wants players to experience both sides of the argument; to walk a mile in your enemies shoes. And I’m glad that it does because my animosity towards Abby started to slowly fade away by the end of the game. It didn’t completely vanish, but I was willing to overlook some of the things she did.
Abby’s portion of the game, for the most part, runs closely parallel to Ellie’s story which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but some chapters had me asking if it was really worth showing me what Abby was doing at that point in the story as it didn’t feel important. The best part about playing as Abby, however, is that Naughty Dog seem to have embraced the horror aspect a bit more. There are a few occasions that had me slowly stalking through dark, cramped corridors where the Cordyceps has been able to grow unchallenged. There’s a particularly terrifying segment which gave me crazy Resident Evil vibes and features TLoU’s scariest boss fight. As much as I did eventually come to like Abby’s story, I feel like it definitely should have been shorter and cut some aspects that I felt weren’t important.
Sadly, I must admit that the companions in TLoU2 aren’t as compelling as the first game. Dina is pretty loveable, but she doesn’t get much screen time as she’s taken ill quite early in the story. Jesse seems like a nice guy, but he’s in about 3 chapters so I didn’t really get to know him too well. Abby’s story seems to have the better companions, but only after you’ve been playing as her for a few hours. Yara and Lev, which you’ll likely have seen in an early cutscene released by Naughty Dog, are Scars, which are Abby’s natural enemies since she’s a member of the WLF. However, they are forced to survive an onslaught of infected together which puts them on equal ground. From this point on you’re pretty much constantly with at least one of the two companions which leads to some decent character growth from Abby.
I think it was pretty bold of Naughty Dog to make us hate Abby and then play as her and I think it works to some degree, but I think her role in the inciting incident was too strong for most people to accept. Of course, all of this wouldn’t be nearly as good without the incredible performances from Ashley Johnson and Laura Bailey. Actor performance is something I don’t see praised often in video games, because when it’s done right the player is immersed by the actor and everything else becomes background noise and it’s the same for TLoU2. Naughty Dog was able to capture every minute movement in Ashley’s and Laura’s face that when they wince in pain, screamed in anger or cried, I felt every second of it. That alone is enough for me to recommend this game to my friends and family.
If I had to pitch The Last of Us Part II to other gamers, I’d probably tell them about my nation’s most famous polarising product. There’s this thing in the UK called Marmite—It’s an obscenely sticky, almost-black food spread made from the byproducts of brewing beer. The taste is so overwhelming and salty that people started throwing around the phrase, “You either love it, or hate it”, which is also used in its marketing. The Last of Us Part II has the potential to be the Marmite of the gaming world. I for one, love it, but I know plenty of people are going to hate it.
My The Last of Us Part II Platinum Journey
Unlike the first game, The Last of Us Part II has no difficulty trophies, so you can play on the easiest difficulty from the very start! However, I tell people that I’m a real big boy gamer who likes real big boy challenges so I chose the hardest difficulty available, Survivor (Survivor mode is actually not as hard as it was in the first game).
Apart from about 5 hidden trophies and 1 trophy for completing the story, the rest were for finding all collectibles and fully upgrading all weapons and characters.
Speaking of collectibles, there are close to 300 across the whole game! They come mostly in “artefact” form which are little notes and pages which either have cool little stories on them or clues to unlocked a safe. One note will tell you that the code to the safe is the date of someone’s wedding anniversary, so you should go looking around the apartment for anything pertaining to that.
Other collectibles come in the form of Trading Cards, Coins and weapons you find throughout your playthrough.
So, my plan of attack was to play the game on the hardest difficulty, purely for my own satisfaction, and make sure I comb every inch of the environments for collectibles.
It was about 2 hours before I spotted anything that resembled a collectible which made me think that those first hours were completely devoid of them anyway and carried on. My first session was about 12 hours and I managed to find quite a few collectibles. After a little nap I returned and had a peek at the chapter select screen and noticed that the earlier hours did in fact have collectibles and I just completely missed them. Oh well, I jumped back in where I left off and played for another 12 hours, picking up every collectible I found. I also managed to get all 5 hidden trophies naturally.
After about 25-30 hours, I had finished the story and managed to find 95% of the collectibles completely by myself which made the mop up go pretty fast. All that was left was to play through the game a second time and finish upgrading Ellie, Abby and their weapons.
Partial Playthrough for Upgrades
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