Jul 2, 2020
  • Release Date (NA): June 19, 2020
  • Release Date (EU): June 19, 2020
  • Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • Developer: Naughty Dog
  • Genres: Survival
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
The Last of Us Part II has been a long time coming, but was the wait really worth it?
Ben Sellwood

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Naughty Dog is renowned for pioneering award-winning and groundbreaking gaming technology which drives their creative visions. From Crash Bandicoot, four Jak games, five Uncharted games and through to The Last of Us, they have captivated gamers since the early '80s with titles that push technical and sociological boundaries and tell incredibly engaging stories.

When The Last of Us released in 2013, after nearly four years of development, it struck universal acclaim for its character development, graphic finesse, sound design and the depiction of female and LGBT characters. Moving forward another seven years, 2020 heralds the release of the long-awaited sequel and Naughty Dog have commending footsteps to follow in and try to improve upon in order to once again reinvigorate the survival horror genre.

When I started The Last of Us Part II, I was excited but dubious. I had briefly played the original way back in 2013 but hadn't really wanted to get into it back then as I was a strictly first-person shooter fan, and I definitely didn't give the original the time it deserved. Having reviewed games for GBAtemp for well over a year now, I have enjoyed a range and variety of genres and titles and, in all honesty, I really wanted to dive into something like this that would entirely consume me for a number of hours every evening and push me into reviewing objectively, almost as an outsider to the series.

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The Last of Us Part II follows on directly from the events of the original's 2034 post-pandemic epic, which was both a coming-of-age tale for Ellie learning the art of survival and, for charismatic smuggler Joel, an engaging exploration of how far a father will go to protect his child. Set this time around 2039, Ellie is now a 19-year-old citizen of Jackson, Wyoming who longs to join the patrols to protect the town from the Cordyceps Brain Infection (CBI) infected and eke out a normal life amongst the bustling survivors. Great care is given to establish your life here, with the introductory stages, as are typical with a lot of games, see you performing tutorial-style tasks like having a snowball fight, competing with friends at a rifle range, or simply playing the guitar to get you acclimatised to what the game expects of you. These sections demonstrate an emotive bonding with those who you partake in these mini-games with.

Though the story is wonderfully gripping, flitting across the past and present, depicting a really relatable struggle that is portrayed from both sides of the same coin, the pacing can feel excessively slow in places thanks to relatively long cutscenes and dialogue-heavy sections. For the majority I found myself scavenging for goodies and then running through cleared sections with my co-starring characters jogging beside me to get to the next section. When the game dictates it, and even while not in a cutscene, you are forced to walk and talk, understandably to gain some more of the story, fleshing out character motivations, backstories and current frame of mind, but I felt like this was forced upon me to slow the pacing in that particular moment when all I wanted to do was get on to the next objective and re-engage in the killing of my enemies. I sometimes felt that the story was a little full of itself and overly repetitious in places. Without giving too much away there are mental struggles at play here and we get to experience them on behalf of your character. Though this lends itself to drill down into the psyche of what is occurring deep within them, I felt it a bit overbearing in places and possibly unnecessarily adding valuable time onto my playthrough without really extending the story in a way that hadn't already been established.

You begin the story on horseback, heading back to Jackson, with Joel and his brother Tommy talking about the events of the previous game, but I couldn't help but be distracted by the lush scenery. The graphics initially seemed rather dusky, with light dappling between leaves, layers of grasses reacting to your motion, hundreds of trees lining the horizon and stacks of vegetation for miles. It's just enough detail to suggest an old west vibe, a simpler time of sunny days and living as close to nature as possible. The first impressions are absolutely phenomenal. It looks truly next-gen in comparison to its peers. As you learn to control your horse and master a few jumps and manoeuvres you dash through streams, brush past foliage and the scene opens up to reveal the panoramic views of Wyoming, overlooking Jackson in all its comforting glory. Later on, you experience snow-laden trails were brushing by branches causes them to drop their coverings of snow, you leave footprints and trails everywhere and snowflakes gently hit the screen and slowly melt away. Environments start out relatively friendly, clean and crisp with a warm inviting atmosphere, but pushing through everything gets grimier and dirtied, emphasising the passage of time and the scars of past events, but moreover, there is a distinct despairing feeling of desolation that overwhelms you. This juxtaposition works to give you purpose and feel the struggle of your gnarled up, battle-hardened character with some of the later environments, where you have rain lashing down on top of you, muddy, sodden roads, crumbling brickwork with aged and mouldy, grim-looking surfaces with moss covering tables, chairs and cars, with artefacts strewn throughout, showing a mangled, crumbling world that is all about surviving into the next day.

It's also worth mentioning how unobtrusive the HUD is. It's so minimal and allows for a beautifully cinematic look to the framing of the scenes, giving everything an enormously film-like quality. The direction, framing, ambience, scripting and pacing are all outstanding thanks to the Naughty Dog Game Engine underpinning it all with exquisitely realistic physics, adding some clout to every scene. This proprietory engine has been repurposed since Uncharted 4, upgraded to oblivion with in-house secrets to make everything look ultra-realistic, bringing an unparalleled realism to each character, item, and object, and deploying shaders and post-processing effects that entirely draw you into this living, breathing world.

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Attention to detail is a thing that most games fail to nail down, with small missteps in simply portraying an item or environment correctly, which ultimately breaks immersion and reminds you that you are playing a game and this is far from reality. I cannot stress enough just how well Naughty Dog has captured every detail from every perceivable angle. You can feel that every element has been lovingly crafted to the nth degree by the artists. The sheer scale and granularity of the detail that has been painstakingly added to these props, objects, and environments are jaw-droppingly incredible. An example of the level of realism on offer here can be seen by just looking around you at the various objects in use. Each object and building looks entirely bespoke and even relinquished vehicles look symbiotic to nature, mangled and over-grown by plantlife and then organically sunken into the ground rather than an existing car model having been simply plonked onto the environment and bushes placed around it. The vision as presented to us is wholly exquisite.

The Last of Us Part II captures a range of every-day elements perfectly too. For example, when you are in overrun complexes that have mirrors, you will find smeared fingerprints and cracked, jagged edges. Glass has an expected sheen to it, but it also has condensation dripping off of it, and the walls and rock faces have a layer of water streaming down them where applicable. Office blocks and dwellings stand frozen in time, entirely abandoned, with desks, tables and chairs as though they have been in use recently, and items such as food, staplers, phones or toys cluttering their surfaces. Chairs and soft furnishings have a filthy aged and weathered appearance, with leaves or moss covering them and the floors, with visual hints that carpets and floorboards are perishing and wallpaper is now peeling off and gnarled. Later environments such as the school, cinema, hospital and cruise ship interiors, downtown, and the villages also have comparably dense levels of staggering detail all the way down to rusted up riveting, thick undulating grassy knolls and torch-lit pitch dark forests. Museums and aquariums lay dormant too, and the number of individual assets and props in those buildings alone are mind-boggling. Skeletons of prehistoric animals, scientific equipment, and vast marine exhibits, with hundreds of physics laden components on display overhead, demonstrate creative craftsmanship, unlike anything I have ever seen before. If this game had a PSVR mode for just exploring those environments, I would totally buy it just for the unparalleled immersion and realism. It is utterly awe-inspiring and with such an array of things to look at with plenty of information on display, it is fascinatingly educational to boot.

I tried to pick apart just how they managed to populate every room in every building with such a fleshed-out array of items giving each place distinct character without looking repetitious, but I was simply unable to discern any other conclusion than the game artists and modellers are masters of their trade, and they have pulled no punches in demonstrating just how much can be done to create an immersive experience like no other. In places, you will find moments frozen in time, such as a table full of Warhammer abandoned mid-game in one building and play pieces and figurines in various states of decoration under magnifiers with paints and brushes and tools in the surrounding rooms. Other places see makeshift beds built from re-oriented seating and a mattress, and clothes and bedding strewn all over the place, with unfinished games of chess scattered on a coffee table. Even the loading screens are a thing of beauty. A boat gently bobbing around on the lapping water, tethered to a wooden pillar, it just looks and sounds incredible from the outset.

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Environmentally, this is easily one of, if not the, most impressive games I can think of. Visually, even logically, everything fits together and has a grounded realism that never makes you think "wait, what is this doing here?" or makes you lose focus on what you're doing. I examined external pipework on a building, and nothing went nowhere or clipped through another surface strangely. It was all joined and affixed to the building just as you would expect it to be in reality. I also looked closely at interiors for oddities and found intricate details such as power cables for TVs plugged into the outlets, consoles coated in dust, and DVD players in cabinets with their drawers ejected and a disc still in there. The only strange behaviour I encountered were reflections in the TVs sometimes were generic, like when I was in a room with a huge double bed in it, the reflection map showed me two beds behind me. Occasionally puddles also neglected to reflect walls and railings on closer inspection, however, the fact that the puddles were rippling with rain hitting them while reflecting the sky and the majority of the ambient effects such as fire and lightning means that I can easily forgive this, as puddles should be a glancing detail that you walk through and past, without giving them a second look. I was just being nosey, delving into the technicals of the various small effects that layer together to create the entire scene.

Though this game is technically linear, you have enough freedom in each environment to really feel like you have explored off the beaten track and found your own way to the endpoints. For example, in the streets, towns and cities that are being reclaimed by nature, you can scour the houses, shops and buildings for supplies. If you can't find a way in, you can simply smash a window to gain access, or find an alternate entry point to squeeze through from an adjoining building or structure. The choices you make in retaining your stealth or smashing through the scenery dictates the level of challenge you will face if you are spotted or accidentally disturb a nest of the infected. Exploring the side streets and inspecting structures for methods of entry often yields harder to find collectables or more bounteous supplies of supplements or parts to craft with. You may also find some cheeky little easter eggs too, such as characters playing Hotline Miami on PS Vitas, a "Smash Brandi's Cooch" VHS of questionable origin, or even a dusty as heck, old, phat Playstation 3 adorning an entertainment unit, surrounded by Naughty Dog's finest selection of PS3 titles. On a side note, I also found a "Dr. Uckmann" trading card which is an obvious nod, and I'm still convinced Manny is the main man himself cunningly inserted into the game, though he swears it isn't.

The soundscapes in The Last of Us Part II are also excellently depicted. Spacial sound allows you to identify creatures, enemies and environmental features as naturally as you would in real life. I found myself standing in buildings just listening to the ambience, picking out scurrying, dripping water, wind, groans and distant gunfire. Externally you can hear coastal sounds, thunder, rain hitting shrubbery and your clothing, squelchy moist muddy puddles underfoot, metallic sounds on walkways and ladders, crumbly stone and sand, creaking wood and the realistic foley of your weapons clattering around as you run or jump. During combat, you hear bones breaking, skin and cloth tearing, blood splashing, and projectiles whizzing by or landing in their targets. It all builds towards an undeniably top-notch visceral experience throughout which is utterly flawless.

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There are some small technical hitches that might break immersion, were it not for the overwhelming immersion of the environments. For example, during water-heavy scenes there was a very minuscule small drop in frames and, occasionally, a small amount of pop-in from the odd shrub or a single item that hadn't quite loaded in on time. I would say that 99% of the time this title is the silkiest, smoothest game I have witnessed on the PS4 console, and it is extremely rare that you will encounter these "issues" if you even notice them at all. I have looked into this a little and it has been noted that it is only the PS4 Pro console that has these odd framerate dips, the standard console somehow outperforms the Pro and maintains a solid 30FPS throughout the aquatic sections. Perhaps this is patchable on the Pro, but honestly, it is so minor that it's entirely forgivable.

Another gripe would be the use of screen space reflections on bodies of water where you are wading waist-deep in the liquid. Though it appears to be one of the finest representations of water-bogged scenery I have ever witnessed in a game, once your character moves around you will see a hazy edge to their form, and worse, elongated reflections of their arms or weaponry spread entirely out of scale, across the undulating surfaces. I feel that this simply cannot be done on current-gen hardware due to simple limitations that this game is stretching to within an inch of its life. It could not have been done better, it will never be done better on this hardware, but it is not perfect in comparison to every single one of the other multitude of effects deployed in this game.

Once during my 21hr playthrough I managed to clip out of bounds once by jumping over a wall awkwardly, and at another point during some intense CQB with Shamblers, I managed to freeze my entire console thanks to a CE-34878-0 error, but other than these small encumbrances the experience was extremely smooth thanks to the autosave feature saving my progress automatically. I also noted a few graphical glitches regarding rope and hair not resolving itself properly in places, causing a wiggly rope here and there and my horses tail was wildly helicoptering through an entire chase sequence.

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The combat has been designed from the ground up to be intuitive and dynamic. As such, you can be incredibly cunning in your tactics to take down your foes. From stealth kills performed by creeping up behind an enemy, to stealthy aerial takedowns you can combine hiding in the grass, squeezing through a tight gap, jumping, and more to curate some intensely dramatic fatalities. When plunging that switchblade into or across the enemy's neck you also get a tense, real-time animation of the struggle and seeing the life drain from their faces with horrendously satisfying gurgling, choking-on-blood sound effects.

Gunplay has been tweaked up too with some stunning reload animations, the way you carry each weapon both in your hands and inventory, and there is an astounding sense of power and realism behind each projectile when pulling the trigger. Guns you obtain range from pistols to shotguns, submachine guns, rifles and more which means you can get handy, up-close-and-personal with short-range arms like the shotgun and melee weapons or play from a distance with your scopes when possible. Finding straps and holsters means you can hold more weapons on your person and not in your backpack, which in turn speeds up your combat efficiency and your ability to get out of tight spots. Crafting benches can be located in garages and hideouts, enabling your found parts to beef up your weaponry with things like additional grips for stability, scopes, improved recoil and clip size. These places are often in secluded areas and more often than not are surrounded by parts that you can use on your firearm collection. Always search around the scenery for parts and straps that can enhance your survivalist journey.

Though the skills tree may appear relatively limited, there are 50 skills that can be learned and upgraded over the course of play. In order to upgrade yourself, you have to collect a number of supplements or pills so that you can spend them on your chosen techniques--to learn all of them would require you to locate almost 2000 pills knocking around in cupboards and drawers. Looking at my modest selection at the end of my first 21 hours save game, it will definitely take several playthroughs to obtain everything in every branch. Learning these skills also requires you to locate increasingly advanced field-manuals in places like safes and obscure buildings, so constantly revisit and review any paperwork or maps you have located. The skills you upgrade will determine your method of attack in most situations. For example, I chose to build up my stealth abilities and craft health packs from fewer parts, but I could have chosen to craft ammunition faster, or been more agile when holding enemies like hostages, but I wanted to be as swift and silent as possible through the tense infiltration sections. Now that the enemies have sniffer dogs too, it was handy to have a skill set that would let me move while prone quicker and enhance my listening skills to locate where I was being hunted from more accurately and from a greater distance to give me more of a chance of outflanking man's best friend.

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Enemies range from human to zombie-like, but all of them are in the same battle for survival as you, so it is rare you won't come under fire when you end up in their territories. You have the disbanded Fireflies, the Washington Liberation Front (WLV) or "Wolves," the cultist Seraphites or "Scars" as they are known, the Rattlers and quite literally what remains of the Federal Disaster Response Agency or F.E.D.R.A. While the Scars are at war with the WLV for control of districts within Seattle, the veteran Fireflies are out to exact revenge on those who have wronged them. Joel and Ellie are technically classed as "survivors"-- they do not fight for a particular faction or believe in anything other than protecting the colony from straggling infected who amble too close to their settlement.

Each group have their distinct fighting style and weaponry for you to overcome when you encounter them and they will all use lethal force on sight, even if unprovoked. The Seraphites are more accustomed to stealthy weapons and projectiles while defending their wooden huts and non-technological holdings, whereas the WLV are far more militant, holing up in compounds heavily fortified with machine guns and rifles. The other factions and groups you meet further down the line also have a militia or rowdy vigilante vibe to them, who lay traps and take prisoners or slaves to do with what they wish. 

The zombie-like enemies are the result of spores infecting citizens through the lungs, can also be passed from an infected person's bite. There are several stages to these enemies that make up the different types of infected that have very specific traits. Runners are the first stage of the infected's life, or rather, death cycle. They swarm you if even one locates you with their vision based on movement and sound, and then can shift at a startling pace, though they are noisy and erratic which means you can locate them easily. Stalkers are the second stage of the Infected, with lightning-fast reflexes and the ability to jump scare you in the dark, thanks to their silent and deadly stealthy movements. Clickers are the third stage of the fungal infection, and they are entirely blind. They use echolocation to hunt every nook and cranny if they get riled up and go berzerk. Bloaters are the fourth stage and are toughened juggernauts in comparison to the previous three stages. These are the first enemies that cannot be stealth killed due to their enormity, but using crafted traps and hunting weapons seems to damage them quickly. Shamblers are the fifth iteration of the infected and while extremely similar to Bloaters, they have an explosively gaseous acid attack mechanism that makes them especially deadly at close quarters. The sixth and final stage is the super rare Rat King. These are hulking blobs, composed of mangled-together clickers and bloaters, which can peel apart and attack you from multiple angles.

All of these enemies are susceptible to fire and headshots from guns. The higher calibre the weapon used on them, the more stopping power you have--however, the more likely you are to be swarmed by giving away your location. Shamblers and Bloaters, in particular, can be slowed down via explosive traps to give you more time to craft ammo for weapons or formulate an attack plan.

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The Last of Us Part II raises the bar with a now ageing console and shows that you can have graphically rich environments, dense with scenery and thick with NPC's and heavy layers of post-processing at a solid framerate on a console that is pushing seven years of age. It is truly a wonder that they managed to make such an astonishingly good-looking game on relatively antiquated hardware, but what else would you expect from Naughty Dog and Druckmann's visionary direction for this epic and emotive tale of survival. It is an experience rather than a mere game, and its powerful ability to convey emotion via the incredible technology used is testament to the artistry that goes into videogames today. Intricate details like how the character's hands reach out and grab items, the animations for upgrading your weapons, how Ellie puts her hood up when she goes out into the rain, the layers and layers of effects including drizzling rain, dirt, lighting, reflections, diffractions, flowing and pooling liquids, bokeh-style focussing, temporal anti-aliasing, motion capture, HD texturing, masses of vegetation, characters facial animations and the expressiveness of their thoughts and emotions, and an overall sense of realism that can't help but really get you deep in the feels when you experience those emotive scenes of shock, anguish and relief. Everything culminates together for one hell of a potent experience that the director and staff have built for us, crunched for us, and presented to us in a virtually flawless display of incredibly high quality and style.

Verdict
What We Liked . . . Incredible craftsmanship throughout every facet Animation and effects are second to none A superior blend of close-quarters stealth with more traditional gun-based combat An amazingly riveting storyline that effortlessly captivates with an emotive and engaging storyline Plenty to find, upgrade and learn throughout Model viewer and concept art gallery with heaps to unlock and marvel at What We Didn't Like . . . A couple of out-of-bounds glitches forced me to reload my save Frame rate dips on Pro around the water-heavy sections Occasional screen space reflections break immersion
10 Presentation
Everything in this title oozes quality. I can barely fault any single aspect against any given criteria. The Playstation 4 may be nearing the final stages of its life cycle, but Naughty Dog has wrung out every drop of potential this generation console has within it to deliver an unparalleled experience of ultra-realistic survival horror.
9 Gameplay
Intuitive, simple to grasp, and nearly impossible to put down, TLOU2 has an incredibly film-like quality thanks to its outstanding direction and flow. Every inch of this is enjoyable, emotional, and outstandingly stylish.
9 Lasting Appeal
Five difficulty settings, a slew of collectables and a compelling and intelligent story make for an experience that players will want to enjoy over and over again. Once you have completed the 20-25 hours of gameplay you have the option to enjoy the game again via a "gameplus" option that allows you to relive the action again with your entire found arsenal while picking up those missed collectables and upgrades.
9.7
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Personally, I feel that this game is damned close to being a perfect masterpiece. From start to finish I was captivated and the gunplay and combat are satisfyingly stealthy with progressive brutality which some may feel slightly overblows the emotive struggle you endure. Barring a few minuscule glitches and a feeling of being drawn out in places, The Last of Us 2 swings for the big leagues and raises the bar on every level.

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