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The Last of Us Part II — A Stunning and Horrifying Experience

by | Aug 9, 2021

In short

The Last of Us Part II is easily one of the most impressive games I’ve ever gotten to play. A must-play if you have a PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5. Scrap that, this game alone justifies buying a PS4 or PS5.

Read the full review for more.

If you’re into gaming, there’s no way you haven’t heard of The Last of Us. When the first episode was released on the PlayStation 3 back in 2013, Naughty Dog had already sent a clear message to the rest of the industry; in short, the first TLOU was fantastic.

Is the second episode living up to the origins of the saga? Answer in this late but comprehensive SPOILER-FREE review of The Last of Us: Part II.

18+ only: A memorable adventure for a very mature public

The Last of Us Part II is not a game you want to put in every hand. I’m opening this review with a warning because TLOU 2 exposes gamers to physical and psychological violence horrors. I firmly believe that no one under 18 should play this game.

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As you move forward in the game, you’ll be exposed to the horror of post-apocalyptic life. Humanity is dying, and people will do anything to survive.

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You’ll occasionally be dragged into very confined environments. If you’re claustrophobic, you might want to reconsider.

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I know we’re all different, and some of you might even complete the game without feeling a thing (you monsters), but I was genuinely shaken by it.

Never before a game had such an effect on me. TLOU 2 made me sad, angry, sick, and it even made me cry. In fact, it took me a year to find the strength to complete a second run (I finished the game a first time shortly after its release in June 2020 and only completed my second run a couple of days ago).

 

An intense story you’ll hate to love

Do not play The Last of Us Part II if you haven’t completed the first one. The intrigue of TLOU 2 is directly related to the events of TLOU, and you’d miss out big time. What’s more, this review contains a couple of spoilers from the first episode. You are warned.

The year is 2038, or 25 years after a mysterious fungal disease took over the world.

It has also been five years since Part I, after Joel and Ellie made it back to Jackson, a small town where people try to live as normally as they can, despite the new state of the world.

Of course, TLOU is no happy game, and the illusion of happiness you’ll get from the beginning will be taken away from you soon enough (trust me, you’ll know when it happens).

The world has gone wild.

Cities have fallen. There’s no law. There’s no hope.

Everything is here to remind you of what the world use to be and how it fell – from abandoned city environments to mushrooms spreading deadly spores in moldy basements.

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Like in many undead games, books, and movies, the infection spreads through bites. In TLOU, however, people can also get sick when breathing spores released by those who have been infected for a long time.

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When entering spore-infested locations, you will automatically have to wear a mask to protect yourself (or at least, most characters will have to).

Revenge as a North Star

The Last of Us Part II shines a light on the ravages of revenge and how it can consume whoever enters this dangerous circle. And you will learn that meaningless actions, or actions you thought secondary, can have immense consequences.

Talking about conflict, you’ll cross paths with two dangerous factions as you play the game:

  • The WLF (for Washington Liberation Front), a dissident armed group similar to the Fireflies from the first episode that managed to defeat the army in Seattle.
  • The Serafites (or Scars), a group of religious fanatics who reject everything from the old world and believe that the pandemic originated from humanities’ sins.

Both factions have been engaged in a deadly conflict that’s been raging on for years. Fighters on both sides have lost all notions of why they’re fighting and are consumed with fear and hatred of the other side.

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Both the WLF and Serafites have ‘decorated’ the streets of Seattle with recruitment propaganda over the years.

Everything you do has a consequence.

One thing that will strike you as you play Part II is how personal the game will become. For instance, all the people and dogs you’ll encounter have a name. If someone finds a body, they’ll scream their names; Evie, Robert, Kevin, Jorge, Drew, Charlotte, Maggie, etc. In TLOU 2, Naughty Dog plays with us gamers and puts us in a tough spot, emotionally speaking.

This is yet again another reason not to let kids play this game. They simply aren’t equipped to deal with this. If you think Call of Duty is too violent for them, this is worse. Way worse.

Ellie (+ 1)

If you’ve already watched trailers of the game, expect to be surprised; the same way Kojima played with MGS fans when promoting Metal Gear Solid 2, Neil Druckmann and his teams played a similar little game here.

One of these surprises is that Ellie won’t be the only character you’ll control — which isn’t new to the series after we got to play both Joel and Ellie in the first episode. But you will get to take control of a second protagonist for an important part of the game. An additional character that you will most definitely struggle with at first.

Scrap that. You will hate that character with everything you have – at first.

That’s all you’ll get from me about this. Sharing more information would ruin your experience.

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The integration of this second character is a genius move from Naughty Dog as it brings another perspective on the adventure and the cycle of revenge in general.

 

Stunning graphics and animations

Naughty Dog sure knows how to create beautiful games.

In fact, playing Uncharted games or the first Last of Us on a PlayStation 3 today isn’t such a terrible experience. Well, The Last of Us 2 doesn’t disappoint. The game is stunning, even on the base PlayStation 4.

One of my favorite things about TLOU 2 is how much the team worked to make it look and feel great. The level of details is insane, and even secondary places that are optional to visit are built with care. See for yourself – look at the number of things you can find behind a random TV in a random abandoned apartment.

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Or interesting easter eggs from the PlayStation ecosystem:

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Wait, is that Hotline Miami playing on a Vita? 👀

Convincing lighting effects

Being a game initially developed for the PlayStation 4, TLOU 2 doesn’t include ray tracing technology. Having said that, I was still amazed by the lighting effects and how the game engine makes them look so (in)credible.

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No words needed

Facial animations are always a pain for developers, especially when working on a realistic title.

Well, here again, Naughty Dog’s team killed it. The facial animation is so tight that it allows you to read characters’ emotions right from their faces without them having to use onomatopoeia to express their feelings.

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The same goes for the rest of the animations. The amount of details is jaw-dropping.

For instance, Ellie will automatically put her hoodie on well walking under the rain and remove it when going back under shelter. When running away from a fight, you’ll notice that Ellie will breathe loudly through her mouth and need some time to compose herself and breathe calmly through her nose.

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I find that the addition of those details makes TLOU 2 a masterpiece.

1080p on PS4 – 1440p on PS4 Pro and PS5

Whatever the PlayStation you own, you’ll have a great time. However, there are notable differences you might want to know about:

    • If you own an original PS4, you’ll get to play the game in 1080p at 30 frames per second.
    • With a PS4 Pro, you’ll be playing in 1440p at 30 FPS.
    • With a PS5 (Disc or Digital Edition), you’ll get to enjoy the game in its best juice and play in 1440p at 60 FPS.

The folks at ElAnalistaDeBits did a great job in comparing all three versions. Have a look here.

 

Gameplay: a real improvement from TLOU

With TLOU 2, Naughty Dog improved all the existing mechanics of The Last of Us Part I and incorporated a couple of interesting new mechanics.

Sneaking still is key for survival.

The Last of Us isn’t a beat em’ all; you simply can’t rush your way through and eliminate your enemies.

Ammunition is scarce, and enemies will cause a great deal of damage when hitting you. Worse, clickers and bloaters will even kill you instantly if they manage to grab you.

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So, better sneak around!

When fighting humans, stealth is even more critical; they will talk to each other when noticing something strange. Play your cards right, observe their rounds and dispose of them silently — be aware that Ellie won’t be gentle on any of the enemies she’ll put down. It will be graphic. It will be violent.

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Your survival depends on looting and crafting.

When in 2013, the world as we know it collapsed, most people either died fast or left in a hurry, thus leaving a lot of stuff behind. As you explore The Last of Us 2, you’ll need to search and loot what you can to craft medkits, explosives, or arrows.

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Items can be found anywhere — another reason to take your time and explore as much as you can before moving on.

While the Last of Us Part II takes you to more open zones than the first game, it is not an open world. This means that you will not be able to come back to the zones you explore. So, let me stress again that you need to take your time.

Stronger together

Just like in the first title, you’ll play through part of the game with NPCs at your sides, leaving room for collaborative work to eliminate enemies and access places you couldn’t have otherwise.

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Grow your skills

Like in most recent action-adventure games, The Last of Us Part 2 includes a role-playing component.

As you explore the devasted world, you’ll be able to find medicine (or pills) that will account for skill points. Skills points that you’ll be able to use to upgrade Ellie’s combat, crafting, and surviving skills.

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Upgrade your equipment

Here again, you’ll need to find workbenches to work on and improve your weapons.

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And just like in Part I, you’ll need weapon parts to unlock upgrades. Now, the novelty of this episode is the animations you’ll get each time you upgrade a weapon.

While it doesn’t bring anything to the game itself, those short sequences add up to the roughness of what the world has become; to survive, you need to be hands-on and pragmatic.

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Use the listen mode to locate enemies

Yet another gameplay element secured from the first episode.

The listen mode allows you to see nearby enemies through walls depending on how much noise they make. So, if an enemy is dead silent and immobile, you won’t be able to see them through the listen mode.

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Brand new gameplay elements

I could sum up new gameplay addition in two words: agility & interactions.

In TLOU 2, you can now use ropes (note that you won’t be carrying a rope and grapple like Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4, but you’ll be able to climb and swing on occasional ropes and cables to reach some places.

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Another novelty in the gameplay is the possibility to break things (vending machines, cars, shop fronts) to either explore further or loot items.

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As mentioned above, the gameplay gained a lot in agility. When Joel was glued to the ground, Ellie now can jump; sure, it’s not groundbreaking for a 2020 game, but it makes the game more vertical than before.

Since we’re talking about agility, another significant addition to the gameplay is the possibility to dodge enemy attacks. Dodging is an essential element that you’ll need to master early on if you want to survive.

A game of ‘hide and kill‘.

If you’ve played Horizon or Assassin’s Creed, high grass won’t come as a surprise to you. In TLOU 2, you’ll be able to use tall grass to move silently and undetected.

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Ellie is now able to crawl under large objects to either move forward or hide from the enemy.

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Having said that, foes might look under cars and other hidden places if they lose your tracks.

A durable knife

If you’ve played Part I, you know too well that Joel was using shivs to eliminate enemies. While efficient, shivs were single-use, and you had to be mindful not to waste them.

No more of this.

In Part II, Ellie has a knife that she uses during combat and infiltration phases.

New types of enemies

Naughty Dog diversified their bestiary, compared to the first adventure.

A diverse crowd

First, you’ll find that human foes are a lot more diverse than before (as in, you’ll find men and women in their ranks). What’s more, you’ll occasionally have to fight HUGE people. They’ll usually carry axes and deal a lot of damages if they hit you. Fortunately, they are also relatively slow, and dodging their attacks shouldn’t be too complicated if you time it well.

Are you ready to kill innocent doggies?

You read that right.

New types of infected

Clickers aren’t new, but they look much more terrifying than previously.

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New enemies, however, are Shamblers.

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They are big.

They are fast.

And they can spray you with acid.

Fortunately, a couple of well-placed shotgun shells or explosives should be enough to get rid of them. Yet, be extra careful when in their vicinity, as they will instantly kill you when they grab you.

Turn your DS4 into a guitar.

Music plays a central place in Last of Us 2, and you’ll get to be a part of that too. Naughty Dog had the idea to use the DualShock 4 touchpad to play the guitar.

It’s not the most exciting part of the game, but it’s rare enough to see developers actually using the touchpad beyond displaying a map or pausing the game.

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Nowhere is safe

Often in a game (any other game, literally), you go to an area, clear it, and you’ll be fine.

In TLOU 2, the danger is always around the corner, and enemies might pop when you expect them the least.

It’s quite unsettling at first, but it’s yet another element that makes the game so good in my opinion.

 

A rich and credible world to explore

From a great soundtrack to extensive lore, you won’t be disappointed.

A mastered soundtrack

The general atmosphere of the game comes from an incredible soundtrack and realistic environmental sounds.

From the ambient music to the outstanding voice acting cast, there’s nothing I would have done differently.

My advice? Play with headphones.

Wearing headphones won’t only suck you into the game; it will help you locate enemies by listening to the noise they make.

Neil Druckmann: “Crafting is a payoff to exploration.”

From finding materials, safes, and survivor stories to hidden cutscenes that you could miss altogether, TLOU 2 has a lot to offer, and exploration will be enriching.

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There were a couple of safes to unlock in the first TLOU. Here, you’ll be able to find at least one safe per level. To open the safes, you’ll have to find nearby information or solve small riddles. Nothing too complicated, but entertaining enough not to feel like a waste of time.

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When you make it to an open zone (you’ll know when you’re there), look for the Music Shop; a great surprise awaits. And yes, it’s music-related.

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Nature has taken over, and that too is beautiful.

As you explore Seattle, you’ll often find yourself lost in nature.

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Nature had more than 25 years to grow and overtake human constructions … and it shows. Note that if the game is stunning, technically speaking, I think natural environments coupled with stunning lighting effects were what impressed me the most in TLOU 2.

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It is all really, really well done.

 

Is The Last of Us Part II difficult? It depends.

I found TLOU 2 a tad harder than the first episode.

Enemies are smarter and in larger numbers, making it particularly difficult to move forward undetected. What’s more, the addition of dogs truly makes everything more complicated as they’ll eventually find you, even when hiding in tall grasses.

Remember: Nowhere’s safe.

Having said that, Naughty Dog included advanced accessibility options to make it possible for absolutely anyone to play TLOU 2 from beginning to end.

Advanced accessibility options

Accessibility is still a secondary topic in gaming. So, it is fantastic to see that Naughty Dog included accessibility options such as additional audio indicators so that even a blind gamer could complete the adventure.

You can also apply filters to make enemies stand out more on-screen or adjust all difficulty parameters to adapt the game to your skills.

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This is a beautiful gesture from Naughty Dog. Life is unfair as it is – such efforts are more than welcomed ❤️.

 

How long to beat The Last of Us Part II

As a complete fan of the first episode, I took my time to complete Part II, and it took me just under 30h (I still missed many collectibles).

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Thirty hours is a long time, considering how intense and emotionally draining the game is.

 

A ton of bonuses to unlock

As per usual in their games, the team at Naughty Dog added a bunch of bonuses to increase replayability and make playthrough even more fun.

New game plus

You can start a new game + and begin with the skills and equipment you collected in your previous playthrough.

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Note that a New Game + will be more difficult than a regular new game. For instance, SURVIVOR+ will be more challenging than SURVIVOR.

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Collectibles

In the first episode, you could collect Fireflies pendants. In this episode, you’ll be able to collect game cards as well as coins later on in the game.

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Note that the more collectibles you find, the more points you’ll unlock to purchase bonuses such as Concept Art pieces, 3D models from the Model Viewer, new Render Modes, and gameplay modifiers.

Concept Art

Each chapter you complete will allow you to unlock beautiful sets of concept art.

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Model Viewers

You’ll also be able to purchase 3D models of all the characters (friends and foes) you’ll meet throughout the game. This isn’t providing any value other than showing how much work was put into creating the game.

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Render modes

Just like you would in Uncharted games, you can alter how the game looks and apply silly filters to zombify characters or turn the game into an 8-Bit look alike. If render modes were already available in the first episode, you’ll have a lot more to play with here (29).

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Gameplay modifiers

Finally, the points you earn as you play the game will give you a chance to alter the gameplay itself. Mirror world, infinite ammo, one-shot kills, or distorted audio, you should be able to spend at least a couple of hours trying them all as you unlock them bit by bit.

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I won’t lie; I haven’t tried most of those as I’m afraid to change the nature of the game (as in, I won’t have fun playing if I’m distracted by out-of-place elements.

 

The Last of Us Part II: Good buy, or goodbye?

The Last of Us Part II definitely is a good buy if:

  • You like a great story.
  • You’ve played the first episode.
  • You’re old enough for it.

If you made it this far in the review, you must have understood by now that TLOU 2 isn’t your regular action-adventure/survival-horror game. The game will take you on a journey that you will hate to love. It will torture your gamer brain and make you do things you don’t want to.

Yet, the game is of rare intensity, and I was shaken by it on so many levels.

What’s more, the game isn’t so expensive anymore, and you can easily find it under 30 bucks (either on the PS Store or buying a physical copy).

So, if you have a PS4, PS4 Pro, or a PS5 but haven’t played TLOU 2 yet, go and buy it now, you fool!

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