Game Review: Last of Us Part II- PS4

Title Last of Us Part II
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre:Action/adventure, stealth
Date completed:May 2021
Information on game

Summary review: The sequel to what many consider a masterpiece from the PS3 era. To me, this felt borderline like an indie movie. Or a screen test for an on screen adaption. Actually a screen adaption is in the works now (limited series on HBO). Maybe just coincidence.
Graphics: Being native PS4, much better than Last of Us remaster, about on par with other PS4 games. I should perhaps note about half way through this game I switched my a 2012 era 39 inch Vizio 1080p TV to a 2020 55″ 4k TV and…the HDR is this game is incredible. Yes, I realize the game is not in 4k. Doesn’t mean the game doesn’t look 100x better than my old TV.
Music: It got a little too “The Shinning” at times. By which I mean super amped up intense when there isn’t necessarily a reason to do so. Though mainly atmospheric, I thought it was prefect all the way though.
Controls: No issues with controls. Sometimes the camera in uncooperative which is tangentially related to controls. But overall no issues.
Replayability: I haven’t decided yet if I wanted to play through it again. I will probably wait a few years and do both again as “new game+”. Or just this one new game+ since the remaster has so many bugs.
Total score: 90 / 100 – It’s hard to say if I enjoyed this one more than the first one.

Introduction

For those of you keeping track at home, I literally just finished playing through the first game (PS4 remaster) and recently posted a review of it.

As with the prior review I won’t be dropping any spoilers in here. Just a minimum amount of information necessary to express my opinion of the game. Seriously. No spoilers. I mean there is a secondary character that is literally the an entire half of the game. I don’t think mentioning her is a spoiler any more than mentioning Ellie.

I’m not sure what is already out there about the plot of this game. You can probably jump to conclusions about the cover art as it’s just Ellie alone and it’s terrifying. Just look at her. And it might have been disclosed in the synopsis on the game itself. Lets just say there is a very minimal amount Joel in this game. Again, probably draw conclusions based on the cover art.

Also, don’t perform web search for this game as the search results will have spoilers. Just right there in plain text on the first page of search results. No spoiler tags or anything. Major plot points. Which is why I say I don’t know how much if anything I should assume the readers already know about this.

Mechanics New and Old

There are several new mechanics for our protagonists to utilize: I think my favorite is “going prone” or laying down flat on the ground. This makes for some fun stealth utilizing high grass.

There’s also a break windows mechanic that’s new. Some places in Seattle are only accessible by breaking a glass storefront or window which, when there’s a runner on the other side, is quite the predicament.

There are also several new enemy types not present in the first one. I’m not clear on the explanation of this other than the fungus grows differently depending on the external environment. New methods are required to deal with these.

There’s also a strum-a-guitar mechanic, collecting comic book trading cards (well not that new), Ellie keeps a journal, there’s a whole thing with a map and crossing out buildings at the start. In short this game does everything a sequel video game should do: maintain and improve what came before and add new things to compliment the existing ones. And it does this perfectly.

There also now safes. Many, many safes. Sometimes the combinations will be out in the open just standing there. In fact there are apparently three main things in the city of Seattle (of 2013): coffee shops, book stores and hidden safes.

The mechanics from the first game are also there of course. The skill tree is back and much more streamlined. The work bench for weapon upgrades are largely the same with some added animations for laying out the weapon and I think it’s much improved.

There are equivalent weapons to first game. For instance Ellie has a proximity explosive equivalent to the thing in the first game though it looks a little different. Abby has pipe bombs instead.

There are also dogs in the game. In fact you can even see your sent the dogs will pick up on. Speaking of…lets just say hopefully this game won’t cross over with John Wick. It might not go too well.

A “narrative-heavy game” or “a narrative that happens to be a game”?

I just want to emphasize once again, even more so than my last review: this is a very narrative-heavy game. It has more interactive mechanics than say TellTales’ The Walk Dead but in a way it’s even more of a narrative than that because in Last of Us Part II there are no branching story lines, no alternative endings, no life-and-death choices that shape the story line depending on a split second decision. The story is the story. That’s it. And to repeat once more: play the first game. Or watch someone else play through it on YouTube. Either way.

Maybe I should clarify what I mean by “narrative” in this context. A normal novel has a story arc that’s set e.g. can’t be changed by the reader. It’s “read only”. The reader is just a long for the ride. And that’s the case with this game: it ends how it ends. Kill 1 human enemy or 1,000 and the story doesn’t change. I guess you could say it’s almost like novel or or audio book but allows for some participation.

The plot…

The game opens what must be a week or two after the ending of the first game (Ellie still has a bandage on her arm). Joel is talking to this brother Tommy – a character I didn’t mention in my review of the first game but is important enough to mention in this one – and disclosing the revelations and possible fall out of the of that first game ending to him. Tommy promises to never tell anybody. Then there’s a time jump.

I complained about the time jump in the first game’s narrative but this one isn’t nearly as bad as we the audience already know the characters and their background and a 4 year jump isn’t as jarring as a 20 year one. From there an older – I want to say 19 – Ellie is well trained and adept at combat and dealing with infected.

Some levity. Just go with it.

A series of unfortunate events befall Ellie and the end result is Ellie and her companion set off across the country from Nebraska set for Seattle bent on vengeance and rampage (insert reference to Archer here). There’s a time jump and she is just in Seattle. That may or may not be a yadda-yadda-yadda over that time. Tommy left a day or two before Ellie but she doesn’t catch up with him during the trip. Since I can’t do this review without her, I’ll just say it: Ellie is in Seattle to go after Abby.

And just a little side note here: the first entire game was a trip from Boston to Nebraska and this game the characters are going back and forth between Nebraska and the west coast it’s like they have Delta frequent flier points to spend. I mean seriously. It’s necessary for the narrative and that’s all that matters. But wow. Must have been uneventful trips.

Upon entering Seattle, Ellie and companion solve a series of relatively simple puzzles to find supplies, gas for generators to get gates open and clearing out infected to get to the part of the city where this group of people – they’re called the WLF or “wolves” – are hiding out. All the while trailing behind a series of bodies they assume were left behind by Tommy. Then another group of humans comes in simply called the “Scars”.

Ellie does a cover of this song in the game (which is on YouTube). But instead of posting that, here’s comedy dancing Dark Souls version of “Take on Me”. Because the game is kind of a dark thing and I thought this review could use some levity (You’re welcome).

There’s a lot of drama and “emotional stuff” in the game. I kept wanting to see more meaning in the plot points. Metaphors or something deeper. But I sometimes struggle to recognize such things. I will say that unlike in my review of the first game, the wrist-watch is not a metaphor for a soul. More of a symbol of how time had stopped at a particular moment (actually this post-apocalyptic world is frozen on a day in October 2013.

Trying to get back to being ambiguous here, Ellie partners with several different people over the course game as well as going it alone.

She goes to Seattle to go full rampage mode on the group she holds responsible and ends up walking into an already ongoing conflict between the WLF or “Wolves” and this fundamentalist cult the Wolves call the “scars”. So for a large portion of the game the Wolves have orders to “kill trespassers on sight” if not mistake Elie for a Scar and then the Scars just assume Ellie is a Wolf, forcing Ellie to go rampage-mode on both groups.

Ellie’s story is broken down into Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3. And since that had taken me just over 20 hours to get through I just assumed I was getting to the end. And then…hello Abby.

I will say while the first games extra side plots communicated through letters and voice recorders were largely optional, this game has so, so many more letters and other things that are communicated. I got the feeling whomever came up with that safe mechanic was really, really proud of it. I mean if you care about extra caches of items, hidden rooms, and opening the safes. And subtle back story and background not directly tied to the main plot.

It just kept going

The reason I can’t get through this game without mentioning Abby is because Abby is literally half the game. That’s right. After 20+ hours of Ellie’s story in Seattle we switch POV to Abby and…well I’m slower than average but at least 10 hours of playing as Abby. I mean finding manuals for new skill trees, collecting weapon types, upgrading those weapons at work benches. The whole thing. It was like starting the game over from scratch. I just spent 20+ hours killing every Wolf I came across now I am a Wolf with my own friends and ambitions and dreams and…is that a dog? What a cute dog…wait, what’s it’s name? Son of a…

Well it’s not really like starting over. Abby is trained soldier and completely ripped. She already has combat training, access to lots of weapons and improvised devices Ellie doesn’t have. She even gets to utilize a dog for a little while.

So I go through Abby’s story: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3…you might say she’s got al little more depth to her than Ellie even has. I still didn’t feel quite as invested in her as as a character as I did with Ellie. I don’t know maybe that’s just me. I won’t go into detail on her story arc. Lets just say you might think there’s obvious cliché places the narrative might go but no, it does not go to any of those clichés. Which I’m glad for at least.

Okay I got through Abby’s Day 3, it intersected with Ellie’s Day 3, the two story lines have merged and there’s a confrontation. Surely now…it’s the ending…

IT’S NOT THE ENDING

I mean seriously. They weren’t kidding with this sequel were they? I kept thinking “well now obviously fade to black to open for a third game, I mean obviously”. But no. Here’s another city for ya. Here’s another group of weirdo thugs to kill. Here are more places to kill infected people. That last part was something of a…vignette? I guess?

It’s hard to be mad a game that’s longer than I expected. It’s just a good value for your money. I think there are some complaints about the Abby section but I tried to keep an open mind. I think I know what the creators of the game were going for. I’m not sure they succeeded but I think I know what they were going for.

Symbolism? Anybody?

The thing about this game is…that it’s trying to be deep with what it is and despite what it is and because of what it is…without getting in it’s own way. Sometimes I watch maybe your fancy movies by your fancy writer/directors and I see how characters say things normal people wouldn’t say and do things that make no sense. Those things are happening to be consistent with metaphors and symbolism established that I’m sure make sense if you went to NYU film school. But as a viewer it’s kind of frustrating.

This narrative doesn’t necessarily do that. But it also doesn’t exposition dump exactly what characters are feeling or their exact motivations. The player controls Abby for instance but her exact motivations are not exactly clear. More just implied indirectly.

In the first game Joel’s wrist watch is introduced and that carries forward to this game with Ellie. She doesn’t wear it around her wrist, she just keeps it. Actually that Joel had packed it away in the first place is something of a revelation in itself. He wore that thing for 20 years despite not needing know time and it being broken. And somehow he packed it away. This is in a way replaced by the guitar in part II. It’s a tie to the past.

There’s also a lot of emphasis on hands and arms, water, water ways and boats. Which ties into the ending. See if the people complaining of the end were paying more attention I think they would like the ending a lot more. Man that last beach is…like walking through a living metaphor.

And the theater…okay I don’t know what that symbolizes. I mean I could snicker at the curtains. Seems a little on the nose though. And immature. And then back stage…something-something facades. I guess. I don’t know masks or something I never went to NYU.

A lot of this game communicates through what isn’t said as much as what is. In that way it’s quite an accomplishment that I don’t think could be accomplished in any other medium. At least not in the same way.

I wanted to believe the super hero cards were foreshadowing or indirectly hinting on what’s going on in Elli’s head but now I’m not so sure. I have some other ideas of symbolism but I don’t want to go in to spoiler territory.

Now some negatives…

I complained in the first game about a set piece involving Joel hanging up side down and having infinite ammo even though that detracts from having to explore every inch of every map to find a bullet. Well I guess I am the only one who didn’t like that because this game has multiple such set pieces. They are so few and far between though I didn’t mind all that much.

I did not experience any game breaking bugs in this one. I think I came across one where a character model didn’t seem to be fully loaded in so I had to fight with a wire frame for a little bit. That was a small one time thing and it didn’t effect anything else.

Over all I can’t say anything truly bad about this game. Other I think it may have failed in what it was primarily trying to accomplish, at least for a majority of people who will ever play it. Well it did fail I just happen to think I know what they were going for and for that I can only applaud the creators of this game.

Conclusion

If you look up other reviews of this game you will see a lot of complaints about the Abby section and the ending. I really didn’t mind either of them though. I thought the ending matched the tone of the game perfectly. I think there’s a few things they could have done differently for the Abby section narratively. I mean it kind of kills the momentum of the story to have basically a restart. But I still enjoyed that part anyway.

I think found this game some what emotionally draining. No comic relief or much levity.

As I mentioned this is very much a narrative but it respects the audience enough not to just come right out tell you the way something is or “this is how the character feels”. It leaves that for you to figure out.

Part of me wants to immediately start a “new game+” right now just go back through and try and catch some things I didn’t notice the first time through. And I’m sure I would get through much faster this time. I’m just not sure that would be a lot of fun at this exact moment.

Oh, and I know this a lengthy review but there really aren’t any spoilers. There are entire story arcs and characters I don’t even hint at never mind mention. Locales, set pieces, events. A whole lot of things.

If you liked the first game I think this game is worth at least $40. Seems like a no-brainer.


Metadata

Method of control used Regular PS4 gamepad
Controllable via both one analog stick or digital four-way (“HAT”) n/a
Hardware requirements: n/a
Supports 21:9 aspect ratio screens?n/a
Device(s) tried on PS4 (non-pro)
TVFirst half: regular old 2012-era1080p, nothing special.
Second half: 2020-era 55″ 4k TV with HDR specialness
Initial setup required No setup needed. I did have to make sure HDR was enabled on my new TV
Sound setup5.1 surround system/receiver
Total time to completion~39.5 hours
difficulty level“Normal” difficulty
Random assortment of meta data

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