This review contains spoilers. Don't read on if you've yet to play The Last Of Us Part II.
For me, as I sit and reflect on The Last Of Us Part II, I’m often thinking about the WLF’s assault on the Seraphite Island. An endless war rages between the WLF and the Seraphites, a primitive cult otherwise known as "Scars," reaches an epic conclusion. The WLF seek to destroy the Seraphite settlement once and for all and win the war.
The objective is to reach the shores and find a boat to escape. Naturally, it’d never be that easy, and as such, I find myself caught quite literally in the crossfire between the WLF and Seraphite armies. Worse still, virtually everything is on fire, producing this awesome, yet hellishly orange cinematography. As Abby and Lev finally reach open waters, a final shot lingers on the burning landscape of what remains of the island. It’s a visually breathtaking sequence that looks like something out of Game Of Thrones, (cast your mind to the final moments in Hardhome).
From this sequence alone, I’m left in no doubt of Naughty Dog’s ambition, whether it be from a technical or storytelling standpoint. It knows absolutely no limits. Other key examples include the sky bridge, navigating a building virtually consumed by the Cordyceps fungus, to Ellie’s extensive, and often viscerally violent campaign for revenge against the WLF.
The scope of the story is reminiscent of Naughty’s Dog pioneering Uncharted series. Most of us reach a moment where we reflect on how far we’ve come in the story and go, damn, we’ve done a lot. It’s far more than ambitious. It’s boundless, showcasing the tireless years of work and limitless imagination from Naughty Dog to reach this point.
It’s really hard to know where to begin. It’s a rollercoaster of a ride, and not one everyone will enjoy riding. Inarguably the best reason would come from the decision to kill Joel. The demise of our beloved smuggler and father-figure to Ellie was an emotional hammer blow of heavyweight proportions, (or should that be a blow from a golf club?).
Sorry, that’s just cruel. In a heartbreaking cinematic, Ellie is powerless to prevent his death as Abby, a member of the WLF crew, delivers the awful final blow. As it’s later revealed, Abby and her father Jerry were Fireflies stationed at St. Mary’s Hospital. The night Joel escaped with Ellie, he killed Jerry, as well as preventing a world-saving vaccine for the Cordyceps virus.
With Joel gone and Ellie in mourning, she’s soon ready to vow bloody revenge against those responsible. At the top of her list, naturally, is Abby, a woman wholeheartedly deserving of death to avenge Joel’s brutal fate.
Love and vengeance are powerful motivators, as Ellie tracks down the members of the WLF crew responsible. Notably, almost every kill is dramatized as if it’s the final kill. Nora’s death in the spores laden hallway can be if the player decides to, drawn out as long as possible Ellie’s rage visibly builds, while an on-screen hint allows the player to decide for the optimal moment to deliver a deathly strike.
After completing the majority of Abby’s narrative, I begin to sympathize and even root for Abby and her friends. These are survivors with real lives, full of love and hate and pain. With that in mind, it’s easy to imagine from Abby’s perspective, her own desire for justice in light of their deaths, in particular for Owen, the man she loves. The Last Of Us Part II allows the player not only to exact revenge but to further examine their actions in the aftermath.
Accompanied by a stomping score from Gustavo Santaolalla, the game’s musical atmosphere is as perfect as its visual imagery. From a post-pandemic impression of Seattle, better remembered as the flooded city, to the previously mentioned Seraphite island assault, and the lush, almost autumnal landscape of Jackson that Joel and Tommy ride through in the opening credits, it’s astonishing and unforgettably beautiful.
For the sake of variety, let’s get the criticisms out of the way. Run time. Following the cinema boss fight, and the peaceful days on the farm, I really felt Naughty Dog could have reached a satisfying conclusion there and then. California, to a degree, felt like overkill, but Ellie’s restless urge to end things once and for all at the beach justified the means to go on.
Also, I felt Isaac, an antagonist seriously underplayed in the story. He was momentarily teased in the recent story trailer, and anticipation ran high for his big bad occupation within the game, which didn’t really materialize fully.
As previously stated, this game is so vast, I’d be here until the end of time detailing everything I loved. So, the highlights. Attaching a silencer on a gun (stealth to the max), Abby’s crossbow was far more effective than a slightly flimsy bow and arrow (hard not to go all Daryl Dixon on the cruise liner), explosive arrows and trap mines (deadly), to the Seraphites and their godly weaponry (built like barn doors and look like Thenns).
Other tidbits included improved in-game versatility (going prone beneath vehicles, long grass stealth), the ground zero hospital bloater (the biggest challenge of all), a neat touchpad feature to play the guitar, and the sweet moments between Joel and Ellie at the dinosaur museum.
The Last Of Us Part II remains faithful to the saying, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Instead, Naughty Dog has tirelessly built on what made the first title so iconic. However, I was admittedly skeptical after they announced The Last Of Us Part II in 2016.
I wondered how they’d be able to produce a sequel worthy of the first. Yet, with all considered now, this game is unquestionably a worthy successor to 2013’s original. The Last Of Us Part II portrays love, morality, and vengeance honestly, deeply examining Ellie’s need to avenge Joel’s death, the fallout from Joel’s lie about the Fireflies, as well as Ellie’s blossoming lesbian relationship with Dina. Ellie’s second showdown on the shores with Abby is a testament to her frequently challenged morality, as she reflects on a memory of her and Joel from the night of the dance.
Despite being unable to forgive Joel, Ellie admits she is willing to try. For all the violence and death endured throughout this super-long title, it seems that despite an uncertain future, mercy will prevail over her wrath, as she lets Abby and Lev row away to a new life. The Last Of Us Part II is a masterclass demonstration in what Naughty Dog has delivered for years. Some truly, historically, brilliant video games.
Matt reviewed The Last of Us Part II with a personally purchased copy.