There’s an argument to be had as to whether The Last of Us truly needed a sequel. That ending, although divisive, felt refreshing in its ambiguity and though it left the door open for another instalment, Naughty Dog could easily have closed it and moved onto something else entirely. Following the game’s rampant success and with it now being labelled an all-time PlayStation classic, The Last of Us Part II was practically inevitable. Just like the original game, it’s utterly essential.
We won’t be going into any major story spoilers here. What we will say is that Naughty Dog clearly crafted this sequel with a real a sense of duty to the setting and characters they had so lovingly created, not simply out of pressure from Sony wanting to bank yet another commercial hit.
Having already built the fungal foundations of its grim post-apocalyptic world, The Last of Us Part II indulges itself when it comes to focusing on characters and galvanising their complex relationships. Needless to say the previous game’s ending has not been forgotten and the way this sequel deals with its rippling consequences will surprise you. By the time the credits roll, you may also surprise yourself in how you feel about this bloody continuation of this harrowing saga.
Mushrooms sprouting from faces and turning folks into zombie-like horrors is terrifying, yet this plays second fiddle to an even deadlier disease coursing through the veins of this sequel: vengeance. The way The Last of Us Part II explores this theme is surprisingly layered. If you thought Naughty Dog was about to drop the smart writing of its more recent work for a one-note bloodthirsty rampage, think again.
Although many will come to The Last of Us Part II for the story, the gameplay is equally as brilliant and refined. You know a game has a superb combat system when you will consider willingly rolling back to the beginning of its most challenging encounters over and over just to see how rewarding it would be to try a different approach. Admittedly, that can sometimes be because your first attempts went awry and cost too many of your painstakingly scavenged resources.
There’s a level of desperation and tension to each battle that you just don’t get from other top-flight AAA video games. We’d honestly recommend dialling the difficulty all the way up here as it showcases the clever network of systems ticking away as you transition between stealth, firefights, and those gritty close quarter slugfests.
There’s a freedom to how you approach most combat scenarios, quietly taking down enemies one by one, peppering them with bullets, and swinging whatever makeshift melee weapon you have to hand. Of course you can mix and match between these styles and the stealth system gives you the option to disengage, fall back, and rethink your strategy if things get a bit too hairy. You can even sneak past entire patrols if you prefer to channel your inner Solid Snake.
Whatever your approach, the gameplay delivers a satisfying smack with each crunchy headshot, shiv to the neck, or brutal finishing blow with whatever makeshift weapon you have in hand. The Last of Us Part II pulls no punches in its depiction of violence. We’re not just talking the occasionally bloody lip here – Naughty Dog has gone all out with heads bursting, limbs flying, and other gory details in a way that will surprise even the most desensitised of gamers.
At its core it mimics the frantic moment to moment gameplay of the original, but with some welcome improvements such as more ways to sneak around enemies. You can now go prone or use tall grass to better hide yourself, while the enhanced depth and verticality in Naughty Dog’s world design is aided by now having the ability to jump.
The Last of Us Part II has the trappings of an incredibly cinematic action game though this is still unmistakable as a survival horror. Resources are incredibly scarce and you’ll need to fall back on crafting makeshift gear in order to pull yourself out of perilous situations. Then there are the Infected who are just as eerie and lethal as they were in the previous game. Sometimes you’ll be facing them head on, but for the most part they serve as a kind of stealth-based puzzle, as you monitor their patrol patterns, judge their movements through jerky, twitching animations, and use items to manipulate their behaviour to either sneak past or take them out quietly.
Of course, these sections are strung together amidst lengthy cutscenes, plenty of exploration, and some of Naughty Dog’s wildest set pieces to date. It’s exactly the same treatment we saw them give Uncharted 4 and once again the results are phenomenal.
That goes for how the game looks and sounds, too. The Last of Us remains one of the go-to examples for demonstrating the raw calibre of this industry’s top actors, and it’s the same for the sequel. Once again Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson give us unforgettable performances, flanked by a cast of new characters who are all brought to life using cutting edge facial and motion capture.
The world itself is just as rich, dripping with tiny details that are made all the more impressive when you consider the sheer scale and density of Part II’s environments. Those gamers who fancy themselves virtual photographers are going to have sore thumbs from tapping away at that share button.