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‘The Last of Us Part II’ forges a violent return to an infected world

by Anthony Herring The original game The Last of Us, developed by Naughty Dog and released on June 14, 2013, is nothing short of a masterpiece. The post-apocalyptic story follows two protagonists, Joel and Ellie, who must travel across the United States in the hopes that the latter can provide the cure to a fungal disease that has all but decimated humanity. Thanks to its complex and flawed characters, relentlessly bleak tone, and powerful themes, The Last of Us was critically acclaimed, with many (including yours truly) considering it to be one of the greatest video games ever made. Save for a short story DLC called The Last of Us: Left Behind that was released in 2014, there was no real news that would hint at another adventure set in this universe. That all changed in December 2016, when The Last of Us Part II was officially revealed through an announcement trailer. The trailer depicted a nineteen-year-old Ellie playing guitar amongst the corpses of unknown enemies in a house, with Joel soon entering and asking her if she is “really going to go through with this” (with what “this” is referring to purposefully left unclear). The trailer ends with a close-up on Ellie, a hateful expression on her face, ominously replying, “I’m gonna find and I’m gonna kill every last one of them.” Over the past few years, more details were revealed about Part II. The most notable ones were that the player would mostly control Ellie this time around (Joel was the main playable character in the original game), the sequel would be centered around hate (whereas the original game was centered around love), and that the game would be set five years later. After two delays, one for further development and the other due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, plus a massive, controversial story leak back in April, The Last of Us Part II was released on June 19, 2020. While the game has its notable strengths, Part II unfortunately could not reach the same heights as its predecessor.

Sit down kids, it’s storytime

On the surface, the basic plot of The Last of Us Part II is pretty straightforward: After a personal tragedy strikes, Ellie is compelled to go on a quest for vengeance against those that have wronged her. However, as the game’s story progresses, it becomes clear that there are many different layers to be uncovered. Said layers are primarily illustrated through two central characters: Ellie, a familiar character, and Abby, who is new to the series.
Image from IMDb
Ellie’s side of the story you play through first, and I genuinely was having fun playing through this half of the game. The characterization of her is excellent, offering great development from the more naive character Ellie was in the first game. Along with that, her relationship with her love interest, Dina, is wonderful, creating a realistic and believable bond between the two. Ellie’s portion also features a few flashbacks, further building onto the father-daughter relationship she has with Joel. I thought that these flashbacks were all great, as the tone and execution were reminiscent of Ellie and Joel’s relationship in the first game. When it comes to the actual story beats here, it does take some time to get truly engaging, which messes up the pacing of this portion a little bit. Thankfully, when the time comes for the story to grow darker for Ellie, the pacing and tone improve significantly, which profoundly impacted my perspective on what Ellie’s quest had come to symbolize. Ashley Johnson’s performance as the character also aids this, making the struggles that Ellie has to go through all the more heart-wrenching and believable. Now we come to Abby’s side of the story. Much like Ellie’s side, flashbacks are also present here, and they help to flesh out Abby’s relationships to other characters, such as her boyfriend Owen. In fact, her side actually opens with a flashback, which offers an excellent recontextualization of certain events that transpired at the end of the original The Last of Us. As a whole, I found Abby’s side to be not as engaging as Ellie’s--at least not at first. As you are playing through Ellie’s side beforehand, this gradual momentum is built to the point where you feel that something big is about to happen. And it does—but then, the story cuts to Abby’s side for the second half of the game, and that feeling of momentum is completely lost. Thankfully, as her side progressed, it became more enjoyable. Laura Bailey’s performance aids in making Abby a bit more likable, and the sister-brother relationship she forms with a character named Lev gives Abby a sense of humanity. However, there are some moments that stoked my feelings of anger towards Abby, especially when I consider the horrible things that she committed in the game’s opening hours.

What’s old is new

Right out of the gate, one of the best aspects of The Last of Us Part II is the gameplay. It effortlessly builds upon the foundation that the first game created with smoother mechanics, like cleaner combat and shooting encounters, plus it adds new features, such as being able to go prone during stealth encounters.
Image from IMDb
One thing in this game that you should be prepared to do is collect a lot of materials. Since Part II is set over twenty years after a pandemic has ravaged the planet, materials are littered practically everywhere you go. Alcohol, rags, canisters, and even explosives can be found and used to craft useful items such as health kits, Molotov cocktails, pistol silencers, etc. This collecting and crafting system is instrumental to the player’s survival, so it is very important to take advantage of this. Environments are much larger than they were in The Last of Us, so I strongly recommend combing through each nook and cranny to find materials for crafting. Parts, which can be used to upgrade weapons, are also scattered throughout the world, so be on the lookout for those as well. Part II features two types of enemies: regular humans and the Infected. The human enemies consist of the Washington Liberation Front, a militia that relies on military weaponry, and the Seraphites, a religious group that relies on bows and arrows. Combat encounters with these respective factions vary wildly. When fighting against the WLF, guns and explosives are the best methods to take them down. Unfortunately, the WLF uses dogs that can track your scent, which adds a layer of difficulty to these encounters. With the Seraphites, on the other hand, stealth is paramount. Bow and arrows, stealth takedowns, and the silenced pistol are crucial when fighting them, because if you’re too loud, these enemies will easily overwhelm you with their numbers and force you to retreat.
Image from IMDb
The Infected are a different beast entirely. The four main types -- Runners, Stalkers, Clickers, and Bloaters -- all return from the first game, and are far worse to deal with this time around, even on moderate difficulty (which is the setting I used). They are more aggressive and aren’t as vulnerable to certain attacks as they were in The Last of Us. For instance, don’t expect a Molotov to easily take out a group of Runners in this game. To shake things up, Part II also introduces a new type called the Shambler, which shoots out acidic spores from its body while it charges at you like an irritated rhino. These things are terrifying to deal with, and I shivered with fear whenever I discovered I was about to enter an encounter with one. There is also another Infected type that is introduced later on in Abby’s section of the game — the Rat King — that is quite a pain to fight.

High fidelity

Since Part II is a Naughty Dog title, it comes as no surprise that it is absolutely gorgeous. Environments are far larger than ever before, and as a result, the player is able to appreciate the level of craftsmanship that is put into them. For example, when I first arrived in Seattle as Ellie, I was greeted with this massive downtown area that was free to explore. All around were tall, decrepit skyscrapers that loomed over me, complete with a field littered with empty cars, trucks, and military vehicles that acted as a maze for me to navigate. The game sees that you travel all around the city, so players get to see a multitude of different environments rendered in astounding detail, such as dense forests, stormy beachfronts, and isolated, barren neighborhoods.
Featured Image: IMDb Images: IMDb