In today’s unstable times, post-apocalyptic games don’t seem like far-flung fantasy. Sure, we still haven’t reached the stage where fungus can turn us into flesh craving zombies and humanity hasn’t been wiped out (yet), but there is no denying that games like The Division 2, Days Gone and now The Last of Us Part 2 are being viewed by many in a different light in the year 2020.
The Last of Us (TLOU) was a homerun for Sony, and it painted a grim post-apocalyptic picture where mankind had fallen prey to a mutated version of the Cordyceps Virus. This parasite, which was once limited to plants and insects made the jump to humans, turning them into rabid monstrosities with a strong craving for human flesh. The story unfolded from the point of view of Joel, a smuggler who, along with his younger companion Ellie, embarked on a trip across America, facing all sorts of threats to deliver her to a medical facility. You see, Ellie was the chosen one of sorts as she was immune to the virus and could not get infected. Her blood could potentially save humanity, but let’s just say there are no happy endings in this universe, and things don’t quite go as planned.
TLOU 2 takes place roughly five years after the first game. Ellie is now a teenager and has moved to a quaint settlement in Wyoming, where she spends her time playing the guitar, hanging out with friends and helping out the settlement. After her life is shattered by harrowing events, she takes it upon herself to track down and terminate her wrongdoers. Her quest for revenge takes her to Seattle, where she faces new threats in the form of new infected enemies and two warring factions, both of which don’t take kindly to outsiders.
TLOU 2 is a harrowing game. And that’s the best way I can describe it. The story is dark and depressing, the world is bleak, and every single thing that moves is trying to kill you. Like its predecessor, TLOU 2 is a survival horror game, with survival being the key word here. Ellie is not a jacked-up, battle-hardened soldier who can take on an army, and that is conveyed by the game during every encounter. Bullets shot at you will stagger and throw you to the ground, while weapons have a strong sense of recoil that make running and gunning a tough proposition. Through her journey, Ellie can level up her skills to become more efficient in combat, but you’ll never be able to truly dominate the battlefield, which is why you should always try and outsmart enemies whenever possible. The odds will almost always be stacked against you and every encounter will feel like you’ve barely made it out alive.
Enemies in TLOU 2 are made up of humans and the infected. Human enemies belong to one of two factions – the WLF (Washington Liberation Front) and the Seraphites. The WLF are like a rogue military unit and will behave as such, using firepower and aggression to take you out. The Seraphites, on the other hand, are a deranged religious cult who use old-school weaponry like bows and machetes to weed you out. Infected in TLOU 2 come in different shapes and sizes. Some are easy-to-kill slow-moving grunts, while some are horrifying lumbering monstrosities that can rip your face off with ease.
If you haven’t gathered by now, this game heavily encourages stealth play as enemies are tougher than you, and you will not be able to sustain a whole lot of damage. Stealth in TLOU 2 feels like a fairly standard affair on the surface, but is definitely elevated by the aggressive, realistic AI. Unlike most stealth games, where the enemy just stands still or doesn’t really move that much, enemies in TLOU 2 will flank you, check nooks and crannies and generally make life hell. You’ll have to be stealthy, but you’ll also have to play aggressive to stay alive.
To aid you in these stealth sections, Ellie has a wealth of tools at her disposal. For one, she can now go prone besides just hiding behind waist high objects. This makes for even more tense moments as she can hide underneath cars or beds while enemies search the area for her. She can throw bottles or bricks away from her position to try and slip by undetected, or use that noise to make enemies bunch up and then effectively take all of them out with a well-placed Molotov. If playing stealthily goes south, you can try and take enemies head-on using some extremely satisfying weapons. I’d also like to add that almost every encounter can be approached in multiple ways and level design is a lot more complex than it appears on the surface. Not only does this allow for a fair amount of experimentation, but will make subsequent playthroughs seem fresh as well.
Word of caution though; TLOU 2 is definitely not for people who have a weak stomach. This is probably one of the most violent games I’ve played in a long, long time. Headshots with a powerful weapon will straight up destroy part of the face, while shotguns cleave off arms and legs. While this isn’t unheard of in games, the stellar animation combined with the screams of agony create a sense of reality that may unnerve some people. When stabbed in the throat, enemies will convulse as their blood spurts all over the place. Shoot someone in the throat, and they’ll fall to the ground, but will spend a few seconds choking on their own blood in agony. Even something blunt, like a metal pipe, will shatter the bones in an enemy’s face, leaving them gurgling in their own mix of blood and bone. And thanks to the game’s solid physics, every attack feels vicious and lethal.
Besides combat, exploration plays a huge role in TLOU 2. Developer Naughty Dog excels in world building, and there are audio-visual signs all over the game world that either shine light on the events that lead to humanity’s downfall, or highlight some poor soul’s last few moments before a violent death. Exploration will also allow Ellie to collect resources that can be used to craft essentials like first aid kits, Molotov cocktails, ammunition for certain guns etc.
She can also use scrap to upgrade her weapons, making them far more effective and stable in combat. Supplements found can be used to unlock and learn new skills like being able to move faster while prone, or craft items faster. None of this, however, is forced upon you, but I would have probably not had half the upgrades had I followed the linear path. For anything on Normal and harder, I would strongly encourage exploring every nook and cranny.
If I was super technically savvy, I would write a thesis on this game’s presentation, which as you may have guessed it, is simply outstanding. Sony’s first-party games always seem to knock it off out the park in the technical department, and I personally think this game has moved to the top of the list (sorry, God of War). Every single aspect of this game, right from character animation to minor visual details to actual gameplay, seems leagues above its peers and TLOU 2 could very well pass off as a next-gen game.
The only aspect of this game’s presentation I wasn’t a huge fan of was that it still uses predictable action game tropes. Bridges will break leading to the protagonist transitioning areas in a dramatic way, dangerous looking areas will always have an ambush, and while travelling by vehicle, almost always expect a chase ending in a bombastic wreck. I found it weird that after crafting such an excellent story and a well paced game, Naughty Dog still felt the need to lean into these predictable moments.
As much as I love TLOU 2, it is not a game for everyone, especially in today’s volatile climate where times are pretty depressing. The game is bleak and oppressive and just doesn’t let up. There are no happy moments, and no one gets a happy ending. There were times I actually had to stop playing the game because it was getting too tense or because it was just too sweaty (face some clickers in a dark, claustrophic room and get back to me on this). That being said, I still did love every single minute of the game, and I can’t wait to jump back in. If you own a PS4 – and are above 18, this one’s a no brainer.