By DEV CROWLEY
I will say it now and upfront. I was wrong about THE LAST OF US PART II. I was one of the people who read the leaks, and I was not happy with what I read. The idea that my beloved favorites were being subjected to a cold, hard killer and then we had to PLAY that killer was more than my heart could take. I vowed then and there that I wouldn’t play this travesty of a game. I wanted Ellie and Joel to stay the way I saw them in my memory: together and safe with Tommy. But after the game’s release, curiosity got the better of me and I knew that I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t jump in headfirst since I was fully prepared for what was coming. It turns out that I knew nothing and my LAST OF US world would be turned upside-down. I was wrong, and I love THE LAST OF US PART II. Here’s why you should, too.
Before we get into it, let it be known that there will be spoilers. This game has been out for several weeks and, while I will try and spoil as little as possible, there will be things that I have to talk about for the sake of explaining my opinions. If you haven’t played or don’t want anything spoiled, turn back now.
Now that they’re gone, let’s get into a tiny recap. THE LAST OF US was literal art released in 2013 for the PS3 by Naughty Dog. The graphics were the most beautiful that I had ever seen and the gameplay was smooth and comprehensive. I still maintain that the main menu of the game with the sun shining through the window and spores lingering in the air is stunning. The story was intense and heartbreaking. I can’t watch the first 30 minutes and the deaths of Tess and Sam still hits hard. After taking Ellie all the way to the Firefly surgeon in Seattle, Joel realizes they need to access Ellie’s brain to remove the infection, which will kill her. After losing Sarah, his daughter, Joel isn’t ready to let Ellie go and he kills the surgical team and escapes will Ellie to Wyoming at his brother’s safe zone.
THE LAST OF US PART II picks the story up 5 years later. Ellie and Joel made a home in Jackson, Wyoming with Tommy. The relationship between Joel and Ellie seems really strained. Ellie goes on regular patrols with love interest, Dina, and Dina’s ex-boyfriend, Jesse. While on patrol, Tommy and Joel encounter a woman named Abby who is overwhelmed by Runners. They save her and take her to her friends in a nearby cabin. When they get there, they realize the group is hunting Joel and Joel is killed by Abby with a golf club. Ellie finds the group just as Joel is getting the death blow and the group leaves Tommy and Ellie alive but Joel is gone and buried in Jackson. Ellie is bent on revenge but Tommy sneaks out before Ellie can leave, so on top of revenge, Ellie and Dina are trying to get Tommy back safely. The game mostly plays through the decimated city of Seattle, although you will adventure through other parts of the west coast towards the end.
Abby is the daughter of the surgeon that Joel killed in the first game while saving Ellie and the last five years have been nothing but the thought of revenge for her father. After the Fireflies dissolved, Abby and her ex-boyfriend Owen joined the WLF (Washington Liberation Front), a militia group that formed towards the beginning of the outbreak as an opposition to FEDRA, the government response that was sent in to manage the virus and take care of the city’s citizens. On the same land is a cult group called the Seraphites who shun technology and scar their faces. Their peace agreement with the WLF has since ended and war has started, so on top of infected, you have plenty of humans to worry about.
If that all seems like a really busy storyline, strap in because it gets a lot busier. There’s unplanned pregnancies, gender dysphoria, dinosaurs, infected literally peeling off the walls, immense heights and a hideous infected dubbed the Rat King. THE LAST OF US PART II is a really long game, as in approximately 20-40 hours. Every time I thought I was getting closer to the end, a new chapter would begin but I was never bored. You find yourself switching between Ellie and Abby through the entire game and it kept the gameplay really fresh because their play and fighting styles are very different. Ellie has more gadgets and fights better with stealth and arrows while Abby is a trained soldier and fights best with some wicked guns and hand-to-hand combat.
I am going to say a hot take here and admit that I enjoyed playing as Abby a hell of a lot more than Ellie. Angry fans claim that Naughty Dog is trying to shove Abby down our throats and force us to like her but I disagree. Abby and Ellie are very similar in their motives but I would argue that Abby is a better person. Abby and Ellie are both on missions to avenge their loved ones and both are paying for the choices that Joel made. Joel killed Abby’s dad, so Abby searches for him and kills him in revenge. Joel lies to Ellie and makes the choice to save her, effectively taking away the choice she made to sacrifice herself for the good of humanity. Abby has no fight with Tommy and Ellie and leaves them alive. Ellie takes no prisoners and shows no mercy, including killing a very pregnant woman. In Ellie’s playthrough we see the WLF as killers, but in Abby’s we see that they are a family of soldiers that were there to support their friend. And they die some especially horrific deaths for this. The characters that you begin the game hating end up endearing, and it’s hard to see them die even when you know what’s coming.
Abby sacrifices her own well-being to save two people who are supposed to be the enemy. Abby isn’t a bad person; killing Joel doesn’t take away the pain and she sees that. She sees the cycle of violence so she leaves Ellie and Tommy alive not once but twice. Ellie sacrifices for revenge while Abby sacrifices to move on and that’s the biggest difference between the two. Seeing the broken relationship between Joel and Ellie was the hardest part for me, and Ellie is far from the same person she was in the first game. Her funny and bubbly personality was replaced with scars and distrust. There’s not room for happiness when she is filled with survivor’s guilt and anger for Joel’s choices. Abby killing Joel just replaced all of that with revenge and her own guilt toward Joel. THE LAST OF US PART II is a lesson in forgiveness and the damage that is done when we let anger and hatred eat away at who we are.
THE LAST OF US PART II is stunning and I mean truly stunning. The environmental graphics that blew us away in the first game were taken to a whole other level in PART II. The lighting, the storms, the water, the cities; all of it is a testament to how incredible the development team and the engine is. I’m not sure I have seen a game so beautiful. The motion capture is phenomenal and there was a moment where Joel was sitting and playing the guitar and just looking at his hands was an experience. There is a photo mode in the game and I found myself stopping in the Seattle Chinatown to take images of the stores and restaurants. There are so many little things that make the world that Naughty Dog created spectacular. Ellie looks more like Ashley Johnson than ever and Joel died with a mighty fine head of hair. I loved how muscular they made Abby and it would make complete sense given her story. In flashbacks, we see her progression as she is working to make herself stronger. When Abby is topless for a sex scene, her breasts are incredibly realistic for someone who lifts weights as much as she does.
And the voice acting! There is a reason that Troy Baker is one of the best. I wish we had him for longer because the dynamic between Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson is unlike any I have ever seen in a game. It truly feels like he cares in a fatherly way. Laura Bailey as Abby was wonderful and you may recognize her as Nadine from Uncharted.
It isn’t just the playable characters that are great, either. There are two new infected that you encounter and they are wicked. The first is the Shambler which is like the Bloater on steroids. They are hard to kill but make sure you always have some shotgun ammo handy and you should fare just fine. The next is the Rat King. When Abby finds herself in the quarantine zone in Seattle, we find it was ground zero for the infection. There are infected there that haven’t been encountered for 25 years and a quarter of a century can change a moldy person a lot. If you are interested in the biology of the infected in THE LAST OF US PART II, I recommend checking out Roanoke Gaming. He is a biologist that breaks down the biology and morphology of the monsters from this game and many others. The gameplay mechanics are very similar to the first game with an improved crafting system as well as an improve melee combat system. Hand-to-hand fighting is more of a challenge and the dodge option can be your best friend. I love the way that we actually watch Ellie and Abby physically upgrade their weapons when we choose to upgrade. It’s such a small touch that pulls you into the experience more. I found that enemies are alerted to your presence easier (especially clickers) but the ability to go prone allows you to have another level of stealth in shorter grasses.
One of my favorite parts of the game was the collectables. Ellie collects trading cards while Abby collects coins. This rewards you for exploring every corner of the map and I was on a mission to get every collectable, every note, every work bench. I did great in some chapters, catching nearly all of them. In others, I was a huge disappointment and only snagged a few. It just goes to show that there are a lot of nooks and crannies in this game and you can spend upwards of 10 hours just looking around for goodies. Another mechanic that I really enjoyed was playing the guitar. This was special: you can practice playing the guitar and you use the touch pad to strum. Depending on where you touch the pad, that note will play. You can play a single note or strum a chord and play a song.
So, why do so many people hate this game to the point of sending death threats to the developers, voice actors and character models? I have no fucking clue. THE LAST OF US PART II is a masterpiece and I don’t say that lightly. People can’t let go of the past and realize that their favorite pint-sized bad ass may not be the person they wanted her to be. They can’t say goodbye and move forward and who does that sound like? Bunch of Ellie’s, the lot of them. I mean, I get it. Watching Joel die was a difficult scene, although they sped through it. If you blinked you would have missed it but even then, I understand why. His death wasn’t the point of the game, just a catalyst… the beginning of the end.
Speaking of the end, I like that there is an opportunity that we could see another games in the same universe but a new story. I think I have had enough of Ellie and Abby but I certainly would love to see more of the world that Naughty Dog has created. It’s not perfect but it’s damn near close.
THE LAST OF US PART II is out now on PlayStation 4.