With the much-anticipated sequel set to drop this week, we take a look at the big questions surrounding it before Joel, Ellie, and the Infected return…
By Virgin TV Edit
Cast your mind back to 2013 for a moment. The PS3, like all ageing heroes, was slowly walking its way towards a beautiful, sunset send-off, stroking its wispy grey beard and reminiscing about games long gone…
Then The Last Of Us dropped, showcasing that, despite its relative old age, the PS3 still had some tricks up its sleeve; The Last Of Us’s graphics and gameplay pushing the PS3 to its limits and providing a more than fitting finale.
And now, with the PS5’s announcement last week, here we are again… the PS4 loading up its saddlebag for one last ride, with Naughty Dog again providing it with what could be (and should be) a more than spectacular farewell with The Last Of Us Part II.
Set five years after the first game, the plot again follows Joel and Ellie as they navigate an increasingly fractured world after the earth-shattering conclusion to 2013’s masterpiece. Only this time, the player controls Ellie for the game’s entirety, the now-19-year-old venturing away from the place she and Joel have come to call home and further into the wastelands and cities the nationwide plague has left in its wake.
And, with June’s release meaning it’ll be eight years on from the original when players finally get their hands on the sequel, you could say it’s been a long time coming. To be fair, Naughty Dog had the small matter of concluding the Uncharted series beforehand.
A turbulent (if ultimately successful) production for Uncharted 4 led to The Last Of Us Part II co-director/co-writer Neil Druckmann briefly juggling two of gaming’s largest titles simultaneously. Add to the mix the PS4’s then-relatively unknown capabilities and Naughty Dog’s trademark quest for perfectionism and you’ve an understandably lengthy production.
But, if last week’s early reviews are to be believed, boy have they delivered… again.
The series’ trademark, Children Of Men-esque storytelling (in which huge, global events are portrayed through the lens of a smaller, more intimate story) remains at the forefront of The Last Of Us Part II’s gameplay. And, unsurprisingly for such a heavily narrative-driven game, it of course has an overarching theme…
Where the first game’s theme was love (beautifully told through the slow development of Joel and Ellie’s relationship, which perfectly countered the otherwise bleak, barren setting and painfully brutal gameplay) the second game’s is… oh, um, cool. That sounds cheery… It’s hate, everyone. Hate.
To be fair, we’d gathered as much from the trailers (which, due to their gory, quite graphically violent, pretty sweary nature, we can’t include here) and the artwork, which often had a blood-soaked, angry-looking Ellie front and centre.
Fans soon knew how Ellie felt as the release date was pushed back not once, not twice, but (sort of) thrice; the initial February 2020 date thrown out the window in favour of a May release, only for that to then be delayed indefinitely due to logistical issues posed by COVID-19.
Then, when fans could breathe a sigh of relief and finally, finally just look forward to the game dropping on 19 June, some no doubt eye-patch-wearing, cutlass-swinging wrong’un went and leaked the game’s entire plot in late April.
There’s a fair bit of hype about this one. So, without further ado, let’s dip into the big questions facing gamers who (if they did the right thing and avoided said leaks) are itching to get their mitts on The Last Of Us Part II…
New gameplay? Any changes?
Yes, and yes. Right next question… We joke. Sure enough, the previous game’s silky smooth, ridiculously intuitive gameplay has been refined even further. Crafting, too, makes a return, with players having to cobble together their own ammo and weapons on the fly so they don’t run out mid-battle.
Climbing, navigating and exploring the eerily overgrown, post-apocalyptic Seattle streets also feels smoother and easier due to Ellie’s nimbleness (much like the first game), though that isn’t to say doing so is a breeze.
Stealth is needed to avoid all manner of enemies – be they murderous survivors or zombie-like Infected – which slows the gameplay waaaaaaaaaaaay down. And, consequently, makes moving through the city blocks a nail-bitingly tense, exhaustingly slow and, at times, terrifying ordeal, which perfectly ties into the game’s…
Much like the last game, the bulk of the player’s time is spent slowly sneaking, exploring or fighting your way through eerie, abandoned city streets that have been reclaimed by nature following the plague that led to the USA’s collapse 25 years before.
Even the frantic, intense firefights can feel agonisingly slow, ramping up the tension, your heart rate, and number of grey hairs as a result.
Though similar to the original, in many ways, there’s an added bite to this game’s feel with its vivid, unflinching and wince-inducingly brutal combat. Picking off swathes of pixelated enemies hasn’t felt this morally dubious since Spec Ops: The Line.
That isn’t to say The Last Of Us Part II is without the occasional moments of beauty that made the original so memorable. Ellie, in particular, grows further as a character in this one, with a storyline as touching as it is gripping. The sequel more than packs a punch when it comes to narrative.
A feature of the original that is often overlooked is just how addictive the multiplayer was. Blasting people to kingdom come with crafted bombs or glacking them with chunky, satisfying shotguns was a thing of beauty… which, unfortunately, won’t be returning to The Last Of Us Part II.
Due to the project’s ever-increasing scale and the subsequent challenges pursuing such a mammoth task posed to Naughty Dog’s army of developers, multiplayer has had to take a backseat for this one.
While that’s undoubtedly a shame, given the fun that could be had with the first game’s legendary Factions mode, the single player story’s detail and sheer brilliance more than make up for it. Plus, as Naughty Dog made clear with this announcement back in 2019, Factions will return.
Be that as a project of its own or as DLC, who knows… But watch this space.
In a nutshell, what should I expect?
Expect a slow, exhaustingly tense story within a brilliantly detailed, stunningly presented world which will frequently have you questioning the morality of your actions.
Essentially, if you’re the kind of person who loves a bit of existential self-doubt whilst blasting your way through hordes of potentially innocent enemies and geeks out when beams of light catch flecks of dust floating in the air in dark, gloomy, post-apocalyptic settings, you’ll love The Last Of Us Part II.