Reviewed on PS4 Pro
The Last of Us Part 2 is a masterpiece.
The weeks after release of this game, having sifted through many a comment section on my favorite gaming media outlets, and the controversy of review bombing of the game makes me want to add some context to that statement.
The Last Us Part 2 had me worried. To say this game is divisive is a bit of an understatement. This wasn’t even just a case of reviewers loving it and gamers hating it. Like Hollywood, the gaming industry is starting to see the rise of artistic games that the average gamer may dislike, and only appeal to critics and niche gamers. Going in, I wondered if this was the case but it didn't feel so. I wondered what could possibly make the Last of Us Part 2 be so controversial. I started the game a few weeks late as I was still working through the original. Back in March, I made a list of quarantine-backlog games I wanted to get through. Being a part of Game Infinite has had me in the unique position in that I usually have to focus on current year games for reviews, articles, and end of year lists. I don’t always have the time to revisit previous years games. I figured I would try to get a silver lining out of all the extra time at home to take a few titles off my backlog list. One of the titles at the top of that list was the original The Last of Us. The first Last of Us was always a game I regretted never getting through. I played it very briefly way back in 2013 but never played it all the way through. I feel like the fact that I only finished the original game for the first time about a week before playing the sequel puts me in unique position for this review. A friend of mine pointed out the fact that I waited 7 days, not 7 years to find out what happened next. Maybe that means my expectations were more muted than fans who have been anticipating this game for so long. I can see how maybe the “Last Jedi” approach of subverting expectations on this game might have a different impact on me than it might have had on others.
I gave this game a 10/10, not because I think it is perfect. I can see why some people don’t like it or don’t connect with it. For me, 10/10 games are ones that I consider masterpieces. Masterpiece games are must plays, and are just next level in terms of quality, fun factor, or narrative. I don’t think any form of subjective art can be considered perfect, but I will argue some to be masterpieces. This was an unforgettable experience, and I will argue several things that really stood out to me.
This game has so much to unpack, and we will talk a little bit on why I think it is divisive. However, since so much of this game’s value and discussion is around its characters and narrative, I have decided to split this review in two to avoid spoilers. Part 1 will be shorter, discussing the gameplay, graphics, and other NON SPOILER aspects. However, those things will be insufficient to explain to why this game is a must play and a masterpiece. This is one of those times where I encourage you to play the game without the full review, because so much of its value is contained in things that will be spoiled upon discussion.
The Last of Us Part 2 is one of the most visually impressive games I have played. The fact that this game is running on a PS4 should make any developer making their game for next-gen consoles feel a little pressured for greatness as no excuse will exist. For the next several years, graphically under-performing games on superior next gen consoles will be held to the standard of “The PS4 could run The Last of US 2, therefore PS5 could run your game better”. Developers historically have liked to blame console power on underperforming graphics and this game moved the “excuse bar” much higher. Previously, a game I considered to be one of the most visually impressive, Detroit Become Human, contained some of the best character models and environment details I had seen yet. The Last of Us Part 2 takes that detail and applies it on a scope even larger than DBH.
In an opening scene of the Last of Us Part 2, a character is seen putting on a shirt from the back, and it amazed me. It shows such graphical capability on something so simple and easily overlooked. It wasn’t a big set piece or some epic story moment; just a person putting on a shirt. But it was so impressive. There was no clipping, conflicting pixels with their hair, or obvious air gap between the two game assets of person and shirt. It looked so real. I was amazed at just how well done something that could have been done with less effort. The game is so lifelike it is easy to not see the first time how well it is; it just looks “normal”.
I am absolutely blown away by the character models in the game. Ellie, Joel, and Abby are some of the most incredibly detailed video game characters I have seen to date. They are phenomenally detailed. I have seen some incredibly detailed character models with Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Detroit Become Human, and Last of Us 2 is up there with them.
Sometimes an easy trap to fall into for a game is to have visually impressive characters, set in a beautiful set piece, but then forget the world details. The Last of Us 2 gives us visually impressive characters, puts them in a vast and beautiful post apocalyptic world, and then as your traverse the world and story, you will see incredible detail around the world. There are so many little things that will just amaze you if you are looking for them. Little things that seem insignificant in real life, but stopped me in my tracks when I realized they happened in a video game. There was a moment when I was tasked to move a dumpster from one point to another to reach the next spot, and some item was sitting on top of the dumpster that rolled and fell off when I moved it. It was a completely unnecessary detail that made the world subconsiously feel real. The first time I saw this little shiny round object sitting on a ledge in the actual game and watched Abby lean over to discover it was a quarter, a real quarter that I could pick up and look at, I was shocked at the little collectible. Every time a squirrel would run across the ground, or the spores floating in infected areas, or watching a character move in between a tight space; it was all an attention to detail that amazed me.
There were certain story elements that put the character in a zoo or an aquarium that was filled with detail. In a world that could easily have felt so lifeless and ugly, was brought to life with detail. Seeing those wax-animal machines that we’ve all seen at the zoo, to seeing little toys in a shop, to seeing small dungeons and dragons figures on a random desk in a random house, the game contains so much unnecessary detail that only raises the bar for the level of “realness” we expect from the game worlds. How many open worlds have cookie cutter houses that look the same and empty of the most simple details. The amount of detail in the world that could easily be walked right by only makes me wonder what little items I missed. My favorites were the video game easter eggs such as finding a dusty old PS3 or a character playing a game on an old Vita. What would have been really amazing would have been had they made it so that Ellie could pick up the in game vita and play the game on it. As much of a missed "game-ception" opportunity as I think that would have been I can’t really complain.
The Last of Us Part 2 gameplay while still great, might be its weakest category. While the graphics and narrative are next level, I do think the gameplay might be a little repetitive and unbalanced. It is still very polished and well done, along with being enjoyable. Far from bad, it just has some small flaws. I grew tired with the traversal puzzles that are identical forms of "find the ladder" or "lift your traveling partner to a ledge". My biggest problem with the gameplay is the combat imbalance. This is a game that could have been enhanced by accepting the fact that players have different gameplay styles. Not everyone likes running and gunning, and not everyone enjoys stealth. The game would have been better if both styles were accepted as fair approaches to the game. Other games have done this better where stealth or action were choices left to the player. This is a game that gives the illusion of choice but really makes you feel like stealth is the correct choice almost always and action is "punishment for failing stealth". The reason I feel this is because ammo and the amount of ammo you can hold is often limited, compared to the enemies you face. I had the same issue with the reboot Resident Evil 2. Games that give you guns but then do everything they can to stop you from using them, I find as a small negative. Both RE2 and the Last of Us 2, both frequently put you in positions where you see an enemy, an enemy that can take three or more shots to kill, and give you 5 bullets. Along with the fact that the second you shoot them 20 more people come running. I’m not saying that you never get in fire fights or shoot, you do. However, too many times despite having good aim and fully stocked ammo, the best course would always be to sneak around and stealth kill enemies. The AI in the game felt too blind to your sneaking and full ammo often felt insufficient to the number of enemies. The Last of Us 2 also did away with breakable knife for the assassinations, so from an inventory standpoint it felt almost wasteful to “use ammo” when you have an unbreakable knife. I do know that a free update is coming that introduces many game modifiers such as "unlimited ammo". Maybe that mode will turn the game into the crazed gun range that I wanted it to be. While I think the stealth vs. action was a little imbalanced, and the combat/traversal a little repetitive, at the end of the day I feel a little nit-picky about these. I was so distracted by the beautiful world that I didn’t really notice that 187 ladders I had to move. I was so distracted by the story that I didn’t really care that I had to stealth kill hundreds of nameless enemies. In fact, there is something very specific the story asks of you that really makes you sit back and think about all the combat in the game, but that’s a part for the spoiler section.
Honestly, I can’t really explain why this game is the 10/10 masterpiece that it is with out the Part 2 spoiler section. Beautiful visuals, insane environment details, and average over the should combat don’t by themselves add up to that. So take a leap of faith and play this game if you haven’t and come back for part 2.
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