*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*
The sequel to fan favorite Naughty Dog’s action-adventure game, The Last of Us II is finally here. From playing through the first three hours of one of the most highly anticipated games of 2020, two things are clear: it lives up to the hype, and it isn’t for the faint of heart.
The first game wowed players with its dynamic and highly emotional narrative. The newest installation, coming to the PS4 seven years after the release of the original, had high expectations to live up to. Not only does the sequel avoid disappointment, but it has taken the strengths of an already near-perfect game and amplified them. Amongst these elements includes the graphics, mechanics, and narrative of the game.
The basis of each of these categories is on only the first few hours of the game; however, players can expect to be blown away within the first few minutes by the overall look. We often think of the scenery and world-building elements when it comes to graphics (ie. the worlds of Horizon Zero Dawn, Breath of the Wild, and other creations that raised the bar in the design department), and The Last of Us II has executed this perfectly. Not only are there breathtaking scenic views, highlighting the disturbingly beautiful aesthetic of the game, but the graphics are well crafted down to the very detail.
It is clear that designers took into account every possible element of each frame. Any sort of change in movement or facial expression is captured. Not only does this create an eerily realistic feeling, but it adds to the emotion of the narrative. Seeing Ellie’s face change as she talks to Joel gives us further insight to their characters, and how their relationship has changed in the time we have missed.
While this game is really not one for kids, less advanced players can go in without fear of high difficulty (unless they choose to crank up the level), allowing them to play through the story without having to struggle with the mechanics. The setup, when players receive instruction on how they can navigate the world around them, isn’t boring in the slightest. The developers decision to teach players how to aim, jump, and crouch using a playful snowball fight between characters is fantastic, letting players learn comfortably, without the stress of combat right away.
In terms of combat, many players have applauded the game for its improvement in this area. Violence is extremely commonplace here, and is seen throughout the majority of gameplay and cutscenes. This does raise the intensity of the game overall, but it also adds to the creepy feeling. By being set in an apocalyptic timeline, the violence feels almost expected, and is never questioned. Attacks seem to be exclusively in self-defense, because the characters live in a constant fear of the infected. Yet, the power behind them may strike players as overkill, and for good reason. Combat in this game keeps players on the edge of their seats at all times, ready for the appearance of danger at every turn.
It is difficult to evaluate narrative in a first impressions-style review, but in this case, players are taken on a roller coaster before the main storyline even begins. While we know death and violence is inevitable in a game like this, we can’t help but feel our hearts ripped from our chests when faced with Joel’s death. However, many players will struggle with the duality of it all, knowing that just a game ago, we watched as Joel slaughtered innocent people on his own in order to protect Ellie, including the father of his eventual killer. Is it wrong to sympathize with Joel? Is it wrong to sympathize with Abby? What does it mean for our morality when our brains try to justify murder on either end?
This is just one example (and an extreme one at that) of how the storyline pulls the heartstrings of players. It comes at a very topical time in history, when the anxiety and panic around illness constantly fills our head. Players can not help but feel uncomfortable as they navigate a world reflective of what we fear during this time. The controversy of the game is caused by the decision to give the in-game characters an extreme form of this fear and anger themselves. So much, in fact, that we justify actions we would never think of committing ourselves.
All things considered, the prolonged wait we experienced when counting down the days until this release was worth it. As a queer woman especially, seeing representation within such a popular and talked-about game is something to be noted. Ellie’s sexuality may be a small element of the game, but for many queer girls, it brings a spark of joy to an otherwise bleak story. First impressions of the game set the foundation for a great follow up to a beautifully executed original.
Written by Caroline Moll