This worthy sequel will put you through the emotional paces.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
How the universe functions can be attributed to actions and reactions to said action. For what you have sowed, you'll also reap.
Thus, this example from Weezer's inaugural album, The Blue Album. The second and third tracks—"No One Else" and "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here"—are actually 'two sides of a same coin'; with "No One Else" about a man's possessiveness of his girlfriend and "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here" is the follow-up, where the woman leaves the overbearing schlub. Action that's laid out in one song and the result of that in the next.
At a PlayStation Experience panel interview in 2016, Neil Druckmann, the game's director and writer, says that while the first game, is about love, the follow-up will be about hate and its this hate that fuels The Last of Us Part II's narrative of revenge.
Players control Ellie, who moves with such deadly swiftness that is almost stupefying to witness. One moment, she's hunched behind the counter waiting for an enemy AI to pass and the next, she has sunk the pointy end of her switchblade into said enemy AI's neck. There's an ease to her movements but there's still a sense of labour whenever she grunts or lumbers forward whenever her health is low.
Weapons upgrade… gets an upgrade. Whenever you're at a workbench, you can augment your current weapons but unlike the last game, for Part II, each enhancement is visually shown on your armament, for example, if you increase your magazine capacity on your semi-automatic pistol, you'll have a larger clip that extends beyond the grip.
There's a slowness to the game that less of a drag but more of a contemplation. You're in the midst of the earth reclaiming the city—foliage has wrapped its verdant grasp around a building; broken off pillars stick out from a sea of weeds; broken bridges that are swallowed by sinkholes. It's almost meditative to be standing in the leftovers of a catastrophe. There are the occasional environmental puzzles that you'll encounter; some of easy to crack and others demand a little exploration and thinking-out-of the-box. It is the latter that's very satisfying when you solved it.
The details are stunning. From the larger set pieces of a hollowed-out skyscraper to how the enemy AIs would keep their pointer fingers out of the trigger guards as a nod to their firearm discipline.
Listen Mode returns, allowing Ellie to use their heightened sense of hearing to pinpoint where enemies are. One of the more interesting stealth systems that Part II can offer is that Ellie can hide out in the long grass from enemy AIs. But if an enemy AI nears, they will be able to spot her, which adds a layer of realism. Dogs are an added complications. Now they can track and attack you. The body horror is still strong with the Infected. Fungal protrusions erupt from the face; bodies are swollen, skin stretched taut to a point of bursting; movements are herky-jerky. Areas that the Infected reside in would have fungal plants blooming in the corners or on the walls. I swear you can almost imagine how the Infected would smell.
Other than the mindless Infected, there are new human factions like the Washington Liberation Front and the Seraphites. Each group will spare no quarter and will straight-up murder you, which makes it easier for you to return the favour, right?
Not so. What Part II does beautifully is to evoke empathy for your enemies. Enemy AIs will call out the names of their fallen comrades; dogs will whimper over the bodies of their handlers; some enemies might even plead with you not to end the finishing blow… which you will do.
Which comes to this next part: the violence. There's a saying: "red in tooth and claw" and that is referenced to the violent natural world, where apex predators dominate its prey. In Part II, humans (and Infected) are the beasts. The violence is unflinching and comes at you when you least expected. There was an instance where I am beating on an enemy AI and each blow requires me to punch the action button to proceed. I held off hitting the button but the game requires that I see this through to its natural conclusion.
You cannot avoid the bloodshed. Unlike Metal Gear Solid, where you have the option of killing or knocking out your opponents, Part II requires you to be ruthless in your endeavour. While Part II subverts your expectations—about female protagonists fronting an AAA video game; the presence of minorities; what a woman's physique should look like; about gender and sexuality (even in the post-apocalypse you can still lean progressive), violence remains at the fore. Even after we're settle into civilised living, the call to savagery isn't far off. It is this easy turn to anger that will be examined in the game.
So. Actions and consequences. Druckmann said in several interviews that players might not like how to the story would play out. It's not enough to just have a dynamism in the CGI and the game mechanics, you need the story for it to flourish in. Personally, I dig the storytelling. I went along for the ride and sat shotgun for it. There were certain moments in the game that I didn't want to go through; story beats that I didn't want to see fulfilled. It's bleak. The world in Part II is indifferent to whether your situation. We are like the characters in Part II, we're carried off by the narrative, powerless against the current and the only way to survive is to adapt to your new circumstances and see it through to the bittersweet end.
What we didn't like
I'd experience some bugginess for my play-through; clipping issues and the inability to open a particular door. The bugginess is expected with any new game fresh on the market and we expect it to be resolved in a file update.
While enemy AIs can provide a bit of a challenge, there's sometimes a lack of intelligence in how they track you, especially when you're in an environment with spotlights. How your shadow falls would usually indicate where you're at but that doesn't matter to the AI.
We've mentioned about dogs being able to track you by your scent. If you go into Listen Mode, you can see your scent track that the dogs are able to follow… which makes no sense because HOW CAN YOU LISTEN TO YOUR ODOUR TRACKS? WHAT IS THIS SYNESTHESIA MARLARKEY?
And while we're at the subject of the dogs…
So, it's no secret that the violence in Part II is harrowing. After a while, some might get used to this Grand Guignol-level of brutality but, lemme tell you, taking down the dogs doesn't get any easier. If you're an animal lover, this might be a sticking point.
It's a good thing that you can avoid killing the dogs by running away from them and putting enough distance between the two of you. A fact that I only discovered after finishing the game.
What to look out for
There are easter eggs that tie to other Naughty Dog games like the Uncharted series ("Sic Parvis Magna"). Also, keep an eye out for a cameo by the rapper Logic, who lent his voice and performed motion-capture work for a character.
The Last of Us Part II is out now and is only exclusive for the PlayStation 4.