I’ve rewritten this sentence five times at this point. When I first got into this gig of sharing my thoughts on video games, I was told to never start a review by discussing the actual writing process. And yet I can’t think of anything else. I just finished The Last of Us Part II about twenty minutes ago and it’s no accident that I’m leaping straight into the review.

Some things just can’t wait and I wanted to talk about it while the impact was still fresh. It’s difficult to really discuss The Last of Us Part II, and not because it’s the sort of game riding into town on the smash-hit success of an excellent first entry and the cliffhanger that bookends it. It’s difficult to talk about it because…it’s such a personal experience. It’s a game that doesn’t pull its punches, forcing you to confront some very uncomfortable themes and ideas as the narrative unfolds. The Last of Us Part II is not a game that wants to hold your hand and tell you that everything will be okay, just the opposite in fact, and if you’re willing to hear it out then you better prepare yourself for one of the best video games I have ever played.

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Which is a hefty statement, I’m well aware. But it’s also one that I stand behind with all my might. Very few games manage to so intrinsically link their themes, characters and gameplay into one cohesive unit with the phrase “Gameplay Is King” often thrown around by game designers who know how story and mechanics often clash. Hell, Naughty Dog is liable for committing this non-sin themselves, sacrificing realism to allow players to do all kinds of impossible nonsense as Nathan Drake. The Last of Us Part II draws in all these elements together in a feat of design and narrative direction that is utterly stunning to behold. Every instance of combat is integral not only to the plot but to the character’s personal journey, every cutscene shedding some new light on the gameplay. Brutality, violence, trauma, survival and obsession are the most prevalent themes within The Last of Us Part II and it feels like the designers were crafting every conversation and every headshot planned and built with one of those in mind. Everything in The Last of Us Part II serves a purpose, nothing feels superfluous or overlooked.

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Which is probably why the story of the game holds up so well: It’s a tale that needed to be told. Which sounds obvious, given the shocking ending of the first game. Yet beyond that surface-level observation, The Last of Us Part II feels like a necessary journey for Ellie, Joel and the cast of characters caught in their wake. The game opens with one of the most compelling inciting incidents in recent memory and continues to ride that high all the way until the credits roll, never losing traction or sight of what makes it so important to both the player and characters. Which seems like a good enough time to mention how enthralling the performances are, as can be expected from Naughty Dog at this point.

Ashley Johnson is just remarkable as Ellie, bringing a hardened maturity to a fourteen-year-old that had to grow up in a world where nothing is fair and bullets run the town. Beyond the setup, which is about as basic as you can get, the character writing shines with the relationship between Ellie, Dina, Joel, Jesse and every other character feeling genuine and honest. Managing to be both an emotional gut-punch, an exhilarating adrenaline ride and a poignant character study, The Last of Us Part II tells one of the best stories you’re likely to find in the medium.

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Which is tremendous considering how much meat it has on its mechanical bones. It could be argued that the original game was slightly thin when it came to gameplay, and while the general form of combat, exploration and light platforming feels very iterative of the first game, it’s propped up by an expanded list of combat options and some wonderfully complex level design. Ellie isn’t a powerhouse like Joel so it makes sense that she plays so much differently to what we can look back on now as a tank of a man in the original.

With more movement options combined with levels that make better use of verticality and AI enemies that are strikingly effective, combat feels more desperate and tense. Once your stealth is eventually blown (don’t kid yourself, it’ll happen) you’ll be taking into account how enemies move to flank you, suppressing your position and even locking down potential escape routes. While the gunplay feels as suitably clunky, loud and imprecise as it should to really drive home the value of your ammo and the actual combat arenas certainly having a tense fight or flight angle to them, it’s the enemy AI that stands out as utterly remarkably in making every encounter matter. My favourite little touch is how foes will call out the names of their friends and grow suspicious if they don’t respond. Having every enemy actually have a name makes you feel more than a little guilty when you shove a switchblade into their windpipe.

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I could dedicate a paragraph to pointing out some flaws in the game but honestly, none of the bad I’ve seen can truly derail the good. Ammo feels a little too easy to acquire on the normal difficulty and clickers still being able to one-shot Ellie from full health still doesn’t feel grand. I’ll also admit that I wished there were more dynamic encounters that involved both humans and infected; they do show up in the game but never within a capacity that felt satisfying given the potential that could be had in said scenarios. Yet those are nitpicks at best. I would be missing the fungus for the mushrooms if I had to genuinely complain about those things or pretend they detracted from the overall experience. They’re easy to shrug off when everything else is set at such a high bar. This isn’t even going into the more technical aspects of the game which looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous while never dropping in quality or consistency. It’s obscene how beautiful The Last of Us Part II looks, and if this one of the games that are helping to sunset the era of the PlayStation 4, it does a damn good job of it.

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The Last of Us Part II is a monumental success of a sequel, delivering everything you could want in the follow-up to one of the most beloved games of the previous generation. Which isn’t to say it won’t be divisive, I can foresee a future where plenty of folks are incredibly angry with the direction Naughty Dog takes in this game. Yet they don’t matter in this review because as far I’m concerned as The Last of Us Part II is an achievement in narrative design, technical prowess and emotional honesty in the most brutal fashion possible. This is the farewell that the PlayStation 4 deserves: A painfully beautiful experience that should be played by anyone even remotely interested in the medium of video games.

The Last of Us Part II is an exceptional experience from beginning to end, uniting its gameplay and narrative into a cohesive unit while also delivering some of the best writing and acting seen in a video game to date. It is undeniably one of the best games I’ve ever played.

Last Updated: June 12, 2020

The Last of Us Part II
The Last of Us Part II is an exceptional experience from beginning to end, uniting its gameplay and narrative into a cohesive unit while also delivering some of the best writing and acting seen in a video game to date. It is undeniably one of the best games I’ve ever played.
10
The Last of Us Part II was reviewed on PlayStation 4
93 / 100

35 Comments

  1. Pieter Kruger

    June 12, 2020 at 09:28

    Brilliant! This game & God Of War are the 2 franchises I’m really sad I can’t play!

    Reply

  2. LegionZA

    June 12, 2020 at 09:34

    Great stuff, definitely going on the must play list

    Reply

  3. OddSockZA

    June 12, 2020 at 09:34

    See now. I read similar praise for the first one, and while i thought it was a decent game, that similar praise wasn’t really warranted. Is this really that good, or just a sort of Naughty dog pass?

    Reply

    • Iskape

      June 12, 2020 at 09:53

      I do not believe in perfection, and while I did play the first game, I actually never finished it. Not quite sure why. I will most probably play this one, but it is not high on my list. Maybe it’s because I prefer games like the Uncharted series which are slightly more fantastical and not as grounded in reality as The Last of Us (and yes, I know the game features strange creatures which technically, are fantastical as well, but…).

      Reply

      • Son of Banana Jim

        June 12, 2020 at 21:23

        You didn’t finish the first one? It took a hold of me over the course of a month… I think I must have replayed it at least 3 times.

        Reply

        • Iskape

          June 13, 2020 at 08:45

          I got close to the end (i.e. Ellie about to save mankind, allegedly), and then I just stopped.

          Reply

    • Iskape

      June 12, 2020 at 09:53

      I do not believe in perfection, and while I did play the first game, I actually never finished it. Not quite sure why. I will most probably play this one, but it is not high on my list. Maybe it’s because I prefer games like the Uncharted series which are slightly more fantastical and not as grounded in reality as The Last of Us (and yes, I know the game features strange creatures which technically, are fantastical as well, but…).

      Reply

    • Son of Banana Jim

      June 13, 2020 at 21:57

      Sounds like you’re echoing Skill Up’s view in that it if you didn’t like the first game’s story and game mechanics, you’ll definitely hate the second one – which is… it’s just more of the same (but with a weaker story, and less likable new characters).

      PS: No spoilers in his review:

      Reply

      • David

        June 15, 2020 at 11:38

        Also watched it and tbh it looks just the same with a different story. Graphics doesn’t always make a good game.

        Reply

        • Son of Banana Jim

          June 15, 2020 at 19:18

          Absolutely!

          Reply

  4. Original Heretic

    June 12, 2020 at 10:00

    Naughty Dog does it again.
    I honestly didn’t doubt them for a second. They’ve proven how masterful they are.

    Reply

  5. Stoompot

    June 12, 2020 at 10:00

    Ign Japan nailed the review for me spot on. The story was better when it was Elie and Joel. This new story will always remind me of their NDs agenda, where they struck countless Tweets and YouTube videos for being called out for pandering to the Twitter mob. Of Elie and Johanna Cena with her/his/their nine iron wrecking what could’ve been a true classic. No game is perfect and rating it as such conforms to the industry’s standard. I praise the few that sees this for what it is.

    Reply

    • SagatatiaRZA

      June 12, 2020 at 14:17

      Yikes.

      Reply

    • andye

      June 12, 2020 at 17:29

      You haven’t played the game yet, how do you know which reviews are spot on? You are attacking it for political reason – along with a bunch of others. They’ve been mad ever since the early trailers, and super mad after the gay kiss one.

      Reply

      • Stoompot

        June 12, 2020 at 20:57

        The game was altered for political reasons. Oh, gaming isn’t inclusive enough. Let’s have a transgender tee off on Joel because white man bad.

        Reply

        • andye

          June 17, 2020 at 11:48

          You’ve got a political argument but you want to pretend politics is something external that someone is imposing on you. Like there is some true version of the game without politics, and you are some pure apolitical person missing out on it.

          Reply

          • Stoompot

            June 19, 2020 at 03:58

            Pretend nothing. I play games to relax, not be force fed an agenda by Niel who is simping for Anita.

  6. Morne Nell

    June 12, 2020 at 11:24

    Can the past 12 Hours get any better for playstation

    Reply

  7. Gerhard

    June 12, 2020 at 11:59

    So happy for this and just in time for Father’s day. The first one was one of my favorite games. Think I will spoil myself!

    Reply

  8. Jonah Cash

    June 12, 2020 at 14:31

    Those Metacritic and Opencritic scores though!! So happy about this. Was always going to be a hard slog to follow what I still consider the 2nd best game I have ever played, but it seems that they pulled it off. Pre-order locked in long ago, ND hasn’t let me down once!

    Reply

  9. Hammersteyn

    June 12, 2020 at 16:43

    Oh wow.

    Reply

  10. Son of Banana Jim

    June 12, 2020 at 21:10

    Is this like the Last Jedi again? Insane reviews, unbelievable praise, reviewers going absolutely nuts, and then when you play or watch it, you wonder if you’re being trolled, or whether you’re actually in a twilight zone episode?

    I’ll wait till it hits psn+ free. I don’t trust the reviews nor does this feel like a Joel in one.

    Reply

  11. N'ayam Amarsh'e

    June 14, 2020 at 08:04

    Honestly the moment someone gives something a 10/10 is when they become unreliable for me.
    A 10/10 is basically saying that this game is perfect (let’s be honest, no chance in hell) and there isn’t ONE thing in the whole world, that they wouldn’t change about the game, which is fine when it comes to personal opinions but as a reviewer, when your decisions are affecting others’ purchase decisions, it just makes you unreliable.

    Reply

    • Son of Banana Jim

      June 15, 2020 at 19:18

      Absolutely agree, and it echoes my views. I dislike 10/10 reviews (even for a game or games that I might be fanatical about).

      I especially hate 10/10 reviews where they list issues with the game, and yet throw a perfect score at it. That just makes the review a joke. It’s completely idiotic.

      Reply

      • For the Emperor!

        June 19, 2020 at 13:39

        I am not interested in this game myself, but agree about 10/10 reviews being sketchy. Plus I already know some of my views don’t align with Brad* so their reviews by default take a -3 from me. Making this a 10 adds another -1. If they listed any issue yet gave it 10, another -1 or at least healthy skepticism. Still, other people are allowed their views and in any case I don’t have a PS so skipping the game.

        *I mostly auto-skip any article written by them.

        Reply

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