Naughty Dog’s ability for nigh on perfect environmental storytelling has been never called into question, but The Last of Us Part II takes the concept much further. Decimated music stores smack of unused instruments and songs never written, an innocent-looking courthouse features its own underground secrets, and even the once-proud city bank reeks of a heist job gone wrong during outbreak day – before it succumbed to infected investigators. It’s not that hard to piece these bite-sized stories together, and not once do you question whether locations like these feel lived-in. All this you discover through the simple act of exploration.
The technical panache continues when looking at the improvements made to character models both during gameplay and in cutscenes. Never before have the performances of Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson et al been so keenly felt, especially during the brief moments of quiet where you’re afforded the chance to take in every subtle bite of the lip or eye-flicker. In a year where Resident Evil 3 impressed with its new renditions of Jill and Carlos thanks to the power of the RE Engine, The Last of Us Part II easily usurps it by pushing the PS4’s graphical capability to its absolute limit.
Something tells us you’ll be hard-pressed to find another AAA game in 2020 able to so effortlessly convince you that the characters you’re watching are real. The Last of Us Part II uses this graphical flair to great effect, combining it with a general fondness for cinematic framing and thoughtful writing so that you always feel engrossed n what’s happening on screen. Regrettably, this does also mean that it’s not uncommon to wince or look away when the violence being depicted dips into the overtly gruesome.
Release Date: June 19, 2020
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
In terms of the gameplay loop, not a lot has actually changed. It’s still the same satisfying mix of stealth, item crafting, and all-out melee violence the first game also handled well, as you go up against the various forms of infected creatures (one of which is new) or the handful of survivor factions. Quite surprisingly, it’s the latter group that Naughty Dog has chosen to revise most, as no longer do impromptu shootouts against human enemies feel so repetitive.
It used to be that you’d sneak around enemies, taking out as many as possible until all hell broke loose and you were forced to unload vital ammunition. Now, however, you might get away with doing this, to begin with, but there comes a point around about a quarter of the way through where dogs are able to track your scent, and then a cult-like faction of bandits is introduced. Known simply to Ellie as Scars, their ability to communicate across great distances by whistling and unhealthy affection for arrows often means facing them head-on won’t work. New elements like this, however slight, are a welcome change and reward a more strategic edge when approaching encounters.