Goondu review: The Last of Us Part II

August 17th, 2020 | by Yap Hui Bin
Goondu review: The Last of Us Part II
Gaming
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The Last of Us Part II (TLOU2) is the sequel to probably one of the best PlayStation 3-exclusive survival horror games, The Last of Us, which was released in 2013 on the PlayStation 3.

The story-driven single player survival horror game was critically acclaimed for its memorable and endearing characters and their relationships with others in a post apocalyptic world where humans are infected with a mutated form of cordyceps and completely decimated civilization as we know it. 

Now, after seven years, we finally get a sequel. I played TLOU2 provided by Sony on a regular PlayStation 4 on HDR mode and it looks pretty darned amazing, so it must look even better on those playing on PlayStation 4 Pro.

Fear and loathing in Seattle

TLOU2 begins four years after the events of the first game, where a Cordyceps Brain Infection disease had created havoc in the world by infecting people through spores from a species of mutated cordyceps, turning them into aggressive zombie-like creatures operating on primal instincts.

Known collectively as The Infected, these will attack non-infected humans and will transmit the disease to them when bitten. 

While non-infected humans are left behind eking out a living in a collapsed civilization and ruined cities, they have formed different factions and are fighting for survival not just against the Infected but also against each other.  

TLOU2 is full of adult themes, including brutal and graphic violence, liberal swearing (almost an expletive for every single kill!, sometimes more), drug use and sexual scenes, so it’s not suitable for young children.

It’s also rather disturbing to be playing a game about a pandemic during a pandemic, where some parallels can be drawn in our current situation. Thankfully, COVID-19 isn’t so destructive and doesn’t make people attack one another! 

Beautiful scenes like these are welcomed after a long, dark and terrifying sequence. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Since we last met Ellie in the first game and DLC, and she has grown from a smart talking 14-year-old teenager to a tough young lady. We see her maturing into adulthood and discovering more about herself, her relationships with others as well as coming to terms with her own sexuality.

Together with Joel, the protagonist from the first game, and a community of non-infected people, Ellie now resides in Jackson, Wyoming. Events later take Ellie and companions to Seattle, Washington, which involve a long and arduous journey in a hazardous world.

The plot is carried through by liberal cinematic cutscenes of the conversations Ellie has with the other characters that paint a picture of who she is now.

She’s no longer the teenager who was unsure of herself – instead, we now see a steel in her and the fierce protectiveness for the people she cares about.

Apart from Ellie’s perspective, TLOU2 tells the story using handwritten notes, flashbacks and convergences in the narrative to tell the story from multiple perspectives. These allow for additional plotlines revealing the characters’ motivations, which make you feel much closer to them.

The developer, Naughty Dog, is great at storytelling and character portrayal as proven in the acclaimed Uncharted series and the first game.

In TLOU2, Naughty Dog’s masterfully nuanced storytelling and the intertwining plot makes you feel conflicted for the characters who are making difficult choices and dealing with the unpleasant consequences.

Although the story is highly controversial and emotionally complex in many aspects, TLOU2’s strong character narrative makes this game stand out. 

TLOU2’s complex themes and non-crowd pleasing plot was risky for the franchise. And clearly, not everyone can appreciate that.

About 50 per cent of the reviews on Metacritic currently are negative and most of them are unhappy with the plot and how it did not adhere to certain expectations. Don’t go look at it yet if you want to stay spoiler free! 

For me, I didn’t mind going through the game and letting the story take me where it will, although there are times I reluctantly took on the actions that I didn’t quite want to.

In the end, we can understand why the characters do what they did. TLOU2 is not just about fighting the Infected demons, it’s also about overcoming the characters’ personal demons within.

Without giving away too much, all I can say is be prepared for an emotional journey, because after completing the game, I felt that I really needed time to recover from it.

At first I was afraid, I was petrified

Much like the original, the game involves our protagonist creeping through derelict and abandoned places, trying to find a way forward while staying alive. 

Apart from partially destroyed locations like shops, restaurants and homes, there are also some pretty memorable and epic locations like TV stations, hospitals and theatres. 

TLOU2’s tense atmosphere and unpredictable scares sent my heart pounding, hands shaking and jumping at the tiniest noises.

At times, I thought the controller was vibrating and warning me that danger was close, then I realised that it was just my hands shaking involuntarily. 

TLOU2 involves a lot of puzzle solving by way of overcoming obstacles and getting access to openings order to progress. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Even in some situations that seem safe, things can suddenly happen to change that. No spoilers here about how unexpected it can be but always be on your guard. Things are never as they seem, leading to plenty of jarring and shocking surprises.

Although these moments are scripted and orchestrated, and one will know what to expect in the subsequent playthroughs, it really scares the living daylights out of me when they were so totally unexpected.

I give Naughty Dog full credit for being able to create scares that make my hands shake so much I can hardly plug in my controller to charge after I was too scared to continue playing.

I also stopped playing late into the night and forced myself to have some non-TLOU2 quiet time before bed – it’s not easy to get any restful sleep when your heart is still racing.

TLOU2’s level designs are well designed, incorporating some puzzle solving involving objects around the environment to get access to certain exits or entrances in order to progress.

Some of the puzzles require some thinking and nifty controller work, but the solutions are not too unreasonably obscure that you need to get help from a walkthrough.

It’s impossible to get lost in the game, even for someone like me with an abysmal sense of direction. The game will drop hints through dialogues or point you in the right direction by using the L3 button to focus on the right direction, much like in the Uncharted series of games.

Unless you are running away blindly from pursuing hostiles, you should be able to find a somewhat natural path to take in order to progress. 

While trying to evade enemies or bringing them down by stealth, Ellie has to scrounge for odds and ends for crafting health packs, weapon upgrades, and ammunition.

Ellie can expand her repertoire of explosives such as Molotov cocktails, stun bombs and even proximity mines to be crafted by finding Training Manuals, as well as different branches of survival skills which can be acquired through collecting and consuming supplements.

The different skill trees include Survival, Crafting and Stealth, which can really help in overcoming tough enemies. Precious parts can also be collected to upgrade weapons at work benches, which can occasionally be found in derelict buildings.

Workbenches and scarce parts lets you upgrade weapons to improve your chances of survival. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Apart from items needed for crafting and upgrading weapons, munitions and health packs, there are also plenty of collectibles in the form of artifacts like notes or items, journal entries, cards and coins.

These handwritten notes or annotated photographs provide some context or background of those who came before and aid in sharing about the situation for other characters, what they thought and what they did.

Even though we may never meet them, these mementos make us more acutely aware of the sadness and the direness of their situation. 

Since supplies are so scarce, and also because our protagonist has very limited carrying capacity, one should always take the time to search everywhere carefully, unless of course you are running for your life.

The game took me over 30 hours to complete but I didn’t even find all the collectibles, even though I tried to be as thorough as I could be under the circumstances.

At some point, I was rushing to escape from certain places and didn’t take the time to search everywhere. Diehard completists might want to play through all the levels again just to collect them all, which should be less scary the second time round.

That said, there are some light-hearted moments in the game that will give your nerves a break. Through the game, you can help Ellie play the guitar, which is soothing and entertaining, enjoy some well acted cinematic cutscenes, or explore abandoned places of interest like museums, aquariums and theaters.

Although the story is dark and intense, there are light-hearted moments in the game too that give players a mental and emotional break. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

But once that’s over, it’s time to clutch your controller and steel your nerves against the terrors ahead.

What’s in your head, in your head

Part of what makes TLOU2 so scary is the good variety of enemies who can be pretty unpredictable. These include the Infected variants, hostile humans from various factions, and even the hazardous environment that can end our protagonist’s life.

The Infected exist in different variants depending on the duration of the infection – the longer they are infected, the more dangerous they are.

Some were featured in the first game, such as the common Runners, who are typically weak but dangerous in large numbers and are aggressive when provoked.

Then there are Clickers who are blind but are sharp in hearing and are super strong, and Stalkers who are shy and quiet and smart enough to sneak up behind you, as well as tough brutes known as Bloaters who are protected by fungal plates and can expel spore bombs.

There are also some new ones we have never met before. The Infected can usually be detected by listening but at times, they can also appear unpredictably and dramatically, scaring me out of my wits.

Clickers are those who have been infected for a long time and have great hearing but are completely blind. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

With limited supplies and ammunition, stealth is the most economical strategy for the weaker Infected variants and humans, as they don’t really detect you until they are really close.

Hostile humans tend to be easy to deal with although they are usually actively patrolling and can alert their comrades if they detect you. They can also have a large area of patrol, so you need to be well hidden and constantly moving in order not to be spotted.

Some humans will call for backup if they see a downed comrade but others may foolishly decide to investigate alone, which leads to a pile of bodies at one spot taken down by our stealthy protagonist.

But not all enemies can be taken down by stealth. These include the tougher variants of the Infected, and the worst enemy of all – dogs.

Yes, the Infected may be ugly, tough and scary but they are not as difficult to deal with compared to sniffer dogs. Those guys take away all the stealth advantage that Ellie has, with barely enough time for a breather.

Also, I tried not to hurt the dogs but it was very challenging to get past them. Distraction can only work half the time since dogs can pick up her scent quite quickly.

At times, there is just no way to stealth-kill everyone, which leaves either an all out shootout that may deplete all ammo quite quickly, or simply just running away but having no time to hunt for supplies or collectibles.

An eye for an eye

The game is very dark in every sense of the word. Since the Infected like to hang out in dark, poorly lit places, the most terrifying parts of the game are in very dark places.

From dingy, spore filled basements with poor visibility, to claustrophobic corridors with intermittent lighting, to dimly-lit tunnels with suspicious shadows that play tricks on your mind, the visuals of the game are made to scare.

Despite the overwhelming darkness and bleakness, playing the game in HDR was a real treat as it makes the occasional beautiful weather and scenery a joy to take in.

This is especially welcome after finishing a long, claustrophobic and dreary level in darkness and terror. For those with a weak stomach, be warned that there are a lot of extremely gory and violent scenes that might make you lose your appetite. 

Much of the game is dreary and bleak, which adds to the tense and dark atmosphere of the game. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

The environment in TLOU2 is a lot more interactive than the first game. If Ellie brushes against a branch laden with snow, you can see the chunks of snow fall down.

If Ellie walks over a fresh kill, you can see her leaving bloodied footprints. And when it rains, Ellie will pull up her hood if she is outdoors, and down again when she is under cover.

What is especially captivating are the facial expressions of the characters, both in the cutscenes and the actual gameplay. For a game that bears so much emotional weight, the characters’ facial expressions are critical, and TLOU2 does a fabulous job in motion capturing the nuances of the actors’ expressions.

A sideway glance, a slight bowing of the head, a tearful blink, even a pained grimace when killing someone, all convey the characters’ expressions so vividly, it was like watching real actors acting.

TL;DR

TLOU2 is one of the rare games that manages to strike a balance between the graphic violence and brutality of a survival horror game with a story that captures a wide range of human emotions beyond just sheer blinding fear.

Its masterful storytelling and strong character narrative, as well as the many suspenseful and genuinely scary moments makes it all the more memorable.

With shockingly brutal violence, extreme gore, as well as sex and nudity, TLOU2 is not a game for kids. That’s not to mention the genuinely tense moments, ominous atmosphere and seriously scary jump scares, so TLOU2 is fodder for nightmares. 

If you are looking for a light-hearted game and have fun bashing zombies about, this is not it. But if you want a memorable and masterfully told story, fabulous acting, complex characters and are appreciative of dark and painful truths, TLOU2 will be a game that lingers on and haunts you for some time.

I personally enjoyed the innovative storytelling and the unpredictability of the plot, but it’s not surprising that many didn’t. 

The Last of Us Part II is available for the PlayStation 4 for S$79.90 at the PlayStation Store here.

If you have not played the first game, and I highly recommend you do before playing this one, you can get the Remastered version for the PlayStation 4 that includes the DLC, Left Behind, here for S$26.90.

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