Review / The Last of Us Part II : a story that plays violently and perfectly with our emotions
The Last of Us Part II is the sequel to a game that didn’t need to be, yet. After living an adventure that could not leave us indifferent, Naughty Dog has decided to take us again to this ruined America where the survivors are gradually losing the rest of humanity they have so they can hope to hold out until next day.
A risky bet on the part of the PlayStation studio because the narration of the first episode was a masterpiece and it should not be satisfied to do “as well” as one of the best games of the last ten years.
The Last of Us Part II is a total success if not for a few flaws that remind us how difficult it is to make such a complex game. It is original as much in its choices of gameplay as in its narration.
There will be spoilers in this “review”. If you haven’t played the game then stop by when the word spoiler basically pops up!
Five years have passed since the end of the first installment, during which time Ellie and Joel spent almost happy days in Jackson’s refuge killing infected people and building shelters.
If this is a moment of “rest” compared to the race experienced during the year that we play in the first game, this is a slice of life in which Ellie grew up. She is now 19 years old and has become more independent than she was before.
Life seems to take its course. No vaccine, no government, still the same enemies, a situation that is here to stay.
The Last of Us Part II offers us again an adventure game in the 3rd person where we control this time Ellie and not Joel. The development team has really taken a leap forward since the first installment because the gameplay has been improved and it’s nice because that was the main flaw of the game.
If we look at the capabilities of our heroine, the management of her inventory and her skills is now really well thought out. You can craft items in exchange for resources found on the ground as before, but everything looks more realistic.
Our heroine can also learn new skills by reading magazines that must be sought during our adventure. A good idea which gives a little credibility to the evolution of our character.
I’ve always struggled with the fact that our character didn’t learn anything “before” we started our story. Like when Joel learns how to make a Molotov cocktail in the 1 after fighting the infected for several years.
Our character has an arsenal with the bare minimum which makes the experience more authentic. We equip ourselves with effective weapons for all situations (pistol, shotgun …) whether you are more of the discreet type or the type of combat worthy of Hollywood.
We always have the possibility of arming ourselves with a piece of wood to defend ourselves in melee but we also have new close combat objects, which we can also improve by tinkering a little.
The combat phases are much more dynamic than before and I find that this was the black point of the games developed by Naughty Dog. We have a good mix between infiltration and fighting, where we try to be as discreet as possible at the start in order to save ammunition and avoid being attacked by a large number of enemies at the same time. And we can afford to have a more direct style when there are only 3/4 opponents left.
The fights are also more pleasant because the enemies are a little more diverse. There are several types of survivor groups that each have their own specializations, and new types of infected, some of which are not visible when using our “power of detection”.
The power of detection is our hero’s ability to detect enemies through walls by concentrating a lot. It’s a bit of a cheat, but it makes the game playable for everyone. Without this option, the difficulty goes up a notch.
In addition to the fights, there is the exploration part which is also omnipresent. She is more interesting than before, also thanks to the new abilities of our heroine. We can finally swim (champagne!) But above all we have the possibility of using ropes and other cables to give a more vertical dimension to our progress.
Add to that the ability to jump, climb, smash windows and glass walls, ride a horse, stoop and crawl, or even use a rowboat, and suddenly you have real freedom in your travels. . We can also use all this in the middle of a fight to move around the places we cross.
If the game is built in a linear way with regard to the environments, that is to say zones of exploration / combat which follow one another without offering us the possibility of going back, nor that of moving forward without having each time “clean” the area (except in a few rare cases), it should still be noted that we always have several paths that can be taken to achieve our ends.
We can sneak into homes, create a diversion, provoke fights and so on, which allows us to play really according to our personal style.
Naughty Dog even goes so far as to offer us at the beginning of the game an “open world” passage where we can explore a district of the city as we see fit in order to discover optional secrets in relation to the main plot.
The Last of Us Part II is a sequel of good ideas, and the icing on the cake is that the overall achievement is up to the studio’s ambition. Naughty Dog’s expertise is well established when it comes to atmosphere and environment.
The game takes us through realistic settings, detailed to the extreme, almost making us believe that everything really exists as they have taken care in their creations. I have stopped countless times to admire everyday objects. Not to mention the visual effects that add a bit of magic and life to the areas you pass through.
Music and sound effects management are once again real tools perfectly used. The game has not become a film as some like to say, but a real medium that has already reached adulthood for several years. And works like The Last of Us Part 2 remind us of that.
SPOILER / SPOILER / SPOILER / SPOILER
This passage will be quite disjointed because I both want to talk about the game, but I do not want to put the different experiences that The Last of Us Part II gives us in well-defined boxes.
I’ve said it before to anyone who wants to hear it: it took me a while to digest the end of the first The Last of Us. But I’ve changed my outlook over the years and I’m trying to appreciate the stories as a whole, giving the ending as much importance as the enjoyment that the rest of the story gave me.
I love repeating a phrase from David Lynch: Keep your eye on the donut. In a work, put aside what we lack, focus on what it offers us. A philosophy that I like to mix with that of my favorite writer Philip Dick, where we attach importance to the story that we live just as much if not more than how it ends ( or does not even end).
And finally, the affection I had for Joel and Ellie was still there 5 years after The Last of Us (in-game) ended. And it’s pretty funny actually to see that in The Last of Us Part II, Ellie reacted just like me.
When she blames Joel for not letting him die to make sense of his life at the end of the game, that’s exactly how I felt at the time. Further proof of the strength of Naughty Dog’s writing in the first game and his ability to make us experience the adventure however they want.
After the events of TLOU1, we know that Ellie’s life can never, objectively, be “normal”. We know the story seen by Joel, seen by Ellie but above all we have the global vision of the situation. When Joel lies to Ellie at the end of TLOU1, we know that as she grows up Ellie will learn it and that her will destroy what she has managed to rebuild since that moment.
The only person she trusted lied to her, to save her, but going against her only “reason” for living. Ellie wanted to sacrifice herself to save others.
The way The Last of Us Part 2 is cut out is clever. The main story takes place in less than a week (if we exclude the introduction and the conclusion). This timing is important because it forces us to understand the state Ellie is in during her crusade.
We completely understand Ellie once we finish the game (which is a bit of a shame in a way, even if necessary to make us ramp up our emotions).
In short, Ellie discovered that the hospital where Joel had taken her to meet up with the Fireflies had been abandoned. She then confronted Joel who confessed to her lying about it, which then completely broke her trust in him. On Ellie’s side it’s the beginning of the end, on Joel’s side it’s even worse.
The only person he has found a reason to fight for cannot forgive him for this “selfish” choice. And the night that Ellie finally decides to take the first step towards Joel to start rebuilding their relationship, is the last night before Joel gets killed.
Ellie feels responsible for what she has done to Joel all these years and she wants revenge on Abby who deprived her of the opportunity to reconnect with her adoptive father. From the moment we have this context, we understand that Ellie will never be able to overcome these traumas.
The part where you play as Ellie becomes more and more unbearable as you play. The Last of Us 1 already showed us that survival transformed us into a “monster”, but this sequel allows us to experience a descent into hell.
In revenge and to kill Abby, Ellie murders everyone. Like Joel who only does it at the end of the first game when he kills the Fireflies. Here there is no more good and bad, there is only Ellie who does not even hesitate to torture to obtain information. We have reversed the roles, we do not embody the prey but the predator.
And this phase of the game makes us lose our minds a bit. We understand but we can not take pleasure in killing “innocent” people. We sink into the same madness as Ellie.
Especially since the story of Abby, we suspect even before having started it. I remember how much I hated when Joel kills the Doctor and the Firefly Leader at the end of the 1.
Joel killed Abby’s only family, while Abby tried to find a cure for the virus. It was impossible not to have compassion for Abby. And while Ellie sinks into madness (revenge, crises), Abby offers us an opposite path, a kind of redemption.
We discover a woman who also sacrifices herself on a daily basis for her community, and who wishes to help in building a better tomorrow. Going so far as to ally with “the enemy” after having escaped certain death.
The story with Lev is the perfect opportunity for Abby. Give a human dimension to the conflict between the Wolves (a community which is led by a single chief with a focus on camps and weapons) and the Seraphites (a community which places its faith in religion and which starts from scratch) .
We realize that the rivalry has no reason to exist. There is no such thing as a good community and a bad community, only two styles of life that can live together without having to kill each other if they take a first step towards each other (as is often the case).
Abby puts herself in danger to help two complete strangers who saved her life and we become increasingly attached to this character, despite the fact that she killed Joel. And this affection becomes problematic when Ellie and Abby meet again.
The intelligence of Naughty Dog is that they don’t let us choose how the fights and the story go. The Last of Us is not the game where you are the hero. It is a work where you embody the protagonists and where you will live a complex story.
If I had to simply summarize the message that the game gives us, it is that life is too short to place more importance on the past than on the present. And this despite the suffering of the past.
The context in which Ellie and Abby live is extreme. They have to survive every day and the loss of the person who matters most to them leads them one after another into an endless descent into hell.
In revenge, Ellie loses what little humanity she still could have, but also friends (whether through their death with Jesse, or by “ricochet” with Dina and Tommy).
Ditto for Abby who loses everything (her friends, her community). Her obsession with finding the Fireflies goes so far as to leave her for dead. “Fortunately” Ellie saves her, but again at what cost. We imagine that Abby will never be able to reconstruct anything after these experiences.
Naughty Dog addresses other topical issues including the place of women in society / community and their rights. The game allows us to embody strong women, whether in their character as in their ability, but maintaining a realism that we often forget when we play “hero men”.
The relationship between Ellie and Dina, the look of the rest of their group on this duo, the fact that Abby is so important in the community of the Wolfs or the whole story about Lev’s choice not to “fit” into a mold establishes by the company.
Questions that we raise with concrete examples in the game, and which are unfortunately still debated in our daily lives. We have the impression that we will live in a world of chaos like the game before we have finally been able to change mentalities.
I didn’t talk about the relationship between Ellie and Dina, the moments outside of time that we experience with them whether with our guitar, in our house and throughout the adventure. I would still have to write too many words to cover what the game offers …
I especially enjoyed the use of flashbacks and dreams (although the flashbacks disturbed the pace of the game a bit). I thought of Max Payne and the trauma of nightmares, moments that had marked me when I had played there at the time.
I found a little awkwardness in the management of memories and the order of the story. A little too “posed” to make us go up a notch in our emotions in a way “telephoned”. But that in no way detracts from the quality of all of these gameplay sequences, which are both written and developed.
The Last of Us Part II was both the game I needed and the one I didn’t need. I lost Ellie, Joel, but also Dina, Tommy, Abby, Jesse … We had to use the hard way to get the message across. A bad for a good.
It is also the violence of this experience that makes this message seem clear and so obvious.
Enjoy life, focus on the present, build your future, learn to forgive, listen to others.
The Last of Us Part II is not a walk in the park. Some passages are repetitive, whether it is the sets that we go through several times with Ellie and Abby. The adventure is long and we would like to be able to “skip” passages to enjoy only the best moments.
The construction of the two parts in days where the actions take place in parallel is a good idea, but at several times one does not necessarily feel pleasure to live a few more scenes of combat or exploration placed here and there.
I am not a supporter of violence in games and The Last of Us Part II is obviously a work where violence is omnipresent, because of its history. I will not judge him for that because it is “logical”, but the rise in power of Ellie reaches a level which is not “acceptable” in my vision of the things (with the passage of the torture which marks a turning in Ellie’s attitude).
To “show” us something is not the same as forcing us to “do” it. And on this point, I understand Naughty Dog’s decision but I do not endorse it. While experience in a game and its storytelling are the most important facets to me, I don’t think going beyond that has given me an angle that I didn’t understand.
I understood that Ellie had no limit without having to press the button to torture someone.
The Last of Us part II offers several difficulty levels, and normally it is already longer than most classic games. You can easily throw this into a new game once you’ve finished it to increase the difficulty and look for any secondary items that you might have missed.