Welcome to T3's The Last of Us Part 2 review. Seven years ago, Naughty Dog released The Last of Us, surprising fans of the studio’s Uncharted series with a grim, post-apocalyptic slog across America, from Boston, Massachusetts, to Jackson County, Wyoming.
The rich smorgasbord of biomes served up in Nathan Drake’s globe-trotting adventures was replaced with a platter of four seasons saturated in a more subdued palette; lush, tropical forests and and turquoise lagoons gave way to a crumbling skyline, bristling with stone monoliths.
Homicidal jaunts peppered with clever quips were left by the wayside, leaving Joel and Ellie to deal with the much more harrowing reality of what it takes to survive. The Last of Us roosted at the pinnacle of story-driven excellence last generation, and you shouldn’t expect anything less from the sequel.
The Last of Us Part II picks up five years after the events in the first game and its divisive climax. No matter where you stand on Joel’s decision to save Ellie, the proverbial has clearly hit the fan, with the characters’ relationship visibly straining under the weight of Ellie’s anger and bitterness.
It’s jarring and a little bit heart-breaking to see the bond we nurtured in the original game reduced to tatters, and it’s taken a noticeable toll on Joel, who looks like he’s coming off the back of a second term in the White House.
Things get off to an arduously slow start as Naughty Dog dumps out its narrative Lego bricks and begins to assemble what will eventually become a structure of incredible poignancy and complexity, but it picks up when you’re released into the world proper. The combat feels much more refined this time around, and you can look forward to an arsenal of upgradeable weapons to suit your playstyle, or - more realistically - frantically switch between as you unload clips of ammo into the nearest skull.
The upgradeable skills are back, with a basic tree for attributes like Survival, Crafting, and Stealth, but you’ll need to find Training Manuals throughout the world to unlock them. Both weapon and skill upgrades are very unlikely to be fully unlocked with a single playthrough, so you’ll need to prioritise your resources and commit to a playstyle early on to make the most of it.
Crafting is still a key component to replenishing your inventory, and you can cook up a few different flavours of ammo for a couple of weapons in your arsenal, as well as explosives, and modified melee weapons. And boy howdy, are you going to need them!
The infected have continued to evolve and there is a delightful selection of new and terrifying monsters to be on the lookout for that are a trypophobic’s nightmare. Festooned with clusters of lumps, blisters, and eyeballs, the new additions to the infected lineup are tough - and not just because it’s difficult to aim when you're actively trying not to look at them. But that’s what bombs are for, right?
The barbarous violence may come as a bit of a shock to newcomers to the series, but it never feels gratuitous - and there are moments that will have even veterans clutching their pearls at the brutality on display.
Of course, some revelry is allowed for - it is a game after all - but the moments are fleeting. Dispatching a band of infected is a high stakes affair strewn with tension, as their ungodly utterances pierce the oppressive combat music, but it isn’t half satisfying when you execute a perfect stealth kill.
Cherish those moments of pride when you plunge your shiv of death into a moving body, because they’re few and far between. As you make your way through Seattle, you’ll encounter a couple of different factions that have sprung up since Joel extinguished the Fireflies, and they have names, and friends, and pets - all of which you’ll discover on your murder spree.
Agonised wails over fallen comrades, and guttural ululations at the discovery of a beloved canine pal you poked a few holes in earlier, will follow you around the map as you up your body count; serving to remind you that they’re more than just bodies, and that they count to someone.
There’s no looking away from the fallout of your carnage, which players can justify as a necessary evil borne from Ellie’s unquenchable thirst for revenge, but just when you think the pair of you are at peace with doing what’s necessary to get it, you’re serving up a fresh batch of atrocities that you didn’t realise you had in you. And you’re not the only culprit.
Tribalism sits at the heart of the story, with characters dismissing horrific acts of violence meted out by themselves or their group as being deserved. It exists between factions on a large scale, and is echoed in a microcosm within those groups through acts of bigotry and ignorance. The cast of characters is hugely diverse and will buck any assumptions you have going in, but they’re all guilty of dehumanising anyone they see as the ‘other’.
The Last of Us Part II is a lesson in humanity in all of its ugliness, but it’s beautiful to watch play out. It’s a tale of hope and redemption; all-consuming bitterness and rage. So buckle yourself in for a roller-coaster of emotions in the slickest-looking game this generation.
The Last of Us Part II releases June 19, 2020. To celebrate the launch, Sony compiled The Last Of Us: From Posts To Poems book, which transforms fans' discourse on the first game into a heartwarming collection of poems, peppered with gorgeous artwork from the game. Sadly, it's not available for purchase but you can take a gander at one of pages above.