Love, family, hope; hate, resentment, revenge; loss, heartbreak, grief; such human emotions are not easy to effectively convey and portray to the audience for any piece of content. Games are a unique art form that enjoys the luxury of having a multitude of media at their disposal, video, audio, text, in-game interactions and even vibrations (console controllers).
Naughty Dogs as a developer makes use of every one of those tools to deliver an experience that is not only entertaining nor relaxing or exactly joyous but truly an experience. In other words, saying that this game leaves you feeling simply good or bad would be a criminal oversimplification. If the objective of art is to touch and stimulate the parts of you that make you human and not only make you feel good, this game is an exceptional piece of art and deserves a playthrough if you are fortunate enough to own a Playstation 4.
For a game like The Last of Us Part II, it would not be fair to leave it at just a review. To truly be appreciated or understood, the game requires a bit of context, which inevitably means describing some of the events of the game. However, this review is forced to leave out some details in the name of keeping spoilers to a minimum and because the world has a finite amount of paper.
The Last of Us II carries on that theme of desperation, scarcity, survival and the fear of death being around every corner that was first set forth by its predecessor. You feel vulnerable and fragile, which only makes using your wits and skill to get through enemy-infested areas that much more rewarding. Enemies are now much smarter. The whistles of the seraphites and the barks of the WLF dogs will have you shaking on your couch, that is, if you dare to play at a higher difficulty level.
The gameplay is more or less linear with the exception of one scene towards the beginning of the game. Exploration and puzzle-solving are rewarded not only with extra loot but intriguing stories in notes and best of all, extra content. For example, dive deep enough into downtown Seattle and you will find the remnants of a bank heist that took place on outbreak day.
The visuals of the game are more of an artistic expression of how beautiful real life can look than they are video game graphics. Everything from the way light shines through trees to how blood snakes across a slanted floor are done exceptionally well. Facial expressions are also an industry benchmark, their lifelike movements are vital in bringing out the depth of emotions that the events and the story of the game demand.
For the challenging yet enjoyable gameplay, the exceptional attention to detail and the gorgeous setting it all happens in, The Last of Us Part II is an absolute treat to play. Having been marred with controversy and condemnation before its release, the game does a spectacular job of redeeming itself and providing some much-needed context to some of the most painful parts of its story.
How we got here
The story of The Last of Us is set in a zombie apocalypse. A man (Joel) is tasked with escorting a little girl (Ellie) who is immune across the country to a group called the Fireflies in the hope of developing a cure. Joel then ends up killing all the Fireflies in the hospital as he finds out that Ellie would be killed while making the cure.
In the sequel, Abby, the daughter of one of the Fireflies that Joel killed, tracks him down, tortures and kills him as Ellie is forced to watch. Ellie and a few others then set out to Seattle to avenge Joel.
The game follows the events of three days in Seattle, once from Ellie's perspective and once from Abby's. These parts are filled with subtle cues for how people rationalise their self-righteous and fascist practices to oppress other people.
The two halves also include memories of Joel's special birthday surprise for Ellie or Abby's father wanting to "show her something" (we will not spoil these for you). These are not just flashbacks though, they are full chapters of the game that provide a reprieve from the stress of survival. But more importantly, they show the beautiful relationships people can have with their family and loved ones, the experiences, the thoughts, the feelings that tie one soul to the other.
What would you do if it was your daughter?
Is a question that Abby's father has to face right before he makes the choice of sacrificing Ellie's life for a possible cure. It is a question that he is asked twice but fails to answer. This is one of the most pivotal scenes of the game. The reason he cannot answer that question is the same reason Joel decides to kill everyone at the hospital to save Ellie. A reason that can very easily be felt, but never put into words, so we will not try either.
This theme of love transcending all logic reaches completion when Abby ends up choosing to defend a child of the group of people she has hated and killed. Defending him to the point where she does not hesitate to gun down her own people.
If I ever were to lose you, I would surely lose myself
The game walks the entire nine miles in showing the player how much of the cruelty and vengeance shed on the world starts as love for someone else. And how that love makes people incapable of forgetting the ones they have lost, of ever being able to rest easy.
It is difficult to agree with the director's choices throughout the game as you are often stuck playing a character you might not like. But if you can ignore the complete lack of choice in how the story concludes, the game offers up a special experience. It weaves a one of a kind tapestry that depicts the parallels of how love has both the power to ground people and also to drive them to lose themselves in the process of finding closure.