“I know you wish things were different…but they ain’t.”
Naughty Dog has long been a leader in the game development world and there is little doubt that they are the crown jewel in Sony’s stable of first party studios. With The Last of Us part II, Naughty Dog has taken their successful formula and, again, upped the ante in terms of character/facial animations, voice acting, world details and controls. If, however, you’ve never been a fan of the more weighty controls of their previous games, I’m not sure there is much new here that will change your opinion. While things like aiming a rifle or traversing over cars and rubble feel much improved and smooth, it’s not such a vast departure that it will suddenly win over fast-paced gameplay fans.
The moment to moment gameplay loop will feel familiar to TLOU fans. Scour the area for precious resources, keep your head low, and stealth your way through hordes of infected and dangerous human factions. Stealth in TLOU2 is fantastic and one of my favorite enhancements to the previous game. The design of the levels is built in such a way that there is always some small crack or crawlspace where you can avoid detection or scramble away after just being spotted. This allows the player to more easily re-establish stealth and get back to being the hunter instead of the hunted.
The graphical and audio design also deserve special mention here. With a game so dependent on the power of it’s narrative, TLOU2 thankfully delivers the best facial animation I’ve seen in a game, period. There are masterful subtleties, such as swallowing during a tense conversation or tears that ever so slightly water up in a characters’ eyes, that leave you thinking it might be the next Naughty Dog game before you witness anything of similar quality again. The environments are equally astonishing and with a level of detail that is best in class. I never knew that boring, overgrown buildings could be so beautiful. There were times when I thought a cool collectible or secret ammo stash was housed around some hidden corner simply because the area looked “too good” to not have something there. Nope, just another gorgeous dead end that only a small fraction of players will ever even see. This commitment also extends through the audio design. I won’t belabor this point much, but just watch the video below and listen to the details of the guns as Ellie upgrades them at a standard workbench. Incredible stuff.
The Last of Us part II finds itself releasing at an interesting moment in America’s history. In the real world we are currently in the middle of a global pandemic and a civil division that has produced extreme viewpoints from both sides. Loud cries and opinions spew from every corner – some valid, some not. Even this very game is the topic of considerable controversy where you either must love it or hate it. There is little room for things like nuance or empathy. What The Last of Us part II attempts to do is to make bold character choices, rife with mistakes, messiness and regret – let you marinate on that choice for a while – and then see if you can come to a different position other than your initial reaction. TLOU2 wants to make you uncomfortable with what you think is right or wrong. So, given the backdrop of the real world, writers Neil Druckmann and Halley Gross deliver refreshing nuance to these extreme situations because, frankly, that’s what situations like these call for. It can be a harrowing, exhausting and challenging exercise, but it worked out a muscle that I think many of us need to exercise more.
One of the many reasons why The Last of Us part II is smothered in controversy, especially in Christian circles, is largely due to some mis-information via pre-release leaks. I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that some of the more “spicy” leaks, at least from a Christian’s perspective, are largely false. With that said, there is plenty here that many Christians will find objectionable. None larger than the brutal, up close and personal violence that marks the entire game. Personally, I feel that the violence in TLOU2 is only slightly ramped up from that of TLOU1, but the aforementioned level of graphical detail requires that these images are all the more realistic and stomach turning. So, while something like Doom: Eternal is objectively more violent and gory, TLOU2 humanizes it in a way that I’m not sure any other video game has been able to achieve. It can be haunting.
In the first game’s DLC, “Left Behind”, players discover that Ellie is a lesbian. This facet is unsurprisingly expounded upon in TLOU2 with Naughty Dog exploring Ellie’s new relationship with Dina, an interesting new Jewish character within Ellie and Joel’s community. While nothing is shown, there is one implied sex scene between the couple. There is an additional sex scene which briefly displays a topless female. The inclusion of this sex scene is particularly regrettable because it was not only unnecessary, but also awkward and unrealistic given who was involved and when it went down. Thankfully, any cutscene is easily skippable with a simple pause and “Skip Cinematic” selection. Finally, The Last of Us Part II has the mouth of a sailor. Frequent uses of strong language including taking the Lord’s name in vain are peppered throughout the experience.
The Last of Us Part II is not for everybody. Naughty Dog has unabashedly focused on the cycle of violence and the consequences found therein. They use the extreme backdrop of the infection and terrible factions to paint glimpses into the human psyche. It’s a fascinating study of human character and right and wrong. Few video games leave a weight on you like The Last of Us Part II. Such heft requires the player to consider the actions they are taking part in and perhaps see things through a different lens. If only there were more games that required this amount of thought from the player! Unfortunately, the graphic nature of the game will deter many. In the words of Neil Druckmann, “you’re not wrong” for thinking this game has too much violence for you. Taking that a step further, you should skip this game if any of what I’ve mentioned up to this point is a red flag for you. Don’t go against your convictions. With all that said, exploring this world and studying these characters can be incredibly moving and impactful.