WORDS Andy Porter
Developed by Naughty Dog – PlayStation 4
Back in 2013, The Last of Us offered players a frightening look at a future where humanity was forced to struggle for survival in a brutal new reality after a parasitic fungal virus had claimed the world. It was dark, often sickening, and highly immersive, praised especially for its engaging narrative. If you intend on playing Part II, I highly recommend finishing the first game beforehand (whether on PlayStation 3 or the remastered edition on PS4). The story of Part II is a direct continuation and reflects upon the ramifications of main character Joel’s actions in the first game. This time, however, you’ll be playing as Ellie, his travelling companion, now older and more experienced.
In terms of gameplay it is, in part, a third-person survival shooter as you gather and craft resources in the world in order to overcome opponents, whether they be the shambling infected, the military or even cultists. I played on moderate difficulty which provided a fair challenge and played as stealthily as possible. I found that resources were never truly scarce, although I tend to play conservatively. You could easily blow through them if you prefer a more direct approach! It might be worth considering a harder mode if you enjoy difficult survival horror games and resource management, although moderate can still be tense and unsettling.
The game is not all about its combat though, as you will spend a large amount of time exploring the world and intimately following the characters on their personal journeys. At times it reminded me a lot of old point-and-click adventures, as the environments are highly interactive and you’re always experiencing the world through the character’s point of view. It is incredibly cinematic and story driven and surprisingly vast in scope. I did not anticipate the game’s length, and it is almost overwhelming in that sense, but I found that taking regular long breaks and returning to the game later enhanced the experience. Be prepared for a long journey.
Also important to note is that I played the entire game with headphones, and I can’t imagine it without them; the sound design is fantastic, if a little terrifying, given its excellent use of surround sound. It really heightened the tension and I felt truly immersed in the world at all times. This also benefits gameplay considerably, as you can often tell which direction enemies are coming from through sound alone.
A word of warning, though – the game is extremely violent and graphic, which fits the world that it’s depicting but can nonetheless be uncomfortable. There’s often no way around it; the story is cruel and relentless. Likewise, without saying too much, if you’re looking for likeable characters, while they do have their touching moments (Ellie’s relationship with her girlfriend Dina is particularly well handled) you’ll often find yourself forced to make terrible decisions as part of the narrative. It is a highly scripted experience, and no matter what happens, and no matter how awful it gets, you’re along for the ride. There are no definitive heroes.
If that doesn’t put you off, then I cannot recommend this highly enough. Even if it is at times disturbing, for every moment of brutality there is one of reflection. It has been one of the most engaging game experiences of my life, and the amount of detail and polish that Naughty Dog has managed to cram in is astonishing considering its epic length. This is a game of exceptional quality and one that needs to be experienced.