Review: The Last of Us Part II

I consider this post spoiler-free, but if you’re at all concerned, don’t read it, play the bloomin’ game instead of looking for blog posts and videos about it 😉

There are no screenshots in this post apart from the featured image. This is deliberate, prepare yourself for two thousand words.

I recently tweeted “Here’s to staying up way too late and playing video games!”

This week has been one of those occasions for sure when my physical copy of The Last of Us Part II arrived on release day. Robbing myself of sleep was guaranteed.

Averaging 5 hours of play and then sleep, for 5 consecutive days. After a total of just over 25 hours, early on Wednesday morning, the credits finally rolled.

It had to happen this way, after 7 years of waiting, I had to know first hand what happened next. I did my best to avoid spoilers, all of the trash talk going on throughout Twitter, Reddit etc. It’s amazing what people get angry about.

Part I recap

Rewind back to 2013; the first console I’d purchased for myself, the PS3 Slim, was patiently waiting under the TV for this game I’d heard about, The Last of Us. Along with GTA V, it steered me towards the PS3.

It was amazing, despite my inability to play with a controller (I’d struggled with GTA V too) I pressed on through the 12 hour-ish campaign, it was remarkable. A truly gripping narrative, but what was achieved with PS3 hardware was quite the accomplishment. As a primarily PC gamer back then, I was awestruck. Maybe consoles weren’t so bad after all?

I also never played it again, until a month ago when I dusted off The Last of Us Remastered. This was picked up over 2 years ago, safe in the knowledge I would play it only when Part II was fully cooked and about to arrive. It would make me ready, emotionally more than anything, to jump straight into Part II and continue this journey.

The remastered version of the first game confirmed everything I remember from my only prior playthrough; an intense, frantic, and violent journey through the wastelands of civilization, punctuated with moments of absolute beauty. The graphical improvements amplified my feelings of immersion, a larger and better quality TV also didn’t hurt. It was great to be back.

Seven years of console ownership and thousands of hours of controller use surfaced some feelings I wasn’t expecting; sheesh, the combat is wonky. Maybe I wasn’t as bad at this as I remember?!

Some of it was the game, in my opinion. I played at a higher difficulty level this time and felt way more at ease, but there were definitely some dodgy moments of clumsy combat. I overcame them easily enough, so it didn’t ruin my enjoyment too much or slow me down as it had 7 years ago.

Part II, you son of a… I’m in.

So here I was, fresh off a playthrough of the remastered first game, with a couple of weeks to digest the story again. Confident in my controller skills, I was ready.

Let me be upfront here, without trying to spoil anything; what happens in the first few hours of Part II is ruthless, almost without context (until later on), meant to shock you, meant to make you angry. It was also inevitable.

The entire narrative is driven forward for the rest of the game by that moment, its why the game even exists. Without this story to tell, what else could this game have been about? You’re missing out if you bail at that point.

Story aside for a moment

We’ll circle back to the story again later, in much the same way the game continually circles around and threads plot strands together, there’s more to say about other things first.

A technical marvel

As a video game, something technical, but also a piece of art, everything is masterfully represented and executed here. Naughty Dog has squeezed everything they could from the PlayStation once again.

In my entire playthrough, there were only a few times where the seams were visible. The rare animation not stitched together correctly, slight drops in frame rate (on PS4 Pro where water is involved, as noted by Digital Foundry) and other totally minor things.

The visuals

Visually striking, you start with some stunning vistas, rendered to perfection, at the seemingly controversial 30fps. For me, this works fine, because it remains almost entirely consistent throughout.

As you progress through the story, you’ll be taken to several locations which are increasingly impressive, full of detail. There are so many memorable locations and views, I don’t even want to be that guy who spoils any of them for you, by taking screenshots.

It is also incredibly dark at times, not just in tone, but pitch black in terms of lighting, forcing you to fight for your life with only a torch to guide you, against some fairly tough enemies. Much of the game is played in darkness, rain, and snow.

The violence and gore, nightmare fuel

The environments have to look as good as they do, however, because the pendulum swings both ways. On the one hand, it shows nature reclaiming the earth, beautiful sunsets, stunning mountains etc. On the other hand, violence and gore are also rendered in the same kind of excruciating detail. If you’re upset by this kind imagery, you’ll be looking away often. How do you feel about murdering Alsatians? Best of luck to you.

In one section, I set 4 trap mines, as I expected to be rushed by the enemy once detected. Sure enough, they came for me, one after the other triggering an explosion. Once I’d dispatched their friends, I went into the room where the traps had been set. The walls and floors were crimson, with arms, legs, intestines, heads, all rendered in extreme detail, with uncanny wetness to it all. It was honestly disgusting, but over the years I’ve been de-sensitised to the sight of it, so I just moved on, “it’s not real” I acknowledged.

This is a great game if you need some more nightmare fuel.

The hills are alive, with the sound of death

I played the entire game using stereo headphones plugged into the controller, these to be precise. These particular headphones allow sound you wouldn’t otherwise hear with other headphones to shine through.

Playing late at night, when the rest of the house was totally silent, I was fully immersed in the stereo audio.

In one section, something is crawling around the ventilation, or somewhere above you; the sound is so subtle, but it really raised my heart rate. Playing through the TV, I would never have heard it.

The same is true throughout, very subtle ambient sounds, crunching of the ground underneath the enemy, distant clicks from the Clicker enemies, grunting from the Runners, wind whistling past your ears.

Every arrow in your shoulder, shot fired, explosion, Molotov, rustle of leaves as you walk through the undergrowth and whistle between enemies in the distance. Every squelch during a silent takedown with a knife. Enemies don’t always expire straight away, sometimes they’ll scream, silently choke on their own blood. Seriously, this is not for sensitive types.

Combat, punchy punches are very punchy

This was my only real concern going into Part II, would the overall combat experience improve from the first game? The answer is a resounding yes. Absolutely.

The dodge mechanic is the only wonky thing about it all, often the camera would spin around while I was dodging, showing my back to the enemy while they attacked me.

Maybe I just don’t get it yet, but this was very frustrating at times. I felt like I was fighting the camera more than the enemy, but I’ll work on this.

When the dodging works, it fits so well into other melee animations and the environment, the whole thing looks scripted, much as it did in the E3 demos of the past. It really does play as well as it looked in those demos, for a change.

You’re running through gaps in walls, dodging giant sledgehammers, returning punches, slashing desperately with a knife. You have to, in some cases, to survive at all. It’s all extremely satisfying.

Combat situations don’t always pan out the way you’d hope, you’ll die gruesomely, but when it does work and the dust settles, you’ll gather your thoughts and be desperate to do it all over again. More than once, I carried on when I knew I was doomed, or reloading the save would make more sense, just to get some practice and enjoy more of the combat.

Other notable points

The crafting returns, which has improved, I’m also happy to say there are way more resources in the maps on “Moderate” difficulty compared to the first game. This is necessary, otherwise, you’d be hard-pressed to defeat the enemies presented, unless you stealth a great deal more. I hate stealth!

Puzzles return too, slightly different this time, but still interesting. I’m not much of a puzzle fan, but these were completely understandable and fun to solve.

Accessibility options are well represented here, Naughty Dog is receiving huge praise for this, I can’t imagine what this means to people who need them, but it is great to see.

Overall, everything which isn’t story related is top-notch. This is a highly polished video game, the time gained delaying release was clearly well spent.

The length of the game

Here’s where some of the problems start to surface. The game is so arduous and exhausting, so intense in every way. I’ve seen tweets from people saying they’ll take their time, savour the game, reflect on what happens.

This is absolutely the way to go unless you’re impatient. At 20-30 hours it just feels a little too long, I was expecting something more succinct like the first game. I felt as though I was playing Part II immediately followed by Part III.

The thing is, its so addictive to play, I just had to keep going. I wasn’t rushing it for the sake of writing this or to prevent exposure to spoilers and so on. The story was just so intense, so demanding, I had to keep going.

Back to that story

The story is the other problem for me, but also many others.

It’s divisive, there’s a reason the internet has gone wild over this game. Spoiling the plot, review bombing on Metacritic, attempting to boycott the release, all the usual rubbish.

You’ll never please everyone, Naughty Dog knows this. For everyone who loves that you get to play as thingy-me-bob, there’s someone who hates Naughty Dog for “what they did” to the story, they’ll never forgive them for it.

I can deal with all that, but towards the end of the game, it seems to lose direction.

The actions on screen felt massively at odds with the character progression I’d experienced to that point. I felt forced to “do things” that didn’t seem right, given the situation, but in the end, shrugged it off for the sake of progressing to the end. I straight-up murdered people because I couldn’t find any bottles or bricks.

The ending

I’m saying nothing. No, I’m serious, go and play the damn game, or watch someone else play it if you don’t want to spend money.

It builds on the first game in every way, is fun to play (most of the time), scary as !@# in places, an adrenaline rush, a tear-jerker, mouth-open-OMG-moment-during-cutscenes kind of game.

The Last of Us Part II is everything you want it to be, but also nothing like you wanted it to be or hoped it would be. How could this possibly live up to your expectations, after the end of the first game?

If you have any passing interest, just play the game for yourself, no amount of reviews or YouTube videos can take the place of experiencing it first hand, then making up your own mind, like an adult.

I’ll be playing New Game+ (which shipped at release) and going for the Platinum trophy, which probably tells you I liked it overall. You might not though, but judge for yourself, don’t let the internet sway you.

We’ll be talking about this game until Part III comes along.

Review: The Outer Worlds

Version played: Xbox One X (Game Pass), Playtime: 30 hours

It’s most rare these days for a video game to be released which just works. Thankfully, The Outer Worlds is such a video game, so you can dive right in and enjoy yourself for once!

Built on Unreal Engine 4, Obsidian Entertainment are well known for the buggy release of Fallout: New Vegas, but The Outer Worlds suffers no such fate. I’m happy to say, there were no technical issues at all for me, no frame drops, no falling through the world, I was just living out my space fantasy one evening after another. Everything feels finished, ready! My goodness!

The fact I’m even mentioning this is a shame and says a lot about the industry in 2019, but lets not detract from the task at hand here. We’re talking about The Outer Worlds.

Influences abound

There’s strong vibes of Futurama, Firefly, Fallout and just about every other RPG you’ve probably ever played. You could argue this game is influenced so heavily by these things it outright rips them off. The shy female mechanic, the vicar with a mysterious and potentially violent past, the barmy old man, the power armour (which I don’t think you have a hope of wearing, unless I missed something). It’s hard not to notice the similarities.

This is typical fetch quest too, kill this person (or facilitate peace) affair, sprinkled with a dusting of interesting characters you might actually want to talk to. The maps themselves aren’t big enough for this to become too much of an issue however.

There’s quite a lot of talking

Once you’re told the premise of everything, corporations own everything and everyone it seems, you can get stuck in making friends and influencing people. I spent the first 10 hours of the game doing little more than talking to NPCs, with the occasional shooty bits. In the end this started to bother me a little, because the action was good, although very brief each time.

If you don’t want to do all that talking, you obviously don’t have to, just shoot and smash your way around. The game will be much shorter if you do so, but you’ll probably still have fun along the way.

Soooo much talking, towards the end I found I could read it quicker than it was voice acted, but to skip the voice acting would be regrettable

All the characters I spoke to were well acted, interesting enough to keep talking to, thoroughly amusing or just downright hilarious. The world seems chock-full of people with things to say.

Particular favourites of mine were Parvati the mechanic, voiced brilliantly by Ashly Burch, who you meet very early on and can sign up to your crew, as well as Sanjar a little later on, head of an outcast corporation (Monarch Stellar Industries) and his assistant. Finally for me, was SAM, who I won’t spoil for you at all. I wish I’d spent more time with SAM. Lets just say, he’s very useful against other robots.

Ludicrously easy on normal difficulty

I didn’t struggle at all with this game, which is unusual for me, as I often suck at video games. Once you’re up to two companions, any of them really, set them to offensive mode and the three of you will just carve through most enemies, even the ones you may encounter and think “Oh !@# this is gonna be…. over, OK.”

Tactical Time Dilation, the games version of V.A.T.S. from Fallout, where the action is slowed down, makes it even easier, although the effect is well handled and does make for some satisfying shots on target.

There’s rudimentary modding of gear, weapons, you can do the same for your companions too, all of which I experimented with and felt was absolutely necessary to keep up. Prior to kitting out my companions with grenade launchers, miniguns etc, they were all a bit squishy. Oh, perhaps arming them to the teeth is what made the game easier? It was fun ripping through everything and everyone with them regardless!

There’s consumables too, but I didn’t use a single one of them, just sold them for the games currency, called bits. I suspect they’re more useful than I give them credit for.

There are more difficulty levels which incorporate survival mechanics, where the consumables probably make a real difference. This also offers permanent death for companions, something which would probably break my heart in Parvati’s case. She’s far too sweet to ever send off to her doom.

Ultimately survival is not my own preferred playstyle, I loath hunger meters and all that sort of thing, the pressure is too much and it makes the experience hard work, I just want to enjoy the story and combat.

Short and sweet

The whole experience was over before I was ready for that to be the case, the polar opposite to the way I felt playing Borderlands 3 before this. The game teases you from the start with places on the star map you believe you’ll visit. Some of them appear to be just for show in the end. The final act crept up on me very suddenly.

I delayed a few missions because they might be time consuming, difficult, both, or to maximise my time with the experience. Don’t bother doing the same; if you hoover up all the missions you can find, steering clear of the main campaign, you’re still going to finish this game in 30 or so hours, unless you explore every single square inch of every map. The time will just fly by.

Some enemies will take the fight to you, which is an endless source of amusement

The ending felt rushed as a result, but perhaps that was just my high expectations by that point. Obsidian made it clear months ago this was not some sprawling, fully open-world, 100 hour game; it is concise in every way, including in its limited run time.

Does the game warrant multiple play-throughs then? I think so, even just out of curiosity to see what changes; the one who plays nice, the strong idiot, the lone wolf, the absolute psychopath, the one who sides with the enemy. Perhaps your imagination is better than mine, but I’m not sure the game will cater to dozens of different styles. There are two main endings, but many different things that can change dramatically in between.

Hey good lookin’

This is a beautiful game, no question. It is extremely colourful, as a game about space and terra-formed planets should be. The skyboxes, oh my goodness. Echos of time misspent in No Man’s Sky haunt me. But this isn’t procedural, it’s all hand crafted in the Unreal Engine I believe.

A very pretty, vibrant and colourful game, it has to be said.

Hungry for more

It seems I’m not alone in wanting more, but is there anything else in the works? People are expecting to buy DLC imminently, but nothing is confirmed yet, to my knowledge. The game has performed very well and a recent visit to the studio by Eurogamer somewhat confirms there’s still a team at Obsidian working on the game, in some capacity. Is that more content, a sequel? Time will tell.

The studio is now Microsoft owned, they move forward without the fears being an independent studio can bring, they can focus on what matters, which is making video games.

I hope very much this is the start of something bigger, not too much bigger, but the worlds Obsidian have created here are ripe for further development, but hopefully, not exploitation.

Single player, and that’s absolutely fine by me

Personally I think the video game market is going through another shift back toward shorter single player experiences. There’s got to be a market for that, haven’t we rinsed the multiplayer annual releases of CoD experience to death now?

As we’ve all aged, got married, had kids, become busy at work or even all of those things together, we have less time for video games, but still want to play.

Because yoooouuuurr’eee gorgeous, The Outer Worlds, lets be alone together

I need to play this on the go

For the same reasons as above, I think there’s definitely a market for cloud streaming. Google Stadia launched today, in a very limited capacity.

There is a desire on my part to buy a Switch and play something like The Outer Worlds on my commute, I simply need to get my fix when and how I can these days. A version for Switch has been announced by the way, I think the game will suit this console very much and sell maaaany units, maybe even a few consoles.

The not so good

At launch, one glaring and hugely irritating problem which is being fixed the week I post this review: THE BLOOMIN’ TEXT SIZE! Once again, as with Borderlands 3, completely unreadable text from a normal distance on console, using a massive TV. I had to sit very close to the TV to read anything, but once again, I was not alone.

Developers everywhere; stop making your games with tiny text, especially on console!

In summary, spacers

Beautiful visuals, music, serviceable weapons, gear, mods, good level design, great voice acting, interesting lore, tremendous voice acting and overall, a good time that I will remember fondly when I start a new save.

Go out and get your own fix, this is a great, short, beautiful video game!