Culture

Ellie descends further into darkness in The Last of Us Part II

by W. Tanner Kirk

Contributing writer

In 2013, American game developer Naughty Dog released the PlayStation 3 swansong The Last of Us to enthusiastic praise from critics and players alike, with Vice even calling it “the greatest game of the last console generation.”

Seven years later, The Last of Us Part II is finally here to give the PlayStation 4 the sendoff it deserves, and the character development, plot twists and narrative structures of Part II will no doubt have many remembering it as “the greatest game sequel” of a generation.

The series’ first outing followed hardened smuggler Joel in his attempt to safely guide and protect 14-year-old Ellie on a cross-country odyssey after the world has collapsed into a zombie apocalypse.

The Last of Us Part II
Rating
Opens Available Now on PlayStation 4

The first game’s philosophically complex closing sparked discussions about morality, and this new chapter takes it to another level, forcing players to grapple with the consequences of their actions firsthand. What unfolds is a story of love and hate, forgiveness and revenge, and a never-ending cycle of violence.

Picking up five years after the events of its predecessor, Part II opens with a plodding and deliberate sequence that serves as a refresher on the plot and sets up Ellie, now 19, as the main protagonist in the adventure to come. We also meet a diverse group of new characters, and check in with some old ones, before the game starts in proper.

One initial highlight is a combat tutorial disguised as a playful snowball fight between Ellie (voiced by Ashley Johnson), her girlfriend Dina (Shannon Woodward), and a group of children. The tutorial serves both as a clever rundown of the game’s combat mechanics as well as a warm reminder that, despite the horrific situations these characters find themselves in, they are still human.

Naughty Dog continues to innovate alongside Sony’s hardware. The animation, performance capture and acting on display are unparalleled in their detail and realism. You’ll find yourself awestruck at vivid amber skies as you gallop on horseback across rolling fields of wheat. Subtle facial expressions, glistening eyes and the faltering voices of the characters provide a sense of lifelike intimacy. The occasionally wonky animation may pull you out of the experience for a moment — but overall, the cinematics and gameplay are executed in such a way that the transitions between them are, at times, indecipherable.

While The Last of Us Part II is about survival and revenge amid a zombie apocalypse, it’s the characters’ humanity that brings a deeper meaning to the experience. One particularly heartfelt moment has the player use the controller’s thumbstick and touchpad to strum chords on Ellie’s guitar as she serenades Dina with a rendition of A-ha’s “Take On Me” while the couple takes shelter in an abandoned theater. Ellie and others will chat and joke around as they scavenge for scraps and ammunition, allowing the player to learn more about them through bouts of dialogue ranging from casual conversation to profound introspections about love and loss.

While other games in the action-adventure genre will have players mowing down droves of generic baddies with such reckless abandon that it’s almost comical, The Last of Us Part II can often be disturbing in its brutally honest depictions of violence, especially between other human beings just trying to survive.

Every kill counts. Enemies scream in horror as they fall to the ground clutching their freshly blown away appendages. Their companions call out to them by name in panicked anguish. The improved AI means that your foes are able to flank you and coordinate with each other, and slowly close in on your position. The inclusion of guard dogs that can sniff out your scent ensures that you’ll never be able to stay hidden in one spot for long.

The infected have received an overhaul since the last game, too. Their shrill screeches and cries will send chills down your spine. They’re so viciously unrelenting in their pursuit that they’ll continue to crawl toward you, dragging entrails behind them — even after losing their lower extremities to a strategically placed land mine.

Despite some controversy surrounding narrative decisions, leaks and the admirable decision to include unobtrusive LGBTQ themes, what Naughty Dog has done with The Last of Us Part II cements that video games are, in fact, an invaluable medium for storytelling that can teach us what it is to be human after the world falls to chaos.

Coronavirus banner