The mere thought of a sequel to The Last of Us was something that never would have crossed my mind back in 2013. As Ellie doubtfully looked into the eyes of her surrogate father Joel in the game’s final lingering shot, the story felt conclusively resolute. Three years later however, after multiple playthroughs and a multitude of conversations on why The Last of Us is one of the best games ever made, Naughty Dog dropped the bombshell after a few rumours and speculations; The Last of Us Part 2 was on its way.
As Naughty Dog drip fed us information on the game in the following years, the wait for Part 2 felt endless – fueled only by the constant and repetitive cycle of excitement, fear, and back again. Could a sequel truly be a worthy successor, or would it tarnish what came before it? Then came several delays, a hate campaign, and a flurry of leaks, all of which made the countdown immeasurably worse, and comment sections a minefield not worth crossing. But all the noise and worry began to fade away as the game loaded for the first time.
Through its riveting 20-plus hour campaign – a reasonably large increase from the last game – I gasped, I cried, I agonized, I gawked mouth agape, and I experienced a whirlwind of emotion that no other game had truly managed to elicit. In this humble reviewer’s opinion, The Last of Us Part 2 is a magnificent feat in media, let alone video games. It challenges what it means to be a video game, and most importantly it challenged what it means to be a Last of Us game.
Neil Druckmann and Haley Gross – the game’s director and writers – made sure that Part 2 was a different kind of beast. Their narrative direction doesn’t pander to the expectation of its predecessor, and it goes to places that have proven to rub many gamers the wrong way, which is OK. This is not the sequel that many had hoped for, yet through its bravery, Part 2 manages to become an experience that built upon the previous instalment in a natural and grounded way, whilst simultaneously forming its own identity. As Druckmann had stated countless times; if Part 1 was about love, Part 2 is about hate, and that is felt through every fibre of its being.
Naughty Dog’s themes are felt more prominently than in the previous entry, but it in no way detracts from the experience. Through its focusing on the cycle of violence, the gamer questions the very nature of their own protagonist. How far will Ellie go? How many must die? And how many of those actually deserve to die? It’s an excellent meditation on what many games, and even Naughty Dog themselves have ignored in the past, as Nathan Drake gleefully snaps yet another neck in-between quips. These violent acts have consequence, and not just physically, but on a mental state of mind, and ND managed to perfectly transpose this through the controller – to the point that there are segments in the game where I hesitated to push the buttons I had been callously tapping for over 15 hours.
These thematic plot threads result in a story that expands, weaves and structurally deviates – something that blossomed the occasional flicker of doubt in myself, only to be quickly doused by a masterful execution in storytelling. Any leaks in plot points or cutscenes, simply cannot come close to capturing the experience that is felt through its campaign, and any cancelled pre-orders or hastened returns are a denial of what is the most exciting achievement in gaming since Naughty Dog’s opus back in 2013.
So, suffice to say, I enjoyed The Last of Us Part 2, if enjoyed is even the right word. It became so much more than a post-apocalyptic stealth/actioner, to point that I sat back in awe during the game’s credits as Gustavo Santaolalla’s haunting score echoed through my living room, only to be sporadically interrupted by my own muted weeps. The Last of Us Part 2 is an experience I will never forget, and in many ways feels like a turning point in my perspective towards video games. The emotional impact of its story lingered with me in a way that left me feeling unable to go back to the simple days of looter shooters or couch coops. It was the sequel that I never asked for, but one that should no doubt go down as one of the greatest games ever made.