It’s no secret that the gaming world has been foaming at the mouth for any sign of life when it came to the much-anticipated sequel to 2013 smash hit The Last of Us. The launch of Part II was pushed back a handful of times before developers Naughty Dog finally settled on a release date of June 19th, 2020, but then a major leak of key scenes from the title made their way to every single form of social media, making it an Olympic sport-level task of avoiding them every time you booted up your laptop, or swiped onto Twitter.
I’ve got to admit, despite being somebody who cannot abide spoilers at the best of times, my journalistic curiosity got the better of me, and I ended up digging deep into all of the messages and clips that were uploaded by countless, faceless users. I wish I hadn’t done it, because it risked tarnishing my entire experience with the game. Some of the rumours had me considering whether I wanted to play Part II at all. Fortunately, I came to my senses.
We catch up with Ellie (Ashley Johnson) and Joel (Troy Baker) five years on from where we left them. They’re now settled in Jackson, in what looks to be a perfectly-fortified sanctuary, complete with dozens of citizens including Joel’s charismatic brother Tommy (Jeffrey Pierce). There are friendships, romantic connections and bitter disputes, and in one early moment where you’re chucking snowballs at the local children, you almost forget you’re surrounding by millions of infected flesh eaters. Almost.
Despite these moments of near-normality, those most familiar with the series will recognise the hints of trouble brewing that soon escalate into full-blown tragedy, emotional trauma and bloody violence. If you’ve grown attached to these characters and created a bond as you’ve watched the more familiar members of Jackson’s community go through their various arcs, then buckle in and keep the Kleenex close at hand.
There are also a whole host of fresh new faces introduced in Part II; most notably Abby, played expertly by Laura Bailey. She’s somebody you’re going to be getting extremely familiar with, as you take control of the character within portions of the game and push her forward on her journey of revenge.
As new factions fight for power in post-apocalyptic America, players are plopped right in the centre with vengeance on the mind, and struggles with morality tearing at your heartstrings. Unfortunately, there’s not much choice when it comes to moving Ellie and Abby’s stories forward; their actions and the consequences of those are integral to the plot, so you’re forced to go against your own better judgement at a number of different points.
That story, though? An absolute masterpiece. All the concerns I had following the leaks eased the further I progressed, and though many of the spoilers I had read turned out to be accurate, that didn’t matter in the long run. The decisions made by Naughty Dog were incredibly brave, but paid off in spade loads.
The combat system is very close to that which was introduced in the original Last of Us, with some new weapons and defensive hand-made gadgets thrown in to allow for precise planning. For the most part, it’s up to you whether you want to go into battle all guns blazing, or if you’d like to lay traps for your enemies and watch them go boom. The latter is what I would often go for, but I’m not the most subtle player in the world and at times, a shootout felt completely unavoidable.
When it comes to the violence… Well, just make sure you’ve got a strong stomach. Cutscenes can be some of the most engaging moments in the game, but also the most gut-wrenching. Your anxiety will be peaked and you will need to spend a few moments in a well-lit room from time to time, to regain your composure and ensure you’re ready to move forward. Make sure you do this every so often so you can be fully enveloped in what the game has to offer; otherwise you’re not going to get that full experience the writing team have conjured up.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Part II is that it’s a game focused on women, with the characters assigned traits that are stereotypically masculine. It’s not something you would immediately expect after playing Part I. The majority of the main players in this story are female, and to get to explore their psyche and pick apart their actions as and when they happen is a real privilege. It might not feel like a feminist title from the outset, but Part II is undoubtedly breaking down barriers and paving the way for developers to be even riskier in future.
The best game ever? It’s something I’m going to have to let stew a little longer before having a final say, but it’s certainly up there. A huge congratulations to everybody involved in bringing the sequel to life.
The Last of Us Part II is available now exclusively on the PlayStation 4. A review code was given to Female First in exchange for an honest review.