This review contains spoilers for The Last of Us Part II, so if you haven't played or finished the game, read no further!
The The Last of Us Part II has been a long time coming for fans of Naughty Dogs previous entry into the survival horror franchise, and you've no doubt seen the idiotic review bombing plaguing the title. First and foremost, everyone is entitled to an opinion - this review alone is one mans opinion - but, review bombing a game (or any other medium for that matter) purely to attempt to make it fail because you're unhappy, is insanely idiotic.
Now then, onto the review. The Last of Us Part II picks up five years after the events of
the first game, with Joel and Ellie now set up in Jackson, along with Joel's brother Tommy. The game does a great job of setting the ambiance for Jackson. It's a gorgeous settlement, with lights hanging, and dozens upon dozens of people living there. There's a real sense of why these people would call this place home, and after saving Ellie from the Fireflies in the previous game, this is clearly the life Joel wanted for her.
Ellie, doesn't seem as chipper as she did in the previous game - she's grown up a lot, and clearly has some beef with Joel. Those of you that have played the first game (and I hope you have if you're playing TLoU2) will have a pretty good reason as to why that is.
She has new friends in the form of Dina and Jesse, and it's when she's around these people she's more like the Ellie we knew in the previous game - she's sarcastic and witty, but the more the game moves on, the sooner you realize this isn't the Ellie from the first game; this is someone far more ruthless.
It's very clear Ellie isn't happy living in this walled off world, and would rather be out slaughtering the infected, but that's not what is troubling her. As first hand witnesses of the events of the previous game, we now get to wrestle with Joel's decision not through his eyes, but through Ellie's.
It's easy to replay the final chapter of The Last of Us and feel no remorse for barging into the hospital room to save Ellie from the Fireflies, - the operation would have killed her, and over the course of that game, you get to see Joel go from an unwilling smuggler, to a doting father, and it's easy to see why he killed the Fireflies.
But what about Ellie? She spent the entire game believing herself being immune to the disease would mean a cure, only for Joel to tell her that she wasn't special, and that there was others like her.
When you're presented with these options, Joel's clearly well intentions, but selfish reasons muddy the waters. Ellie is a person that would have given her life to create the cure, but Joel wouldn't let that happen, and what's worse, her lied to her about it.
This seems to be the catalyst for Ellie's change over the course of five years, and it's turned her into a far more bitter person. When Ellie and Dina head out on patrol to clear out some nearby infected, we see a new Ellie, one that has clearly honed her skills from the 'sidekick' character of the first game, into a truly ruthless killer.
Be it infected or human, Ellie can stand her own.
The Last of Us: Part 2 brings with it a number of new game mechanics, as well as the ones carried over from the first. For starters, Ellie doesn't rely on shivs to stealth kill an enemy - she has an unbreakable knife. It's an absolute lifesaver, for there were countless times in the previous game where I would forget to craft a shiv, only to go in for the kill. Ellie can also hide in tall grass, go prone, hide under cars/beds, and they all allow her to be more smart in her tactics.
But, along with the new mechanics are new infected - most notably Stalkers. These are fast, stealthy infected, who (as the name implies) sneak around, stalking Ellie. They use the shadows, furniture and whatever else they can hide in/behind (including spores) and they don't appear on Ellie's listen mode until it's too late
Another new addition are Shamblers, giant brute like tanks, which push out big acid clouds, and they don't go down easy. The human enemies are split between the WLF (Washington Liberation Front) a military-style gang, who use dogs to track you down, and the Scars (Seraphites), a cult who use more back to basic equipment like bows and axes, but aren't too shy about using guns either.
Scrap is still your crafting options, and when not engaging in groups of enemies, you'll spend a good chunk of time crafting, and navigating the rather large areas - be it by foot, horse, car or boat. The areas are well designed, with a lot more 'pop' to them this time around - and the seedy, grimy world of The Last of Us has never looked so good. Snow leaves realistic footprints, water runs like you would expect in real life and looks convincingly murky when you're forced to dive into it.
Even on a standard PS4, the game runs with no issues, and whilst the graphical fidelity may be stronger on a PS4 Pro, the game still looks tremendous. From the character animations, to the lighting, The Last of Us Part 2 is a great looking game.
The animations - facial in particular - look amazing. Ellie's face changes depending on her actions, and the when she's choking out an enemy before slitting their throat, you see it in her face (and her victims). It's impressive, and the game is far more gory than the first, enemies lose heads, arms and leave pieces of brain and guts on a wall or on the floor. Similarly, when one of their group finds them, they'll shout out their name, making them feel more realistic, rather than either ignoring the body, or treating them like a number. It's a nice touch - although it doesn't make you feel any worse for killing your attackers (unless it's a dog, then it always makes you feel bad).
SPOILERS FOR SOME OF THE STORY BELOW, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Now, the main beef of the story, the real turning point for not just Ellie's character, but the game itself.
Throughout the game, you'll spend time switching between Ellie and a new character Abby, a soldier from the WLF. It's during the first act of the game, where Abby gets overrun with infected, only for Joel and Tommy to help her out that we see what kind of person she is.
Once they head out on horseback, infected on their tails, Abby tells them she has some friends at a nearby house - and as thanks for helping her, she allows Joel and Tommy to wait out the snow storm there.
Whether you knew the spoilers or not, something didn't feel right.
As it turns out, Abby has been searching for Joel, and after shooting him in the leg, her buddies tie him up, and Abby begins to beat and torture him with a golf club.
Once we switch back to Ellie, who hears Joel's missing, she tracks him down at the house, only to be hit and beaten herself, forced to watch a horrifically beaten Joel lay lifeless in front of her, before Abby takes the golf club and delivers the final blow. It's an awful sequence, and what's worse, Joel had just helped Abby - he didn't need to, but he did, and in doing so he not only put his own life in danger with the infected, but, as it turns out, with Abby too.
Whether you were a fan of the previous game or not, there's no denying the gutsy writing team at Naughty Dog. Joel managed to become a Playstation poster-boy, and killing him off at all, let alone at the start of the game, was a very bold choice.
But Naughty Dog wasn't taking a risk, they knew what they were doing, and by the time you reach the end of the game, you realise that everything has been purposely and carefully crafted, Ellie and Abby's stories entwine into one, and you feel for not just Ellie, but for Abby too - something that didn't seem remotely possibly at the start of the game. This is all due to the fantastic character building, emotional story, and enriched gameplay, that allows you to see events from both the first and second game, from different perspectives, and force yourself to ask questions you may not have thought about before.
There's a moment where Ellie confronts Joel about him killing the Fireflies to save her, emotionally delivering the line:
"If I died on the table, my life would have meant something,"
Ellie very clearly would have given her life to create a cure, and being on the journey with her, we know she absolutely means it. This in turn creates yet another perspective; had Joel allowed it to happen, Ellie would have died in the first game, but millions would be cured, and Joel would still be alive.
Joel knows this, but, utters the line:
"If somehow the Lord gave me a second chance at that moment, I would do it all over again,"
Joel has no remorse for saving Ellie, and in the first game; neither did we. But, as you frequently find out in the Last of Us: Part 2, this isn't a game designed to side with just one person. When Joel barges into that hospital room and kills the surgeons, one of them is Abby's father. Throughout the game, the parallels of Ellie and Abby slowly become less clear, for their journeys are one of the same - hunting their 'fathers' killer.
It's such an emotional drive, and I'm truly saddened at how some of the gaming community have had such a negative and hateful outcry to it.
Summary The Last of Us: Part 2 is a fantastic game, and regardless of how you feel about the big story moments, it doesn't take away from the fact this is one of the greatest games this year, maybe even last year.
Do I wish Joel had lived? Absolutely.
Did I enjoy the tale his death created? 100%