The Last of Us Part 2 review: A haunting melody

The Last of Us Part 2 takes players back into the brutal, post-apocalyptic world that Naughty Dog first introduced in 2013. Is this sequel worth checking out, or do the notes fall flat? Our review.

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Have you ever heard a song that strikes you down deep? Each note that’s played upon the guitar strings and piano keys a haunting sound that reverberates in your mind for days, weeks, or even years to come. The Last of Us Part 2 is that song. A series of notes and chords struck perfectly together. Poignant narrative, brutal violence, and a bleak but realistic look at humanity all swirl together into a rippling tide that pulls the player under; constantly tossing and turning until it all reaches a dark and roaring crescendo.

Tuning the strings

The Last of Us Part 2 picks up immediately after the events of the original, as Joel explains how he butchered dozens of Fireflies, and dashed Ellie’s hopes of curing the infection just to save her life. It’s a retelling of a very selfish tale, and one that will no doubt continue to haunt both he and Ellie for the rest of their lives.

Fast forward a few years. It’s now been five years since Ellie and Joel returned to Jackson and set up camp in the settlement that Joel’s brother, Tommy, helped create. They’ve both found their own places within the community, and they’ve been doing the best they can to put the events from Saint Mary’s Hospital behind them. Things seem to be going pretty well for our beloved survivors. Joel and Ellie have grown closer, despite the secrets between them, and Ellie has even managed to make some friends along the way.

Unfortunately, peace doesn’t last forever, and The Last of Us Part 2 is not a happy story. Soon Ellie and Joel find themselves thrust under the surface of a cruel and stormy sea, a dark and unrelenting riptide pulling at their feet. It’s a beautifully executed event that helps to shape the growth of multiple characters throughout the rest of the game.

I’m not going to talk too in-depth about the story. There’s already been a ton of rumors and leaks, and I’m not going to add onto that pile. What I will say about the story is that there are things you won’t expect. Twists that you won’t see coming. There are a lot of things that don’t always make sense the first time you see them, but it all comes together in the end. You might not like everything that happens, or the consequences that come up throughout the story, but I assure you it all plays out in one of the most cinematic and beautifully haunting experiences we’ve seen offered in a video game. Ever.

Finding harmony

One of the most striking things about Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic series is the developer’s approach to violence and overall brutality. While the original had quite a bit of this brutality on display, the second chapter of Ellie and Joel’s story takes things up a notch, and then continues to turn the dial even higher. Stealth assassinations sound and feel realistic, offering a dark and bleak look at how our character’s approach their problems.

The screams of infected and soldiers as the flesh burns from their bodies, the yelps from enemies as they watch their friends and allies die next to them, it all comes together in a nice package that helps to paint a bleak but realistic look at the end of the world. From the way the cities have begun to return to nature, dark green leaves painting entire sides of buildings in Seattle as you explore, the earth engulfing the world that mankind once thought it mastered.

It's a dark and yet beautiful look at how things could be if something of that sort happened, and the upgraded visuals that Naughty Dog has on display in The Last of Us Part 2 only help to strike that beauty home. Each thing comes together like a different instrument in an orchestra, all working cohesively to tell a story through sound. It’s beautiful and yet disturbing to watch the way that humans destroy each other as Ellie takes on members of the Washington Liberation Front (often referred to as the WLF) and the Seraphites.  

While the idea of two factions might not be very enticing to some players, each group offers their own challenges and different looks at the world that Ellie, Joel, and their friends inhabit. Whereas the WLF see the world as their oyster, a force that they can brutally beat into submission, the Seraphites work in more deceptive ways, using quiet attacks and vegetation to wreak havoc on their enemies. It all works together to showcase just how violent the world is.

The combat system featured in the original returns, focusing heavily on cover and stealth as your main means of taking down enemies, though it is a bit more refined here. Of course, ammo is scarce in most instances, and while you’re more than welcome to run in shooting, the ability to craft items like arrows and smoke bombs open new avenues to take out baddies without alerting others in the area. But be careful, taking out an enemy might cause one of their friends to come looking for them.

Arrows shot at you will stick into your body at times, forcing you to remove them or slowly bleed out. Shotgun blasts rip chunks from your enemies’ bodies, sending blood, bone, and flesh spewing across the walls and floors. Rounds from your rifle leave holes in the heads of your foes. Each shot feels like a hammer slamming down, granting the combat a nice chunky feeling that many other games fail to full deliver.

Building a living world

Much like the original, The Last of Us Part 2 also has a much bigger story to tell than just Ellie and Joel’s. Notes left behind by survivors and soldiers tell of how wars and combat have changed them. Some notes connect to each other, telling a long and cohesive narrative as you move further through the game. It’s a really great touch that helps to make the world feel even more alive than it already does.

That’s where the next big focus of the game comes into play. Where the original took more of a linear approach to storytelling and world exploration, The Last of Us Part 2 rewards players for looking in every dark cranny they come across. Safes, pieces of lore, and collectibles are abundant throughout the world, sometimes hidden in areas you might not think to explore the first time you look around at the new areas you enter.

Long grass and tight hallways give way to new rooms that Ellie can use to get around enemies and conserve ammunition, though sometimes the game does thrust you directly into firefights without any way to avoid them. These moments are few and far between, and Naughty Dog has done a great job of making these instances feel less jarring to the player.

From enemy bases to abandoned music shops, there are tons of environments to explore and navigate in The Last of Us Part 2. Each one is detailed and feels unique as you move through them, really helping to paint the picture that this is indeed a living, breathing world that the player is inhabiting. Unfortunately, this living, breathing world does come at a cost, and there were a few instances where triggered events wouldn't pick up correctly, forcing me to reload the save file to the nearest checkpoint to get things to click just right.

A symphony of darkness

Naughty Dog continues to build onto the world design by enveloping the player in a beautifully designed soundscape. The rush of wind moving past your head, the whiz of arrows raining down on you as you move from cover to cover, it all fits so well within the world. Glass crunches under your feet as you walk across it, the sound of running feet echoing through the dark corridors littered with infected. The sound design helps to paint a disturbing and haunting picture.

Atmosphere isn’t the only sound design on display, though. As mentioned earlier in the review, the sounds that enemies make as they die, the gurgling of their blood in their throats as Ellie lodges her Switchblade deep within their necks, it all adds to the brutality that permeates the air in The Last of Us Part 2. This is a savage world, and recent events have shaped the previously innocent girl from the original game into a dark and disturbed mess. But her actions are not absolute. Her actions come with consequences, and as you dive deeper into the story, Ellie finds herself struggling more and more to face the reflection in the dirty windows that litter the abandoned Seattle storefronts.

The Last of Us Part 2 is not for everyone. It is a dark and riveting experiment. A symphony of madness, revenge, and brutality. It is the song of humanity’s greatest darkness, and an absolute delight to partake in. The fine folks at Naughty Dog have outdone themselves this time around. The clever blend of cinematics and gameplay all come together perfectly to create an unforgettable experience that rivals some of the greatest classics in American cinema. All that’s left to do now is see it for yourself.


This review is based on a code provided by the publisher. The Last of Us Part 2 will release exclusively on PlayStation 4 on June 19, 2020.

Guides Editor

Joshua holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and has been exploring the world of video games for as long as he can remember. He enjoys everything from large-scale RPGs to small, bite-size indie gems and everything in between.

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Pros
  • Beautifully blended cinematic and gameplay experience
  • Internal struggles make characters more alive
  • Combat is chunky and hard-hitting
  • Controls feel smooth all around
  • Fantastic performance paired with outstanding visuals
  • Nonstop twists and turns
Cons
  • Some events would fail to trigger, forcing you to reload a checkpoint
From The Chatty
  • reply
    June 12, 2020 12:02 AM

    Josh Hawkins posted a new article, The Last of Us Part 2 review: A haunting melody

    • reply
      June 12, 2020 4:52 AM

      Cool, cool.

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      June 12, 2020 5:26 AM

      Sounds incredible.

      • reply
        June 12, 2020 10:57 AM

        I really, really enjoyed it. There's a lot more I wanted to say, but spoilers and stuff.

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          June 12, 2020 11:03 AM

          The original is my favorite game of all time, I was a little worried that part 2 couldn't possibly be as good but it sounds like I was wrong.

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            June 12, 2020 11:28 AM

            It definitely isn't going to be enjoyed by every fan ever. But I think if you can go into things with an open mind, then you have a lot higher chance of walking away in love with the story that Naughty Dog has set out to tell.

    • reply
      June 12, 2020 9:46 AM

      Beautifully written review!

    • reply
      June 12, 2020 10:56 AM

      How close was it to a 10/10?

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        June 12, 2020 10:59 AM

        For me, personally, it is a 10/10. But we don't really do 10/10s here at Shack unless the game is like TOP TIER PINNACLE AMAZINGNESS that beats out every other game ever. We have a really, really high bar for that 10/10 score that I don't think any game could really hit at this point.

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          June 12, 2020 10:59 AM

          i give it a 9 out of Witcher 3

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          June 12, 2020 11:05 AM

          if 10/10 is practically non-existent, then doesn't that mean 9/10 is the top? this is some spinal tap goes to 11 stuff

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            June 12, 2020 11:28 AM

            To a degree, yeah. I don't know, it's a weird thing. I'm not saying that there won't ever be a 10/10 game here, but it's just going to take universal appraise from the entire team, I think. Something like that make sense? I'm running on little sleep still.

            New puppy + review week of a huge game.

        • reply
          June 12, 2020 11:09 AM

          This is a weird gaming review thing I don't get. Movies get 5 out 5 stars all the time and we know that doesn't mean it's citizen cane 2.0

          • reply
            June 12, 2020 11:12 AM

            Gamers complain a lot more than most other groups of people, though.

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            June 12, 2020 11:13 AM

            Credit where credit is due I think Jeff Gerstman was right when he said that 10-point scales are meaningless and the 5-point scale is a case of less is more.

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            June 12, 2020 11:29 AM

            I think the biggest thing here is that the team wants the 10/10 to really matter when it is given is all. But yeah, I'm not really a fan of review scores myself. I think that every game is going to have people that think highly of it and some that don't... even the really bad ones have people that enjoyed them.

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      June 12, 2020 7:43 PM

      Why did you change TLoU 2's score? It was originally a 10 and now is a 9. Also, Metacritic states that they don't change a publisher's first score, but they did

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        June 13, 2020 12:12 AM

        We didn't change our score. It has been a 9 since the review was written, edited, and then published. There was a mistake when the info was uploaded to metacritic, so they had to change the score there to reflect our actual score.

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          June 13, 2020 1:27 AM

          Oh, thanks for clarifying that. I noticed that change from 100 yo 90 on Metacritic and got curioused. Anyway, good review.

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            June 13, 2020 11:40 AM

            Yup! No problem. Always happy to explain when things get confusing, haha.

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