Videogames have long struggled with the trade-off between story and gameplay. It’s a dynamic that arcs back to the very birth of the medium. Jumpman rescuing Pauline from Donkey Kong (or Dizzy, Daisy, and Wizard Zaks if you will). Over the last couple of generations great strides have been made at pulling these two strands together. Highlights like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and the first Last of Us particularly showcasing the art of storytelling within a videogame framework.
Part 2 wants to tell a story. It’s very much the story that needs telling following the climax of the first game. Unfortunately this leads to similar issues faced by Red Dead Redemption 2. The need to tell a story often times feels as it’s getting in the way of gameplay – switching between playing character, extended cut scenes, and the like.
That’s not to suggest there’s anything wrong with the gameplay when you take control. Much is what you expect and learned from the original. Focusing on stealth movements, exploration and crafting. However hats of to Naughty Dog who here give a masterclass on how to introduce player controls and gameplay mechanics. Tuition sequences carefully crafted and seamlessly integrated within the main story/gameplay narrative.
Still, even once the game really gets going, there were no real standout moments. No encounters that are going to live on in your memory and excite you on a replay as in the first game. In Part 1 you remember your first Bloater in the Sports Hall, Ellie being given the rifle on top some scaffolding covering Joe below picking off the army. One or two moments in Part 2, the sneak through the park with whistling Scars, come close but are quickly over and pale in comparison.
The game is centred around two main characters. Ellie from the first game and new comer Abby. Abby’s story is the focus of the second half of the game. Overall I found Abby to be the more likable and relatable character, she had a much stronger story arc and the better, more memorable, encounters all occur under her watch.
Graphically my first impression, loading up in 4K HDR, was how magnificent the original was in 720p on the PlayStation 3. We’ve come a long way – much can be scene in character models and animations in particular, especially the faces, but you certainly see why we keep hearing about “the law of diminishing returns”. Well that is until you arrive at the start of the Seattle, Day 1 chapter. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so jaw dropping gorgeous from a video game on my TV screen.
The Last of Us, Part 2, is a good game worth playing. However it does live in the shadow of the first game, a masterpiece, and is mostly more of the same but not quite as memorable. The reason is the game is more focused on its story telling. Naughty Dog had a story to tell and telling that story was the top priority over all other elements.
It is game that doesn’t know how to end however. It reaches a natural, if somewhat damp squib, conclusion and then just keeps going. You think you’ve seen an unnecessary prologue then it keeps going again. And keeps going. Making the final ending (spoiler: same damp squib; sorry) have even less impact.