Here’s the problem with sequels: when a game or movie is incredibly successful there’s a lot of pressure to make the sequel bigger and better, with more characters, more complicated storylines, more locations, and more impressive set pieces.
And that’s pretty much The Last of Us 2.
Ask yourself this though: when was the last time a sequel was actually better than the original?
The original Last of Us is a story that, on the surface is about the zombie-like virus that has ravaged the world, but is really about the growing relationship between its two protagonists, Joel and Ellie.
While Joel isn’t Ellie’s father, he treats her like a daughter as they trek across America trying to reach Salt Lake City, Utah, where a cure is being developed.
There’s nothing really original or unique about The Last of Us, and the road trip across a post-apocalyptic wasteland (for some reason, it’s always America) is a tried and tested formula that we’ve seen done to great success in movies like The Road and Logan. But as good as those two movies are, I firmly believe that The Last of Us is better than both of them.
By the end of the game, which can be completed in about 12 hours or so, you completely understand why Joel makes the choice he does. And even if you think it’s the wrong choice, the game does such a good job of making you care about the characters, you almost certainly sided with him anyway.
If you were hoping for more of that in The Last of Us 2, you’re going to be disappointed.
The sequel immediately introduces a whole new cast of characters and repeatedly relies on flashbacks and different POVs to tell their backstories. The problem isn’t the flashbacks — although they’re a little heavy-handed compared to the more organic way characters are introduced in the first game — but that, because there’s so many of them and their interactions are often limited, you never grow attached to them in the same way you did with Joel and Ellie.
One character who was revealed in one of the earliest trailers is important to the plot. But honestly, even after spending over 20 hours finishing the game I can’t tell you much about her.
She’s a tough, soldier type with huge biceps that leads me to believe I might have missed a flashback where she finds a stash of protein shakes early in the apocalypse, because how else is she maintaining that physique?
By the end of the game I still have no idea why she does a lot of the things she does because the game doesn’t bother growing that relationship. It just tells you who she is, and that’s supposed to be enough.
And that’s for a character with her own reveal trailer. For the rest of the new characters, they show up once, and then by the time you see them again, you can’t even remember who they were.
Even half way through the story, the game just keeps introducing new characters, and by the end of the game, it will have jumped around to a bunch of new locations too. There’s actually a solid story somewhere inside The Last of Us 2, and the game ends on a thought-provoking message, but it’s almost completely lost because it just tries to do too much at once.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the gameplay, but that’s not a bad thing. I love stealth gameplay, and The Last of Us 2 continues to do this better than any game out there. There’s something incredibly satisfying about sneaking up behind a clicker and stabbing them in the face. Resources, especially ammunition, remain scarce, and the game rewards you with careful planning and creative use of the environment and your abilities to take out foes as quietly as possible.
When everything goes to hell, you can still unload with your arsenal of weaponry, and the gunplay feels solid and rewarding. If you’re terrible with console shooting, there’s even an auto-lock on option to help out.
I do wish there were more encounters with infected enemies, as the sequel places more emphasis on human foes, but the few infected set pieces you do get are memorable and genuinely scary. One level where you have to descend through a dilapidated apartment block is particularly well done.
The levels themselves are generally more open for exploration, and the game rewards you for looking through every deserted shop and house. Discovering letters and other snippets of information that tell the stories of long-dead survivors is fascinating and I enjoyed finding out more about the other inhabitants of the world. Having said that, don’t expect an actual open-world experience — the path you have to take through each level is still very linear.
Overall, The Last of Us 2 isn’t a bad game, and if you’re a fan of stealth gameplay, it’s worth buying for that alone, but it just doesn’t live up to the anticipation built up from seven years of waiting. Would it have been better if writer and director, Neil Druckman, had just repeated the same exact formula as the first game? Maybe, but then repeating yourself comes with its own set of problems.
Verdict: Finishing The Last of Us 2 gave me the same feeling I get after eating McDonalds — I genuinely enjoyed it while it lasted, but it wasn’t very fulfilling, and honestly just thinking about it has given me a bit of a tummy ache.
The Last of Us Part 2 comes out on June 19, exclusively for PlayStation 4.