3.5/5 ★ – AaronMurray00's review of The Last of Us Part II.

(SPOILERS) Back in April, I played The Last of Us for the first time and I was blown away. The story was tightly written, the characters were engaging thanks to the stellar performances and the gameplay while nothing too complicated was a joy to go through. The day I finished it, the game was delayed from May into June and the wait to see what happens next got a lot harder. Sometime in May, a massive leak exploded on the internet and everywhere you looked there was major spoilers for Part II. I decided to read them all mainly because I wanted to get ahead of all the discourse that was happening. The leaks left me mixed. There was some really risky stuff in there that could have destroyed the game if done in a bad way. I still pre-ordered the game and gave it a solid chance. The Last Of Us Part II is...fine. I don't think it's the worst game in the world like a lot of people think but is it a game without problems? Definitely not. First off, the game is a visual marvel. It looks insanely beautiful and the mocap/animations are insanely impressive. The acting is as great as ever and it's yet another shining example of how much amazing work Naughty Dog put into their games (though that crunch shouldn't be ignored) The gameplay is largely the same but thanks to some new additions like having to factor in dogs during the more stealthy sections as well as some seriously impressive enemy AI, it's a much more intense experience to go through. The accessibility options that are included also do a terrific job of making the game accessible to everyone. More games should factor them in & hopefully this is a great first step. The most important thing about these games though is the story and...it's a mixed bag. There's some really beautiful and intense moments in here but what ultimately lets the story down is how bloated it is. The first game could easily be beat in about 10-15 hours but in that runtime, the pacing is tight & engaging all the way through even given the large amount of time it takes place over. For Part II, It took me about 25 hours to beat with a solid 5 or 6 hours just ultimately feeling kinda uninteresting and downright boring. I'll admit it does tighten up in the second half but it's not perfect. One of the major things that leaked out of this game was Joel's death. Joel was essentially the main character of The Last Of Us. He's the main character players play as in the first game so killing him off was certainly a risky move. Even more risky than that was the fact that in the second half of the game, you play as his killer. Abby is a brand new character who is introduced very early on in the game. She has a vendetta against Joel when it's revealed that he killed her father at the Firefly base that was gonna kill Ellie for a cure at the climax of the first game. The scene when Joel dies is admittedly intense but it ultimately comes with the narrative's ultimate problem and that's the necessity of even having a Part II at all. The first game has an open but perfect conclusion that wasn't exactly screaming for a second part. The death of Joel feels more forced than anything even if it's not exactly a bad idea. Playing as Abby is also an interesting and ambitious idea but (besides some admittedly brilliant set pieces like the Haven chase & Hospital) it's a culprit as to why the game is too long. Abby & her circle of characters are just not that interesting to be around. They exist mostly as characters that you get to kill as Ellie and never really have much else to do beyond that. The performances from the actors behind them are great given what they had but they ultimately didn't blow me away on an emotional level. The game is also extremely violent & gritty which works in some moments while also being the thing that makes the game feel more silly than anything else. There's only so many times you can see Ellie or Abby be tortured before you kinda feel numb to it all. When it works though, it only increases the intensity and makes the game an engaging play. The Last Of Us Part II is a good game. It's well made and the years of hard work did pay off making a polished if messy production. The bloated runtime is the central flaw but there's still a lot in here that makes it a really great game at parts. Neil Druckmann took a lot of risks here and while it didn't always work out, it's still exciting to see someone be so unafraid to push forward and offer something truly controversial and worth discussing. I'd rather play something like this than just having a rerun of the first game.