“The old world is dying. The new one is slow to appear. And in this chiaroscuro monsters are born. "
According to Alan Moore's extraordinary Joker, only one detail separated him from the rest of the world: a bad day. Twenty-four hours, all that is necessary to bring even the most sensible person beyond the abyss of madness. This theory proves exceptionally effective to describe one of the fundamental themes of The Last of Us Part 2, one of the most important productions not only of this year but of the whole generation video-playful. The weight of the legacy of the first, acclaimed chapter, obviously bears on the shoulders of this new exclusive Sony, which therefore carries a load of responsibility and bloated expectations for the continuation of the story of Ellie and Joel. What The Last of Us left to the player was a tormented story with a bitter taste, whose goal was to tell a story with realistic traits, through credible and perfectly characterized characters and focusing on the concepts of "survival" and "humanity" and how much the desperate search for one necessarily jeopardizes the other. It was also a story of hope, however: a journey towards the feeble promise of redemption for mankind, gripped in the last twenty years by the terrible infection that had brought him to the brink of extinction. Honestly, the ending chosen by N for his highly cinematic story, he was almost perfect, while leaving a gigantic question outstanding between the two protagonists and another, even bigger, towards the rest of the world population. Excluding this, the story of the now iconic Boston duo it could be said concluded, consequently the announcement of a direct sequel - indeed, of a second act - of The Last of Us was accepted not without some small fear or uncertainty. The universe outlined by the creators was more than deserving of being the scene of stories and related stories again what's left of the human soul, yet it would have been enough to set the title among new panoramas and entrust the heritage of the exclusive Sony to a completely new cast, far from the events that happened in St. Mary's Hospital in Salt Lake City. The biggest gamble of Naughty Dog - but absolutely not the only one - is this, after all, going to fish out situations and characters and to alter the balance and narrative constructions that are very delicate and above all very dear to the public. After almost forty hours of play and a handful of days used to fully metabolize what has been seen - and experienced - in The Last of Us Part 2, I believe I can say that the choice of the development team proves not only effective and coherent, but also brilliant and extremely mature. Most likely, the title Naughty Dog will create a rift in the audience, also and above all among the ranks of the most avid fans, due to some passages of his post-apocalyptic odyssey. Leaving aside the now nauseating issue of leaks and spoilers on the title and everything that can move and hide below their surface, which has already shown a certain frivolity in a certain slice of players, the game offers a lucid and never sweetened and undermines the "heroic" role of the supporting actors with even more force than previously done. The characters that give life to the story are not simply imperfect and weak in spirit, but also and above all in the flesh and it is precisely this aspect that could go to discontent and infuriate the player less prepared for the plot woven in the work directed by Neil Druckmann.
Four years after the events of Salt Lake City, we meet a decidedly more adult Ellie, who has stabilized with Joel in the city of Jackson. In the initial picture outlined by The Last of Part 2, the protagonists are presented perfectly set in this new reality, which in the face of the aberrant situation that grips the planet, could be defined as "normal". In the eyes of the player, however, this tranquility, which however we will see to be only apparent, comes almost immediately put on iron and fire, transfiguring calm everyday life into a ferocious tale of revenge. So if the first chapter, as pointed out above, managed to alternate the crudity of the journey with an end of hope, Ellie's macabre pilgrimage has annihilation as its only goal. Here, therefore, that the perspective is distorted and while there is no lack of more peaceful and indulgent moments towards the protagonist and the player, the general atmosphere is more oppressive, melancholic, more gloomy. A self-destructive journey, which shows how easy it is to abandon oneself to primordial feelings and instincts, sinking into a wicked cruelty capable of generating violence in itself. So here is how much the one, and in some way simple, bad day can lead to losing yourself, in the name of a ravenous and relentless obsession.
It is important to underline how all this translates perfectly into the game and how it works Ellie's anger also appears pad in hand, with gameplay always at the service of the narrative, but never a slave to it. If the first act, while revealing the swan song of PlayStation 3, had among its defects that of not being able to perfectly combine the narrative phases with those exquisitely playful, colder and mechanical, in The Last of Us Part 2 "the dough "Is almost perfect, managing to keep the player attentive, involved and fully involved in the horror adventure in which he is forcibly dragged. In some moments you are instead placed in small sessions "on tracks" in which our task is simply to follow the characters to better understand the relationship between them, admiring exquisitely characterized places and panoramas, in which the focus moves almost exclusively about writing but without making us feel "alone" spectators. These small narrative forays result one of the most appreciable choices of the whole experience, calibrated and diluted in an exemplary way during the progression and often a moment of breathing to recover from the most excited and turbulent situations. The quality of the writing is, net of some inconsistency and too much burr, smooth and brilliant when needed and laid and held in the most delicate moments.
It is a story made of silences and unspoken and it is precisely outside dialogues and cut-scenes that the game manages to better convey the ideas and themes to which it is anchored. The acting of the characters is always fresh and natural, cloying only on very rare occasions and also in that case not so much as to cripple their narrative power. By fitting perfectly into the situations and game mechanics, far more than its predecessor, it represents a new reference point for all story driven titles and more generally for those that will make narration an essential pivot of their products. Furthermore, always without incurring spoilers of any kind, Ellie's heartbreaking odyssey offers a perfect ending, which crystallizes in the very last minutes of the game, which shows not only an exceptional narrative coherence but once again the courage not to make their characters are special and incorruptible but indeed extremely human, vulnerable and fragile.
One of the most fascinating concepts of The Last of Us Part 2 is the relationship that the game has with its opponents. In addition to the main nemesis, directly connected to the vindictive path taken by the young protagonist, we find several enemies ready to kill Ellie without batting an eyelid, all excellently characterized. Starting from the feral aggression of creatures infected by Cordyceps, which are obviously devoid of any humanity but still well sketched and implemented in the game world, being in fact one of the most devastating consequences that the harrowing pandemic has brought with it. But somehow, although present and always fearful, the infected go into the background in this chapter and what emerges is precisely the ferocity of the human soul and the cruelty to which people can reach, using the same in an apathetic and detached way as to be even more chilling than the emotional one put in place by the main protagonists and antagonists.
The WLF, Washington Liberation Front, is a group with a strongly military connotation: they are numerous, armed to the teeth, rigidly trained and equipped with almost unlimited resources but their peculiarity is certainly the ferocity, which perfectly does justice to their animal symbol, the wolf. Here a brief description is needed, since the totem chosen by these militiamen derives from the acronym WLF, which is easily transformed into "WoLF", a omen nomen which shows how often things first take a name and then adapt accordingly. The name "wolves" therefore does not come from their brutality, but it is the latter that comes to life because of the name chosen. The WLF is extremely prepared and dangerous and is presented in an exceptionally harsh and violent way, giving it an authoritarian stamp, despite being born as a rebellion movement against the FEDRA (Federal Disaster Response Agency), which had actually established a sort of military regime in the city of Seattle. Diametrically opposed to the WLF, we find i Serafiti (commonly known as Hyenas, or Scars in the original language), a pseudo-religious cult strongly in contact with nature and with the recognition of nature as a sacred and inviolable force: their respect for the biosystem that welcomes them arises from the belief according to that Cordyceps disease is nothing more than a punishment from Earth for human abuse. They wear simple robes and wear haircuts linked to hierarchies and symbolisms within their organization and deny everything that is related to the Old World, using almost exclusively bows and white weapons when fighting is necessary. Their battlefield communication system is coded in a complex language made of whistles of different duration and intensity, allowing to coordinate and exchange information in a clear and precise way, without the enemy having the slightest clue on what is about to happen. Approaching these two types of enemies forces the player to take advantage of different tactics, especially related to the different environments hosted by rival sides. Although in most cases we can exercise excellent freedom of choice in our assaults, the Wolves tend to lead us to syncopated fights and shootings, while the Hyenas lend themselves more to stealth game sections.
In short, the Seraphites and the WLF take part in a furious internal struggle set between the bowels of Seattle, making Ellie swoop in the middle of what seems an age-old and endless war, a small prey to unstoppable hunters. The excellent characterization of the enemies also passes through some brilliant intuitions of the development team, such as that of giving each individual enemy a name. Consequently, killing a single opponent does not translate into the killing of a puppet, a drone without the identity of an infinite army, but in the deprivation of a unique and particular member of the group we are facing. The desperation of the antagonists to the fall of a companion makes the weight of our gestures stronger and, combined with the constant and natural dialogue in which our targets entertain before discovering our position, it makes everything not only more engaging but continues the discourse of "humanization" of the other, elevating the NPCs to figures much closer to we.
“I believe in the enemy because, every day and every night, I meet him on my path. The enemy is the one who destroys all that is worth from within. This is what the breakdown inherent in every reality shows you. It is what reveals your baseness and that of your friends. It's what on a perfect day will find an excellent reason to torture you. It is what will inspire you disgust for yourself.
A. Nothomb [Enemy Cosmetic]
What convince more, however, is how much Naughty Dog has not in the least wanted to take part in one or the other line-up and how much he constantly tries to change perspectives, always questioning the opinion of the player. Undoubtedly, in the early stages of the adventure it is easy to get an idea of the two types of enemies, but as we proceed our certainties will be less and less granitic, up to asking a fundamental question "What if I was the enemy?" and then turn into "What if nobody, and everyone at the same time, were the enemy?". The point is this, in the world of The Last of Us there are no "good" and "bad" and trying to appeal to such labels and definitions soon loses meaning. If this type of message may not seem particularly original or innovative, it is still surprising how it is staged, with a series of flashes and ideas that have probably never proved so effective within the media. As usual, the important thing is not what is told but How it is told, and when Naughty Dog talks about the enemy, he does it in an exceptional way.
Ellie's long journey is supported by the beauty of a drifting but still active and fascinating world. The play areas are built in an exemplary way, showing an unprecedented level design in the history of Naughty Dog and beyond. Although not within an open world, the various maps that you cross have a wide scope and, thanks to an intelligent level design, they are made attractive by a more vertical imprint that leads the player to always move within them with great interest. Especially in the first half we are offered various exploration opportunities, which is always rewarded by providing us with additional resources, objects, collectibles, information on the world and society pre and post pandemic, exclusive dialogues and, on occasional occasions, even optional short cut-scenes . Again The Last of Us Part 2 shows itself to be much more mature than its predecessor and creates small and large mazes where the game pace, or the flow, is more effective and with an enviable bite. The game sessions do not proceed in watertight compartments and are no longer so disconnected from each other but rather turn out to be more fluid and connected. It is therefore easy to explore a small portion of the map as we advance towards our goal and find ourselves having to face just a couple of infected, then return on our way, solve a small puzzle and shortly afterwards run into a small squad of enemies, giving life to short but fierce skirmishes.
This newfound freedom of situations and play possibilities is due precisely to theexceptional care placed in the construction of the settings. We move in a more transversal way in The Last of Us Part 2 and we always do it with the brain on and the watchful eye, in short, far from the simplicity of the mechanisms that in the last title led us to fairly trivial and repetitive environmental puzzles, more inserted to make "non-linearity" in advancing in a world collapsed on itself than for recreational purposes. We often switch between interiors and exteriors seamlessly, making our trip inside Seattle immensely rewarding. Although in the second half of the adventure this freedom is somewhat curbed and in general the elements that make up the situations in which we can happen are not very numerous, the way in which they are proposed and mixed makes each moment different from the one just lived and while returning in some repetitive mechanics, consequent to each game moreover, there is never a sense of déjà-vu or tiredness.
Urban guerrilla warfare
As specified above, The Last of Us Part 2 offers a much freer approach to action. Leaving aside for a moment the Infected, which represent the heart of the component stealth of the game, the battles with human enemies allow the title to show how much even in this Naughty Dog has managed to embellish and perfect its skills and put them at the service of the player. The merits of level design are also and especially noticeable in these situations, allowing to create constantly different "choreographies" in every place (or at any subsequent attempt). The various fire mouths which represent our arsenal, they prove to be indispensable pieces to be exploited according to the situations and the feeling returned by each weapon held is credible and functional.
For example, the bow is very slow and can reach the widest ranges only by pulling the rope to the maximum, but a single arrow can be lethal, reusable and above all, silent. The shotgun, on the other hand, can be equipped with a viewfinder and is much faster and easier to handle, but a single shot immediately brings the alarm among the enemy ranks. For the medium distance the pistol and the revolver work properly, but a single shot can hardly free us from the pressure of an opponent. Switching from one weapon to another is quite immediate and consequently Ellie's adaptability, along with her speed, prove to be the best weapons available of eighteen year old Jackson. Once the enemy has been hired, it is necessary to remain attentive and move constantly, looking for the best position to regain advantage and surprise him, perhaps plunging behind him. What works is that even escape can be a more than valid option: in some cases it can allow us to completely avoid a clash and lead us to continue the adventure but even when this is not possible, it offers us the precious opportunity to hide again and then move on to using stealth to eliminate enemies individually, thin them and then return to leveled fire on the unfortunate remaining.
The enemy reactions to the blows are realistic and brutal, hitting an enemy in the knee allows us to land him and leave him uncovered for a few moments, provided that his companions do not rush to his aid instantly, but the same goes for us. A blow to the shoulder or chest can in fact slam us violently on the ground, but we do not need to get up to recover the offensive and therefore we can decide to take advantage of the prone position to respond immediately and deal a more precise blow to our target. So here is how the simple possibility of lying on the ground turns out to be an addition as simple as guessed to offer greater rhythm to the gameplay, being able to take advantage of the possibility of crawling both to be less visible during our assaults in the shadows, and to crouch on the fly while we try to escape a hail of bullets and then move on to the counterattack.
In addition to the shape of the playing field, what provides different points of approach is obviously the number of opponents and the equipment of the same. The stealth phases can become a real hell when the WLF field their dogs with a damn precise sense of smell, while some Seraphites can count on a powerful muscular strength, which allows them to lash their heads towards Ellie and kill her in one shot. In fact, this also engages in hand-to-hand combat and the much discussed contextual animations linked to it. Although not completely at the level of what was shown in the first, highly talked about, reveal gameplay shown in 2018, the flavor has remained exactly unchanged.
The melee component also plays an important role in fighting and manages to make them more angry and wild, somehow desperate and yes, visceral. Dodging a shot at the right moment is not enough, you have to study the enemy and his "combos" to find the opening in the guard and have the opportunity to kill him in one or two blows, a procedure that requires significantly more time if we do not have any weapon improvised and we must rely solely on the switchblade. Among other things, the decision to abandon the idea of daggers to be crafted and entrust a small white weapon with infinite durability (the only one present in the game) proves to be more than spot on, an indispensable resource in the stealth phases, especially against terrible clickers , or to quickly kill the unfortunate humans who are left behind. All this must be accompanied by the possibility of being able to create improvised devices such as Molotov cocktails and smoke bombs and also small - but lethal - trap bombs to be placed on the path of our rivals. The latter, at the same time, are a weak and strong point of production, due to their fluctuating behavior.
Although the game manages to characterize our enemies very well and they can show that they know how to wisely arrange themselves among the battle arenas, their approach is not always quite credible or dangerous. If in some situations they are therefore well prepared and decidedly aggressive, managing to constantly hunt us without leaving a moment of rest, in others they seem to deliberately stop or lose sight of us to give those precious seconds needed to reset our attack or heal our wounds. Ai higher difficulty levels (which moreover we can join one of us, fully customizable) this problem is mitigated but does not disappear completely, coming out when we decide to hide behind a cover and wait. While normally the opposing group would be able to manage the offensive by bringing us to the game over with one or two bullets, when it is decided to go back to being stealthy the game seems to want to provide us - almost always - a second chance, bringing the enemies to routine more automated and lazy, to give us the chance to win. In any case, artificial intelligence performs well, but it would be desirable to see it at the level of the rest of the production.
To close the analysis of the gameplay there are obviously the crafting and the growth system by Ellie. The collection of resources, which can be more or less difficult depending on the degree of difficulty chosen, is an essential point of experience and allows us to create - almost on the fly - invaluable weapons and consumables including medikit and silencers, in order to be able to make us more prepared for the hostile world around us. Crafting has remained substantially unchanged compared to the first chapter and is quick, flexible and intuitive in the game economy. The small skill trees that allow us to enhance Ellie are also linked to exploration because, excluding the initial one, they are all tied to the recovery of specific magazines scattered throughout the game environments, which once found unlock the branch related to them. Again there is not much to say, it is a system without frills and beauties, as simplistic as it is useful. You can have more life points available, be faster in crafting or more precise for example and the possibility to choose which skills to strengthen gives that pinch of modularity in the management of the protagonist, and consequently to gameplay, which allows each player an experience a little closer to his strings. In short, the playful component of The Last of Us Part 2 turns out to be much better than in the past, creating an experience as pleasant to look at as to play.
The artistic and technical level of the exclusive Sony exhibition an amazing job by Naughty Dog that creates something almost incredible for this generation. Starting from the mass overflowing with details of the game world, the care taken on the creation of surfaces and the effects that they can host, creates a constant sense of wonder in which it is easy to remain trapped. The exteriors are surprising for their extension, their luxuriance and depth of field and wide horizons while the interiors show accurate plans, layout and modeling of props and details with a sublime and incredibly realistic realization. The decadence of a world in disarray is very well representedpalaces, buildings and skyscrapers stick into the earth like ancient archaeological finds, concrete skeletons of fallen deities, legacy of a past battered and suffocated by a present that will inevitably become a terrible future. It is very difficult to separate technique from art in The Last of Us Part 2 because one constantly draws strength from the other.
The construction of Seattle and the small and large urban junipers in which you get trapped gives us the constant idea of being lost and free to wander, without realizing that we are constantly guided by the eye of the developer who builds the various so carefully and intelligently contexts in which we move, not to make us aware of the fantastic "deception" in which we find ourselves. But it is also thanks to the different contexts proposed by the production that we remain enchanted and convinced of what we are "experiencing", from the interior of a synagogue to lush expanses of ferns, all always framed by sumptuous lighting and always perfect positioning, now sharper and harsher, now softer and more peaceful. We have to talk about the direction of photography in The Last of Us Part 2, because his desire to bring a cinematic flavor to his work is strong - but never intrusive - in every moment, therefore exceptional views and shots are created (and here the photo fashions will delight many). Naughty Dog raises the bar in the manufacture of its areas and does so by placing all its attention on each element, chiseling finely down to the last detail. Small animals move hastily in the middle of nature, dozens of small elements enrich furniture and floors, some arranged specifically to be swept away in a dust of debris during the shootings, others only to better outline environments already equipped with an unassailable credibility.
The aforementioned animations leave little room for criticism and even where there is an imperfection, exclusively linked to those more difficult to contextualize and therefore more "unrelated", the suspension of disbelief comes into play, reminding us that in the end, it is still always a game. Clearly su Ps4 fat and slim you have to face some compromises, but net of some very short phases a little more vexed by the now antiquated composition of the Sony hardware, everything flows much better than one would expect. Here too, while encountering some problems of streaming textures, and drops in pop-ups and pop-ins of the elements, the developers manage to exploit their experiences to mitigate these defects to the maximum and also show those who do not have a Ps4 Pro a decidedly excellent work. The whole is then corroborated by a well-made sound design, a simple but impactful sound accompaniment (thanks to the music of Santaolalla and Mac Quayle) which moreover plays a lot between the diegetic and the extra diegetic, and a top-level acting , at least in the original language. The guise with which the title is proposed, in short, is very close to being impeccable and in some way already offers the player an appetizer of what, hopefully, will represent the first titles related to the next generation.
The Last of Us Part 2 probably doesn't embody the wishes of its audience, on many points of view, and this is probably its greatest asset. It is a mammoth, cured and incredibly involving operation. In addition to a renewed playful sector that finally accompanies the narrative very well. We are faced with a work that wants to change the rules of the game. The second act of the story of Ellie and Joel is not a perfect title on every front, but still manages to keep the player glued, making him not only the user but the protagonist of the wonderful story told. In the face of some uncertainty in the second half of the adventure, which at times dilutes and frays the story a little, and some creative stumbling block that we come across in the last hours, which seem to be the result of a more hasty and for this slightly less meticulous, the epic directed by Druckmann should be essential for all lovers of the genre. There are many concepts and ideas for discussions that are addressed or even presented, without ever trying to answer the complex questions that the game poses, but leaving ample freedom of opinion.
Ellie's is a slow and inexorable descent into hell, into the abyss inherent in each of us, which comes to life on an extraordinarily well-kept stage both technically and, above all, the artistic one. The Last of Us Part 2 is an arrival point for this generation and, in many ways, for the whole media. Rewarding, fun, heartbreaking, melancholic, furious and destabilizing, it cannot leave you indifferent. Fragility is the latest proposed concept that I would like to underline, that of a world and a society by now defeated, of characters who are mere mortal creatures of flesh and blood and no longer unstained heroes or knights. The fragility of a girl enslaved by her own desires, by an obsession that hides nothing but a bleak path of despair.