The Last of Us Part II releases one week from today, and the review embargo lifted this morning. Although the game currently sits at an impressive 96 on Metacritic, don’t let that lead you to believe reviews are universally positive. The game’s bleak world drew many critics in, but also pushed many out with its repetitive messaging and exhausting violence. Here are some takes on the game from critics across the Internet:
The Washington Post
Reviewer: Christopher Byrd
Written for The Washington Post’s videogame section, “Launcher,” Christopher Byrd is nothing but ecstatic about the game, and although Launcher doesn’t give games official scores, I’d be surprised if Byrd would give it anything other than a perfect one. Although he notes how brutal it is to kill such humanized adversaries and contemplates the real human cost of forcing so many developers to crunch in order to make the final product, Byrd considers the game to be nothing short of a masterpiece.
‘The Last of Us Part II’ is an astonishing achievement — a searing demonstration of how a video game can marry heart-stopping gameplay, gorgeous environmental storytelling and anxiety-inducing moral complexity. Though it uses the tropes of the zombie apocalypse, it completely transcends the genre. ‘The Last of Us Part II’ is not a game about zombies. It’s a meditation on loss — not simply loss of life, but of community, family, and individual capabilities — and the effort it takes to muddle through maddening grief.
Reviewer: Andy McNamara
Score: 10 / 10
Game Informer’s Andy McNamara similarly adores the story Naughty Dog has put together. Giving the game a perfect score, McNamara cites the game’s meticulous design and heart-wrenching narrative which only felt more poignant in the context of living through an actual pandemic.
I can rave about the attention to detail, the world, and the combat, but the story is where The Last of Us Part II sets a new bar. It is more about challenging your heart than your reflexes, and I simply cannot recommend it enough. There is much to be said about this game that can’t be said here due to spoilers, but you should play it as soon as you can with as little info as possible. But you don’t need to know specifics to appreciate how the gameplay and environmental cues all play into a single purpose: They make you feel the choices, helplessness, and the violence at the heart of this world and its characters. I can safely say this is the best narrative game I have played. I felt the loss. I felt the confusion. It is a game that turned me inside out with each twist of the screw.”
Reviewer: Kallie Plagge
Score: 8 / 10
Although many reviewers viewed the game’s brutal violence as a powerful narrative tool, others viewed it as gratuitous or just overwhelming. Such is the case with Kallie Plagge, who literally had stress nightmares after playing this game. She still recognizes the game as a masterfully crafted experience that really clicks in the second half, but one that was difficult for her to enjoy.
By the time I finished The Last of Us Part II, I wasn’t sure if I liked it. It’s a hard game to stomach, in part because so much of who Ellie is and what she does is beyond your control. She is deeply complicated and flawed, and her selfishness hurts a lot of people. At times, the pain you inflict feels so senseless that it can leave you numb. It’s all messy and bleak and made me profoundly sad for myriad reasons, but the more I reflect on it, the more I appreciate the story and characters at its core. I wanted almost none of it to happen the way it did, and that’s what’s both beautiful and devastating about it.”
Reviewer: Riley MacLeod
Kotaku reviewer Riley MacLeod felt similarly put off by what he viewed as gratuitous violence, but to the point where it dramatically affected his ability to enjoy the game at all. Even though he could recognize the game’s accomplishments, MacLeod ultimately became exhausted and frustrated with its unceasing violence without any meaningful message or purpose behind it.
The first game’s story was polarizing; this one’s will clearly be as well. So many people worked on this game for so long, and at such cost, that I want The Last of Us 2 to be more than the experience I had. It’s a visually beautiful game that feels distinct to play, and the story it tells and how it tells it, at the most basic level, certainly pushes the edges of what games have done before. None of those accomplishments elevated or redeemed it for me. Like the nature consuming Seattle, or the outbreak consuming humanity, its ugliness overshadowed everything else.”
Reviewer: Maddy Myers
Former Paste assistant editor Maddy Myers shared many of MacLeod’s sentiments on the game, emphasizing how the humanization and subsequent brutalization of Ellie’s enemies made her feel “annoyed, not reflective.” Especially during a time when death and division seem more present than ever, Myers was unimpressed with The Last of us Part II’s shallow, repetitive message that “murder is bad.”
The Last of us Part 2 depicts individual people who are instead ruthless, capable, yet self-absorbed, and whose perception of violence is limited to how it affects them and their chosen family members. They are almost unbelievably unable to see the bigger picture. Part 2 ends up feeling needlessly bleak, at a time when a nihilistic worldview has perhaps never been less attractive. Its characters are surviving, but they’re not learning, and they’re certainly not making anything better.”
Reviewer: Steve Bowling
Score: “Mind-blowing” (best possible score)
To contrast the last few reviews, GameXplain’s Steve Bowling found the game’s examination of characters’ motivations to be deeply moving, combining with its gripping action and jaw-dropping environments to create what he believes will be one of the best games not just of the year, but of the decade.
The Last of Us Part II tells one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen in this medium to date. It’s the perfect sequel. It takes a world and characters you’ve grown to love and forces you to reexamine them, to think about whether the choices they’ve made were the right ones.”
In an interview with GamesRadar+, Joel’s actor, Troy Baker, said, “I don’t know whether people are going to like it or they’re going to hate it, but they definitely will not be ambivalent about it.”
That mostly seems to be the case, with some exceptions. Those who gave radiant reviews tended to view the game’s violence as an unpleasant yet necessary element to convey the brutality Ellie both faces and enacts, whereas those who weren’t as impressed often criticized this violence as pointless or excessive.
Wherever people landed on their overall impression of the game, a few points remained mostly consistent: The technical and artistic rendering of The Last of Us Part II is breathtaking, the combat is varied and tense and the narrative is brutal to the point of being overwhelming for many. Although the only way to fully know if the game will click with you is to play it yourself, hopefully these reviews can give you a better picture on whether it’s for you or not.
For more on The Last of Us Part II, be sure to read Natalie Flores’ glowing review of the game, and check out its limited edition console as well as everything revealed about it during the State of Play presentation. The game launches June 19 on PlayStation 4.