The Last of Us part II is as much a CG movie as it is a CGI game. Developed by Naughty Dog, and published by Sony, it is a breakthrough game on many levels.
One of the first all CG movies that had realistic characters with skin tones and hair was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001). It was critically panned because its story didn’t live up to the quality of the graphics. There were also criticisms of the uncanny valley, but I personally didn’t get that impression. (For a list of CG movies and history go here, here, and here.)
The Last of Us Part II has the most amazing character graphics I have ever seen on a console game; it is literally amazing.
The game begins with a preamble featuring two cowboy characters and a ride in the snow reminiscent of Red Dead Redemption 2. Then we’re taught how to play guitar to Ellie, the pre-teen protagonist who seems wiser and tougher than her years. And then, years later we follow her on a scouting mission through the snow in search of—zombies. But these are not like any zombies you have ever seen. Man-o-man they are scary and mean.
The game is mostly set in a dark, dismal future after a fungus has ravaged Earth and zombies have become the ruling class. They have developed a sophisticated city with electricity and powerful weapons, and as it seems in all zombie movies, an infinite population.
Sony and Naughty Dog took some chances on the game and introduced the protagonist Ellie entering a sexual relationship with her friend Dina. The other characters have equally difficult personal issues and relationships like teen pregnancy and bigotry at multiple levels. The story is complex and compelling, and the depth of the characters and their evolving relationships is unlike any game I’ve ever played, but not unlike many movies I’ve seen.
|Ellie and Dina go on a scouting mission|
The game has been discussed for years and at E3 2018, Naughty Dog showed some superb gameplay samples. At the time, we thought they were tricked up graphics run on a supercomputer and would never be realized on a console. Surprise. They are.
I didn’t spend much time in the previous version because I don’t care for zombie games, but it too was impressive for its graphics, However, I didn’t really get involved with the characters. In this new version the character relationships have become richer, the game’s universe is immense, and more complicated questions are raised around morality (especially of killing), vengeance, and interestingly tribalism that confront the characters and subsequently the player; they are quite revolutionary—this is definitely a brake out game that will be discussed for years.
The animation and interaction mechanics are simply amazing, and uses Sony’s Naughty Dog Game Engine. The feeling of an interactive film has been created through the numerous cut-scenes and story development cinematics. The game has a fluidity in the animation that is unlike any other game. The sub-routines of companion characters as they wait for you catch up with them, or if you overtake them, is at first shocking, you wonder if there is another player. There were times, however, where it wasn’t obvious that the video ended and it was time to move along, but that’s a credit to how seamless it all is.
The world of The Last of Us Part II is huge, highly detailed, and treacherous. I couldn’t stop commenting to myself, and to the cats, that it was all being done on a six-year-old PS4. Naughty Dog has introduced several new elements like a traversal system for climbing, jumping, ropes. It has created so much to explore in the environment, like finding new or alternative paths, the joy of uncovering resources, and tricks to navigate the many threats one encounters. Other than the zombies you could just wander around and have a great time.
The game introduces new survivor factions and enemy types too, including really nasty guard dogs. They can detect your scent (that’s a new twist) and root you out in stealth, your only chance is to get some distance or use distractions to throw them off your trail. The dogs are a big problem.
|Ellie discovers the Zombie’s vast city|
There are training manuals that can be found throughout the game and can unlock helpful character upgrades and crafting recipes. I’m a PC M&K gamer and not very good with a controller, but I discovered Ellie is more agile than most of her enemies. She can sprint and quickly dodge incoming melee attacks. There’s also something infected called the Shambler—a heavily armored class, which explodes into corrosive clouds when it gets near. I didn’t spend too much with them and don’t recommend it. One of the new survival techniques which I liked a lot is a listening capability. You can use it to detect enemies otherwise hidden by foliage or behind building.
It’s a very long game and quite honestly I doubt if I’ll be able to finish it, because it is an emotional slog, and the zombies do get on my nerves—literally and figuratively. However, for $60 this is the most entertainment hours per dollar I think you’ll find today.
Is The Last of Us Part II coming to PC? Unknown at this point, Sony hasn't announced anything and there's very little coming from the rumor mill. It’s unlikely Sony will be in a big hurry to move it out to the PC and more likely will release its PS5 version first, which should be awesome. We may see a Sony Crossplay capability in late 2021.
It could very well be one of, if not the most expensive games ever made. Some other blockbuster games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt reportedly cost $46 million to develop, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider has been estimated to cost upwards of $100 million to produce. Sony’s God of War was also estimated to be near $100 million, so it’s not unreasonable to guess that The Last of Us Part II cost Sony at least $100 million to make, if not even more. At $60 Sony is going to have to sell over 2 million copies to break even. According to VG Chartz, over 4 million have already been sold.
What do we think?
If you have a PS4, go get this game now. I played it on a PS4 with a Sony 7.1 AV and a Dell 4K projector and it was the best movie I’ve seen this week, and the most captivating game I’ve played in a long time. I haven’t been this impressed by an open-world adventure game since Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
The Last of Us Part II is definitely a major milestone in game development and will be studied as a case example of what can be done, and what should be done.