At a glance, it would appear that Sony’s survival horror game The Last of Us Part II is a major success: It has the gaming world buzzing. It’s been given all sorts of critical praise. It’s sold millions of copies since sprinting out of the gates to become “the fastest-selling PS4-exclusive title ever.” And it contains a surprise-filled, multi-tiered narrative that’s never been presented quite as effectively or gut-wrenchingly before.
This sequel is also,however, incredibly dark, emotionally disturbing and difficult to live with. This is no easy ride, folks. And that’s not even taking into account the hacked-open zombie goop.
So, what can you expect if you or yours decides to venture in?
One of the big reasons that people were looking forward to this game was because of the original title’s stirring cinematic storyline. The Last of Us was yet another dystopian-future zombie tale—one of many, to be sure. But more importantly, it was the story of a grieving father named Joel who found a way through his anguish and pain, regaining a modicum of hope, thanks to a young teen girl named Ellie whom he reluctantly took under his wing.
It was a moving, if gruesomely bloodstained, story line.
The Last of Us Part II picks up with that well-crafted emotional empathy and clenched-fist passion fully intact several years after the events of the first game. Ellie and Joel have settled safely into a human refuge in Wyoming that’s geared toward keeping the fungal plague and its infected zombie masses at bay. The familial pair tug and pull over the things of normal life, comfortable in their deepening dad-and-daughter roles.
But fans expecting a happy-ever-after tale here will have their hopes mangled faster than the blending of a machete and a zombie noggin.
Without saying too much, a shocking, brutal murder of a lead character splatters the screen in the initial hours of play. From there, the story runs in several directions—in both the past and the present. Gamers play through the lives of two young women who are both obsessed with a rage-filled need for bloody revenge. And the unfolding narrative shows how our own well-meaning impassioned choices can reap devastating outcomes, making it painfully plain that revenge is a choice that destroys and crushes everything and everyone in its path.
Hey, wait a minute. Isn’t this supposed to be about killing zombies? Yes, it is. And that backdrop—with its screeching and screaming rabid monsters and the unexpected jump scenes it produces—is always present and keeps your teeth on edge. But it’s the escalating conflict and enraged fury between opposing human forces, that’s the real centerpiece here.
Players hack and blast away at human and humanoid foes with an arsenal of knives, axes, guns and explosives that they modify with scavenged bits and pieces. Men, women, children and even a very pregnant woman are all murdered onscreen in gushingly bloody ways—including, in some cases, ways that include slow, gory and savage torture.
Those realistic motion-capture movements include knife fights that slash viciously at arms and legs, as well as stealth kills that slip up and slit throats or repeatedly jab jugulars. Gun blasts and explosions spew blood and rip off heads and limbs. And up-close pistol blasts blow human and monster faces into unrecognizable pulp.
Beyond the violence, there’s some sexuality in the mix here, too. The infected zombies are seen in various stages of fungal transformation, but their tattered clothes reveal humanoid breasts and genitals. And Ellie’s story this go-round involves a same-gender love story. We see her and her first love interest, Dina, repeatedly flirting, kissing and fondling each other and watch as they disrobe and start having sex before the camera moves away. In fact, the game makes it clear that any sex with any willing participant is a common and expected part of dystopian future life.
Foul language? Oh, yes, there’s plenty of that to wade through as well. This is a script packed to the brim with f- and s-words and every other form of crudity and profanity you can imagine. And there’s even some drug use in the form of smoked joints in the story mix, too.
Frankly, though, it’s the story’s focus on the agonizing toll of bloody, brutal revenge that far surpasses every other content concern here. The Last of Us Part II makes sure that we see clearly through the mad and bulging eyes of all involved. We feel every agonizing emotion and seethe and hate from the perspective of all the participants in this complicated story.
On top of that, the tale keeps shocking us with unexpected and startling deaths that hurt emotionally. In fact, the game sometimes feels like a futuristic Game of Thrones story full of anguished emotions, murdered leads … and zombies.
You could certainly characterize The Last of Us Part II as an immersive cautionary tale that warns against the horrible price of revenge. But right down to the final, brutal, misogynistic battle between the agonizingly battered, bleeding and broken female leads, the game is really all about suffering: the horrible suffering of those on screen, and ours as well.
And it’s difficult to turn off those painful emotions when you put down your controller and turn off the power button.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.