The original Last of Us is what I like to call a sloppy stealth game. It's unwieldy. It never feels smooth. You can do your best to sneak through an area, but a Runner's ludicrous cone field of vision always breaks your cover, which sends a legion of Infected at Joel and Ellie. Breaking stealth to go loud in combat is never an accident. It's an inevitability.
In The Last of Us Part 2, the sloppy stealth is lessened. It remains messy in action, but it's more that way by design than a pesky accident. It no longer feels janky to drive a melee weapon into a foe—instead, it feels panicked. Melee is a viable option, unlike before. Ellie can lay prone and crawl under a rusted vehicle now. She can craft a plastic bottle silencer for her primary pistol, too. She eventually gets a sneaky, silent bow, and also doesn't have to worry about crafting shivs thanks to her handy knife, with endless stealth kills possible. This new Ellie is deadly and silent, and crucially, can actually stay that way. But it also breaks the game.
What I liked about the first game's stealth is that in an instant, everything can change about an encounter for the worse. I may not have loved how the combat felt—especially in my most recent replay, accepting that my taste in game-feel has changed dramatically since The Last of Us originally released—but I liked how the moment-to-moment of it played out in unexpected ways. Meanwhile in The Last of Us Part 2, I've largely found myself bored by most encounters because it's so easy to stealth through it without even raising an eyebrow from the enemy factions of the Washington Liberation Front, Infected, or Seraphites.
Maybe I brought this on myself though. I opted to play on the normal difficulty, figuring that was the "intended" way on behalf of the developers. I assumed that if I liked it enough, I'd kick it up a notch on a future playthrough, as I did with the original. It turned out to be a mistake. I'm always full up on resources and ammo. Even after emptying a weapon after an encounter, I can usually rely on scrounging up additional ammo in the next area. Despite the much-improved horror sequences The Last of Us Part 2 deploys, it's automatically negated by the plain fact that I can't be scared when I know I can easily shoot or stealth my way out of a situation. The tensest moments are the few where I'm robbed of that exit strategy.
When people think about The Last of Us, and by extension, Naughty Dog's Uncharted series, the last thing on anyone's minds is the quote-unquote "gameplay." Where games should be considered holistically, triple-A games typically get to be revered as more than the sum of its parts. It's a natural reaction, just as how I enjoy the occasional bad Netflix show (like the YA post-apocalyptic The Rain), or even B or C-tier games like State of Decay 2 and Control, despite how busted they may be on a core gameplay level. The positives, for people, often outweigh the negatives. In the case of Naughty Dog games, that usually means its pristine presentation, from setpieces to its top of class performances, outweigh any sort of misgivings people might have about its third-person shooting being average at best. The question stands though: For a game like The Last of Us, should the gameplay even matter? For me, the answer is "yes."
It's why I'm disappointed by how easy The Last of Us Part 2 is. It's too late to go back and start anew on a harder difficulty, being in what I believe now is the final stretch. The action retains its sloppy stealth by design; from panicked real-time molotov crafting behind a decrepit bookshelf, to how Ellie can flop into tall grass and crawl around Snake-style. The stealth may be undeniably better and no longer clunky, but I find myself missing the tension that saturated every pore of the first game's encounters. It's what helped elevate the first game from being a "good post-apocalyptic story" to a good video game for me.
I still need to sort out my feelings on The Last of Us Part 2 overall, as I close in on the end. My kneejerk thought is that I like it, but it's not worth the hyperbole that's swirled around since the review embargo lifted. I imagine a lot of players right now are like me, either having binged it over the weekend or are taking their time over the course of a week or so. As for me, I'll be writing my more rounded out opinion later this week.
Major Game Releases: June 22 to June 26
Here are the major releases for the week of June 22 to June 26. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.
- Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated [June 23 for PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch]: The classic Spongebob platformer has at last had its thirst quenched within Sandy's dome home. Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom was a cult classic in its own right, and seeing it in true HD, with some new embellishments like a new multiplayer horde mode, is something we frankly never thought we'd see. The revitalized classic, published by THQ Nordic, is out on most platforms later this week.
- Pokemon Cafe Mix [June 23 for Switch, mobile]: Pokemon Cafe Mix was unveiled last week, and it's already launching today. It's a "free-to-start" game, meaning that after a certain point, progress will be barred by monetary transactions. Immediately, Pokemon Cafe Mix stands out thanks to its cute illustrative style. At its heart though, it's a puzzle game akin to the Tsum Tsum titles.
- Ninjala [June 24 for Switch]: Splatoon fans that have found themselves bored by the lack of new updates may be looking to the colorful Ninjala, from GungHo Online Entertainment, to fill the void. Ninjala is a free-to-play multiplayer action game coming exclusively to Switch-which is pretty rare, outside of Nintendo-developed games. We'll be checking out Ninjala ourselves later this week to see if it's a viable Splatoon alternative.
- Mr. Driller Drillland [June 25 for PC, Switch]: The GameCube classic is getting a fancy remaster for Switch and PC, and it's out later this week. It's notably Mr. Driller's Switch debut as well.
Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week In Gaming
- Everyone's playing The Last of Us Part 2. One of the PlayStation 4's last big hurrahs released this past Friday, and pretty much everyone on our staff right now is playing it. It's already spurred quite a bit of discussion, and you can look forward to more about it later this week.
- Crash Bandicoot 4 is happening. Early this morning, Toys For Bob and Activision revealed Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time, a new Crash Bandicoot game that picks up immediately where Crash Bandicoot: Warped leaves off. Check out our interview with Toys For Bob here on how it's addressing its difficulty controversy with new modes, how the new Quantum Masks work, and more.
- We have more not-E3 streams this week. Last week itself was busy, with EA Play revealing next-gen footage and the fact that a new Skate is in development. This week there will be streams for Marvel's Avengers, Cyberpunk 2077, and the New Game Plus stream featuring Sega, NIS America, and others. It's a busy week.
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate reveals its next fighter: Min-Min from Arms! We already knew a character from Arms was joining the roster, but it wasn't until today that we learned who was joining the likes of Mario and Joker. Min-Min is out on June 29 for the fighter, and is the first fighter included in the Fighter Pass 2 DLC.
- A new report from our sister site Eurogamer alleges that a Suicide Squad game is in development at Rocksteady. For so long, folks have assumed Rocksteady's super secret in-development game was revolving around Superman. Today, new domain names seem to have put that rumor to rest: It's probably a Suicide Squad game. Sigh. We also have yet to formally see what Warner Bros. Montreal is working on, though its Court of Owls teasers do seem to hint at something Batman related for the Arkham Origins studio.
Axe of the Blood God for June 15, 2020
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.
The latest entry in the Console RPG Quest tackles both the WonderSwan and the Neo Geo Pocket, two cult favorite handhelds nevertheless trapped in the shadow of the Game Boy. Are their RPG legacies worth remembering? Kat and Nadia discuss! Plus, the duo get into all of the RPG news from the week, including the Pokemon Sword and Shield DLC, the Cyberpunk delay, and more!