If art is meant to evoke emotions and allow us to find out more about ourselves, The Last Of Us Part II (TLOU2) has ended the debate if video games can be art.
A third-person action game by PlayStation games and triple-A developer Naughty Dog, best known for its Uncharted series, TLOU2 is a must-play for those after mature narratives, visceral action and blockbuster titles.
Naughty Dog's hallmarks - awesome graphics, thoughtful sound design, challenging enemies, open-ended level designs, amazing cast performances and engaging story - are all evident in this game.
The narrative tone is brutal, intense and thought-provoking, akin to that of television series The Walking Dead (2010 to present) and the film No Country For Old Men (2007).
In the first game of the series, the protagonist Joel is tasked to bring Ellie, a teenage girl who is immune to a virus that is turning humans into zombie-like creatures, to a group with the means to create a cure.
He decides to save Ellie and lay waste to the group after finding out the process would kill her.
Joel's character arc sees him come to terms with his own daughter's death at the beginning of the outbreak, while eventually warming up to becoming a father figure by the end. The moral dilemma is if his actions to save her can be justified, when the alternative is the chance of saving the world.
Although one plays as Joel for the most part of the game, it always feels like it is Ellie's origin story that players are experiencing. Naturally, TLOU2 puts Ellie at centre stage for her own personal story.
Now a young woman, she is set on the path of revenge. The story unfolds mostly over three days in a post-apocalyptic Seattle, during which players can scrounge for supplies, craft and upgrade an assortment of weapons and level up stealth and crafting skills, among doing other things.
As you take on and kill human enemies and sometimes their trained dogs, you will find their comrades shouting out their names, often in the throes of agony.
The game wants you to know that your enemies have names and emotional ties. It also asks the question: In a world where only pockets of society are left and fighting for their own survival, are your enemies synonymous with evil?
• Meaty single-player mode
• Bold narrative
• Top-notch graphics
• Tense action
• Learning curve for controls
• No multiplayer mode
PRICE: $79.90 (PS4 only)
TLOU2 blurs the lines and asks players to question the actions of the game's characters.
The interactivity of the video game medium means you as a player will have a hand in the deaths here.
Unlike with passive media, even knowing the ending of TLOU2 cannot sour the experience.
The game is masterfully paced, with the first two hours spent in setting up the world and character motivation.
The rest of the game has a perfect balance of player progression, violence and humanity.
At around the halfway mark, the game flips the narrative on its head with a bold choice - which I will not divulge here - that leaves me feeling uneasy throughout my play-through, which takes about 27 hours of playing time in total.
The combat in TLOU2 is in the vein of the first game - a tense and brutal mix of sneaking, shooting and dodging on-rushing enemies.
I did encounter one minor visual glitch and had to reload a save for a poorly designed ladder puzzle, but it was nothing that marred the overall experience.
Like what it has done with the first game, PlayStation is releasing this game at the end of a generation of its console and the cusp of a new one (the PlayStation 5).
While some might see it as a move to sell hardware that is nearing end of life, I see it as PlayStation's way to showcase what its current console has achieved and what is in store for its next one.
I would even say that the move is bold and in your face, which would also perfectly describe what TLOU2 is.
To just call TLOU2 a video game would underplay the interactive experience. This is truly a work of art.