Throughout the entirety of the PlayStation 4 generation, there was one consistency that propelled the console to rising head and shoulders above its competition. The quality of Sony’s first-party output is tough to match these days, with early highlights like Bloodborne and Ratchet & Clank paving the way for genre-defining titles to capitalise on an expansive install base a few years later. That allowed Sony’s last-gen system to go out with a bang in its final year of real relevance, and one game managed to define everything those prior PS4 exclusives had been gunning for. The Last of Us: Part II is why we play games — a masterpiece of design, direction, gameplay, and storytelling.
You could say the rest of the industry has some serious catching up to do now as we crown Naughty Dog with yet another Game of the Year award. The studio’s past two major releases, The Last of Us and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, both found themselves in our top spot come the end of December, with this third recognition once again proving the developer has the ability to go above and beyond expectations. And in spite of those assumptions of spectacularity, the team still managed to surprise and delight with this PS4 send-off.
That’s because the team took a narrative risk — something somewhat rarely seen in AAA production nowadays. It’s a captivating story of love and hate that introduces a fantastic range of new characters to the post-apocalyptic universe, which work in tandem with the faces we’ve already come to know and love. Abby and co bring an engrossingly new perspective to the harsh realities of a world without law while the supporting cast touches on a welcoming amount of trans representation. A plot fit for 2020 shines with powerful, emotional arcs and a quest for revenge that concludes in the very best of ways.
Let’s not forget about the gameplay tying those narrative beats together though, which has been expanded to better accommodate stealth and other sneaky approaches. It’s an aspect Naughty Dog doesn’t get enough credit for — the developer is absolutely one of the best in the business when it comes to third-person combat. With a silenced pistol, shiv, or glass bottle in hand, Ellie has the capabilities to outwit both the Seraphites and Washington Liberation Front without breaking a sweat. The water-washed city of Seattle can also boast of increased puzzle complexity as ropes and cables are manipulated to do your bidding, no matter how awkward the solution might look. The Last of Us: Part II really is Naughty Dog at its peak.
Could it also be the best looking game on PS4? We reckon so. What the Santa Monica studio managed to achieve with seven-year-old hardware is nothing short of staggering — it even looks better than some PlayStation 5 titles. Character animation is on a whole other level, settings and environments are almost life-like, and enemy design (who could forget about The Rat King?) reaches new heights. We cannot wait to see what the developer achieves on PS5.
The Last of Us: Part II is our Game of the Year, but it means so much more than that to so many. Despite the otherworldly entities roaming post-apocalyptic America, this is a human story fuelled by emotions. Love and loss influence both the game’s narrative and gameplay as the dwindling survivors of the Cordyceps infection fight for their own wellbeing as well as the ones closest to them. There are no winners, there is no black or white — simply shades of grey. The Last of Us: Part II reckons with that internal conflict, creating a gaming masterclass difficult to top for the years to come. Naughty Dog dared to tell its own story, no matter the reception. Thank god it did.
For more information, you can read our The Last of Us: Part II review through the link.
Do you too think The Last of Us: Part II is the best PS5, PS4 game of 2020? Start the debate in the comments below.
How we decide our Game of the Year: This December, our editorial team created a list of nominees for Game of the Year based on our own review scores and a variety of other factors. After much discussion, we trimmed the list of nominees down and asked all Push Square staff and the Push Square community to vote on their five favourites using a points-based system. The ten games with the most points by the designated deadline were then determined as our favourites of 2020.