Title: The Last of Us Part II | Developer: Naughty Dog | Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Initial Release: 19th June 2020
The follow-up to Naughty Dog's widely acclaimed action-adventure title and storytelling masterpiece, The Last of Us, is finally upon us. It's always been a brave and expectation-loaded decision for the studio to revisit this franchise and, much like the PS3 original, Part II arrives close to the end of its respective console life cycle. As such, it may be expected to be a showpiece of what can be achieved on current generation hardware, but the studio are out to achieve more than just a graphical "greatest hits" swan song.
Whether a technical tour de force or another indelible mark on the story-driven video game genre, I am looking forward to fully experiencing everything that the heart-wrenching narrative has in store, but obviously, I'm also here for the opportunity to capture some powerful virtual photographs. As mentioned in my recent retrospective look, the remaster's photo mode left something to be desired, so has Part II been Left Behind by modern advances in virtual photography, or have Naughty Dog matched their storytelling prowess with camera tools that will let players express their own creativity? Find out with this first look at exactly what The Last of Us Part II has in its photo mode.
Key Photo Mode Features:
Cinematic depth of field with pleasing bokeh
Adjustable motion blur
Beautifully natural lighting
Perhaps the biggest complaint of the photo mode in the Remastered collection was the way in which the menu isolated features and restricted camera movement to just one active UI tab, so it is a pleasure to see that the whole system has been completely reworked in the new offering. An all new photo mode UI groups useful features together in manageable tabs and frees up the camera controls to be used at any time. The result is a much more elegant, though perhaps not groundbreaking, system that creates a smooth virtual photography workflow while facilitating concurrent camera and image setting adjustments.
you are invited to focus more on the result than the setting
Camera movement itself uses an orbit mode, tethered at all times to the playable character, combined with planar truck and crane adjustment, plus a central axis roll to aid composition. As ever, an orbit-centred setup is not the most versatile solution, and it remains tricky to achieve low-angled shots, but the inputs are easy to use and you should have no trouble aligning most captures. Similarly user friendly, the UI settings almost universally opt for a 0 - 100 adjustment range; although more experienced photographers may miss the technical use of replicated camera terminology, it does mean that you are invited to focus more on the result than the setting. A small shame then that, unlike its predecessor, the new photo mode doesn't allow settings to be manipulated while the UI is hidden.
a beautifully authentic effect with pleasing circular bokeh
Some powerful image manipulation options can be found amongst the UI tabs, including depth of field controls that are able to produce a beautifully authentic effect, with both fore and background defocus, while rendering specular highlights with a pleasing circular bokeh. The focus distance adjustment steps are perhaps too large and there is no auto-focus mode to speak of, but it is easy to isolate a subject and produce a cinematic look. Minor editing options, such as brightness, saturation and sharpness, offer the ability to tweak your image, and additional lens effects stretch to the use of added motion blur. Essentially an option to fade in the game's own per-pixel motion blur effect, this is an almost unique feature outside of racing game photo modes and can restore a subtle sense of movement to the static scene.
A healthy compliment of thematically titled colour filters and an interesting set of logos are matched by a no nonsense selection of frames. Forgoing any novelty image surrounds, Naughty Dog have focused on a much more useful series of aspect ratio crops and added the interesting option to match the colour of the cut out bars to the average hue of the live image. You can even add a level of transparency or replace the colour with a clear blur, as long as no logo is currently applied.
ready to let players express their own interpretation of its art
All in all, the effects work well together and are nicely suited to taking advantage of the game's step up in visual quality and outstandingly natural indirect lighting. Optical effects, such as diffuse shadows or fully rendered reflections in mirrors add to the believability of each scene while a particularly stunning lens flare effect occurs naturally from a strong light source without the need for photo mode enhancement. Notably larger playable areas and, Naughty Dog trademark, detailed interior environments also bring a much greater opportunity to explore and exploit the lovingly crafted world. There should be no shortage of content for virtual photographers to enjoy then, and that's without even thinking about the potential emotion that can be captured throughout a game like this.
The Last of Us Part II is here to tell a very deliberate story, but it seems that the developer is also ready to let players express their own interpretation of its art through virtual photography. A complete rebuild of Naughty Dog's photo mode suite brings it deservingly up to date, now you just have to decide whether to put story or photography first...
As always, I'll be back with an in-depth photo mode review and final verdict after spending more time with the game but for now, let me know what you like most about the available features or anything you think is missing in the comments below.
Subscribe to the fortnightly newsletter for all the latest features from The Fourth Focus