The Last of Us: Part 2 Deaf/HoH Accessibility
A shockingly accessible and incredible game that will prove to be truly barrier free for very many disabled players. If I could rate things higher than 10, I would.
Score10 out of 10
Finally, the question we’ve posed for over a year and a half, Can I Play That? can be answered with an unequivocal yes. Yes, you can play The Last of Us: Part 2.
The Last of Us 2 is the game of a generation. Not in its narrative and artistic beauty–though both leave quite an impression–but in its accessibility. In discussing the game’s level of accessibility, Steve Saylor said it best:
“There will be before The Last of Us 2 and after The Last of Us 2.”
All games that come after? Naughty Dog set a hell of a bar for them to meet.
I have never seen a more robust and all-encompassing set of accessibility options and I am stunned by their attention and commitment to making this game accessible. There’s a dedicated accessibility menu and sub-menus within that accessibility menu. Sliders that allow players to tweak their experience to the nth degree and none of it is unchangeable after making a choice. If you’ve been following the build-up to the launch of The Last of Us 2, you’ll have no doubt seen Naughty Dog revealing that there are over 60 accessibility options available at launch.
Are you a blind or low-vision gamer in need of some settings designed for you? There’s a menu for that. Or perhaps you’re a hard of hearing gamer with some mobility issues as well? There are menus for that, too. I’m sure Naughty Dog knows how overwhelming the sheer number of accessibility options are, and what’s brilliant is that the developers have added the ability to select specific accessibility features. In doing so, a set of certain options are toggled on that players with that disability will likely find useful.
Not since Gears 5 have I cried over Deaf/hoh accessibility and to be honest, I didn’t think any game could leave me feeling that sense of being “seen” and the joy of being able to play a game exactly how I need to again. Yet, Naughty Dog did just that. When launching the game for the first time, I spent a good five minutes sitting in awe, staring at the vastness of the accessibility menus and then spent over an hour exploring the options, learning what every little thing did. Then I launched The Last of Us 2 with literally every setting and option I have ever needed to play a game and enjoy it in the way that suits me best.
The Hearing Accessibility Preset option toggles on a myriad of features, including awareness indicators, dodge prompts, subtitles for all dialogue with speaker names as well as subtitle directionality that clues players in as to where the speaking character is if they are speaking off-screen. On top of that, this preset list also includes some remarkably helpful combat vibration and vibration for when Ellie plays her guitar.
And the subtitles! Oh wow the subtitles!
The subtitle options alone are more substantial than you see in many games’ dedicated accessibility menus and the amount of customization allows Deaf and hoh players to truly tailor their experience to what they need.
Here you see the subtitles at their largest size. Also shown here are the speaker names toggled on, name colors on, background on at 50%, and the directional indicator (that little arrow in the left corner) on.
What I really appreciate about the subtitles in this game is something so many games fail to do. If a character is talking anywhere in the world and it’s audible, it’s subtitled. No game developer discretion concerning what “needs” to be subtitled, no main dialogue only subtitles. If someone is saying it within earshot of the playable character, it’s subtitled.
A feature that helped me significantly as a hard of hearing player, as well as one with slowed reaction times and mobility issues, is the dodge prompts. Oddly enough, when seeing that this was toggled on automatically in the hearing preset, I didn’t think it would really be relevant to me. Having played it and discovering how much it helped me not die though, I can safely say if I’d had this feature available to me in any other game, including Souls-like games, I’d actually be able to play them and enjoy them. I had no idea how audio cues of attacking enemies, even those that I can see, were failing me until The Last of Us 2 gave me a visual cue to go with them.
The enemy presence and proximity indicators are incredibly helpful and do exactly what you’d expect them to do. They seem to have a fairly big radius too, so players don’t necessarily need to be able to see the enemy for them to appear, they just need to be in their vicinity.
The world of The Last of Us 2 is bleak and bloody, so it feels odd for me to be able to say that while playing it, I felt sheer joy. This marks only the second time in my gaming life that I have been able to play a game without a single barrier to my enjoyment. So often, while Ellie is surviving hell in the game, I’d find myself sitting there with a grin on my face, thinking, look at me, playing a game and being good at it! This is fun! That’s not something I get to feel often in games and it is incredible.
The one and only thing in the game that I didn’t love was the fact that the ability to have a sharper overlay of nearby enemies in “listen mode” is locked behind skill upgrades. Before unlocking this perk, the enemy overlays were blobby and nondescript, leaving me unaware of what I needed to prepare for. A Runner I need to shoot? A Clicker I need to silently attack? One of those new Stage IV horrors that I want absolutely nothing to do with? But even with this locked behind an unlockable skill, the damage slider allowed me to survive when I guessed wrong. However, the more I played the game, the more I found little workarounds using various accessibility options that helped me through every area I found myself struggling with.
Above you see a yellow scan for items and things you can interact with, followed by a red scan for enemies, and lastly, the result of an enemy scan with them glowing red and the reticle targeting them. Using this workaround proved tremendously helpful in situations where I found myself being overwhelmed or when there were simply enemies all over the place and I wanted to be able to pick off the nearest ones even though I was unable to hear them.
The real value in what Naughty Dog has created with The Last of Us 2 is that it illustrates, indisputably, that customization is key in creating an accessible experience. Not difficulty modes, not one singular band-aid for accessibility, but enough options that players can design their own equitable experience.
Several times throughout my playthrough I found myself toggling on options listed under areas I wouldn’t normally think applicable to me. Something I often struggle with when playing open world games is mental fatigue, and I’d posit this is true for a great many disabled gamers. There comes a point in games like this where no matter how incredible the story and my experience playing it, I just need to be done with whatever part I’m working through because my brain is toast.
That’s where High Contrast Mode, a feature found under the visual accessibility menu, came to my rescue. I could turn on this mode with a swipe of the touchpad and immediately find all the loot in an area, collect it, and get on with my playthrough without wasting time and energy exploring things needlessly. If other massive games like this one had this feature, I probably wouldn’t have a backlog of them that I’ve given up on ever finishing because they are simply too mentally exhausting for me to enjoy.
I’ve only skimmed the surface of the vastness of customization provided for disabled players here and it’s a testament to what Naughty Dog has done with this game. Not only have they joined the ranks of Ubisoft and The Coalition in leading the industry in advancing the inclusion of disabled gamers in their design process, but they have set a new standard for all games to strive for. They’ve given the world a game that truly anyone can simply pick up and play and not run into barrier after barrier and that is an amazing feeling as barriers often leave me abandoning most games. And they did it all without ::gasp:: compromising their artistic vision.