The Last of Us 2 – Blind Accessibility Review

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The Last of Us: Part 2 Blind Accessibility

Individual scores

  • Overall Rating - 9.5

Introduction

I’ve started off recent reviews saying how I’ve not played certain games like Final Fantasy VII or Minecraft. In that sense, this review is no exception: I’ve never played The Last Of Us. Despite its critical acclaim, its emotional weight means that I wouldn’t want to necessarily put an unsuspecting player through the journey unless absolutely necessary. Additionally, its reliance on stealth and survival, as opposed to more action-oriented gameplay didn’t seem like an easy sell to potential CoPilots.

That doesn’t mean I won’t ever play the original game, just that I’ve had to work with commentary on YouTube and streams on Mixer and Twitch for my understanding of the first game’s plot.

However, when The Verge released an article talking about accessibility features in The Last Of Us 2, I was both shocked and extremely pleased. Pleased as having so many accessibility options allows so many more people to enjoy the experience and shocked because it was the first title I’m aware of to promise 100% accessibility to “blind” players, including the possibility of obtaining the platinum trophy and completing The Last of Us 2 start to finish without sighted assistance.

The Last of Us 2 Ellie's mouth and neck

First Boot

On first booting The Last of Us 2, there is no speech at all and text to speech is not enabled. To achieve this, press down once on the DPad and you’ll hear your very first spoken words of the prompt system. After turning on the TTS with the right arrow on the DPad, you can then navigate around freely to select your prefered language. Changing this also changes the language spoken by the custom TTS in-game).

After pressing continue and adjusting the markers for the edges of the screen, you are then presented with what would be considered the main accessibility setup screen, allowing you to turn on one of the 3 presets for Vision, Motor or Hearing. As you continue to progress through these screens you are able to customise even more options and, eventually, you’ll reach the main menu with “Story”, “Options”, and “Extras”.

Going into the options menu allows you to take stock of the full range of accessibility settings available in The Last of Us 2 and adjust to your heart’s content. With this many options, it might be a little complicated at first but the fact that the game’s cursor remembers your previous position in the options menu structure certainly can be useful.

Don’t worry if you don’t know what all the options do. With over 60 there is a massive amount of combinations, and sometimes you won’t know what works for you until you need to resolve a specific sticking point during a playthrough.

The Last of Us 2 - Vision Accessibility Preset.

So What’s Narrated?

The menu narration in The Last of Us 2 is, in a word, fantastic. Everything including button prompts is narrated, including tutorials. While the speed is not adjustable, it is fast enough that it hasn’t personally been a problem for me, even in intense combat situations. There are even elements that I didn’t expect to see read that in fact do, which is a great and welcome surprise.

The Audio Cue Glossary

One of the things that fascinated me in the Naughty Dog press coverage of the accessibility features was the idea of the audio cue glossary. Audio-only games had “learn game sounds” menus years before this, but The Last of Us 2 marks the first time such a feature has been included in a mainstream title.

Entering this menu, you are presented with something that, whilst it seems daunting, is a brilliant illustration of just how much care has been put into the thought process for these cues. The fact that I can use this list at any time to check what I’m hearing has assisted me on many occasions through my time with the game, even at points where I wouldn’t have thought it would’ve been available.

As much as it’s rather overwhelming seeing so many audio cues, it’s an amazing resource to have at your disposal at any time via the options menus mid-game, especially with the volume of cues present in the first place.

My only critique of the audio glossary is that it is not organised into subcategories such as combat, traversal, listen etc, but is just one long list. Other than that, looking through those cues proved invaluable at times.

First Sequences

The first time you enter a particular type of sequence, be it stealth, combat, or interacting with the environment, you’ll notice that even the tutorial prompts are spoken. This is great since even as the sequences play out, you learn what happens when you press certain buttons in sequence for instance and not having to ask for sighted assistance is a bonus in and of itself.

Saving And Loading Your Game

Usually, the save system on the PS4 is not accessible without sighted assistance. However, within The Last of Us 2, Naughty Dog have provided narrated prompts once again to allow you to save your game and pick up where you left off, even having date and time information available. This means that not only can you have multiple save files, but you can also tell how recently you played, making this a huge bonus for completionists.

This is a great addition as, combined with the checkpoints feature, if you make an error in judgement or there are enemies you don’t realise exists for instance, you can learn as you play and make fewer and fewer mistakes as you figure out just what strategies work best.

The Last of Us 2 - Illustrating the glowing overlays of enemies in listen mode.

Stealth

Stealth is a core part of The Last of Us 2 gameplay, much like it was in the first game. It is also one of the most rewarding aspects of the game, in that you have to scan for enemies and, using the tools and cues at your disposal, take them out with gloriously brutal sound design to accompany it. The sound design in the entire game is without a doubt top-notch, but the combat and atmosphere is where it shines most prominently in my view.

Speaking of sound design, the audio cues and narration don’t feel forced or too out of place, just as if they were meant to be there from the start. It definitely goes to show that implementing these features as early as possible in development can make a world of difference.

Auto-aim and locking

The auto-aim mechanics of Gears 5 have been, for me at least, the gold standard for shooting without sight in mainstream games since that title released, as you had the ability to utilise your precision with a shot through lining it up yourself rather than having it snap to your next target as you’d see in say Uncharted 4.

Naughty Dog’s approach for The Last of Us 2, on the other hand, feels like an evolution of the Gears 5 system, with you looking at a target and the game giving you audio cues to select what kind of shot you want to take. You do have the option to adjust your line of sight as well if needed by moving the camera around as you’d expect, though this isn’t usually a factor as these are scenarios where arguably you want to play it stealthy rather than going in guns blazing. 

The interesting part? The text description of how the system works tells you pretty much everything you need to know in comparison to Gears 5 where nothing was stated about how to get started with taking down your foes.

The Last of Us 2 - High contrast mode with friendlies in blue, enemies in red, and interactable objects in yellow.

Cover

Cover is one of those points that comes up a fair amount when discussing navigation. Whether it’s within the gritty, chainsaw gun-wielding Gearsiverse or the worlds of stealth titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn, the question has always been “how do we know where the cover is without sight?” Naughty Dog’s solution, ingeniously, is what essentially amounts to allowing a gamer without sight to have a portable piece of cover at all times, or more accurately, a Ghillie suit of sorts.

This comes in the form of going prone. At the maximum setting, you are invisible to the vast majority of enemies in the game, for an infinite period of time. This can of course be shortened to increase the challenge, but on my first playthrough I gave myself the option of having infinite prone invisibility should I need to, say, gain a better vantage point and figure out my next move, or better assess enemy positions outside of the scanning available in listen mode.

Retreating

When in a fight, it’s clearly sometimes better to retreat rather than face overwhelming odds. After all, you’re not the Doomguy who thrives on ripping and tearing his enemies to regain vitality. Instead, you are a survivalist, admittedly badass, but fragile as any human in this cruel and unrelenting world.

Consequently, there are times where you need to leave combat behind in a frantic escape at which point the navigational assistance can, for lack of a better word, assist you. Of course it doesn’t just work for leaving your enemies in the dust, it also allows you to traverse the world without sighted assistance, but being able to find a way out of the current mess you’ve unintentionally got yourself into is certainly a comforting notion.

The Last of Us 2 Ellie in combat

The Learning Curve

As great as all this agency is, it does come with a cost of learning, albeit a relatively slight one. I found myself occasionally not knowing what one of the numerous sound cues meant, but the glossary was there to clear my confusion. I’d find myself stuck as to how to progress, then realised that I hadn’t enabled a particular accessibility option, with the text stating that essentially I should’ve done so beforehand. 

Of course, every player will have different opinions on what options to set to what values or what difficulty they want to play on, but for me, learning all this has been a great experience as I don’t have to have anyone nearby to tell me what to do or where to go etc.

After around half an hour or so, I found myself easing into this new freedom the game allows me and enjoying every second of the story and the journey that so many with sight may take for granted. Being able to boot up the game, pick up where I left off and continue on the road towards my next destination all with the press of a few buttons is so uplifting.

Audio Description

There is, at the time of writing at least, no audio description within the cutscenes and in-game events of The Last of Us 2. However,the details you miss are forgotten when you consider the fact that the story is easy enough to follow just because of great scripting, sound design, scoring and voice acting.

At times, the TTS will narrate additional pieces of information that are useful to be aware of for story reasons, thus making the lack of AD even less of an issue than it otherwise might be. Hopefully though, Naughty Dog could leverage this facet of the medium of film and theatre for future titles, even if it doesn’t make its way into this current masterpiece.

Haptics

Like Uncharted 4 and other titles before it, The Last of Us 2 use of haptics is extremely useful, not just in getting you immersed within interactions with the environment, but also with elements that are required for story progression. I won’t say what these are to prevent spoilers, but suffice it to say those working on this game even managed to push haptics further than they have been before in terms of their use in accessibility for gamers without sight.

The Last of Us 2 - Ellie in the background, a corpse hand in foreground

Summary

Pros

  • Most accessibility features I’ve seen in a mainstream video game to date.
  • Time and effort has clearly been put into all aspects of these systems
  • Sound design, score and voice acting are all top quality and help enhance enjoyment and immersion in the hard-hitting story
  • I can play the game entirely without sighted assistance

Cons

  • Cue glossary could be better organised
  • Lacking audio description for clarity in terms of story events
  • TTS is not on by default on start up screen
  • Slight learning curve to audio cues and navigational systems that admittedly eases almost immediately

Score: 9.5/10

The only things that prevent me from giving The Last of Us 2 a perfect 10/10 score are relatively small issues such as seeing items seemingly through walls and being unable to easily collect them, being unable to easily determine which object I’m interacting with when two are close together and settings that I would’ve thought were turned on by default not being so under certain circumstances. Thankfully though, the possibilities afforded by games being able to be patched means that these and other small points like the lack of audio description could potentially be addressed later down the line.

The hard work of the team at Naughty Dog and everyone else who has contributed to this masterpiece cannot be understated, regardless of the scores on reviews. The point still stands: I can play this game without needing sighted assistance and get farther than I ever have in an open world environment unaided, without feeling the frustration of knowing I’ll eventually have to ask for a sighted player’s direct assistance. That alone is a fantastic achievement.

Conclusions

As much as people had hyped this game up before launch, I’ve always maintained that it’s one thing to see demos of a game’s accessibility and another to play the title for yourself and utilise those features in person. I’m very glad to see that the hype was just as valid as I thought it would be when I saw the initial press coverage, with Naughty Dog putting a massive amount of effort into making sure everything works as intended.

Whilst no game is perfect, especially in terms of accessibility for gamers without sight, The Last of Us 2 is a testament to what can be achieved when accessibility is considered from the ground up and is extremely close to being flawless. I only hope that both platform developers and teams working on updates to current titles and future projects take this for what it is: an example to push the industry forward to new heights and a bar to work from. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with this game and can’t wait to see what innovations arise from this title going forward.

Disclaimer: The copy of the game used in this review was provided by the publisher at no cost to the reviewer .

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Sightless Kombat

Sightless Kombat is an accessibility consultant, gamer without sight and content creator.

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