Blind / Low Vision Game Review – The Last of Us Part II

The Last of Us Part II is one of the most anticipated titles of the year. A great sequel deserves great accessibility. This is our Blind / Low Vision accessibility review.
Game Accessibility Nexus

Review copy provided by Naughty Dog & Sony Interactive Entertainment.

Introduction

Hello, my name is Victor and I am a gamer with degenerative myopia since I was born. To give some context I had to wear glasses when I was 2 years and as of today, I have lost more than 90% of my vision. I am not able to read any text for more than 10 years without using the windows magnifier at 700% to read in all games and more recently the narrator has become my favorite accessibility tool. This is my feedback on The Last of Us 2 Part II from a low vision perspective.

The Last of Us was a highly praised game developed by Naughty Dog and published in 2013 on PS3. In 2014 a PS4 version was released. Its unique mix of gameplay mechanics, the world and story made it a classic. One of the core elements of the game were their characters, their humanity and diversity. On June 18th 2020 its sequel will launch following the story of the original and a great expectation has followed since the announcement. But beyond everything what set Naughty Dog’s game apart was the fact that the accessibility, while not perfect, caused some great feedback from the disabled gaming community. Now with the game in our hands, we are going to try to answer the real question: is this game accessible from a Blind/Low Vision perspective?

Settings

When starting the game for the first time we are shown a screen with three options, Text-To-Speech where we can turn it on / off, Text Language, Speech Language and Continue. It is worth noting that once you turn on Text-To-Speech the game will work in the text language selected, with proper accent and pronunciation for each one of them. In other words, it’s localized.

The next configuration is to define the HUD Safe Zone. Then we can configure HDR on / off, Contrast, Brightness and HUD Brightness. If you set the HDR to off you can only change the HUD Brightness.

Subtitles with yellow speaker name, fully dark background and an arrow pointing in the direction of the speaker.

Then we have Subtitles options. You can enable/disable them, adjust their size, color for the text,  add and customize a background, display the speaker’s name and also display a directional indicator to know the position of the speakers. I didn’t use any of the options since I can’t read and I can have voice acting and text-to-speech.

In Audio we have some basic controls. Device type, Channels, Center Channel and Dynamic Range, Mono Audio and Stereo Speaker Azimuth for adjusting the angle of your surround speakers. I am playing on a TV so I left the standard configuration on these options

In Accessibility we have three presets, one for vision, one for hearing and one for motor. These will enable a range of options related to those types of disabilities. The options that will be applied are shown on the right. These presets are very complete and a quick way to go into the game without having to manage every option manually. I didn’t enable the visual preset because I wanted to check every option by myself, as some of them I don’t need/like to use and also this way I can notice their impact and functionality individually.

After the initial setup we get to the main menu and we have access to all the options for some of the previous categories with many more settings, and I can say that it blew my mind. Also I want to mention all this process was completely accessible thanks to text-to-speech reading every option, value, description and controls to navigate.

In Options – Display we can change the brightness and Safezone Scale. In the same menu we have Motion Blur and Camera Shake sliders. I set Motion Blur to 0/10 because it doesn’t bring me any benefits and Camera Shake set it to 3/10.

In Options – Audio we have separate from zero to one hundred for Effects, Dialogue, Music, Cinematics, Accessibility Audio Cues, which are all sound effects to assist visually impaired players, and Text-To-Speech. I set all sounds to the maximum value except for Music set to forty and Text-To-Speech to sixty. I set Text-to-Speech at sixty because this feature is key for me as a Low Vision person since it helps with all aspects of the game, from menus to in-game text, map navigation, prompts in tutorials… Also in Audio, we find the previously mentioned settings for our device, channels and such.

In Options – HUD we have several very interesting configurations. Reticles customizes the aiming reticle displayed, the Default is a circle and Simple is a dot and it can be turned off. I use default because it’s the more visible one. Weapon Cross is a visual HUD to select your weapons and items. Instead of a wheel, it’s a cross with weapons on the horizontal axis and items on the vertical which feels more accessible to me because it’s easier to navigate. Damage Indicators displays an arrow indicator of the direction where we are been hit/shot from, but I can not see them. Awareness Indicators has off / stealth and always values. It displays an indicator in the direction an enemy is located. In Stealth mode it only appears when you are going to be spotted, in Always it works all the time. I set it to Stealth. I initially played with this tool in Always, but during combat with humans it gets in the way when trying to aim at them. Hit Markers shows an indicator when you hit an enemy. In the Classic value it’s white and in Default it will be red on a kill shot. It’s not visible to me. Health and Weapon shows your actual health, equipped weapon, ammo and status effects. You can enable/disable these three different elements independently. I have it on but I don’t even notice it on screen. Notifications inform you via text of tutorials, hints, pick up notifications, dodge prompts, grab/strike prompts, pick up prompts, interact prompts, collectible tracking. These show text for different actions, information on what you collect and more. Even if you can’t read them they have to be enabled so the Text-to-Speech tells you what you picked and what you can do. I only needed Dodge Prompts for the first hour of play, then I disabled it. I could see them but I found the Combat Sound cues more useful. Hints are very useful when I’m not sure what to do. Sometimes a group member gives a tip on how to solve something. I have Pick Up Notifications enabled to know what item I just picked.

The Options – Display options are the same as I mentioned in the beginning.

Customize Controls screen displaying an upside-down controller scheme and button remapping

The Options – Controls options include sensitivity adjustments and some assists for the camera and aiming, but I didn’t use them because I don’t need them.

We finally get to the Accessibility menu.

In Accessibility – Alternate Controls I only enabled Auto-Weapon Swap to save time when a gun runs empty. I only use toggles for sprint.

High Contrast Display showing characters in blue, enemy in red and a bottle in yellow.

Under Accessibility – Magnification and Visual Aids we have many useful options that can make the experience more enjoyable. HUD Scale where we can switch between Default and Large, I set it to Large. For elements like the Health Bar, Weapon and such I can’t see them but it helps with prompts and hints are bigger this way. HUD Background to change HUD background darkness between Default, Light and Darkened. I chose Darkened so it can be easier to navigate through menus. HUD Color changes the color of text and other elements. The available colors white, yellow, blue, red and green. I use white because it has better contrast over the dark background. HUD Colorblind Mode where it is possible to change between Off, Protanopia, Deuteranopia and Tritanopia. We still have HUD Flashing that allows you to enable/disable flash animations for collectibles and interactions. I turn it on because it’s subtle but it helps. I also turned on High Contrast Display. It has 3 presets. I use the blue color preset for allies, red for enemies and yellow for interactive elements like items, weapons, doors… It has more contrast than the others. The others use green for you and your allies only or blue for you and your allies and a soft creamed for enemies. Once active, moving the touchpad to the left enables and disables it removing all environmental and lighting effects, allowing you to focus on valid targets by changing their colors. Screen Magnifier allows you to zoom in a section of the screen. It has off, low, medium and high settings. When you double-tap on the touchpad it zooms to the selected value immediately. If you hold down on the second tap it will zoom in slowly and stay on the level that it was when you release. You can move while zoomed using the touchpad. This magnifier works on all areas of the game (inventory, map, menus, gameplay). To zoom out you just double-tap again. On top of that, if you need even more zoom you can use the Playstation Zoom function. Translation Prompts can be set off, on, auto. It will ask you if you want to translate any in-world text to your chosen text language.

In Accessibility – Motion Sickness we have sliders for Camera Shake and Motion Blur. I set Camera Shake to a value of three out of ten and turn Motion Blur to zero. Camera Distance adjusts the position of the third person camera with values from -5 to 5. Positive values set the camera away from the character, while negative values make it get closer. I left it a 0, the default value. Similarly, Field of View adjusts the field of view of the 3rd person camera. It can go from -5 to 5, and I left the default value of 0. Dolly Zoom Effect which creates an oscillation of the camera back and forth generating some disorientation and I disabled this option. Full Screen Effects can be enabled/disabled. It makes different effects appear on the screen to indicate near-death and other statuses. I have it on but still I usually die before I can notice them. Instead of this the way I check my status is through the Text-to-Speech functionality. Persistent Center Dot shows a persistent reticle in the center of the screen, which is then hidden while aiming and in cinematics. I didn’t find it useful, so I set it off.

Ellie facing a wall that has a hole to pass through, and a big white arrow pointing in that direction as part of Navigation Assistance.

In Accessibility – Navigation and Traversal, you can change options like Navigation Assistance. It has two separate functionalities. By itself, it will set the camera in the direction of the next place you need to go when pressing L3. Also, if you have Enhanced Listen Mode on it will make you face the closest enemy or item recently scanned. I activated this option because it facilitates the orientation around the world but I only use the basic feature. Traversal Assistance allows you to do certain actions automatically when you press the X button, such as making difficult jumps, running automatically at certain times… I have it off because I didn’t feel the need to use this function. Ledge Guard provides feedback through audio and vibration to avoid falling from ledges. I have this feature on because I sometimes don’t notice some of these dangers.

Enhanced Listen Mode showing a glowing effect for enemies/items and the button prompts for the actions

Enhanced Listen Mode acts like a sonar, detecting items using the circle button or enemies using square. The information is relayed through both visual and audio cues that are different depending on if they are items or enemies. The pitch of the sound varies based on the target’s height in relation to where you are. As mentioned before, this feature expands Navigational Assistance’s functionalities. Scan Range and Scan Time allow you to adjust both the range of the scan from 10 to 30 meters and the time it takes for it to reach the maximum distance from 1 to 5 seconds. I don’t use Enhanced Listen Mode, Scan Range and Scan Time because I don’t need that kind of support since I have audio aids for that while I explore. Finally, I activated Infinite Breath because I always have difficulty when I have a time limit underwater and I activated Skip Puzzle because it is recommended by some puzzles that require vision to complete them. I will elaborate later on the Gameplay section.

Text-to-Speech, Traversal Audio Cues, Combat Audio Cues, Combat Vibration Cues, Guitar Vibration Cues, Audio Volumes, Audio Cue Glossary

In the Accessibility – Text-to-Speech and Audio Cues menu, I have everything On to get as much help via audio as possible. Text-to-Speech makes all text in the game to be read via a synthesized voice, which includes menus, prompts, documents… Traversal Cues enables extra audio cues that with traversal and exploration. It plays sound cues for climbing ledges, places to crouch or go prone, interactions, item pick-ups… and more. Combat Audio Cues also provides additional cues for combat and stealth. Combat Vibration has a similar functionality but using vibration instead of sound, but I didn’t notice differences in them. Guitar Vibration Cues enables a vibration cue indicating when the correct guitar note is selected. Audio Volumes takes you to the same volume setting for audio volume mentioned earlier on the review. The Audio Cue Glossary is where you can learn all the different sound cues used in the game.  Traversal Cues, Combat Audio Cues and Combat Vibration Cues help a lot to perform all actions without visual effort.

In Accessibility – Combat Accessibility we can enable many settings that allow customizing different gameplay mechanics such as enemies not flanking, enhanced dodge, weapon sway, slow motion… I don’t use any as I don’t need them but I am very pleased that these options are there to help other players make the game more accessible and enjoyable for them.

Gameplay

Before starting the campaign we can choose the difficulty of the game between Very Light, Light, Moderate, Hard, Survivor or Custom where you can customize the difficulty for the Player, Enemies, Allies, Resources and Stealth. This allows to fine-tune the experience to your liking or needs. I chose Moderate and pressed continue. 

After the initial cutscene we have control of the character for the first time and immediately started using Navigation Assistance. I managed to follow the other member of the group without much difficulty, and I felt it was quite easy to find my way while observing the world around me. Usually, I can’t get too distracted because if I do I end up getting lost and I don’t know how to get to my destination. This was not the case at all, meaning I could enjoy the whole experience.

As usual, at the beginning of each game, we are shown prompts to perform actions such as jumping, crouching, running or interacting. Text-to-Speech read me all the prompts shown on the screen on how to perform each action. I was able to do them all naturally. When collecting collectibles, TTS tells us what we got and how much we got. It also reads artifacts and their texts with additional stories about events or characters. When changing weapons or consumables, the selected weapon is read, ammunition currently loaded in the weapon and spare ammunition. TTS works in all areas of the game, even during cutscenes it reads location information, the time the event takes place on… When moving up on the touchpad the TTS indicates when you are crouching, when you are on low/high cover, the type of grass you are in, the durability of the current melee weapon you may have equipped and health. It’s wonderful to get all the information you need, especially when you can’t notice that information visually.

In my first confrontation with the infected I immediately noticed the Awareness indicators in the center of the screen. I was able to flank enemies one by one without being detected by combining the use of Awareness indicators, High Contrast Display and audio cues that we hear when we can execute an enemy.  That moment had a huge impact on me, as I felt I had enough tools to be able to play without any concerns for barriers that might spoil my experience. Awareness indicators have a big impact in stealth mode, letting you know where each enemy is when they are looking in your direction. When I have to press the button to kill it I have the audio cue to help me. If I am unable to see the enemy due to heavy weather conditions or if I am unable to use a flashlight in a dark place, I use the High Contrast Display mode to allow me to see everything in a clean and clear way. This removes all environmental effects, light, leaving the image clean of any effects that may limit vision by focusing on the contours of objects and intense colors on targets. It also makes important objects or items appear in yellow.

Enhanced Listen Mode showing dimmed background and white circle shapes marking the position of nearby items and enemies.

Visual cues are great, seeing supplies is easy through the indicators shown on the screen. These indicators have great contrast and if you activate HUD Flashing it becomes even easier to see them. Although it is easy to see these indicators, this is not the most effective way I use to find supplies, but that will be discussed later in this review.

Overall the contrast is very good, but when I’m in the darkest places and have to kill a lot of enemies I have to use High Contrast Display to make it simple to me. 

When a member gives us a tip there is a visual cue that is very visible making exploration easier and more approachable. For example, there was a place where it was very dark, there were humans chasing me, but there were also Clickers in the place. It would have been extremely difficult to pass that part without High Contrast Display. Also while using High Contrast Display and pressing R1 to activate the Listen Mode the colors glow brighter.

When there is no auditory or visual assistance, we always have a last resort through the controller vibration. There is a place where we have to find locations using binoculars. When moving the camera, the vibration intensifies as the camera approaches the goal, turning something that has always been an unpleasant problem in a very simple action to perform.

Audio

Fortunately, there is a lot to talk about in-game audio. In addition to the excellent work with Text-to-Speech, allowing me to have all the information that I cannot access through vision, there are audio cues for everything you can imagine. There is actually an audio cues glossary that can be accessed in the Accessibility – Audio section and on the pause menu. Picking up an item, crouching under an object, jumping, holding a button, opening a door, interacting with something or even trying to pick up something that you are full, all have a specific sound or pitch variations so we can know what we should or can do. 

Distinguishing humans from infected or what type of infected is also quite easy. The sounds are very distinct. Knowing the location of each enemy also helps those who don’t see well. I always know where they are. Infected people are always making their characteristic noises, humans are always talking, threatening lines or tips for each other. Thanks to Combat Audio Cues when aiming at an enemy there is a different audio cue depending if we are aiming at the body or the head. This helps a lot to save ammunition and I always try to aim for the head. When hitting enemies or when they are killed there is also a specific audio cue for each one. This also applies to throw objects on the enemies.

In case you need to use Enhanced Audio mode you can hear different sounds when the scan detects enemies or items. All these sound cues make this experience so pleasant. Having this level of sound cues is something else.

The only thing I had difficulty with is when there are bomb traps. High Contrast Display helps you see them a bit but I miss the presence of an audio cue or vibration before going through the lasers.

Menu Navigation

Navigating through the settings is quite simple, moving up and down to select the option, and left and right to choose what you want. Navigating the Craft, Upgrades or Collectables menus is just as easy.

In the Crafting, Upgrades or improvement table, TTS tells us the name of the equipment/improvement and whether or not it can be crafted or updated. It also tells you how many materials are needed and how many we have. I should also mention that I really liked the order that this information is read. Name, may or may not perform action, materials needed, materials you own. 

Map

I was unable to understand the map but when pressing the square button TTS tells us the location of each place. With the help of Navigate Assistance, I was able to find a lot of places. I think I found all or most of them.

I always moved on calmly, I like to explore every corner in search of materials. Using Navigate Assistance is a key element for me, otherwise I would have been lost for hours. I never felt that fear or need to stick to a linear path, and this freedom opened the world for me. Using this feature correctly is also important but it requires you to be able to see the visual cue it shows in certain places. A visual cue is shown with several circles going down, indicating that there is something there that can be explored, if you go too far Navigate will take you to the next main objective. At least that’s how I interpreted it. I even managed to find some secret places. 

Puzzles

As I mentioned earlier in this review I enabled Skip Puzzle in the game settings, however, I was able to complete five puzzles without skipping any of them. It is worth mentioning that the only way to complete them was using the High Contrast Display which, as I mentioned before, shows important objects in yellow or another color depending on the High Contrast Preset you chose.

TTS also plays a key role in completing these puzzles. When picking texts with information you need to go to the Collectables menu to read this information again. TTS also speaks when you are using this information.

Final thoughts 

The Last of Us Part II is an incredibly accessible game. I would never imagine such a pleasant experience. 

Text-to-Speech is a key feature throughout the game, being able to read documents, know what we picked up, navigate through menus, information about location and time in cutscenes made a huge difference in my experience. The introduction of the High Contrast Display feature was a pleasant surprise. It helped in many moments of the game.

But what most impressed and pleased me all over was the Sound Cues. I just love them, they are my eyes at all times in the game. Thanks to these sound cues I was able to just grab the controller and play. Not having that feeling that at any moment I will have to call someone to overcome a barrier that prevents me from completing a part of the game. Not feeling tired in the eyes because I have to force them, I end up saving a lot of energy that I can use for what the game really intends me to do, enjoy the gameplay and story. It makes playing the game a fully enjoyable experience, not something you struggle to do. It’s simply wonderful!

Blind / Low Vision Game Review - The Last of Us Part II

Overall Score - 9.2

9.2

Note by the editor: Just a small addition. As part of our review process, we record the audio during our meetings to use as notes later. When discussing the game accessibility for Low Vision gamers, this was Victor’s reaction to the question “How was your first experience with the game?” We feel it’s important.

Full Transcript

Oh man, it’s like… beautiful. It’s running the game, the first adjustment that I had it’s like Text to Speech and since then verything is easier. And I did the first adjustments and it was quite easy to do, but when I got to the options, oh man…

Spent a lot of time there and just run the game and it’s like… I can believe that in two hours of gameplay I didn’t find any barriers. If I have to jump, if I have to lay down, if I have to pick up stuff, when I pick up stuff it reads what I’m picking. For example I’m picking ammo and it says ‘two pistol ammo’ and the materials… When you have to hold too. You have an audio cue for picking stuff, you just click on it and if you have to hold it makes the same audio cue but insistent, like repeatedly, and I don’t have, I don’t need to get too close to stuff to make the audio cue. And it’s always alerting me of everything around me.

The alerts that I turned on. I don’t remember the name of the option but it shows a visual cue, a glowing thing on the middle of the screen indicating where they are and… I just… you know, grab the controller and play the game, and don’t worry about anything. That’s… man, that’s just beautiful. Yesterday I couldn’t… I couldn’t think on anything else than that game. Blew my mind… (Laughs happily) It’s unbelievable, man.