The Last of Us Part 2 has officially arrived and it’s time we take a good long look at its incredible suite of accessibility features. First off, I’m a deaf gamer with little to no hearing since birth, and I have to rely on visual information like captioning/subtitles to understand what’s going on. One thing I want to point out: accessibility works differently for everyone. It’s never a one size fit all, and what works for me may not work for others, and what works for them may not work for me. It’s important to try to find enough options that can work for everyone, and The Last of Us Part 2 has come as close to this as any AAA game that’s come before.
For reference, you can find a list of The Last of Us 2 Accessibility features here from Playstation.
Before I started exploring Accessibility options, I jumped into Subtitles. I turned on Story & Combat Dialogue subtitles because I hate when someone is talking during the fight and I have no idea what they’re saying. Part 2 also lets you change up the subtitle size. Developers often work at their desk on their computer while gamers at home might often play with their screen further away, on screens of various sizes, so it’s important to have an option to change the size (small, medium, large), though it would be great to ultimately have a subtitle size slider so that we can find the size just right for us.
The ability to change the subtitles background is another vital addition if you’re going to add subtitles to your game; a lot of the time we get white text subtitles clashing with bright backgrounds making it very hard to read. One thing that was new to me was the Subtitles Direction option, that will point where the speakers are, so we know who and where they are talking from. A Speaker Names tag is also nice to have, so we know who is talking, as it can be frustrating trying to figure out who these subtitles belong to. Subtitles Color allows further customization still.
In the Accessibility menu, The Last of Us Part 2 has some really good visual aids. Icons representing vital items, for example, can be toggled between Default and Large. You can even change the HUD color to make the HUD text more comfortable to read in the color of your choice. However, my favorite visual aid is the High Contrast Display, which mutes out the environment and only shows your character, allies, enemies, and items. When I first saw this feature I was blown away – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game give you an option like this, and it’s incredibly helpful for people with low vision (there are also 3 different contrast settings in the game, which is even better).
Another great addition is The Last of Us Part 2’s Enhanced Listen mode. This is helpful when you have to take a stealthy route and, as you can press specific buttons that will scan for enemies, item or point you in the direction of whatever was the last thing scanned.
I’m happy to report Part 2 has vibration cues as well, so when there’s something that you have to leap over, the controller will vibrate to let you know you’re standing somewhere that you need to move away or push on ahead from. Additionally, there are vibration cues for combat that prompt you when you’re about to get attacked, allowing you to dodge according to the cue. (I would love if Souls games had something like this).
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On the cognitive aid side, for individuals who might get easily overwhelmed by a lot of information or tasks, Part 2 allows you to skip puzzles entirely, and navigation arrows point you on the right path. A Slow-Motion mode can be toggled at any time to help folk who may not be able to react fast enough in an intense situation. There are, of course, difficulty options too, but these are more wide-ranging than you’d typically see in a AAA game. There are five set options in total, ranging from Very Light’, which allows you to mostly focus on the story without worrying about the challenge of the game, to ‘Survivor’ which is basically very hard mode.
You also set the difficulty to your likely meaning you can set a mixture of very light and up to survivor which makes The Last of Us Part 2 experience feel endlessly customizable: you can set how much damage you take, how enemies fight you, how allies can help in combat, how stealthy you are when prone, how many resources you can find. I hope more games would offer custom difficulty choices to match your own gameplay preferences moving forward.
Please take note that controller remapping & settings are just as important as the other features in the game. In The Last of Us Part 2, ‘mashing’ (tapping a button repeatedly) is not mandatory, (as it often is). There’s an option to either mash or hold the button down. This should be the standard moving forward: games that force people to mash often prompt them to buy additional controllers (like a turbo controller) in order to play the game. This is a much less costly – and uncomplicated – solution.
Twenty minutes into the game, I was going through the option settings while streaming this live on my Twitch Channel. I told a buddy of mine that I was nervous. He asked why, and I replied that I was afraid that I may never see this much accessibility in another game again. This is something I’m sure many gamers in the disability community feel.
If you’re making a video game, please communicate with your audience. Let them know the accessible features you’ve added to the game so they can make a decision if it’s playable for them. You see, most of us are happy to offer guidance on how to make games more accessible. A lot of gaming accessibility advocates are here to help improve your games. I only ask please be mindful about adding accessibility planning at the start of the development as you develop ideas for your game. It takes communication, research, and effort, but it’s possible. And if The Last of Us Part 2 has taught us anything, it’s so worth it.
Chris “Phoenix” Robinson also known as DeafGamersTV is a deaf gamer and accessibility advocate, you can watch him stream at https://twitch.tv/deafgamerstv and follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/deafgamerstv.