Review – The Last Of Us Part 2
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Director: Neil Druckmann
Release Date: June 19th 2020
The Last Of Us Part 2 was my biggest disappointment of 2020.
Let me provide you with some context, I wanted to like this game more than anyone. The first Last Of Us is one of my favourite games of all time and because of the spectacular writing and performances in that first game, I was really excited to see what would happen to these characters. The Last Of Us part 2 was definitely one of my most anticipated releases in recent years and I’m genuinely in awe at how much of a let down it was, especially after the 10/10 reviews I had been reading leading up to the game’s release.
Spoilers will follow from this point on as it’s pretty difficult to discuss my reasoning for being let down by the game without getting in depth, so please tread carefully if you have yet to play through the game.
The game opens slowly, juxtaposing the intense opening of the first game. However these slow opening few hours really allow you to drink in the breathtaking visuals and fantastic sound design. These elements really help to sell the cinematic nature of the game, along with consistently stellar performances.
Then we are shown the main conflict that will propel the story for the sequel. Joel is unceremoniosly murdered by Abby, a new character that we know nothing about at this point.
Now I don’t have a problem with main characters being killed off in a story, in fact as a Tarantino fan, I relish it when it’s done properly. The problem with Joel’s death is the way that it was executed. First off, Joel and Tommy would never in a million years have blindly trusted this random faction that they’ve just bumped into enough to give them their names so quickly. They’ve both survived 25 years in the apocalypse and yet the writers still expect you to believe that they would be this naïve and stupid. Then, there’s the fact that this is how they choose to introduce this new group that you are later expected to sympathise with and this character that they will later force you to play as for half the game. Why would anyone who is a fan of this world and these characters want to play and learn about this random ruthless killer?
Now, what you might be asking is “aren’t Joel and Ellie also ruthless killers at this point?” And you would be right, they are. However the point is that we were already invested in these characters before we seen them ruthlessly murdering infected and humans alike and therefore are able to put it down to them having to do what they had to in order to survive. With Abby you are introduced to her killing a beloved character from the first game for the sake of pure shock value.
The first game came out during an oversaturation period of zombie stories across media and yet because of it’s stellar writing, it managed to stand out from the crowd and actually become one of the most unique games of the last generation in terms of the story it told. The story in The Last Of Us 2 feels so generic by comparison. I remember watching interviews with Neil Druckman in the lead up to the game’s release where he would talk about how the main hurdle of writing this game was justifying it’s existence after the first one ended so well. Really? You had seven years and another generic revenge plot was the best thing that you could come up with?
Another highlight from the first game was the fleshed out side characters that all felt deep and like they really existed in the world. Characters like Tess, Bill and Marlene all naturally fitted into the plot and felt necessary to the overall story being told. The same cannot be said for the side characters in this The Last Of Us 2. I have already mentioned how it is made impossible to sympathize with Abby and her crew after seeing what they did to Joel. There are two other new characters introduced called Yara and Lev. They are siblings, which put me in mind of Henry and Sam from the first game, but where Henry and Sam felt layered and genuine, Yara and Lev feel shallow and shoehorned in to give Abby’s plotline some narrative weight.
Then there is the strange pacing of the story. I feel like I must reiterate, they introduce a character that murders the beloved protagonist from the first game and later expect you to sympathize with her. Then there is the fact that you play as Ellie for the next 8 hours or so before they present you with a shocking cliffhanger, only to then force you to play as Abby for the next 10 hours. Not only are they making you play as the character that murdered Joel and Jessie in cold blood, but every extra hour that they unsuccessfully attempt to make you feel sorry for Abby is another hour before you can get back to see how the cliffhanger, (that was introduced 10 hours ago,) is resolved. And then, they bafflingly make you fight Ellie while playing as Abby. Why would the game expect me to want to hurt this character that I care about as this brand new random stranger?
You are then eventually given control back as Ellie and the game lulls you into a false sense of thinking that you are finally done playing as Abby. Then Ellie makes the totally nonsensical decision to abandon a nice, cushty, quiet farm life that she’s carved out for herself, to go after Abby yet again.
After that, you guessed it! You are forced to play as Abby yet again. Thankfully it’s only briefly as we then at long last get to properly play as Ellie again. Not sure if you remember her at this point, she’s the one that’s in all of the trailers and posters and on the cover of the damn game?
Then The Last Of Us 2 ends with what is probably the most anticlimactic ending in the history of gaming. Ellie lets Abby go. After Abby killed Joel and Jessie and crippled Tommy and after Ellie murdered all of Abby’s friends and after Ellie abandoned her girlfriend and step-son and had her fingers bitten off, she’s just like, “nah fam, I’m good.”
I’m sorry, what?
You are going to break your promise to Tommy and let the person that murdered your father figure get away? Why?
If getting your revenge wasn’t worth it, you should have really realized that back on the farm when you were surrounded by people you love and a chance at a family life. If you chose to leave that behind you must be committed enough to see it through, otherwise it is all for nothing. There is subverting audience expectations and then there is having your characters make nonsensical decisions and I feel like The Last Of Us 2 was full of the latter.
On a positive note, the gameplay is extremely fun and satisfying. Every blow lands with more force and every bullet seems to strike even harder than in the first game. It does get a bit repetitive after a while and the actual function of taking out a group of enemies hasn’t evolved a great deal since the first game, but I still really enjoyed it. The upgrading and crafting systems have also been fleshed out. This, along with the immaculate graphical presentation, tight, fluid animations, brilliant audio and expectedly phenomenal performances make for something with so much potential, with only the writing and direction letting it down. Unfortunately, writing and directing are both pretty essential in a story driven game.
Before I summarise, I’d like to highlight that I am not against stories that explore the moral grey area and don’t have clear heroes and villains. For example, Metal Gear Solid is my favourite franchise in gaming and the whole point of that series is to show that there is no black and white, but we all do things for our own reasons. A good story should be able to make you see the things from the “villain’s” point of view without being like, “look see what you did to them? That is why they are the way they are! Look see, she is a good person because she plays fetch with dogs!” In The Last Of Us 2 it all just feels so forced and unnatural. A good storyteller should show a character’s motivations and then show their actions and leave it up to audience to decide if it’s justified, instead of strictly saying, “this character is 100% justified in the heinous act that you just seen her commit, now you must be on her side!”
I think that’s all that I’ve got to say and I guess at the very least, this game has got people talking. You cannot accuse it of playing it safe, but there are a ton of different ways that the plot could have went that probably would have been a lot more satisfying for fans of the series like myself.
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