We don’t often talk about video games here on AP2HYC but we felt it necessary to bring the latest media debacle known as The Last of Us Part II into light through a series of articles. Our first article is your standard run-of-the-mill review. It should be something simple to write about, right?
Originally, the title of this article was something to the effect of “The Last of Us Part II Tries Desperately to Manipulate Its Audience Only to Fail Miserably”. The notes regarding this topic consisted of nine full pages in my journal. But after talking with people who actually enjoyed this game, I decided to be a little nicer. Because there are good moments to this game. It just hardly ever pays off.
The Last of Us Part II takes place four years after the original game. Ellie is all grown up and living in Jackson with Joel. She lives a relatively peaceful life until a sudden uproar sends her on the path of vengeance. Meanwhile, Abby, a new character, grapples with the concept of a morally grey area in this world.
First and foremost: the game is absolutely beautiful. The attention to detail is astounding and the lighting will take your breath away. The voice acting is top notch. Every single cast member really shines in this game. Laura Bailey‘s performance as Abby is probably one of her best, if not, the best. It is sad to see such amazing talent come together and create something so remarkable that just doesn’t quite stick the landing in terms of story.
Let’s not beat around the bush, this review will contain spoilers and the biggest spoiler is Joel’s death within the first hour of gameplay. It’s a bold move to be sure. But, in the end, it falls flat. There is little to no buildup to this pivotal moment. Not only does it make little sense (why would Joel and Tommy, an ex-smuggler and ex-Firefly give their information away so willingly? what are the odds that these two would immediately fall into Abby’s lap?), but the relationships he currently has at Jackson are told to us rather than shown. We know he has had a falling out with Ellie. But we’re never shown this until much later. In fact, Joel and Ellie don’t speak to one another in the present before this moment. Joel is used merely as a catalyst for Ellie rather than having any interesting character development on his own.
The main theme of this game is the cycle of vengeance and how to break it. It’s a theme that we’ve seen done again and again so it’s understandable Naughty Dog wanted to try and tackle this issue differently. It does so through various flashbacks, time skips, and different character’s points of view. Again, it’s a bold choice and will work for some gamers but others not so much because most of these narrative choices rely heavily on how the gamer feels about Abby. This game is desperately trying to garner empathy for Abby, Joel’s murderer, in the hopes that the gamer will come to forgive her just as Ellie has to. But if the gamer doesn’t forgive Abby, this entire form of storytelling falls apart quickly. Whereas if they had played it safe and told the story in a more sequential order, I have no doubt this game would achieve universal appraise amongst gamers. As it stands now however, the story either appears to be a work of genius by some and a complete and utter mess by others.
Because of this jumbled form of storytelling, the second half of the game that focuses primarily on Abby feels like a completely separate entity. It’s as if Naughty Dog wanted their Last of Us II to be this story, which follows Abby in Seattle dealing with different gangs, but were told “no” so they shoehorned it into a story about Ellie instead. It’s completely disjointed to say the least. The conflicting thing about it is, if it was a separate game, the story is engaging and interesting. Playing as Abby is fun and the conflicts she encounters regarding Lev and Yara are enticing. It’s just unfortunate that most of the characters involved with Ellie’s plot that she encounters—Mel, Nora, etc.—are just so boring and uninteresting.
And then there’s the gameplay and ending which completely turn The Last of Us Part II’s themes on its head. If you’re a fan of stealth gameplay, then this is definitely for you. However, gamers might find this to get repetitive after a time because the game is so unnecessarily long. As Ellie sneaks around Seattle, her body count grows exponentially, which directly contradicts what’s happening in various cutscenes as she struggles with the idea of killing for the sake of revenge. Yet, after raising her kill count, she’s unable to take the life of the only person she ever even seemed to have an interest in killing: Abby. It’s a lackluster choice to say the least, mainly because Ellie seems to go through a full character arc regarding the cycle of vengeance yet Abby doesn’t. We see both women have lost a great deal in their quest for vengeance yet Ellie oddly seems to lose more despite the fact she never actually gets her revenge. Abby on the other hand doesn’t really have a character moment where she regrets her decision to kill Joel and yet, her ending, which sees her leaving Ellie on a boat with Lev towards a newly discovered Firefly location, seems more hopeful. If vengeance is bad and we are meant to forgive, why does it feel like Ellie gets the short end of the stick?
Unfortunately, this review is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to The Last of Us Part II. And at the end of the day, this is going to be a piece of media where everyone will have their own opinion. And, unfortunately, the only way to have a fully formed opinion is to play or watch the game yourself. It’s a long and daunting task to get through this game if you aren’t a fan of it and whether or not the journey is worth it is highly debatable. But at the end of the day most gamers will probably feel as though the interesting risks taken throughout the game just don’t pay off and will be left feeling empty.
Have you played/watched The Last of Us Part II? Let us know in the comments below or send us your thoughts on Twitter!