Reviewed on PS4 Pro
Due to the controversial nature of the game’s launch and weeks following, and the energy it generated in the weeks following release, I want to preface that if you did not enjoy this game or thought it wasn’t good, I completely respect your opinion. This game has been poorly reviewed by even some of the larger Youtuber’s I follow, while others felt like the 10/10’s it was getting by major outlets was unfounded and even paid. This game is one of the most divisive in recent years, and even spawned a rating war on Metacritic.
I understand why some people did not like this game. By giving this game the 10/10 that I did, It could be perceived that I am essentially “taking a side” in the controversial conversation, when I am not. I also want to remind that for me and Game Infinite reviews, a 10 represents a masterpiece, a technical or artistic marvel, a truly phenomenal game. That doesn’t mean it has to be “perfect” or that everyone must or will like it. This is just one man’s opinion and you are free to yours.
This is my first two part review I’ve ever done. I felt the scope of this game, the controversial nature of its launch, and the fact of how important spoiler based narrative discussion was to this review, I felt it necessary to split the review. If you have not read Part 1 or not yet finished the game, I recommend starting there, as I had a spoiler free review that focused on graphics and gameplay. This is part 2, which focuses on characters and story with FULL SPOILER WARNING. So much of this game’s value rests not just on the story details, but actually experiencing them for yourself. Some details of this story may read one way, but genuinely work when they are experienced. I think another point that gave me a unique perspective, that I mentioned in Review Part 1, is that I only played and finished original a week prior to playing the sequel. Unlike a friend of mine who pointed out, he had to wait seven years to see the continuation of what was an amazing story with an incredibly twisted ending. This game definitely subverts expectations and makes narrative decisions that won’t work with everyone. In fact, this game reminds me a lot of the post The Last Jedi division.
The Last of Us Part 2’s narrative blew me away like a sniper camping in Call of Duty on multiple occasions. It wasn’t just about plot twists or even shocking deaths, it was about how The Last of Us 2 told the story, and how it made me think about what I was doing in a way I have never seen a game do before. Let’s start with and address the biggest elephant in the room.
Joel Fucking DIES.
He doesn’t even die at the end or in some grand sacrifice. He is essentially straight up murdered, in what looks to be a pre-meditated assassination. It also happens so early in the game. We knew from trailers that Ellie is on some revenge mission, but the way they cleverly Russo-brother’ed us it really made it look like it was her girlfriend Dina who gets killed, and she is trying to hunt down the people who did it. While never showing that or saying that, I and anyone watching the trailers could easily be forgiven for thinking that was the plot of the game. You only ever saw an early glimpse of her girlfriend in like a “before when they are happy” moment then a death occurs and Ellie is out on revenge killing. They even sprinkle in enough of Joel after to make it look like he at least appears to help her on this. The fact that Joel is the one who dies and Dina is fine the whole time and go with to help was a secret that they hid very very well. When Joel dies in the game, my mouth hit the floor. Not only because yes it was brutal, and Ellie (you the player) are forced to watch helplessly as he is murdered in front of you, but because I did not see it coming. (By the way, small rabbit trail, this is one of the most graphic and brutal games I have ever played. If there was ever a game to use to talk about game violence and parental responsibility this is one for sure. Games like this are why it is important for parents to be educated on game ratings. This game goes to show the failure in scope of the M rating system, but that’s a longer conversation for another time.) Joel was the main protagonist of the first game, and you spent almost all your time as him. To kill him off so soon and what appeared to be so “pointlessly” just shocked the hell out of me.
I sat back after that and realized I was about to play a very different game than I thought I was going to. I asked myself, is that what everyone is upset about? Is that the fact that has everyone so vocal about this game? I realize people are upset that Joel dies, but would that cause real life outrage? It wasn’t that I played more that I saw just how complex it grew.
Ok Let’s talk about...that
What was another aspect of the outrage? Let’s address another awkward elephant in the room. You can’t skim through a Reddit, Twitter, or YouTube comment section talking about The Last of Us 2 and not come across the words “SJW” or other… “politically charged terms”. For sake of peacekeeping, I want to remain neutral and objective on this best I can, only to mention why it seems to be a thing. I really want to keep politics out of Game Infinite as a general rule, but sometimes the world of gaming tries to force it back in. It is games like these that take “risks” on characters with resulting backlash that make me realize just how much why large studios like Ubisoft and Activision notoriously avoid political or gender based commentary and decisions. Ubisoft was heavily criticized by the American far left for not being political enough on Far Cry 5. Recently Ubisoft recently was exposed for adamantly avoiding Female protagonists, much to the criticism of myself and others. Call of Duty has been criticized for having an annual franchise that never has had a woman on the cover, while EA's Battlefield was avidly criticized for doing exactly that. Ect… Ect… AAA games are expensive, and sometimes the status quo makes more money. The Last of Us 2’s backlash helps me understand (even if I disagree with) the “don’t rock the boat” mentality some companies have. The Last of Us Part 2 is a game, with a lesbian female protagonist, who has a romantic lesbian relationship, another side character that is transgender, and a female antagonist who also has a very muscular build. It does all that in one game, and to say it has caused some vocal conversation is an understatement. The Last of Us 2 does in no way shy away from putting these characters front and center. Considering how unready the gaming community is to seeing these characters goes to show how much more growth is needed in diversity and inclusion. I didn’t really see any of the points the alt or far right commenters had on the game. These characters represent real people who do exist. Honestly, some of these details about the characters made them feel more real and less cookie cutter, because they are rare in video games. These details also really had little impact on the actual story, if you removed all of those details the story would remain largely the same. They are just developer decisions, there to add life to a video game world. I talked about in Review Part 1 how TLOU2 had many unnecessary graphical details that brought unparalleled realness to the world, this is little difference. I felt its execution showed no “agenda” in the inclusion of these details. More importantly, I felt some made some contextual sense. Abby for example being very athletically built really does make sense in a world where she is a post apocalyptic soldier type, where hand to hand combat happens daily, and every day is a fight to survive. While it is possible for a political agenda to distract and ruin a game or story, I didn’t see it here honestly. Whether you are far right, center, moderate, don’t care, or far left, I really don’t think the makers of TLOU2 went to far with a “unnecessary political agenda” or made anything that was unrealistic. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
Characters and Narrative
The Last of Us 2 does several huge narrative things I have never seen in a video game before, but two really stood out to me. The first is how this game treats its “antagonist”. If you only played the first 10 or so hours of the game, you might be surprised to hear me say that the game doesn’t “really” have an antagonist. Surely the antagonist is Abby right? She is the one who kills Joel; she is the one fighting against Ellie, and she is the one players are going to hate early on in the game. How then can I say that the game doesn’t really have an actual antagonist? Well, upon completion of the game, you might agree Abby transitions from antagonist to …well I don’t even know what the proper term for her would be. It goes beyond the fact that you spend roughly half the game playing as Abby, almost as much as you do Ellie. I know this fact annoyed many gamers and contributed to many players hate for the game. This game early on makes you hate Abby, and then expects you to play as her for half the game. It grates against what we have been taught all our lives in video games. I remember watching streamers/Youtuber’s and reviewers who were playing the game all say something along the lines of “not wanting to play as her” or that they didn’t care about many of the characters. I think many people missed the point this game is trying to make. It is trying to tell us an important message, one that I think is actually very important for us to learn in 2020: Perspective. This is a game so expertly crafts an idea, a message that perspective matters. Even when things seem black and white, if only we could see the perspective that another does. A friend od mine expertly called this game, an “Experiment in Perspective” and I think that is so on point. This game starts mostly from Ellie’s perspective, and we see her just trying to live her life in peace; we see her brutally torn from that life during Joel’s graphic murder. We hate Abby. Abby is black and white evil. You go on this revenge mission, killing hundreds of enemies from the “Wolves” (Abby’s clan) in a “justified murder spree” because all the wolves are EVIL. The things is if they had just kept Ellie’s perspective the whole time, this may have been an easier game for most gamers to chew on. There is an alternate universe version of this game were the wolves killed Dina, and Ellie just spends 20 hours hunting them down and killing them. The John Wick story line of this game would have been so much safer, but I think this game tries to tell us something deeper. You see, instead, half way through, seeing three days of revenge from Ellie, the game does something crazy and makes you replay those three days as Abby. Nameless characters we didn’t care about when killing are now back alive, and start to have a realness to them. Some guy who you just thoughtlessly killed, now is Abby’s love interest, someone she really cares about. You see Abby’s home, and it’s a town of innocent families they protect.
There is a very specific moment in a theater where Abby shows up and it cuts to black. At that moment, Abby is evil and you as Ellie (the player) want her dead. But after three days as Abby, that same moment arrives, and you feel her anger towards Ellie. It is such a weird conflicting of feelings, seeing the same moment and three days from two different characters.
Most importantly, we learn just why it was so important for Abby to kill Joel. I suspected it was just because Joel killed the fireflies at the end of the first game. Joel robbed the world of a vaccine for the zombies. I mean objectively that is a HUGE deal. We were desensitized to just how selfish he was being at the end of the game, because we played him the whole time, and we all loved Joel and felt his loss for his daughter. We got it; we understood, but in the end did he make the wrong choice? Even Ellie thought he did, and no one asked her. They were going to kill her without her consent and even she thought he was wrong. The beginning of the game implies that Ellie didn’t know what Joel did and that is why Abby killed him. However, in a flash back we learned that Joel already confessed what he did years before. While that is partially why Abby killed Joel, it was far from the main reason. Which leads me the second huge thing that I said I have never seen in a video game.
A phenomenally unique premise
I think having just finished the first game recently really made this part hit harder for me. These are games, like many others, where so much of the gameplay is centered around going from point A to point B killing literally hundreds of nameless enemy units. This is far from new. How many games does the “hero” have to slaughter their way through hundreds of human enemies. Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, are some of my favorite series where the good guys have huge body counts. The “expendable minions trope” is so common in games and action movies that we have become desensitized to it. This game does something to snap one out of that hard. The first Last of Us, in the end, after having thoughtless slaughtered his way through hundreds of enemies to get Ellie to the hospital, the people there tell him that Ellie won’t survive the surgery that could produce a cure. He then decides to murder of all them and continues to kill dozens more. At the end Joel killed all the fireflies at the hospital and saves Ellie. What the game does that I have never seen before is place an entire sequels premise on the death of one of those nameless enemies. You see we learn half way through TLOU2 that one of the doctors in the surgical room that Joel just blasts past is Abby’s dad. In the original Last of Us that doctor is given no name, no importance, nothing. He is just one of many hundreds of unnamed NPC’s killed by Joel. It is a forgettable kill in the original that is elevated to the very motivation that Abby has for killing Joel. Yes, he is guilty of dooming the human race, but the personal loss is what motivates her to personally seek him out for the murder.
I’ve just never seen a game where a thoughtless nameless death of a random NPC of no importance comes back to make you remember that people have connections, people matter. It just goes to show the importance of perspective in this game. Once I realized that Joel killed Abby’s dad, I had to sit back and admit to myself, that actually Ellie and Abby have equal motivations throughout the whole game. To Ellie, Joel is her dad figure, and she is hunting down the person who killed him. Abby is literally hunting down the person who killed her dad. Their motivations couldn’t be more fair and equal, so that it was why I had to admit, it is unfair to say Abby is the antagonist, just because “we like Ellie more?” How is that fair? Why is Abby the bad guy if her loss is just as unfair as Ellie’s? This game just throws a whole wrench in the suspension of disbelief games ask when it comes to the murder sims that some are. It throws a wrench in questioning reality of who the bad guy is. I just sat back having gone from wanting Abby dead to feeling for her in the span of a few hours all because I saw it from her perspective. We go about our lives putting everyone on sides, politically, racially, religiously, and this game just shows how truly toxic, the us vs them, mentality is. If only we could see other people’s perspectives, see through hate, maybe some of today’s problems could be fixed. I don’t mean to be so preachy, but this game showed me how important perspective is. If we can so easily be made to hate and then feel for the same person simply by seeing their side, it made me question so much about the real world, and that is why I think this game is so phenomenal. It breaks the echo chamber that is the media, social media, the internet as a whole. We surround ourselves with those who think the same and demonize those who think differently. Those same people may not be as bad as we think and they may think the same of us.
There are a few minor details that I really stuck out to me. I forgot to add this to the non spoiler review, but I give them major props for launching this game with photo mode. I have played many beautiful games games that I loved but finished prior to having added photo mode. This was a game that needed it, and I give them major credit when they reward early adopters and their biggest fans with a great feature like that.
Another thing that I loved that added depth and emotion to the story is the flash backs when they go in to the museum. It was a bright, peaceful, and beautiful change of pace. I loved the Jurassic Park conversation.
There is one negative I have about the story, and I’m not sure where it really fits so I am just going to say it here. One of the side characters, Lev, is chased from his home because he shaved his head. Lev is the transgender character who’s vocalizes to be male (forgive me if I don’t know the correct verb there), and shave his head is considered a crime in his cult like home. This desire to shave his head ultimately costs the life of his mother and his sister during the course of the game. While I understand that the shaved head was only symbol to be a male, when later in the game’s story timeline you see Lev again with the hair starting to grow out, that really made me pause in confusion. Lev’s family died for his bald head I really don’t think he would grow it back out. Even if it was just a symbol of defiance, it was a symbol he lost two of his family for. Lev would never have grown it back out in honor of his sister. But that is just my thoughts. It is a small detail, but in a game where such importance is placed on the tiny details, I felt I had to mention it here.
This isn’t a negative, as I feel the story of this game is phenomenal, I do think that if there ever is a Last of Us 3, that I would love to see something like branching paths or character choice related events / deaths. There were so many points where I felt like some character choice would be interesting. If I did certain things or decided to spare certain people. This is a game where it would be fascinating the types of stories that could be told. I thought about how amazing Detroit Become Human was where they told a phenomenal story with player choice, and how even the decisions of one character affected the story of another that was completely unrelated. If they did something like this in a sequel, it could be just so fascinating. A next-gen Last of Us 3 could introduce choice and consequences on a scale we have never seen before. More than just if you “go this way that character dies” or a decision to spare or kill, I’m talking even more granular. What if you chose to take an item in one spot or move something, and that makes it harder for another character who travels through the same spot later in the game. I think games like Until Dawn or Detroit Become Human are great examples how just how amazing a future Last of Us could be.
In the End…
The game ends with Ellie venturing out on one last attempt to hunt down Abby, only to find her weak and enslaved. They have one last fight, and Ellie defeats her and ultimately decides not to kill her. So many gamers have told me that the decision to have Ellie spare Abby at the end made the game feel pointless to them, left them feeling empty. If that was the case for you, I really think you missed the point. The game is a journey that you are meant to forgive Abby. In fact, I had already forgiven Abby before their fight even began. I wanted Ellie to stay at the farmhouse. Forgiveness was the only thing that was going to end the cycle of vengeance. This game I think is meant to be a measure for how easily you forgive someone. We all start at the same point of hating her, and how quickly you forgive her, if ever, shows you a bit of yourself.
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