That Last of Us Part II has been quite the divisive game. There are only two opinions on this game, it is either the best game to grace this earth and is a solid 10/10, or it is a hard zero and everyone involved should be cancelled.
I didn’t think this was a perfect game, but it was certainly a game that I enjoyed and I wanted to write a concise version of the thoughts I have discussed in my podcast.
Warning, this is a spoiler heavy review so if you do not wish to see spoilers please look away now.
So the first thing I think that possibly worked against this game was the expectation associated with it. The Last of Us was a pillar title in the Playstation catalogue. Honestly I hadn’t realised how popular it was until the build up to the sequel. People loved the Joel and Ellie relationship and were excited to see where their journey goes next.
The way I see sequels, they can either go one of two ways. They can build on the first and just make a bigger version of the first. My favourite example is the Jurassic Park series where the treat level goes:
- Two T-Rex’s (T-Rexi?).
- Bigger T-Rex with a fin.
- T-Rex but it’s also a Velociraptor.
- T-Rex but with more Velociraptor.
- T-Rex but with machine guns on its shoulders.
Okay, the last one isn’t necessarily true but you see where we are going with this. Fun bit of trivial, while looking up the Indoraptor (the 5th antagonist-rex) I found out it has the nickname “Stealth Fighter Jet of Dinosaurs”.
The second way you can do a sequel is just take the series in a completely new direction. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t but of the two this is my personal preference for a sequel and that is where this story is going.
So, now we are in spoiler territory. This refers to both the early spoiler leak and fact I am about to discuss further game spoilers. Before the game was release there was a large storyline leak. This confirmed the Joel dies early, you play as Abby, who is setup to be an antagonist for half the game, and then ultimately Ellie will let Abby live in a final confrontation. This lead to outrage among the gaming community with people deciding before even playing that this game is no good. Honestly this is not a good attitude to take when it comes to gaming (or any media for that matter). If you really want to form an opinion on something, you need to experience it. Don’t let other people tell you how to feel about something.
Anyway, I went into the game knowing the spoilers (because I’m an idiot), and while at the start I was a bit unsure if I would enjoy it, the more I played the more I realised that all the complaints were really quite thin and unfounded. Like I said, I do enjoy this game. I found it was quite similar to reading a good book. I did initially think Joel’s death was a big sudden and that he deserved a “hero” death. Then the more I thought about it I felt that that sort of death is also incredibly cliché and to kill him suddenly but develop his story through flashbacks is far more interesting.
Abby certainly got the short straw from the online community, up to a point where her VO Laura Bailey was threatened. Under no circumstances is threatening any staff member involved in a game acceptable.
I believe my experience of Abby was quite different to others. Ironically I think it might be easier to accept you play as her if you know the spoilers going in. I had known this twist for quite a few weeks so I was at a place of acceptance and was able to enjoy her portion a lot more than my friends did. I believe the best way to experience the Abby story if on a second playthrough. For the most part that is the feedback I have been given numerous times.
I enjoyed the Abby portions a lot. The combat scenarios in these areas was more refined and there was a few spectacular set pieces. The relationships Abby had with her friends and the children Lev and Yara kept me invested in their end of the fight. I liked how Abby was essentially Ellie but a few more steps along a path of acceptance. She has clearly destroyed her own relationships due to her quest for vengeance. It is not explicitly stated when Owen and Abby break up but it is heavily hinted it is due to her inability to forgive Joel. She still feels hollow she accomplishes her goal though, and finally she is able to heal as she starts to put others happiness and safety before her own.
Graphics, Gameplay and Set Pieces
The graphics in this game are unquestionably incredible. They stand atop of what the Playstation can produce. In a category similar to that of Red Dead Redemption 2 and possibly only outclassed by the beautiful Ghost of Tsushima. The detail to intricate animation is second to none in this game however.
Gameplay is much tighter than the original. There are certainly times when the melee fighting can feel a little clunky, and I noticed sniper accuracy at distance can be a little in-precise, but for the most part this is a massive step up from the original. There were gameplay moments that did feel like they dragged however. I have never looted so much sellotape and scissors.
The set pieces are where this game really stands out. Visually some moments are beautiful. Off the top of my head, the following were outstanding:
- Owen’s Aquarium.
- Wyoming Museum.
- Haven Burning.
- Abby searching for medicine in the hospital.
The museum is a perfect example of how snappy dialogue and a beautiful setting can really create a sense of immersion and serenity for the player. On the flip side, the hospital scene with Abby was one of the best horror moments I have played in a game since Silent Hill.
Writing and Representation
This can be quite a short section. Any complaints about the representation of a trans character, or having a lesbian lead are nothing but prejudice. I felt it was a good example of diversity opposed to tokenism.
My one major writing complaint was some of the dialogue choices given to Dina. She awkwardly blurts out that she is pregnant right after Ellie delivers a world changing secret she has been keeping for the past 10 years. I am still unsure why they chose this moment to deliver that line and it was one of the most jarring moments in the entire game for me.
Games don’t have to be happy, but this game wasn’t as bleak as people make out. Yes, it isn’t a happy game, but there are still a lot of moments in it that can be quite uplifting. I enjoyed the character interactions between Joel and Ellie during their flashbacks. The Wyoming museum is certainly a highlight.
Abby is also given a share of nice moments, between her trips to the Aquarium with Owen, which was a gorgeous setting, and her freeing a Zebra with her father.
It is also important to remember that the first game wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs either. It ends with our protagonist murdering his way through a hospital and selfishly carrying Ellie away, in essence dooming humanity.
Ultimately, this game was more of a focus on making the best of a bad situation and working out how to make life work with new precautions in place. Unintentionally paralleling the current COVID-19 situation (please wear a mask).
And Ellie Roundup
Ellie and Abby are the same character, I know it sucks to hear that but it’s kinda true. I mean, that’s the whole point. Abby’s murderous revenge cycle is exactly the same as the first half of this game where you play as Ellie. Ellie’s murder trip across the USA might seem a bit insane, but you need to realise this is a setup to help you empathise with both sides of this fight.
A few thoughts on the handling of Ellie, she is clearly going down the same path as Abby. She has seen her father figure die, she desperately seeks revenge, and she destroys all her relationships in order to do this. Jessie dies to help her get revenge. Tommy loses everything. When Ellie finally settles down with Dina she then throws that away just to finish off Abby. I enjoyed that last segment of gameplay, after the farm, because honestly I thought the game should be finishing and it didn’t. I realised that is because we are now paralleling Ellie’s feelings. The story should be ending, but it’s not. She is exhausted but she still feels like there is one thing left to do. She destroys her relationship with Dina, paralleling once again what Abby did to Owen, and sets off after Abby.
From a gameplay perspective, this finally section where you battle the Rattlers was some of the most fun you have while playing as Ellie. You are completely decked out in all of your gear and have the freedom to finish this in whatever way you can.
When Ellie finally encounters Abby and sees her carrying Lev (similar to how Joel carried Ellie) you realise this battle is over. Ellie tries one more time to get revenge but ultimately she is tired. She knows nothing will be accomplished from this. She lets Abby go, she breaks the cycle, and she now starts her own journey on a new path.
Now I am completely burned out on the discussion around this game so I am going to sleep for a while. Please listen to my podcast as I elaborate more on some of these points.