6 Thoughts on The Last of Us Part II
I don’t review very many video games on this blog because I don’t consider myself a video game reviewer at all. I’m a pretty bad comic book and movie reviewer, why would I subject anyone to my thoughts on video games? I usually either like them or don’t. I also usually take forever to play a game. I’m not about to cram through an entire video game in a weekend to get my review up on time. That’s not this kind of blog.
But The Last of Us Part 2 is such a self-contained game that I’ve decided to share my thoughts with the world now that I’ve finished — roughly two and a half weeks after it came out.
Video game rating: 10/10 – Fantastic!
The Last of Us Part 2 is the subject of a lot of controversy on the internet, because deep down, the internet sucks and brings out the worst in people. This game also deals with a lot of sensitive topics, and people have thoughts on those. Some people also just don’t like the game and want to talk about that. So it’s really only to benefit me that I feel the need to share my thoughts with the world. What’s one more voice among the masses?
I don’t know. All I know is that I played a video game and loved every second of it. Join me after the jump for my thoughts. Expect FULL SPOILERS for both The Last of Us Part 2 and the first game.
FULL OF SPOILERS PREMISE: Let’s explain the game first of all, just in case you’re reading this and don’t already know everything about The Last of Us franchise. Again, FULL SPOILERS from here on out! And trust me, you don’t want to be spoiled about this game if you plan to play either of the two games in the franchise.
So the first game is about Joel and Ellie, a middle-aged smuggler and the young teen girl he’s hired to transport across the country in a zombie apocalypse. In The Last of Us, the world has fallen to a weird fungus infection, so all the worst zombies are covered in weird fungal growths. It’s mostly an aesthetic thing. Ellie is immune, and some doctors on the West Coast think they can study her blood and create a vaccine. So Joel is hired to transport Ellie across the entire U.S., which is filled with zombies, militias and the broken remains of society. The two of them, of course, bond on their journey as surrogate father and daughter.
When they reach the hospital and the doctors run their tests, they discover that Ellie will die if they do the operation they need to do to create the vaccine. Ellie is still unconscious from the tests, so they don’t tell her that they’ve decided to sacrifice her in order to save humanity. But Joel, having since grown to love Ellie as a daughter, won’t let them do it and he kills the doctor and everybody in the hospital in order to grab Ellie and escape. Later, when she wakes up and asks what happened, Joel lies and tells her that the vaccine wasn’t possible so the doctors let them leave.
This new sequel picks up four years later, with Joel and Ellie living in a peaceful community in the Midwest. Things are tense between them, though we don’t learn how or why for a while. The game kicks off when a woman named Abby and her crew show up tracking Joel. They catch him and kill him in a brutal scene, then return home to Seattle. Ellie saw all of this and has sworn revenge. So she sets out with some friends — including her new maybe girlfriend Dina — to hunt down Abby and her crew in Seattle and kill them all.
Where The Last of Us Part 2 really throws the curveball is that both Ellie and Abby are our in-game protagonists, with the gameplay switching to Abby halfway through. And we learn that Abby killed Joel because she is the daughter of the doctor that was supposed to operate on Ellie, the one that Joel killed. So Abby was also out for revenge when she killed Joel.
Was Abby’s revenge less justified than Ellie’s revenge simply because Joel and Ellie were our main characters in the first game? Is revenge good for anybody? That’s what the game sets out to explore!
6. I very much enjoyed this game
I’m going to get into a lot more detail later on in this post, so I’ll try to keep my general thoughts on the game brief. Basically, I loved every second of it. I loved the gameplay, I loved the characters, I loved the setting, I loved the story, I loved the themes and the morals. I have nearly zero gripes about this game. It was fun to play, fun to watch and a very fulfilling video game adventure. Simple as that.
I loved the gameplay. The majority of the game is you scrambling around the ruins of Seattle gathering supplies and checking out the gorgeously detailed scenery. Then you fall into a fight zone, where you can either sneak around taking out enemies via stealth — which I love — or you make a noise, alert the lot of them and get into a big firefight — which was also fun and very hectic. You’ve got an interesting arsenal of fun-to-use weapons and it’s just fun. It never got old for me. I loved scrounging for supplies and deciding what equipment I wanted to craft, I loved stealth-killing bad guys and I loved the tense firefights.
There is so much to the story, characters and themes that I will get into later. For now, just know that I loved all of it. The characters are well-crafted and well-acted, with the game really trying to peel back the layers of what it means to be a video game protagonist. The story is very different from the first game and has its own message to send, so it’s not just a retread of the successful first game.
I never read the plot leaks from back in April so I went into this game nearly blind, which was great. And unlike some reviewers I’ve seen online, I had no expectations for this game, and wasn’t so enamored with the first game that I couldn’t enjoy the changes and story twists.
Honestly, do what you can to avoid the toxicity this game has brought to the usual rabble on the internet.
5. Fuck the haters
Allow me to be brief: anybody complaining about this game simply because of its diversity can fuck right off. Anybody who uses the phrase “SJW” as their negative review of this game can fuck right off. I have no reason to be diplomatic or nice about this. If you’re mad that Abby has buff arms, you’re wrong. If you’re mad that there’s a prominent trans character in the game, you’re wrong. If you’re mad that Ellie is a lesbian, you’re wrong. If you’re mad that neither Ellie or Abby is a super model beauty, you’re wrong.
If you harass Abby’s voice actor, Laura Bailey, in any way, shape or form then you are one of the worst types of human being.
If you hate the game simply because they killed Joel at the beginning…well, you’re entitled to your feelings, but you’re also wrong. Not in the same way as the dirtbags I just mentioned, but wrong nonetheless. If you hate The Last of Us Part 2 simply because it kills Joel, you’re missing the entire point of the story. Joel had to die. And we, as gamers, have to deal with those ramifications.
4. It played with one of my favorite themes: We’re all just folk
Aside from the excellent gameplay, characters and story, the main reason I love The Last of Us Part 2 so much is what I consider it’s major theme: We are all just people. This is one of my personal favorite themes in fiction. There are no chosen ones. No one is ascended from on high or descended from down low to be any certain thing or accomplish any certain labor. We are all of us just flesh and blood people, with flesh and blood lives, and we all make good and bad decisions as we try to live those lives as best we can.
Abby murdering Joel is not the sum total of her existence. Abby is not a mustache-twirling super-villain out to ruin Ellie’s life. Abby’s desire for revenge, and the way she carried out that brutal revenge, is a fault of her choices and she should be judged accordingly. But that’s not the only thing she’s ever done in her life. And as the game shows us, she’s downright heroic over these three days we spend with her in Seattle. She is on a great journey of self-discovery. She did that bad thing in the past, obviously, and it’s clearly still weighing on her as she makes the choices she does with Lev and his sister. As well as the choices she makes regarding Ellie.
You’re supposed to hate Abby because she killed Joel. Everybody loved Joel from the first game, but he ended that game doing a very bad thing. And that very bad thing has, justifiably, come back to exact its vengeance. The game wants you to hate Abby for killing Joel. But more so than that, the game wants you to feel conflicted about your feelings regarding Abby in the long run. That’s why the game then forces you to play as Abby and experience her life and her journey. The game toys with the very idea of video game protagonists. Every game of Uncharted has you jump back into the shoes of Nathan Drake, no matter how many people he’s hurt or killed in the past. Well, in The Last of Us series, you don’t get to just jump back into Joel’s shoes for another zombie adventure. Joel has to face the very real consequences of the choices he made in the first game.
And if you hate that Abby’s character is better defined and explored than Ellie’s, that is also the point.
Abby is older, more mature and further along her journey than Ellie, which is why Abby is able to make the choice to leave Ellie behind after their fights. But Ellie is not there yet. She doesn’t get there until the very end of the game. And that’s Ellie’s journey. And she’s entitled to that journey, just as Abby is entitled to her journey.
In the larger picture, Ellie and Abby are both just people. No one is a shining hero. No one is a dastardly villain. Everyone is the protagonist in their own story. We’re all just folk.
Granted, they both kill a metric ton of faceless, mostly nameless henchmen who are also just folk…but we let that part slide to make the video game happen.
3. I loved the slow, pedantic, character-building stuff
Ellie and Joel touring the science museum was my favorite part of the game. When Joel reveals he has a birthday surprise and Ellie sarcastically guesses its a dinosaur, and then the game reveals it to indeed be a dinosaur, that was everything to me. I loved the two of them casually and accurately discussing Jurassic Park and its sequel. I loved trying on every single space helmet and then wearing one inside the capsule. I loved the slow meticulous exploration of the museum as we explore their characters and their headspaces. I loved how it was then mirrored with Abby and Owen exploring the aquarium.
I loved collecting superhero cards throughout the game. I was BIG into Marvel trading cards when I was a kid, and having that as a mini-collectibles game was so much fun! I loved the Nerf arrow game that Abby plays.
I’ve heard some people complain about these slow parts. How they hated the pace and wanted to get back to the action. But The Last of Us isn’t about the action. It’s about the characters and their stories. And I felt these sections, so expertly crafted, were absolutely perfect in that regard. They built character. They built the world. They explored the gameplay. And then underlined the themes.
Also, I just really like pedantic world-building stuff in games. I couldn’t get enough of playing Red Dead Redemption 2 as slowly and as meticulously as possible.
2. Needed more Space Needle
Why would you set your game in Seattle and include urban exploration as a major gameplay factor and then not have anybody explore the Space Needle? We didn’t even hang out at the bottom of the Space Needle. It was only ever in one single moment, far off in the distance. Why the hell else were we in Seattle? Who goes to Seattle?! What is even the point of it? Alright, so there it is, my one complaint about this game: not nearly enough Space Needle.
1. I would be OK with another sequel
The Last of Us Part 2 just proved that this is not a series that will churn out identical sequels just to get them made. This is not a series that will take our familiar protagonists and send them on an identical journey to the previous game, only with updated graphics and gameplay features. This is a series that will take the familiar characters and setting and tell completely new stories, with all new themes and focal points. And to that end, I’d be fine with getting The Last of Us Part 3.
I don’t know where they could go, but that’s not for me to know. We’ve still got Ellie and her journey. We’ve got Dina. We’ve got JJ. We’ve got Lev. Plenty of characters are still alive and could have stories and adventures of their own. And I’m confident in this creative team to come up with a new story. Hopefully they wouldn’t do a story where a grown JJ hunts down his father’s killer, because that would just be a repeat of this game.
They could do anything in Part 3. Maybe an adult Ellie takes a teen JJ on an adventure and we get some first game vibes. Anything could happen. And I am definitely open for that. Didn’t someone mention there’s a Playstation 5 coming out soon? How far off is the Playstation 6?