By Joe Delaney
Review copy provided by me. I bought it. With my own money.
“The Last of Us Part II is the Schindler’s List of video games.” – Some pretentious games journalist who Naughty Dog definitely did NOT pay off.
“The Last of Us Part II is the worst game I’ve ever played! It’s SJW propaganda. Neil Cuckmann ruined my childhood.” – Metacritic user review posted 45 seconds after the game came out
Oh no. It’s gonna be one of those games.
At the time of this writing, The Last of Us Part II has a Metacritic score of 94 from professional critics, and a user score of 4.5. Even before the game came out, countless people already decided they hated this game because much of the plot was leaked. It’s arguably the most divisive video game of this generation, one that has left very little room for a middle ground. You either think it’s a masterpiece, or that it ruined the legacy of the first game. Pick a side, this is war!
In an ideal world, this is a game that wouldn’t even exist. The first Last of Us told such a complete story with such a perfect ending. No one was asking for this. Naughty Dog would need to really nail it to justify this game’s existence. So the question is, does The Last of Us Part II do that?
The short answer is … no, not really. But the long answer is a lot more complicated. The highs in this game are incredible, but the lows are really bad. It’ll be hard to boil this down to one single numerical score, so I’m not going to try to. That’s why I’m going to be giving this game two scores, one for the gameplay, and the other for the story. I normally wouldn’t do this, but the experiences are so vastly different, that I feel it’s necessary in this case.
There will be no spoilers in this part of the review. Unless you’re one of those weirdos who think that hearing literally anything about the game is a spoiler, even if it’s just finding out what kind of guns are in the game. Then you’re outta luck.
“We don’t use the word ‘fun.’”
That quote was from The Last of Us 2’s director Neil Druckmann. It was apparently his goal to make a game that just wasn’t a good time to play. He wanted us to feel real bad about all the shooting and stabbing and exploding and killing. And for the first couple hours of the game, he succeeded. The opening hours of this game are boring as hell.
Remember how immediately engaging the beginning of the first game was? How it launched us right into the action and ended with an emotional gut punch that lasted throughout the rest of the game? In this game, you spend most of the first couple hours walking around, getting dumped on with exposition. It’s the epitome of no fun, which is exactly what Druckmann wanted. Great job, Neil!
But once you’re out of this first part of the game, things really turn around. Someone at Naughty Dog must not have gotten Neil’s memo because the rest of the game is actually pretty entertaining. The first game had an amazing story with pretty mediocre gameplay, but the sequel is the opposite.
A quick disclosure about myself: I am terrible at stealth games. I have zero patience for waiting around, crawling slowly in the shadows, going up behind enemies, and pressing the triangle button to kill them. That’s why I didn’t play this game very stealthy. On my first playthrough, I chose the second lowest difficulty setting to make sure that I could play the game how I wanted to. And this is how I wanted to play:
I know this isn’t the way the developers wanted me to play this game. They wanted me to creep around in the dark, and only kill when I had to, and to really meditate on the cycle of violence. But if they wanted me to do that, they shouldn’t have made blowing a guy’s head off with a shotgun so much fun.
My favorite parts of the game were when I would rack up several kills in a row, and each time I’d cap someone, their buddies would scream their name. Here’s an excerpt from my game:
(Trip mine explosion)
I know Naughty Dog did this to make me feel bad, but I’m sorry, I just found it comical each time it happened. Especially when I kept hearing the same names over and over again. I must’ve killed about 17 Mateos by the time my game was over.
While the human enemies are super fun to kill, fighting the zombies really felt like a chore. They added two new enemy types to the game, and I cannot remember what they were called, so I’m just gonna call them farty bloaters and awkward clickers. Neither of them add anything of substance to the game, and their inclusion felt tacked on. Maybe if the zombies called out each other’s names every time I killed them, I would’ve enjoyed fighting them more.
It should go without saying the game looks really good, considering the crunch time Naughty Dog allegedly made their employees go through. The game’s music is actually a step down from the original, featuring competent, yet forgettable tracks, just like most AAA games these days. I couldn’t hum to you a single hook from this one.
The voice acting and motion capture work are above and beyond what most games are doing these days. The performances from Troy Baker as Joel, and Laura Bailey as Tiger Woods are particular standouts.
The weak link in the cast is Ashley Johnson as older Ellie, which was surprising considering how great she was in the first game. She’s still great in the flashback scenes as young Ellie, where her voice is genuinely expressive. As an adult though, she just speaks in a dull monotone for most of the game, sort of like a kid trying to do an impression of a grown up.
Ellie’s problems go far beyond her voice though, but to get into that, I’ll have to discuss spoilers. Before that, to give the TL;DR summary of the game itself (separate from the story): it’s a bit too long, but I had fun with it, even if Neil Druckmann didn’t want me to.
Game Score: 8/10
But no one online is complaining about the gameplay or visuals. People are mad about the story, whether or not they’ve actually played it. So is the story as bad as everyone says it is? Not really.
But does that make it good? Not really. At least not consistently.
There’s this really great scene in the movie Stand By Me that I think is relevant to this review. If you’ve never seen it, it’s about four young boys going on an adventure to find a dead body for a reward. Around the campfire one night, the main character, an aspiring writer named Gordie, tells his friends a story of his.
The story is about a fat kid named Lard Ass Hogan who gets bullied by everyone, from his classmates to his father. He exacts his revenge on the whole town during a pie eating contest by drinking castor oil beforehand, causing him to vomit, which causes everyone else to vomit. It’s a charming and satisfying little story that you’d expect a creative 12-year-old to write. But once the story is over, Gordie’s chubby friend Vern asks “well, what happened next?”
Gordie tells Vern that nothing happens next, that’s the whole story. That’s not enough for Vern. He complains that the ending wasn’t conclusive enough, and makes up his own ending where Lard Ass goes back home, grabs a gun, and shoots his dad. Vern doesn’t understand story structure and tone, so he doesn’t get how totally jarring and unnecessary this epilogue is.
The Last of Us Part II is the kind of sequel that Vern from Stand By Me would write.
That might be a little over the top, but I think there’s truth to it. The story from The Last of Us was complete. Any follow up would be inherently unsatisfying because it had already ended in such a perfect way. When you stretch any story beyond its natural conclusion, it’s always gonna feel wrong.
Disney loves doing this. The original Star Wars trilogy and Toy Story trilogy both had perfect conclusions, but they just couldn’t let those cash cows go out to pasture. They released sequels that completely ruined the wonderful endings we already had. In Star Wars, Han and Leia break up, Luke fails at restarting the Jedi order, and it turns out the Emperor is still alive. And in Toy Story, Woody decides to go against everything he once stood for, and give up on his new kid after like three months for some ass.
So what story did Naughty Dog just have to tell? What could they possibly have to add to the arguably the best ending in gaming history?
It’s basically just a gritty Sonic Adventure 2: Battle with worse music.
Ok there’s a bit more to it than that, but if you boil the story down, you really see how simple it really is. The main plot is a basic revenge story: Ellie is out for revenge against Abby, the game’s main other player character, for beating Joel to death with a golf club. Ellie kills some of Abby’s friends, which makes Abby mad, who then kills one of Ellie’s friends. In the end, neither of them decide that it’s worth it, and they spare the other, thus ending the cycle of violence.
And it only took them killing about a thousand people each to learn their lessons.
For a game with such supposedly bold and innovative storytelling, it has such a hackneyed moral at its core. Revenge is bad. Wow, I never knew that! Thanks Naughty Dog for teaching me that brutally slaughtering countless people and their dogs isn’t a nice thing to do.
This weak ass main story would’ve been a bit more interesting had I cared more about our first main character, Ellie. Unfortunately, she’s so far removed from who she was in the first game, she may as well be a whole new character at this point. I get that she’s been through some shit in the years between games and people change because of that. But they didn’t have to make her so dour, so humorless, so damn boring.
The only times I liked Ellie in this game were during the flashback scenes, because she has personality in these sequences. Her chemistry with Joel is what made the first game so great, and her interactions with him in the sequel are no different. Outside the flashbacks though, she’s a total wet blanket at best, and an irredeemable psycho at worst.
Then there’s Abby, or Abs as her friends call her, because she’s so ripped. She’s the other player character, and being the one who killed Joel, Ellie’s main antagonist. This might be a hot take, but honestly, I liked Abby so much more in this game than Ellie. Considering how unlikable Ellie is in this game, that sounds like a backhanded compliment to Abby, but she has actual character development, and isn’t sad all the time. And don’t tell anyone I said this, but… she had a pretty decent reason to kill Joel.
It turns out that Abby’s dad was the surgeon who was gonna operate on Ellie in the first game. Ya know, the one Joel kills to save Ellie, thus preventing a cure from being made. In a turn of events that isn’t contrived at all, Abby’s dad was the only surgeon in the world who could’ve made a cure. So Abby definitely has a few reasons to kill Joel.
Once Abby kills Joel though, she moves on pretty quickly to other endeavors. She fucks her ex-boyfriend, she saves some kids from a rival gang, and betrays her own gang to protect them. Her story is actually pretty interesting, and that’s probably because it has no connection to the cliched main story at all.
Speaking of having no connection to the plot, the zombies are totally pointless now. You could remove them from the game, and nothing changes at all. Every time they showed up, it felt like the developers were thinking “oh yeah, this is a zombie game, we should probably throw a few zombies in this area.”
All these disparate elements that make up this game, a revenge thriller, a rescue story, a zombie apocalypse, none of them come together in a satisfying way. The pacing was all over the place, and it goes on for about five hours too long. After about the 15 hour mark, I really just wanted it to be over. And once it is all over, I had no idea what Naughty Dog were trying to say with this confused ending.
In the finale, Ellie seems to have left her days of vengeance behind, and has settled down with her girlfriend Dina, and Dina’s baby J.J. (who is a pretty cute baby, I’ll give them that). They’re living on a farm with wide open spaces, where the infected don’t seem to bother them. But then Joel’s brother Tommy comes and fucks it all up by telling Ellie that Abby had been spotted! Dina pleads with her not to give into hatred, but Ellie just can’t let it go.
After fighting her way through a small army of slavers and undead, Ellie locates Abby in a prison camp on a desolate beach. Her great opponent is now a shell of her former self, having lost both her muscles and her hair braid. There’s a quick time event fight for a few minutes before Ellie gains the upper hand, and begins to drown Abby. Ellie’s vengeance is almost complete…
And then Ellie has a flashback to her final conversation with Joel, where she told him that she wanted to try to forgive him for taking away her chance to save the world. This memory causes Ellie to stop drowning to Abby, and to let her go. She forgives her.
You see, this wasn’t a revenge story at all. It was a story about forgiveness all along. Too bad Ellie couldn’t have had this epiphany a little sooner, like before she killed Nora. Or Owen. Or Mel. Or Mel’s unborn baby. Or those two dozen guys named Mateo. But hey, better late than never!
Story Score: 5/10
So that’s The Last of Us Part II. Honestly, I spent way more time shitting on the story than I did praising it, but it’s not all that bad. All the flashback scenes, and most of Abby’s storyline were actually pretty interesting, despite having no real connection to the A plot. It’s also getting a lot of hate online that I don’t feel is really warranted, and I’m gonna address some of those now.
“Joel’s death was so disrespectful to his character! He wouldn’t have told some strangers his name, he was always careful and wary of strangers!”
This is when I wonder if these people played the game, or just read the leaked plot details. It’s Tommy who tells Abby Joel’s name. Joel only says his name again once he realizes he’s in trouble so it doesn’t really matter anymore.
“This game is SJW propaganda, it’s pushing the LGBT agenda! Go woke, go broke.”
Considering how well the game is selling, I can already say that last statement isn’t true. Honestly though, is this game all that woke? As a certified SJW soyboy beta cuck, and a member of the LGBT community, I definitely didn’t feel pandered to. We want good representation in games, not just any representation. Of the three LGBT characters in TLOU2, only one of them was good (Lev), one was meh (Dina), and the other was a monotone maniac (Ellie).
A lot of people falsely believed that Abby was transgender from the leaks because she’s swole, and that led to a lot of transphobic hate of this game prior to release. For those people though, just the mere presence of gay or trans people in any games is an abomination. And we shouldn’t give a shit what these people think anyway. Moving on.
“Abby and Owen’s sex scene was so bad! They just take off each other’s clothes and he just bends her over and they immediately start having butt sex without any warm up?”
You… you do realize you can have vaginal sex from behind, right? Have you people ever had sex before? Sorry, this was a really dumb one I kept seeing, and I hate that I even need to address it.
The game’s story has legitimate issues, but the idiotic and bigoted criticisms listed above are not among them. It’s kinda like when The Last Jedi came out. That movie had a lot of problems with pacing and plot holes, but of course you also had assholes complaining about having women and minorities in Star Wars. Get outta here, bigots! You’re ruining our credibility.
I can’t say I hated my time playing The Last of Us Part II, because I’m someone who cares more about gameplay than story when I’m PLAYING a video GAME. I’ve already started a new game plus file, and I’m enjoying the Ellie sections a lot more now that I’m skipping the cutscenes. However, I recognize that for some people, this disappointing story is a really big deal. For those people, I have some advice for you.
I know this hurts. You feel betrayed, and you want revenge against those who betrayed you. Sure, you could just NOT play the game, but instead you seek vengeance by leaving a 0 score on Metacritic, and posting a mean comment on any article about the game.
But revenge is not the answer, my friend. To put your soul at ease, you must forgive. You must move on. Move on from constantly complaining about this game, and talking about it more than the people who actually like it. Instead of dwelling on something you hate, focus your efforts on something you love.
Or you can keep on sending death threats to people who worked on the game. You do you. You piece of shit.
Oh dang, my check finally arrived from Naughty Dog. I thought they forgot about me.