'The Last of Us Part II': A Derisive Sequel
Don't open, spoilers inside.
Let’s throw a dart at the board to see who this game has pissed off today…bullseye on the “Joel didn’t deserve this” crowd and another just shy of the “alt-right man-children.” While I understand the controversy over Joel’s death, the latter just makes me roll my eyes so hard, I can see my brain herniating from the idiocy. Apparently, this is the worst thing to happen to them since society decided that gays are people, not punching bags. Buck up, Nazi, and go chew on some gun ammo to calm yourself down. But I’ll get back to the stupid reasons people hate this game after I analyze the actual game.
First off, I did enjoy the game, if you were worrying this review was going to me pissing on the game for 500+ words. But I admit that the story is just a bit wonky in its delivery, but let’s focus on the gameplay for now. I will say that I’m not the best at resource management and shooting guns, so my opinions of the combat will be biased because I suck. I tend to waste ammo because I have an awful habit of searching too long with the reticle and I have the dodge reflexes of a blind walrus. I do have a slight gripe with how many enemy gauntlets you have to go through before replenishing ammo stores. Though I’ve rarely had full ammo before I’m nervously wasting it on enemies, but I suppose that’s the challenge. I have tried the game on Hard+ and confirmed that I need to “git gud” before attempting it again.
I like the Accessibility options and the customizable difficulty. You can even enable the option to have the enemies miss more shots than a Stormtrooper on meth for a laugh. It’s your choice if you want to stealth it or go in guns blazing. I tend to be better at stealth, believe it or not. Players always prioritize killing Clickers before Runners, but on the contrary, the Runners need to be taken out first because they can see. Nothing can fuck up your attempt like failing to stealth kill a Runner and being swarmed by the walking fungus. But I tend to hate killing the human enemies more than the creatures because Naughty Dog has prided itself on making you feel like the worst person ever. The human enemies all have names now and so do their dogs. If you kill an enemy, sometimes you’ll hear someone cry out in anguish because you killed their spouse. You can stealth around to avoid killing the dogs, but one button prompt requires you to kill them. Their owner will even cry out their name and become enraged. Naughty Dog did this on purpose to signify that violence is truly horrifying. They did research on real-life bouts of human cruelty to truly bring a gruesome realism to the combat.
Okay, okay, you want me to get into the controversies. For one thing, you have to play the game as Joel’s killer, Abby. When you’re first introduced, you’re like, “Who the fuck is this?” Here’s this for controversy: I kind of like Abby as a character. Sure, she’s a very flawed individual and isn’t justified at all for killing Joel, but her plight is somewhat understandable if not forgivable. I even had the troubling realization that Ellie was committing more atrocities than Abby at some points.
There was also speculation that Abby is a trans-woman because she is very muscular. Nope, no other stereotypes than that, apparently. No, see, they expected the conventional type of female video game character, one with big breasts, motherly hips, and a one-dimensional “damsel in distress” storyline. “How dare they introduce this muscular woman with a personality into MY manly video game? How dare they make her seem like a person with flaws and intelligence?” So, they throw her into a box labeled “trans-woman” and throw that box into a bigger box labeled “un-persons.” Don’t you all ever get tired of your drab monochrome view of the world? Can’t you just enjoy a video game, or life for that matter, without the laborious chore of hating people? I was like you, once. It was very exhausting and confusing being that narrow-minded.
Right, enough of my soap-box malarkey. Let’s address the bloody elephant in the room: Joel Miller is killed by Abby as revenge for Joel killing her father. Abby’s father was the surgeon who was going to operate on Ellie, subsequently killing her in the process to extract her brain for a cure to the fungal parasite that ruined civilization as they know it. Joel killed him in order to save Ellie. I know I’m going to get slammed for this but: It was a selfish thing to do, overall. Even if you read into the backstory of the Fireflies having done similar surgeries to immune subjects, Joel ultimately doomed the world to save his surrogate daughter.
One thing you need to remember though…Abby doesn’t know this. Abby’s revenge on Joel was personal. She didn’t know what Ellie and Joel’s relationship was like. I’m not defending her actions. Consequently, she was drawing a target on her back because of the murder, but revenge is rarely rational. This is the core theme of the story, that revenge destroys more of yourself than the person you’re determined to destroy. I mean, Abby and Ellie were hardly going to make up and skip off into the sunset together, but they’re both desperate in their grief and think that revenge is going to silence the demons in their head.
So, what are my gripes with the story, then? The pacing for one. I found myself getting annoyed at all the flashbacks, just wanting to see through the main story. I enjoyed the flashback of Ellie and Joel going to the museum, but I felt like the some of the later flashbacks was just padding out the game length. Also, the game’s timeline severely lessens the impact of later parts of the game. I think that the events should have happened chronologically, like Ellie’s Day 1 then Abby’s Day 1 and so on. Ellie’s Days 1-3 end with Abby holding her at gunpoint, then it backtracks to Abby’s Days 1-3, which is roughly about ten hours of gameplay. It’s like getting to the climax of a book but then having the ending of said book held hostage until you read another book.
The ending of the game baffles me, honestly. Even though I loathe the typical “Hollywood” ending where everything is butterflies and rainbows and the characters ride off into the sunset, I would accept the game ending with Ellie, Dina, and their son on the farm. The Santa Barbara level just feels like it was tacked on at the last minute. I guess there would be no therapists in the post-apocalypse, but Ellie’s snap-judgment to return to her revenge quest seems contrived. I sided with Dina when she balked at Ellie’s decision to go to Santa Barbara. They have a family, for God’s sake. “Hello, spouse, I am going to abandon you and the child for a senseless revenge quest. Please be okay with this.”
The final fight in the ending is purposefully lackluster. Ellie is severely injured from a laceration in her abdomen and Abby has been starved for two months in a slave encampment held by bandits. Why Ellie didn’t just slit her throat when she was tied up if she’s so set on revenge? And at the end of it all, Ellie lets her live. Yes, the entire ending chapter of the game was completely unnecessary. Ellie loses two of her fingers and her family for nothing. Wow, can you beat the message “the cycle of revenge is a fruitless endeavor” any harder into this dead horse?
The development of The Last of Us Part II was fraught with controversy because of incredulous work hours and overstressed designers. This has been a recurring theme of triple-A video game companies who push their developers to the breaking point in what they call “crunch time.” Game designers do not have unions to facilitate worker’s rights and it’s a damn shame. If that’s not enough abuse, the voice actor who played Abby, Laura Bailey, received death threats on Twitter because her character killed Joel. I don’t know if your mother ever sat you down as a child and explained the difference between real world and fiction, but those two things are quite different. It’s a big problem for actors in general who play villains to get accosted both in person and online because idiots can’t differentiate the actor from the character. For example, The Handmaid’s Tale was selling a large portrait of Fred Waterford and Serena Joy, played by Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski respectfully, and a person complained on Reddit about them selling a portrait of misogynistic rapists. Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski are not misogynistic rapists, their characters are. You see, the word “actor” includes the word “act”, meaning “to behave as if performing on the stage.” If you still can’t grasp this concept, please remove yourself from this mortal sphere.
Overall, I enjoyed this game despite its flaws. Though I wouldn’t necessarily to compare it to Schindler List’s (no, really—that actually happened), it was a captivating story with intricate characters. I also understand negative reviews of the game, the ones that aren’t just 30 second videos breaking the game disc or complaining about a woman having muscles, that is. I highly recommend, though that recommendation comes with a content warning the size of Donald Trump’s ego. Sit down to play with a box of tissues and a bottle of emergency booze for the depressing bits. Hmm, maybe I am a bit of a masochist.