The Last of Us™ Part II_20200701022607

The last of us 2 review – Pushing boundaries, and the triangle button a lot.

The high water mark of scripted single player gamedesign. But might it be time for a bigger bathtub?

I rarely cry while playing video games. In fact, i can count the rare occurances on a T-Rex’s hand. I once completely lost my shit after losing a “you-are-meant-to-lose-for-the-sake-of-the-story” 4 vs 1 match in the career mode of WWF smackdown after 45 minutes of trying to postpone the inevitable, and i most definitely went through the deepest of hells trying to clear Bramble Blast in Donkey Kong Country 2. But those are not the type of tears Naughty dog is after. Naughty dog wants your ‘Aerith Tears’ if you know what i mean. And if you don’t know lets rephrase: Naughty Dog wants your empathy. And they got mine, but also left me realizing the boundaries of conventional game design are really starting to show their age.

Deer, god, i wonder can you save me.

False Start

I wanted to give the game a fair chance and jump in as uninformed as possible, which already seemed like quite a task given the fact the internet was already knee deep in bashing the game’s leaked plot twists a few weeks prior to it’s release. Now, i’m pretty well trained at avoiding spoilers, and managed to stay safe, but i couldn’t help but bracing myself for “something that was apparently gonna make this game suck”. People were foaming at the mouth in outrage. Oh no they didn’t!! (Spoilers ahead.) The game doesn’t suck, nor does the story. It just sucks having your expectations shattered, and thats a bitter pill to swallow for some. But as Carl Jung said: We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses. So the sooner you accept the fact that Joel gets his head smashed in with a golf club, the sooner you can start accepting how good this game’s story is. Most of the time.

Yeah Ellie, those were the days

By this point i’m assuming you already know the game has a two protagonists (and if not, you’ve just learned the meaning of “Spoiler alert”). I partially understand the outrage surrounding Joel’s brutal death, as TLOU was one of the greatest games of the last decades, and people simply grew attached to Joel and Ellie. Which is why the sequel worked so well for me; I don’t think i would’ve had such a gut wrenching desire for revenge and conflict of emotions weren’t it for the brilliant way this game leans on your love for the first game’s protagonists, and the way it slowly twists you into the uncomfortable position of empathizing with Abby in the second half of the story. Its a daring attempt at breaking the cycle of recreating the same experience over in over in increasingly higher fidelity, and one of the boldest moves in game design history. I’m not sure how good this would work on, say, a Super Mario title, but in the unforgiving world TLOU tries to paint, it just adds to the grittiness and underlying narrative of the world in which the story is set. It makes sense, in all its senselessness.

As much as i loved the story, i do feel like we are nearing the boundaries of traditional gamedesign, and TLOU2 struggles at times to deliver gameplay as engaging as its storyline.

(End of spoilers) The story lost me on one instance, when Abby gets emotionally invested in a transgender boy and his sister who had to flee their cult called “the seraphites”. While it did serve as a great way to showcase Abby’s caring side, it didn’t fully click with me. As far as the whole LGBTQ criticism the game received: The internet can be a toxic place, devoid of understanding and riddled with opinions and judgement. I’ll leave it at that. Speaking of which: I’ve got my opinion on the gameplay. As much as i loved the story, i do feel like we are nearing the boundaries of traditional gamedesign, and TLOU2 struggles at times to deliver gameplay as engaging as its storyline.

Duck hunt remastered.

The last of Us-e Triangle to pick up stuff

As many people probably did, i decided to replay The Last of Us Remastered a month before part two hit the shelves. It was amazing to rediscover the ingenious way in which the story unfolds as Joel and Ellie bond with eachother, but i got increasingly frustrated with the gameplay. I wouldn’t call TLOU1 bad by any means, but it definitely starts to show it’s age. I caught myself trying to Usain Bolt my way through large groups of enemies rather than engaging in the usual “find cover and wait for their heads to pop up” gameplay. This could be the caveat of playing games online against human players. The A.I. will never be as engaging as a human opponent, and online gameplay has created this behavioural uncanny valley.

While Naughty Dog doesn’t reinvent the formula, the combat has received a well needed overhaul and actually feels fresh. The animations are weighty, raw, and pummeling your foes in search of vengeance feels mightily rewarding. Gorgeous sound design, fantastic animations; it’s all top notch. One thing that did quickly started to become a chore is the “use triangle to pick up crafting ingredients” mechanic. It just doesn’t add anything to the narrative as you stop caring about the things you pick up, and i caught myself button bashing triangle way too often. I wouldn’t call myself the most patient player in the universe, but i don’t see this particular gameplay mechanic as a worthwhile addition. Worth mentioning is the brilliant pacing of the combat in (the early part) of the game: when you’re a seasoned gamer, a bunch of explosive barrels and concrete barriers in a new room are telltale signs indicating waves of enemies are incoming. TLOU2 balances this brilliant. It’s strength is not found in where the enemies are placed: its where they are absent. This is where the city becomes part of the narrative, and the desolation only immerses you more and more. I found myself bracing for hordes of enemies that just weren’t there.

Red light district

As the storyline intensifies, so does the combat, and the game loses it’s balance a bit too much for my liking. Even in all it’s polished glory, the combat started to tire me a bit in the final hours. Enemies walk in set patterns like the castle guards in Ocarina of time, albeit more complex, and the fun factor started to slightly wear off. In spite of some brilliant voice acting, the baddies eventually turn into obstacles in between point A and B, and John Does after a well placed shiv or arrow takes care of them. Granted, i am not one of the most patient people on earth, so i once again tied my laces and went for the Usain Bolt tactic, which proved pretty effective. Maybe this is just a testament to the coward i am, but if i was physically in TLOU2 i would’ve probably ran through the entire game screaming with my hands on my head. Still, i don’t wanna piss on the combat too much, i loved it most of the times, but the love wore out near the end.

Stunning scenes aside, some story elements near the end felt less engaging.

Some minor complaints aside, I don’t want to let them overshadow how much i enjoyed this masterpiece. But even the best games have flaws, in part because gamedesign itself is running into some hurdles that even TLOU2 couldn’t jump. And it’s funny to realize: Even the best games have their worst moments. Maybe they stand out even more because the rest of the game is so good. The overall tone in my review might seem a bit negative, but i do feel like the game has been adulated by so many reviewers already, and this made it relevant to voice criticism towards certain aspects.

The last of us 2 review – Pushing boundaries, and the triangle button a lot.
Despite some shortcomings, The Last of Us 2 is one of the best games of the year and possibly the century. The story is heartbreaking, gutwrenching and enthralling from start to finish, the world design is a labour of love, the overall level of detail and polish is unrivalled and i would go as far as to call this game a piece of art.
Amazing world & character design
Compelling story full of surprises
Sounddesign is top notch
Combat starting to show its age at times
Story has some ups and downs

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