Updated: Feb 19
It's been a couple of weeks now since Naughty Dog graced us with The Last of Us part II, the very long awaited sequel to critically acclaimed The Last of Us. By now I am sure most of you are aware of the drama surrounding this game, from early leaks to review bombing and so much more. If like us here at CGC you love keeping up to date with all videogames have to offer, your feeds are likely filled with videos and articles covering every inch of The Last of Us part II and all the aforementioned drama along with it.
If you're reading this, you have probably guessed that the team at CGC are going to throw our own opinions in the ring. Like anyone who has completed the game and some who haven't, we have a lot to say. So much that we even joked about how we could each write 10 articles and still not cover it all. You can breathe a sigh of relief though because instead of writing 10 pieces with thought it would be better to come together and give you all our thoughts in one easy to find place.
LAST WARNING, STOP READING NOW TO AVOID SPOILERS, LIKE SERIOUSLY STOP!!!
Beautifully bleak and visceral - Shane Bowe
Where do I even begin with what I consider to be one of the greatest games I have ever played since The Last of us. To me The Last of Us part II is a story about obsession and how it will cost you everything and it certainly does cost a lot. Even playing the game comes with a high emotional cost that as a player sometimes had me completely drained to the point where I needed to take a break. I think that it speaks volumes to Naughty Dog’s game design that a game that is about a world full of darkness, pain, violence and horror can transcend being a piece of entertainment and make me stand back and re-evaluate my own opinions about grief, revenge, right, wrong, good and evil.
As I mentioned earlier this game asks a lot of its players especially after killing one of video games most beloved characters in the prologue. The killing of Joel was tough and like most people after it happened I swore vengeance and hell fire on Abby. Let's be honest I hated her for what she did. Then just when I thought I would have my sweet revenge The Last of Us part II completely flips the script and makes me play as Abby. A choice which I hated at first but by then end was practically applauding Naughty Dog for such a bold decision. Playing as Abby showed me that much like Ellie my obsession with revenge for a heinous act doesn't mean I am right or even the good guy. The death of Joel also showed me that no matter how much you may think a person is a hero or how much you love them it does not mean that they will receive a hero's death. Sometimes the world is just an awful and cruel place.
The Last of Us part II is a game of two stories that are somehow mirrored but also opposite. Ellie’s story of revenge paints us a picture of a grief stricken person descending into a bitter rage filled darkness obsessed with righting a wrong. Believing so much that she is doing the right thing that she doesn't see herself becoming a villain in someone else's eyes. Even though Abby's story starts out as a tale of revenge, most of her narrative actually deals with a person's accent out of the darkness, trying to get back to normal and find their place in the world now that they have seen their one driving force satisfied.
My final note is The Last of Us part II is a bleak, visceral and difficult window into what humans are capable of when pushed to the edge of extinction and while some might find that difficult I give Naughy Dog a huge pat on the back for not shying away from such horrific subject matter.
The grey area - Paul Mason
I’m a new member of The Last of Us fandom. As I detailed in one of my recent articles, I only played The Last of Us for the first time a few weeks ago. I was enthralled by the levels of grit and realism that Naughty Dog brought to such an exceptional in-game circumstance - The end of society as we know it, due to a pandemic. So, how did this newly minted superfan like the new chapter in the series?
I was thrilled to see them move further into the grey area, with there being no true heroes and villains in this story. It’s a bunch of humans, the most vicious animal of all, making decisions that make sense to them at the time. This level of reality is gripping and instantly relatable. Let’s take Joel’s death, the first big shocker of the game. I am wholly of the opinion that he deserved to die. Not just for dooming mankind, but for his heavily implied time as a hunter and general piece of s**t. Despite his undeniable cool factor and strength of character, the man was not a hero. I grew to love Abby and her story, and it’s trajectory after murdering Joel. Her mission has been accomplished and she is doing her best to move beyond her violent actions.
Ellie’s journey to revenge begins where Abby’s ended. As Abby completes her mission, Ellie begins hers. I enjoyed the aspect of these different yet similar paths mirroring each other. Perhaps it can be put down to playing much of the latter half as Abby, but I was more invested in her story than Ellie’s by the time the credits rolled. Ellie is still a great character - Tormented and driven - but her arc lost some luster for me by the time the player reaches California. She needed her closure and I’m glad to see she moved beyond her bloodthirsty need for revenge. In moving past this obsession, she has started healing, which is what I hoped would ultimately happen. For such a bleak game, there is a wisp of hope by the endgame, symbolised by the title screen’s change from dark and grey, to bright and sunny shores. A wonderful message to end the main story on - There is always hope.
Technically speaking, I was consistently in awe of the visuals and audio. This is one of the most well crafted games I have ever experienced. The combat takes place in far more spacious areas, allowing the player to take advantage of the new traversal options available. Splendid and smooth, start to finish.
The Pearl Jam references? As a huge fan, I absolutely adored it.
I do have a few gripes. The placement of flashbacks became way too predictable. Ya know those sequences when you’re sliding through a tight space, crawling under something, to mask a loading screen? I now f*****g hate them.
A bleak, harsh world that I’m looking forward to revisiting at some point, for me it falls just a bit short of the classic original despite the exceptional gameplay. I can’t wait to see what comes next in the story. My bet is on a Part III set many years in the future, or perhaps a prequel featuring Joel and Tommy navigating life before Ellie comes into the narrative (co-op please).
Endure and survive folks!
Quarantine Feels - James Desmond
It’s hard to quantify how I feel about this game without mentioning Part 1 and unfortunately without having at least one thing to say about the current state of the critical reception this game has been mired in. Look no further than the unreasonably spiteful vitriol tactics some people will go to over some ill perceived slight and over a video-game no less? Without getting anymore riled up, I disagree with it vehemently and we can and should rise above it. All that aside, after some time taken to reflect and hug someone after such a daunting experience there’s a lot to take away from The Last of Us Part 2.
I remember the ending to Part 1 staying with me for weeks after the first play through. The moral ambiguity of Joel’s decision to “save” Ellie from St.Mary’s hospital, a decision that the player had to face was excellently done. On the one hand it was morally wrong. Should we not strive for the greater good, especially on the cusp of our own extinction? Even if it means letting someone we love die? Moreover, put in the same situation would we do any differently? It’s a question we might all think we have the right answer too but ultimately couldn’t possibly know and in 2013 there was no other game I’d played that challenged my morality so directly.
For years, I didn’t want a Part 2 at all. The first game felt like Naughty Dog had captured lightning in a bottle and I personally liked the idea of a video-game never giving complete closure, it played on you (well me anyway don’t know about you) and the nature of a sequel felt like it could only have diminishing returns. Luckily, and for the most part, Naughty Dog proved me wrong.
The funny thing about this game is that I didn’t appreciate it that much while playing. Now that the option presented itself, I wanted that closure and chased it doggedly. The decision to kill Joel was the first gut punch, a brutal end for someone who, spending most of his life post apocalypse, lived brutally. I didn’t yet understand why but Laura Bailey's performance (and the cast all around) sold me on that need to understand. After that the hits kept coming but it consistently felt like it was holding back.
The further Ellie made it through Seattle with Dinah, the less the game would show. There was enough drama and tension between Ellie and Joel before the incident that I was more curious about knowing why things fell apart then following Ellie’s obsessive need for revenge. Then right before I start hoping, the game narrative rips you away from Ellie and we see what led Abby to commit such a heinous act and more importantly, how it didn’t end up helping at all.
I’ll try to distill my thoughts before rambling further but looking back on it now, flipping the script on the player was excellently done. It was the only way to show Abby’s side and whether you were on hers by the end or not, I don’t think there was any other way it could have been shown and been as effective. The one thing that dragged it down a bit was the length. Plot wise I’m not sure what I’d cut down on but being in that negative space for 30 plus hours is draining. I do believe that was the intention but with a story as heavy handed as this, the oppressive backdrops, blood curdling screams of enemies both human and cordycep alike, it’s a lot.
I’m so happy this game exists, when the discourse is good it’s so refreshing to listen to the polarizing opinions, everyone took something away from it and that to me is its biggest triumph. Neil Druckmann, Ashley Johnson, Troy Baker et al had a vision, they stuck to it and I’ll be pondering my own experiences for years and play throughs to come.
Revenge is a dish best served (or not at all)
There we have it folks, our collective thoughts on the divisive second entry in Naughty Dog’s bleak and wonderful tales of survival.
What did you think of The Last of Us Part II? Please feel free to discuss in the comments below, we’d love some discussion around the topic.
All images taken from The Last of Us Part II press kit here
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