Having finally finished The Last of Us Part 2, the first thing many people want to do is get their thoughts on it out into the world. I enjoyed my time with the game but held back from writing anything to make sure anything I thought wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction. For me, there are some issues which go unaddressed in the furore over what happened to the characters from the first game and the incessant SJW debate. Needless to say, ***********************SPOILERS FOLLOW ******************************
Abby is the Hero and Main Character
Nothing you will tell me will convince me that this isn’t Abby’s game. As much as the first game was Joel’s game this one belongs to the confusing character that is Abby Anderson. In fact, my dream for the game would have been to only play as her and have Ellie be this malevolent force constantly picking away at you and your friends. She is the only character with clarity of thought and the only character who makes human decisions throughout. From gaining her revenge on Joel in the beginning, sparing Ellie and turning her back on Isaac, she shows proper human emotions. Her destroyed childhood and constant psychological torture should make her choose different choices throughout the game, instead, she seems to always make the decision that is right in spite of the easy decision being in front of her. She has no need to save Lev and Yara, in fact, after they saved her life it would have been easier for all parties if they went their separate ways, yet Abby stays with them and haunted by her conscience returns to save them.
Contrast this with Ellie. While she has her own traumatic childhood and many psychological problems, she constantly makes selfish decisions and gives in to what she wants to do at the expense of others. Her and Dina, abandon their posts during the storm, in the beginning, go off on their own after Tommy and generally treat everything as a big adventure before reality bites in Seattle. Ellie never makes the correct decision to appreciate where she is and who she is until it makes no sense to do so, but we will get to that. How many times in the game does Ellie do something that just has you scratching your head? If it wasn’t for the emotional attachment to her from the first game, the criticism of the story would be very different.
The Story and Characters aren’t that Groundbreaking
I can’t help but think that the creators were influenced by the popularity of the Arya Stark character in Game of Thrones while designing the Ellie sections. A diminutive girl with a revenge tale and a love for stabbing people is maybe too clumsy a comparison yet it was all I could think while stalking enemies in the levels. Perhaps the flat and lifeless ending of Game of Thrones, played a part in the jarring decision choices Ellie makes? Who knows. But if I am going down that rabbit hole the character of Abby is far too close to Brienne of Tarth for comfort. The physical equal of any man, unrequited love, and her own revenge tale and people they feel responsible for. Maybe the negative online reaction is due to people having experienced similar tales very recently and being tired of the same tropes. Many people who will have bought this game will also be fans of Game of Thrones and the feeling that no character is safe no matter who they are permeated this game. Manny and Jesse are killed, reeks of Game of Thrones, likeable side characters whose lives are ended by stray bullets without any build-up and no time for grief. Did I mention there are dogs as well?
You can’t Escape Cognitive Dissonance no Matter how it Ends
Very much the buzzword in the gaming industry this is the ability to separate your brain from the actions you carry out when you are in control of the character in the subsequent or overarching storyline. In this game you kill triple figures of people as each character, you can choose not to but in reality, even by accident, you will murder many people and animals who don’t deserve their fate, especially when playing as Ellie. You are then expected to take these characters side in morally grey areas later on. Abby at least has the justification of being a soldier and combat trained and her story shows some contrition towards the end. Ellie is just a murder machine, who can literally kill scores of enemies without breaking a sweat or even showing any remorse in ad-lib comments that show the area is clear. While we want to play a ‘game’ and the mechanics and gameplay are stellar, you cannot continue to have us believe these characters are people we root for or care about their outcomes. This isn’t Dungeon Keeper, we are playing this game as we want the characters we play as to be the heroines of the story, give us some reason to show why we are playing as these characters and not, for instance, Tommy, Jesse, Owen or Mel. Why are we playing as Ellie and Abby? What makes them special other than their inherent ability to murder everyone more efficiently than the rest. This brings me on to the ending of the game. Having made the jarring decision to leave Dina and the baby they care for to go hunting Abby once more Ellie catches up with her in the most brutal and rewarding section of the game. Taking down the Rattlers who genuinely deserve taken down, you rescue prisoners and find Abby and Lev in one of the most harrowing scenes in gaming. To find them emaciated and near death in crucifixion state jars you as a player unlike no other scene in the game. You rescue them and then the endgame plays out, Ellie says she can’t let Abby leave and they have a brutal fight. Ellie gets the upper hand and instead of killing Abby lets her go. It is such a strange and weak ending that, what has gone before is just lost in an instant. The whole game needs closure, either Abby dies, Ellie dies or they go on together. What we are left with is akin to an x-rated Tom and Jerry episode. There is no closure and no sense to be made especially when Abby returns to the house she shared with Dina and finds her gone. It reinforces that everything has been for nothing despite the cost. In many ways, it is the moment that this piece of art falls back to being a game and leaves itself open for sequels. The body count, the character deaths, the suffering are all for nothing, even the revenge story arcs are left still there and still burning meaning The Last of Us Part 2 had no need to happen.
Despite these faults, the game itself needs to be played, it is an enjoyable tale which is far beyond many games of this generation. The sound, level design, combat and facial animations are truly next level and playing the game had the pulse racing and palms sweating as you cleared buildings of enemies. Other than the developers closing off areas for exploration too early, I can’t fault the game from a technical viewpoint and I can only list Red Dead Redemption 2 higher in ambition and scope, but In my opinion that game told a story with a beginning, middle and end. TLOU 2 was simply treading water no matter how excellent the game and experience were.