Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Last of Us Part 2 - The Grand Finale of the PS4

Despite thinking I wouldn't get it a few days ago, I did indeed decide that nope, I could not go long without picking up The Last of Us Part 2.

If you somehow own a PS4 and don't know what's the deal, here's the trailer:

The original game was the penultimate title worth picking up on the Playstation 3...indeed, I caved toward the end of the PS3's life cycle just so I could at last catch up on Naughty Dog games, which include The Last of Us and the entire Uncharted series. I replayed TLOU when it was remastered on PS4, and so naturally it was inevitable I would grab Part 2.

There's apparently been some controvery around this title. I've only seen a couple reviews that were at all disparaging, and those were from Youtubers who sometime seem to have an agenda behind their veiled dislike for certain games. As an example, the criticism I watched involved critiquing TLOU2's sotryline as having some plot issues, while suggesting it's play mechanics were not sufficiently new and innovative. Weird critiques, I thought, given Naught Dog's mechanics in their games are very well established and a key selling is their amazing attention to story and plot. So....could it be this was the seven year design cycle that finally fell flat somehow?

Not really. Without offering spoilers (and if you played to the end of the first game, you ought to have some ideas of just where the sequel could go without much wild guessing at all), then you know this is a terrible world filled with all sorts of loss. A sequel diving deep into that makes sense. If you played the DLC for the first game, you know it was established that Ellie, the lead character in Part 2, is not your normal videogame hero stereotype. Joel is closer, sure.....and if you felt that the original game was principally about Joel himself, then you might be expecting more of the same in TLOU2.

Instead, you get an even bolder, darker and more poignant story. It's not really a political story, or driven by any agenda; trust me, it really isn't. But if a reviewer were to see some politics buried in it, that says a lot more about the reviewer at this point than the game itself. The game tells a very, very good story. It is not pulling punches and it is sticking to the dark world it portrays. But if some of their story and character choices bother you....well, maybe you weren't paying close attention in the last game, and maybe this is a chance to learn not to let it bother you and accept that you can leave that baggage behind.

I'll end the article here without spoilers by saying: The Last of Us Part 2 is an amazing game, I an glad I decided not to wait. Now....for those who care not about spoilers....

Here's the spoiler version (SPOILER WARNING!) for those interested in what I am talking around:

Did the spoiler free crowd leave?




So Joel, the protagonist of the first game, dies. No one should have not suspected this would happen; at minimum all promos for Ellie strongly implied he would be out of the picture. Whether it was quietly due to heart attack or because a clicker ate him was the real question here. As it turns out, it was even more grisly: remember the end of the first game? The bloodbath Joel engaged to free Ellie from those who were going to sacrifice her life to make a vaccine against the cordyceps infection? Well, what goes around comes around, and Joel made many enemies. Worse yet, Ellie does not know what happened; she was unconscious for most of that. This was very nicely foreshadowed at the end of the first game, and I recall when playing it, "nothing good will come of this in Part 2," and I was totally right.

The secondary issue is that Ellie is not only our lead protagonist, but her being a gay character central to the plot is leaned in to, albeit in a natural and not "preachy" way. This world has too many other wrongs, too much other misery, for the game to obsess about the fact that the survivors of this future apocalyptic setting don't have much time to worry about who's sleeping with who. The story engages naturally; literally the only issue that Joe Gamer could take with the characters as this story unfolds is that Ellie isn't male (and straight). The guys who've done reviews bitching about game elements seem to step around this very carefully (because they don't want to admit it bothers them); it's a common issue with certain gamers out there, especially those who liked the first because they need to play a "relatable (male) character" like Joel in order to feel engaged with the story, and the loss of Joel mixed with Ellie's rise to prominence is probably a serious shock to this certain subset of gamers.

It shouldn't be, but it is.

Anyway....if you like single player experiences that are full of compelling plots, characters, graphics and gameplay then you owe it to yourself to grab The Last of Us Part 2 (and the first one as well if you haven't played that, either). Just be warned! It's an amazing game, but also a very depressing story and easily portrays one of the most miserable post-apocalyptic settings in gaming history.

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