The Last of Us Part 2: The 7 Year Itch – Did Naughty Dog Fail Us?

 

The Last of Us Part 2 since its release a few weeks ago is now one of the most controversial games of all time. The goodwill left by the first installment which was deemed an unequivocal masterpiece is unlike any other game, skyrocketing Naughty Dog’s already good reputation into greatness, hoisting the studio into legendary heights on the top of gaming’s Tower of Babel.

SPOILERS AHEAD. PLAYERS BEWARE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Outside of Allen’s review Link Here I’ve played through the game myself and experienced the heights, the pains and the grueling 25-30 hour journey that somehow makes itself feel even longer. While this won’t be a review, I’ve gathered some thoughts and I wanted to focus on the controversial reaction that the game has gotten and what went wrong with the game. It’s a game that made me feel exuberant, angry, tired, weary throughout the course of the game, and empty as the credits rolled.

It’s a game that left a bad taste in my mouth in the end and while it’s certainly not a bad game, it’s definitely one that will be remember for its negatives. So what went wrong in The Last of Us Part 2?

 

Unlikeable, Hollow Husks of Characters

The first game made Joel and Ellie some of the most memorable characters in gaming history and certainly Playstation’s library. The long, grueling journey allowed us to know how Joel was as a father, a brother and what lengths he would go through to protect what he cares about. It was about Ellie as the savior of mankind and her importance to humanity and as the cure and finding her identity. And it was also the journey of two people who had to work together as strangers and evolving into becoming inseparable partners.

Along the way we meet a unique cast of characters, each stamping their own role in the story. Tess, Bill, Henry and Sam were side characters that were likeable and unique in their own way. And in David, we got a character that kept us guessing on his intentions. It was truly an ensemble of characters. It was about the journey with a twist that made the ending ambiguous.

The second game still gives us Joel and Ellie but it goes out of its way to show us how “evil” and “selfish” they actually are on the other side of the coin. And while we have all known it on the back of our heads – Joel’s death was gonna happen. It was done very cheaply – in Game of Thrones style nonetheless; just for pure shock value.

Then there’s Abby, who not only has a controversial look to her character (which I don’t mind as much), but they seem to want to show that the atrocity she has committed is “justified” with the flashback scenes. And while her backstory is quite interesting, it doesn’t redeem what she did at all, showing that she’s a ruthless killer who seems to enjoy hurting people throughout the whole story, and willing to drop allegiances with unrealistic actions that compromise the people that she supposedly trusts.

And the side characters are certainly not as interesting as the first game – Dina doesn’t seem to do much other than be a romantic interest and be a burden throughout most of the journey. Jesse seemed to be interesting but didn’t do much other than die in an unceremonious way, leaving an unexplored love triangle or a caring father angle. And Tommy evolved to a bitter old man towards the end, which just leaves the player not to care for him anymore.

On Abby’s side, we barely even know most of her friends until they die one by one, except for Mel who just shows herself to be jealous and yet another burden during the journey and Nora whose only role in the game was to free Abby and giving up where her friends are hiding. Manny is the ultimate bro and I was genuinely shocked when he died. He doesn’t do much but he was someone that made you really care for what happened to him.

Owen is probably the most likeable of the new bunch of characters with his long history with Abby, and being someone who genuinely had a goal and had a plan to achieve it. And, of course he dies.

Lev seemed to be Abby’s “Ellie”, and is a character with a lot of potential. Sheltered in customs, traditions and a tribe that wouldn’t accept who he really was and with much to learn about the world, it’s going to be interesting to learn more about the character in future content.

Are we supposed to care about most these characters when they die? I’m actually annoyed that some of them don’t die instead. I cared more about the dog Alice when they showed the happier days and then it hits you when you realize that you already killed the dog (just to make you feel bad).

Henry and Sam from the first game were far more memorable characters even if they only lasted a while, and David was a far more interesting foil with his hidden intentions that made you doubt your character’s choices. It makes me feel like most of the new characters in TLOU2 are really just there so that you can be shocked when they die.

 

A Roller Coaster and Uneven Narrative

The story in the Last of Us 2 is fairly simple, it’s simply knocking on the door of Revenge and discovering its more than you can chew. The problem is how the game goes out of its way to deconstruct and cheapen what you’ve already experienced beforehand. It’s fine that Ellie’s journey leads to all of these different gameplay scenarios and all of these locations killing all of these people, but then when you get to the Climax of the story, it simply TAKES YOU OUT of the moment so that you can experience Abby’s side from days ago for what? So that you’ll feel “bad” about what you did?

It tries to be profound as it shows you Abby’s side and how life in the WLF is, her history with Owen, her dad and all of the characters that you already killed before as Ellie. And it just dampens everything that you already went through, including the climax of the first game. We all knew that Joel’s actions would have repercussions, but why go through all of this just to screw with everyone?

Why is most of the actual story done in flashbacks? Ellie’s revelation to Joel about the truth is an especially big one. The excessive use of flashbacks is really off putting.
And then there’s the ending. The “Fake ending” was already meh enough, but at least it really felt like the end of a journey, it mirrors Uncharted 4’s ending by the same studio. Which then proceeded to string everyone along to what I feel was an inferior final chapter and real ending.

Why did they have to shoehorn a whole new faction for the last act only for all of them to get murdered by Ellie? Are they going to show too that these are people we should feel guilty for murdering in the next game? The final fist fight was clearly a call back to Uncharted 4 (again) which had me rolling my eyes. And in the end both characters had the same conclusion anyway. What gives?

By the time the credits rolled, I was empty and hollow, Neil Druckmann put me into this roller coaster of a journey that tore down everything they built from the first game. And it really left a bad taste in my mouth. They took 7 years to build this game and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, especially if the next game takes another 7 years to make.

It’s not all bad though, as Naughty Dog is still a quality studio that does many things well. Some of the best parts include Joel taking Ellie through a museum, the Guitar parts, Abby and Owen discovering the aquarium, the beautiful disaster that is post-apocalyptic Seattle and the slice-of-life portions in the start of both character’s journeys.

Nevertheless, the story is the main draw of the game, and having an unsatisfying story that cheapens the experience of the first game really drags down what could have been a real masterpiece.

 

The Gameplay That’s 7 Years Old

Don’t get me wrong: The gameplay is fine. It’s just that is that it barely improves from its predecessor. I understand wanting to make it feel familiar, but we’ve been through a whole console generation and there’s basically zero improvements in the gameplay after the first game. The enemy AI seems to act the same on the default difficulty, it’s the same collect’n’craft type of scavenging, the game still prefers you to go stealth than gung-ho, and the zombie encounters are still gloriously tense and effective. It’s just that it feels like there should be much more going on here than the same in 2013.

God of War is one of the best games on PS4 and it knew how to evolve from the previous games. As the first Last of Us is one of those games held in high regard, then is it too hopeful that the game evolves with the characters it conveys too? Even the Uncharted games by the same studio evolved in terms of gameplay.

Despite that, Naughty Dog is still the master in creating detailed and magnificent gameplay setpieces that are simply breathtaking. To the horrific hospital basement that Abby encounters, to beautiful Santa Barbara, to the ruins of downtown Seattle. Each of them has unique gameplay moments that just work beautifully for the most part.

And they may be far and few between, but the “boss fights” are probably the most tense and best parts of the gameplay. There are several bloater fights, the “rat king” and facing Ellie in the climax of the game (ala the final boss of Uncharted 1) are simply moments of genius and really takes you in those moments where you say “phew” when you finally beat it.

It’s just disappointing that the gameplay didn’t evolve as much as the amazing set pieces have from the previous generation.

 

A Good Game That’s Ultimately Flawed

The critics and player reviews have been very divisive about the game. With some critics giving it perfect 10/10s and the current Metacritic user score hovering below 5/10s. It’s clearly the same situation as “The Last Jedi” again.

The truth is that it’s still a good game worth playing the first time around, but it’s too exhausting for me to experience again after knowing the reality of the endgame. The game is in no way deserving of a perfect score, and it’s certainly not a bad game deserving of the review bombing. Then again there has to be a balance between the overrated scores and the scathing user reviews. The reality is – It has its moments, it has its glory, it has its downfalls, but those really drag the game down to me.

The game is more of a 9/10 for me during the first act despite the cheap Game of Thrones style death, taking me out of the climax moment just to experience the POV of an unlikeable character lowered it down to an 8.5, and then the empty feeling as the credits rolled made me lower it down even further to a 7 or an 8.

Then there’s a certain subset of people who think that the political overtones of the game made it awful, which I don’t think is the case – but that’s a story for another day. I think it didn’t help that the game’s story leaked some weeks before (which I didn’t see before playing it) influencing people’s opinions of the game, and then there’s the previews under Naughty Dog’s NDA which was very restrictive and left people speculating even more.

Naughty Dog went a little too naughty for this game. It’s certainly very ambitious but just like this story of revenge, I feel that they bit a little more than the Dog could chew.

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