TGA, aka The Game Awards, has been successfully completed a few days ago. With heart beating brand new game trailers, Great battle between Elden Ring and God of War Ragnarök, and of course Bill Clinton win the Game of the Year, it is hard to express that TGA 2022 is not good enough.
Currently lot of people put their sight further, predicting 2023 game industry form, and dig into overhaul technology to game immersions. But from my perspective, with a new TV series released, maybe it is the perfect timing to rewind a little bit to a massive controversial games two years age, I bet you guys already feel what I want to discuss, the Game of the Year 2020, The last of Us II.
Gameplay and Vision Performance
There is much to admire in Naughty Dog's ultra-dark revenge video game The Last Of Us Part II. And there is much to critique. The devs who poured their blood, sweat and tears into the game deserve praise for its technical achievements. The writers who mangled the story deserve the lumps that follow.
Despite its gore and violence, The Last Of Us Part II is a beautiful game, with renditions of post-apocalyptic Seattle and Santa Barbara that are simply staggering in detail and scope. The sights and sounds of this game are lush and lovely, gruesome and harrowing. In terms of presentation, The Last Of Us Part II is easily one of the best of the current generation.
The first game didn't have much going for it in the gameplay department, neither game is particularly strong as an action/shooter, and each forces players to spend far too much time tediously picking up odds and ends in order to craft bombs and med, kits, and ammo for your routinely empty firearms. (There's a setting that makes this somewhat less tedious in the sequel). But I do love the process of gun transformation in The Last Of Us Part II, absolutely vivid and attractive, hint how much developers paid on in-game details. So when it comes to gameplay, both games are fine.
Comparing the previous version, The Last Of Us Part II did an amazing update, open world, more characters, more weapons and fight systems. But we both know the result - most controversial game among the play community, two groups of players totally stand the opposite sides, no one can convince each others, even after two year those controversies still exist. What led to this situation?
There is only one correct answer to the question "How many lives would you sacrifice to save humanity?"
For the Last Of Us Part I, lackluster gameplay was more than made up for by a compelling story filled with complex characters in a gritty, intriguing post-apocalyptic world. It didn't hurt that it also had one of the best endings in video games, period.
It was an ending that deserved to be just that, the end of Joel and Ellie's story, unresolved and bittersweet. Brittle and precarious and powerful all at once. A happy ending in many ways, but an unsettling one, too.
Joel's was a lie told out of love, but it was still a lie. He kept that secret for the same reason he rescued Ellie from the Fireflies. Because he couldn't stand to lose his daughter. Not again.
That same lie kicks off the events in The Last Of Us Part II, but it quickly runs roughshod over everything we loved about the first game, trampling even our high opinions of the protagonists in the process. What follows is a too-pretentious-by-half story of nonsensical revenge and relentless violence. It masquerades at depth and meaning but fails to deliver either.
For Naughty Dog, the Sony-owned studio behind the series, the safe thing to do from a financial standpoint would have been to continue the first game's story in a predictable way that kept fans happy, as the makers of Marvel and Star Wars movies have done so profitably. But The Last of Us Part II does nothing of the sort. Instead, the punishingly bleak sequel kills off the original's main character and turns the secondary hero into a villain. It takes violence to a level that is uncomfortable even by the standards of video games, and seemingly does everything in its power to make gamers feel bad about the act of playing it.
Enough Budget, amazing technology, outstanding characters, charming views, tons of fans, why The Last of Us Part II step into the black hole? Just one single fool, selfish writer is enough, Neil Druckmann.
Revenge can be fun. John Wick does "fun revenge" very well. I remember watching Braveheart for the first time and William Wallace's revenge was thrilling. But the moral of the story in serious works of fiction is that revenge is bitter (not bittersweet) and never quite plays out the way you'd hoped. It creates a cycle of violence that hurts everyone caught up in its wake. Hamlet is consumed by his desire for revenge - prompted by the ghost of his father - but in the end it just means that everyone dies, including innocents like Polonius and Ophelia and, though she's perhaps a little less innocent, Hamlet's mother as well. Revenge, like that green-eyed monster, jealousy, is dangerous. Something to be avoided if at all possible. Even justifiable revenge, kill can lead to all sorts of problems.
What this game needed in the end was grace. The kind of strange, unsettling thing that comes over someone when they suddenly realize something profound and choose to take a different path. When Ellie sees her emaciated enemy hanging from a poll and, instead of feeling gleeful satisfaction, feels only horror and pity, she acted with grace and mercy and, in that moment, became the person we hoped she would become. It was never about killing Abby. It was about Ellie finding her own redemption.
And then they throw it all away.
Two angry, beat up, half-dead murderesses slicing each other over and over again in the shallows, blood and saltwater spraying everywhere, until suddenly Ellie gives up and let's Abby go. Again. I'm not one to usually criticize games for their violence, but this felt exploitative to me. And redundant. All that potential for mercy and grace lost.
The ending could have worked with mercy or revenge as the outcome, but apparently the writers had trouble making up their minds about which direction they wanted to go, and decided to try and have their cake and eat it, too. The result feels sloppy, repetitive and frustrating.
The Last of Us Part II is one of the toughest gaming experiences I've ever endured, and writing about that experience is equally difficult. I loved the original Last of Us despite the story far outshining the gameplay, but thought it didn't need a sequel. The ambiguity of Ellie's final word, "Okay," before the credits rolled earned The Last of Us a top spot for best video game endings of all time.
Furthermore, the sort of hate that is being leveled at the game itself is primarily homophobic, misogynistic, and transphobic in nature - attitudes beneath contempt. Unfortunately, that disturbing and abusive behavior has been conflated by Naughty Dog - and Neil Druckmann in particular - with respectful criticism of the game itself, notably the writing and pacing issues that I personally found grating. Moments in this game are exceptional, thus the devil deserves to be given its due before exorcising it.
Undoubtedly, The Last of Us Part II will be fondly remembered as the Playstation 4's swan song in the way that the original Last of Us game was for the Playstation 3. Purely in terms of technical achievement, Part II is a must-play for owners of the current generation consoles, and our own Andy Webb reviewed this game as "groundbreaking."
But in terms of narrative, I almost wish that Part II was never made, that the original game would forever live on as lightning in a bottle, the one zombie game that rose to the cream of the crop in an overly saturated genre. And though the sequel has moments of greatness that occasionally top the original, Part II leaving me cold at the idea of any future Last of Us games.