This is not a review! I take a deep dive and decode the complex story and plot of TLOU2 which changed my initial decision to do a review. The game’s disparity in review scores, accessibility options, visuals and how they all compare to the story is what you will read below. Call it an opinion piece or a review without a score, here is “The Last Of Us 2: A Conflicted Experience”
Initial Reaction After Finishing TLOU2
The game was too long, the story too convoluted, and the mechanics of using flash backs to ‘drip feed’ the plot and character backstory was frustrating, these were some of the feelings I had towards the end of the game. My initial gut reaction upon finishing it was a conflicted relief on reaching the end credits, which led to the title of this article as opposed to doing a standard game review.
Reminiscing back to the 29 hour gameplay, I started to unpack my feelings on the game, the story which took the concept of a protagonist and antagonist right out the traditional story telling window, to the displacement I felt with Ellie and Abby when playing through the numerous flashbacks. By the end, it just became a drag to complete the game, never truly knowing when it would really end.
Naughty Dog delivered a gut wrenching story, which one could literally translate as the aftermath of tragic events from the first game. The realism they tried to imbue in the game’s characters and story is nothing short of ground-breaking and yet to be seen, but the execution and pacing are some of the negative points holding it back from greatness.
If by the end of the game, you see yourself questioning the journey Ellie takes as unfulfilled or incomplete; it clearly shows there were things that could have been done better for us as gamers.
The Last of Us part 1 left the player having to come to terms with the ending and while it was open to interpretation, it delivered a conclusion. In the TLOU2 though, the ending makes you question Ellie and her whole rampage, just not in a thoughtful “I have learned an important lesson” sort of way.
The most conflicting part of the story is that while the first half of the game keeps the players on their toes in discovering more information about a certain monumental event that takes early in the game, the second half orchestrate’s the plot that you start hating Ellie, a central character to the series, one we all have fallen in love with since Part 1.
While Naughty Dog is notorious for steering their narrative throughout the plot in recent games, this is done more aggressively and outrightly in TLOU2.
Furthermore, by the end of the almost 30 hour plot, it leaves the player in a sense of profound conflict. What they tried to achieve was to make the gamer feel that this tale of revenge is very true to human nature and the end result will not be always favourable which is totally fine and give rise to realism. However, towards the end of the campaign, it actually makes you question the whole journey, especially after all the hype in building up the characters and their back story.
To sum up the story, Naughty Dog have tried their utmost to present a very flawed rendition of characters living in this post apocalyptic world, a picturesque representation of a “dog eat dog world” where there are consequences to actions and how it feels like looking at the story from two totally different opposing view points. In doing so though, they have taken away the charm, the closeness and vulnerability we felt with Ellie & Joel the first time around. The Father-Daughter-Guardian dynamic is missing and now weighs heavily in comparison to the narrative in part 2.
They went on to show us the ugly side of this world, how everyone makes mistakes, and how there are no saints.
Industry Gold Standard – Gameplay & Visuals
While the story may have given rise to confusion or debate, there is no doubt the gameplay is absolutely fantastic! Visceral, intelligent, adaptive, multi-faceted are some of the words to describe it while at the same time, it is just a meticulous update of the older mechanics, a very refined and extremely polished update.
The AI in this game is one of the most intelligent and responsive I have yet seen in any other game. As other reviews have pointed out, the human connection that the AI has with each other sets them apart from other games. NPCs feel more alive and believable, more emotive and immersive, something video game players have yearned increasingly for, to up the ante, to bring as much realism into these digital worlds we all love to pump infinite hours into.
For instance, when an enemy is killed, his comrades cry and shout in despair, they ask others to go check while they flank. Upon finding a dead ally, they sound the alarm or whistle, depending on whether you are facing the WLF also known as Wolf’s or Seraphites, this presents a deeper connection and presents to the player a more realistic behaviour, creating a more intense and hostile environment.
Enermies flank, corner, attack you in pairs thereby making encounters intelligent and strategic. The degree of attacks and response also vary with enemy type, and one difference in this game from the first part, is the increasing difficulty and complexity of Human AI. Throughout the course of my gameplay there were some heart stopping moments when infected enemies whether they were shamblers, bloaters, stalkers to clickers snapped Ellie or Abby to pieces, the confrontations with the human enemies were the most fascinating, tactile and intuitive.
Although this falls into the category of set pieces, there are some scripted instances where the fights with the infected are really frightening and catch you off guard leaving the player reeling to find a way to survive and finish off the enemy. There are also one or two encounters with human AI that are quite emotional and break the pace of exploring areas combing for collectables or executing smaller enemies. It seems as soon as the game’s pacing gets cumbersome, Naughty Dog had a set piece to bring the intensity back, but my gripe remains, these were still not enough for the 25+ hours, in retrospect.
Naughty Dog refined every little aspect of combat making it more engaging than the first time around. The mechanics have had a nice overhaul, it feels similar but is much more fluid with more weapons and some customisation, to a degree, depending on whether it’s Abby or Ellie you are playing with. The bow is the best example on how it operates being a cross-bow for Abby or a standard one we’ve seen Ellie brandish since the first part, it is still my favourite weapon for stealth kills.
If gameplay is your strongest want or requirement from The Last Of Us 2, then the 10/10 reviews lined up by other critics are correct, but on a personal level given how Naughty Dog did little to reinvent it, it shows how good the core mechanics already were. The implementation of gameplay with the larger world, the more open combat encounters and near perfect animation fluidity deserve accolade and I hope to see more Playstation titles delivering the same.
Accessibility Options – A New Benchmark
Accessibility is at the forefront of this game. Naughty Dog most definitely have taken a painstakingly detailed approach to make this experience as open and user friendly as possible. It would not be extravagant in saying that they have set a new benchmark for the industry and other companies should take note and start implementing similar variety and depth of options.
From visibility and hard of hearing options, to subtle changes like changing the background colour of subtitles, so that it meshes well with the experience the gamer is having with the game, and not take away from the immersion. Definitely big steps which shine and are very well welcome and almost feel like a necessary inclusion in future games.
Steps like allowing people who may have a physical disability and making it easier for them to traverse sections of the game like auto weapon swapping to not having to repeatedly pressing a button as some sequences would require. Options of auto balancing on ledges, having infinite breath under water might seem like just an extra layer for making the game easier, but in actuality for people with disabilities this might be the defining reason whether they can enjoy video games or not!
The Last Of Us 2 is an oxymoron when I think of it. The term ‘flawed masterpiece’ coined by the media generally works for the majority and to summarise myself, I really really admire and enjoy parts of the game, in a sense I haven’t yet had with any other IP. The combat, the fluid animations, stellar voice acting, the amazing set pieces (mostly) set the bar really high. But for me personally, it was the story that drove the feeling of realism and evoked a sense of gratitude for the first part, a warmth very few games have ever achieved and failed in the sequel as well.
I came out feeling displaced, but not in the good kind of way. The aspect of Abby’s journey did give the game a fresh perspective, but after getting so close to Ellie from part 1, I don’t think part 2 did justice to flip the coin abruptly and make us root for Abby like we did for Ellie or Joel.
As a single player game close to 30 hours, I was over the moon with the length, a feeling that totally dissipated after 70% of my game time. There were definitely unnecessary additions plot-wise in the game, mostly when playing as Abby. If they were omitted or scrapped, the game would have been better in my judgement. In my opinion, Abby’s journey could have been broken down into a Standalone DLC or a future game.
I feel disappointed but happy at the same time, that the game exists so that we can analyse how the journey progressed, whether everyone agrees or not with Naughty Dog’s vision, hard work and immense attention to detail.
The world building, the intense encounters all took us back to the dreadful, dreary, desolate, poignant world, occasionally littered with heartfelt and endearing moments, it’s just that they are not ‘Profound’ enough this time around!
If you are a fan of The Last of Us, I recommend playing the game so you can experience the plot. A large vocal community found it so divisive, it led to users review bombing it, on the other hand, it might be exactly what you were looking for or parts of it. Nonetheless, it’s one of the best looking games on the PS4 and raises the question on where will we see Naughty Dog go from here!
Was The Last Of Us 2 a conflicted experience for you? Was it a masterpiece? Let us know in the comment’s below.