Directed by Neil Druckmann, The Last of Us Part 2 follows Ellie, years after the first game, seeking revenge after suffering a tragedy.
Upon release, I was influenced by the outrageous hate towards this game which came from the leaked plot details. However, as soon as I read it, I was more interested than I had ever been before. Everything that people had complained about just made me want to play the game more. I have always been one to stand by creative experiments, even if they backfire. But if the experiment works, I remember that experience for years to come. The Last of Us Part 2 feels like the boldest experiment in gaming since the Souls games. It’s not perfect but gets all my love for being the most emotionally powerful game I have played yet. Spoilers ahead.
Every gamer knows how parents are worried about violence in video games. But it’s actually in seemingly harmless games like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty. Well, The Last of Us Part 2 genuinely feels like a game I would not want kids to play. It embraces pain and anguish unlike any game I have played before. I can’t remember a single moment where I genuinely felt happy or optimistic. Flashback sequences which seemed happy on the surface, just made me sadder because I knew how things turned out eventually. Despite that, I kept playing hoping to find closure and a feeling of catharsis for Ellie and in turn, me. The fact that a game kept me invested while feeling miserable is nothing short of a massive achievement.
For me, nearly everything about this game works. I especially love that I get to play as the ‘villain’ halfway through the game. How the game risks everything by killing off Joel in the opening hour. And how human yet irrational these characters are. In many ways, The Last of Us 2 truly represents Neil Druckmann and the stories he wants to tell.
Looking back, it feels as if the first game held him back, having to settle for a more traditional story. It’s at the end that he got to take these characters where he wanted to and give us ‘his’ story. Doing what I expect any great storyteller to do after an established reputation, he took a huge risk and told a story that feels completely his. That might or might not work for most people but it’s exactly what pushes any medium forward. Neil Druckmann has my utmost respect.
A Repeating Pattern
The narrative structure is far different than last time with both Ellie and Abby having storylines in the past and the present. How these stories weave in and out with each other is meticulous, thoughtful, and surprisingly never messy. It’s still not a very efficient story and does lose tension towards the end. All that lack of tension, for me, mainly came from Abby’s Day 3. The Seraphites vs WLF sub-plot meant very little to me and felt like it had no major impact on the plot. The game desperately tries to give Abby the same journey Joel went through but forgets how different the situation is. The bond between Joel and Ellie is incomparable to the bond between Abby and the Seraphite Kids.
Making her feel what Joel did in a similar situation feels very on the nose. Apart from that, I was already grieving the death of Yara when Abby was confronted with the death of Owen and Mel. It diminished the impact that moment in the story could have had. Not to mention, we as Abby go through so much to save Yara only for her to die soon after. Yes, it’s perfectly plausible but that doesn’t necessarily make for good storytelling.
It would be unfair to give criticisms without solutions so hear me out. Instead of its present structure, Day 1 could be spread out into two days and Day 2 could be Day 3. This way, Abby comes back from a near-death experience trying to save Yara. On an arguably happy note, she reaches the aquarium with Lev only to find her friends and Yara dead, trying to defend themselves from Ellie. That, to me, pulls the rug under Abby’s feet more harshly and drives her towards vengeance more fiercely. Making her potentially feel guilty for leaving her friends behind while trying to save someone yet still being punished for it not just feels more impactful but saves almost four hours of time. This would also be consistent with what her dad went through, who tried to save humanity but still ended up murdered.
Don’t look back
However, these are minor complaints in the face of yet another huge success from Naughty Dog. The game itself is mechanically superior to its predecessor if not as complex as some other AAA games out there. The environments are rich in detail be it the interiors in a semi-destroyed building or the streets of Seattle filled with lush overgrown grass. Human enemies are smarter, zombies are scarier and the addition of dogs is a fun challenge. AI companions still move around enemy line-of-sight freely, but these occasions are fewer than the first game.
What truly drives the game is the voice acting and motion capture performances. Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson, and Laura Bailey give extraordinary performances, never missing a single beat. Combined with that is the amazing facial animation that sells emotions even in moments without dialogue. Naughty Dog probably animates Eyes better than any game developer out there. And being heavily reliant on emotion, it feels more crucial than for any other game out there. All of this ultimately leads to a story that not only introduces me to new characters but shows existing characters in a new light.
The Last of Us Part 2 is far more ambitious and intricate than its predecessor, if not as streamlined with its story. It’s a step forward in every aspect of its gameplay and its commentary on society, featuring some of the best voice acting and motion capture performances in gaming yet.