The Last of Us Part 2 - Liars

I tried, believe me I tried. 

But ultimately, I’m just not having a good enough time to justify slogging through The Last of Us Part II so I can see the ending. It’s a shame, because I’ve invested so much time already. Yet, as it turns out, I hit the wall just when the game was on the verge of offering what I felt was the real justification for this sequel’s existence in the first place. 

It took too long to get even that far, and there are just too many eye-rolling moments, too many befuddling design decisions on the way there. I’ve reached the maximum acceptable amount of The Last of Us fatigue. 

Unfortunately — and I’m trying my damndest to avoid spoiling the game for those who still want to play it — the section where I finally threw in the towel isn’t exactly the best place to resume playing if I decide to return six months down the road. I’m also way too far to simply start over, which would probably only result in a repeat of the same fatigue I’ve already felt anyways.

I’ve read some negative critiques of The Last of Us Part 2 that seemed to cause a stir on the internet, as if critique of this game is somehow anathema. Personally, I think some of them are quite valid, at least the ones that are based on specific gameplay elements or design choices as opposed to, say, “Trans person? Gross!” or “Muscular woman? Preposterous!” Those arguments are, of course, fucking stupid.

The Last of Us Part 2 - Abby

However, there’s a fairly common critique that says this game is perhaps longer than it really needs to be. Well, I’d say that’s pretty valid. It feels at times like the game is spinning its wheels. This is most notable anytime the game isn’t working extremely hard at character development, and this unfortunately translates to almost all of the exploration and combat moments. 

The combat isn’t compelling. It wasn’t all that compelling in the first game either, but that was seven years ago. Keep in mind that back in 2013, when the original The Last of Us was new, you could forgive developers for relying on the old arena-and-corridor level design structure — especially a company like Naughty Dog, who had arena-style combat and theatrical set pieces baked into their Uncharted series. And we still loved that stuff back when the PS3 was still “current-gen.”

But surely the video game industry has grown since then, at least enough to offer more depth than simply adding dogs and pretending that everything is completely different as a result. The ability to hide by going prone in tall grass is a notable new feature, only it slows the pace and it’s about as revolutionary as anything else that felt fresh in, say, 2004, when Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater did it. 

The Last of Us Part 2 - Hillcrest Sign

In fact, the only time I was actually surprised by the combat mechanics at all was when I initiated the crafting menu at an upgrade table and was subsequently attacked by a nearby scouting party. “If you can be attacked while at the upgrade table,” I said to myself, “then the gloves have truly come off. Nowhere is safe.”

Except it never happened again. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure it wasn’t just a scripted event designed to make me feel disempowered. I’m also not sure it even matters.

The game’s greatest problem is at its very core, though. This story is simply not a compelling one — at least, not Ellie’s part of the story. 

To be fair, there are quiet moments that deal specifically with the fallout from the original game — moments where Ellie calls Joel out on his bullshit, moments that felt earned, moments I’m sure we were all hoping would be in this game, given the heart-wrenching ending of the original game. 

I almost feel like that, in and of itself, would’ve been enough to satisfy me as a fan of The Last of Us. Simply seeing the old gang, even older now, coming to terms with the choices that were made in the first game. How we longed to feel the weight of the enormous sacrifice that Joel made, against Ellie’s wishes, that robbed humanity of a possible cure. (The one big flaw of that ending, though, was that The Last of Us forces you to make that choice. You either make the call or the game grinds to a halt.)

The Last of Us Part 2 - Ellie in a Space Helmet

The Last of Us Part 2 ends up squandering all these story ramifications, using them as mere window dressing for another round of grim violence and poor decision-making on the part of the characters. You’ll wander all over the place to collect some shit that helps you more effectively kill enemies in corridors and arenas. 

Plus, tying Abby, the new major character, to the events of the first game seemed a bit too neat, a bit too simple. Joel’s contribution to the story of the sequel also seemed a bit haphazard, and the cyclical nature of this entire story arc seems like it was designed for academics to wax poetic over rather than to captivate an audience.

It’s an utter shame.

It really is a shame because, like the first game, The Last of Us Part 2 has an incredibly well-designed setting. It almost feels like this world could be a precursor to the reclaimed world in Horizon Zero Dawn. I’d be tempted to say that it never gets old to marvel at how nature has reclaimed this virtual world, only it clearly has gotten old or I wouldn’t be writing this piece at all.

The Last of Us Part 2 - Dying World

Listening to these characters as they to explain relics of the old world, or understand the idea of a movie industry, is charming and novel. It’s fascinating to see how these communities have rebuilt and what the day-to-day priorities have become. In fact, all that stuff is way more engaging than the constant desire for revenge that seems to blindly, inexplicably drive all of these characters.

These people seem ready, at a moment’s notice, to drop everything — everyone be damned — to seek the very sort of revenge that can only lead to more revenge, which of course will only lead to more revenge, which in turn…

Is this getting boring? This feels kind of boring.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that in The Last of Us Part 2, every character seems hell-bent on disregarding the sanctity of the lives that remain. These people are perpetually refusing to move beyond the tragedy, only reveling in its aftermath. If all of humanity is just a network of expendable parts, nothing more than foodstuffs for the monster of inevitable vengeance, then what’s the point? Why does any of this even matter? 

No, I doubt I’ll finish The Last of Us Part 2 any time soon.

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