My two pence;
The Last of Us was my game of the last generation. People moaned about the oppressive, and depressing nature of the Joel Miller & Ellie dynamic next to the boom-bang-boom happy-go-lucky nature of Nathan Drake & Victor Sullivan.
I didn’t agree. Drake & Sully were created to be the quintessential Saturday morning action heroes, who have been lifelong friends, quipping & barely scraping their way through to the end of their adventures. Whereas Joel & Ellie were finding their feet in each other’s company in a world that had literally gone very wrong. By the end of their first adventure they had become comfortable with each other, but both had reservations about their adventure coming to an end. That last conversation in TLOU is important because Ellie uses it as subconscious reasoning that she doesn’t matter, whereas Joel uses it as his subconscious justification for keeping his surrogate daughter alive.
The Last of Us 2 is a technical marvel. From the second you boot it up, to the minute that New Game Plus title screen comes up, the game shows what is possible on 7 year old hardware, just as it’s series predecessor did.
The sonics in the game are beyond reproach, I have honestly never heard a greater use of directional sounds to make a player tense up when walking through an empty room.
The performances of the mocapped actors are once again stellar, Ashley Johnson & Laura Bailey really drive home the emotional weariness of these characters as the game progresses.
The games environment design & production is just sublime, taking the destroyed beauty of the first game, and ramping it up to eleventy.
However, the story itself is a complete mess IMO. I’m not going to make any massive spoilers, but suffice to say the the way they’ve laid out the events is a complete jumble, and for me I’d guess without the relevant impacts that Naughty Dog were hoping for. The issues they try to deal with are quite hamfistedly rammed into the narrative really, and could have been dealt with in a totally different way.
It was an intentional choice I know, but when things switch gear 15 hours in, it makes the back half of the game (another 15 hours) that much more of a chore. I was hoping for some moment of ‘Wow! So that’s why she’s ...’ but nope.
I suppose the main gripe I have with the game though is the massive periods of isolation you get.
Through the whole of TLOU there was maybe 90 minutes of isolated play, but because of the construct of the game those minutes were spent avoiding being hunted, you were surviving. During the exploration side of things you were always accompanied. In this you spend literally hours by yourself. That, to me, is not what a Naughty Dog game is. They excel at the social interactions, good or bad, nice or nasty, it’s one of the things that for me makes their output shine above the rest.
There are glimpses of that, but out of the 30 hours, I reckon I spent, at most, about 5 hours or so with other characters, all of whom seem totally ancillary to both the plot and main leads.
As an aside there are so many characters that are in this just as storyline convenience, who you never get to really know or care about, and as such when things happen to them you just don’t actually care.
But spending time with another character, even if they were MacGuffin and Co., were the best parts of this game. It fleshed things out, it makes the world seem real, it made initially reprehensible characters who have committed the ultimate evils, seem human and pitiful. It puts the very questionable things that they do into context for us, the player, to help relate to them. When this game puts you in situation where you’re idly chatting with a character about things that have happened it works so much better than when you’re lone wolfing through levels.
My other gripe relates to the wholly unnecessary brutality of the game. In TLOU the most violent parts take place but rather than show the gratuitous nature of a lot of the actions taken, they take steps to cut away, or move the camera focus to somewhere else. TLOU2 seems to revel in the barbarism and quite frankly mindless brutality.
Having finished TLOU on Grounded, there were ways that you could finish many of the sections without having to engage any human enemy, using stealthiness to get around them to collect what you needed for armaments to kill the Infected.
In TLOU2 that is less possible, with the game preferring you to engage with all types of enemies to be able to get what you need to kill the Infected. And then when you have to engage & kill, the brutality & barbaric nature of what happens is disturbing IMO. And that’s on top of the way the factions in this deal with their enemies. It’s all a bit needless to see on screen, for me at least. I don’t need, nor want, to see someone begging for their life before being virtually hanged & disembowled, or someone being tortured whilst strapped to chair (the scene in the first game was too much as it was), and the cutscenes in this linger for some time while this is all happening.
I’ve no doubt Joel probably did some really terrible things in the 20 years after Outbreak, but I don’t need to see them. But when Ellie was stoving in David’s head, the camera moved away. We didn’t need to see what his skull looked like for 10 seconds afterwards when Joel found her.
Overall, TLOU2 was a major disappointment for me. It should have been THE defining PS4 game of the generation & set the bar not only for technical & production values, but also for storytelling.
Two out of three isn’t bad I guess but it’ll have to settle for sitting alongside Spider-Man, & God of War which all seemed to take their cue from the way Naughty Dog used companionship in their previous games as their touchstone to make good narratives great. I mean those games are good company to keep, but this should have been sat at the head of the table, deposing Uncharted 4.