A review by Pamela Kalimukwa
Right from jump, The Last of Us Part II throws you into some uncomfortable situations, it made me feel things I did not want to feel, things I am not entirely sure I am glad I felt. What I do know though is that TLOU2 is an amazing game, a solid 9/10 for me, and here’s why.
Firstly, on the actual gameplay, truly amazing. Once again TLOU does a great job of putting you in the players’ shoes, the weapons and the enemies are great. I loved the stalkers in this game, an upgrade from the first one. I loved our trip through the hotel.
While Ellie is a completely different character and therefore gave us a very different feeling from the first game, Abby actually feels and plays a lot like Joel, she has the mass, the shivs, which I loved. Facing the Rat King was an interesting if disturbing fight, I was legitimately afraid of what I would find down there and they did not disappoint. I felt the AI for the human enemies could have been smarter, but this could be because I played the game on normal difficulty and not hard.
On to the story bits, TLOU2 uses a lot of shock value. Possibly overuses, that is up for debate. We get our first and biggest shock right at the beginning of the game when a woman we have been made to play as, Abby, brutally murders Joel within the first hour or so of the game. At this point I honestly felt angry at Naughty Dog for making me play as, and therefore work to keep alive, this woman who as far as I have just seen is my enemy and needs to be taken down. I remember texting a friend of mine right after that scene saying I felt used. How could they? How dare they?!
When Ellie and Tommy wanted to head out on a quest for revenge, I had my bags packed, I was ready to go, I wanted blood. But Naughty Dog did something that I did not foresee, they made me care about Abby, Joel’s killer! They made me root for her, by the end of the game I was team Abby all the way.
I have heard many call this game a simple quest for revenge with lots of blood and death along the way but calling The Last of Us Part II a mere quest for revenge is far too simplistic. It is more a story of perspectives, about understanding, and obsession, of how the loss of someone dear to you can destroy you, and possibly, if I dare go this far, about forgiveness. TLOU2 asks you “How do you feel about killing people when you know who they are?”. When you know their names, know that they have lives and emotions and people they care about.
I admit my first trip through the Wolf territory with Ellie and Dinah I was killing my enemies and making sport of it. But as we went along, my perspective started to change. I know you will think that change happened when we switched to Abby and got to know her own story but no, it happened before that, when we got to the hospital and confronted Nora. After that scene where Ellie beats Nora to death for information, I started to ask myself how far is too far? How much of this is justified? I felt Ellie crossed a line that day, one she will never be able to step back from, and she knew it too.
So, when we finally changed characters and started getting to know Abby and her people, my guilt only intensified. Initially, I was displeased at having to play so many hours with her, but her segment was done so well I forgot about that pretty quickly. We learn that Abby is really no different from Ellie, that the pain Ellie felt when Joel was killed was the same pain she felt when Joel killed her father. Sure, you could argue that Joel’s death was way too violent, and she needed to pay, but it is in that violence where it is communicated how much her father’s death destroyed her, how obsessed she was. We watched it happen to Abby, to Ellie, then at the end we saw a glimpse of it in Tommy, and we know how horrible it is.
The reveal of why Abby was after Joel was not a major shock to me or anything, I saw it coming, but it was executed well. The game used flashbacks, from happy moments with Joel (birthday scene anyone?!?) to shattering moments like when Abby found her father dead. You get to understand this character and care about her just as much as you care about Ellie.
With that comes the realization, and do not hang me for this, that Joel kind of had it coming. I know I know, but hear me out, Joel did terrible things, not least among them murdering all those Fireflies to save Ellie. It was going to catch up with him eventually and he had no regrets, he would do it again in a heartbeat. Knowing that lessens the blow somehow. In this way Naughty Dog helped me to come to terms with Joel’s death which I think was amazing. I truly loved Joel, but it was what it was.
This also takes me back to a recurring theme that was hinted at in the first game but was really driven home in the second. There are no bad guys, there is no evil killer demon you need to slay to save the world (I see you Devil May Cry). Joel was never a hero, not in the first game and not now, he has never purported to be, and neither is Ellie, nor is Abby. None of them are heroes, they are all the villain in someone else’s story, they are all just trying to survive, and the players view of who is just and who is bad just depends on whose point of view the story is being told from.
This game strips human beings to their base instincts, and it is not pretty – but that’s because it is not meant to be pretty. I have heard it said that the game is too violent just for violence’s sake and I disagree. Is it very violent and gory? Absolutely, some scenes made me want to stop playing it. But is it just for the sake of it? Absolutely not, this is a story about violence begetting violence, and you cannot tell it while keeping your hands clean.
The Last of Us ventured into a space that I think few games have done, and they did it well. That said, there were some things I felt crossed the line. For one I was not at all pleased at the addition of dogs that I had to kill (RIP Alice). There were other scenes of violence towards animals that I did not appreciate (I much preferred killing people).
The conclusion of the game left me satisfied if feeling a bit broken. Come to think of it, this is how the first game left me feeling. By the time we got to the final soiree, I honestly did not want to hurt either Abby or Ellie. Both had been through enough and they both needed to move on. I found myself dodging more than anything else, not wanting to attack, hoping for a cutscene but it never came. I found myself angry with Ellie, why couldn’t she just see some sense and see that that was enough? Never have I had a game make me not want to win a fight.
When Abby let Ellie and Dinah live in the theatre, even though Ellie had murdered Owen, that was her first step. I guess Ellie needed to take hers too and I was so glad she finally did. Little things at the end made it heartbreaking, like having to look at the dead bodies on the pillars looking for Abby (oh you are good Naughty Dog, you are good). Or Joel singing in the credits (I am not crying you are crying!). Last but certainly not least, Abby’s boat docked on a coastline that we had heard described earlier in the game. They made it, thank God they made it.
The Last of Us Part II is basically the embodiment of the 5 stages of grief. We see both our characters go through each stage, though I feel they both all but skipped denial, you see the anger, the bargaining, the depression, more anger, and finally acceptance. I am going to end with a cheesy quote, but which captures a specific theme of the game well:
“Forgive others not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.”
About the author
“Hi, my name is Pamela or just Ela. I’m a data analyst by day and an avid gamer, reader, and anime fan by night. I like to talk about all the above.”