Hello again!
My name is Ash, and today we finally got to make a detailed opinion on the sensational The Last Of Us: Part II. Absolutely everyone has already spoken on this topic, giving out their valuable (and in most cases – not much) opinions and reasoning. Now that the noise has subsided and the dust from important discussions has begun to settle, it’s time to take a closer look at what kind of game it turned out, and whether we really should give it the laurels of primacy among all the games for Play Station 4. My answer is of course NO, because it has a number of problems that could’ve been easily solved if the development team were more careful and more detailed in the production of their offspring. On the other hand, it is really not as bad as the different-sized opinionators and talkers online say about it. But here’s what game journalists and bloggers handed out at the very moment of release:

Background and Spoilers

The original The Last Of Us (TLOU) was truly one of the best games of its generation. In many ways, it really became unique to the gaming industry and therefore significantly influenced gaming products in the years to come. Dramatism and narrative has become a much more serious factor for console games, and the overall theme and genre have become much more mature indeed. Plus, it contrasted very favorably with another franchise from the studio Naughty Dog – the highly dynamic and thrilling adventure series “Uncharted”, where the story in the style of Indiana Jones was presented simply stunningly and this was not prevented by the soapy graphics of the time and the technical problems of the console itself.

After all the jumping shooters and treasure hunts from Nathan Drake, the tragic and often dark story of TLOU protagonist Joel Miller in the zombie post-apocalypse was a success. Until then, such a level of acting, plot and dialogue was very rarely shown to us and these were individual cases like Kojima games or something close to the Dead Space franchise, for the closure of which EA will have a separate place in hell. At least for me personally, it was unusual to receive such a thriller and drama from the action game studio that made “Uncharted”.

The story was beautiful and fully complete. Its continuation was not really required. Significant understatement of the ending and a number of dots left by it created that very deep and “adult” impression of the story. The progress of the characters has been tremendous. Joel went from a cold-blooded and grumpy killer to the protector of a loved one. Plus, Ellie’s immunity to the zombie virus was very well played, it was a surprise, on which they also left many questions. And even if there were a number of questions to the gameplay – after all, dragging trash bins and stairs from time to time was often annoying, but the action and stealth sequences are definitely remembered to this day as one of the best in the genre.

Therefore, I was highly skeptical of the idea of continuing the game. Continuing a finished story is always a very, very difficult task, which even Kojima did not always perform successfully (Metal Gear Solid 2 for example). It’s like building additional floors on an already finished tower – you always need to be very careful so that something does not fall off somewhere and does not harm the whole project in the final. And leaked spoilers for The Last Of Us: Part II confirmed my concerns.

At the time of the leak, I was making a video with a reaction to spoilers, saying that the plot of the game already seemed very, very shameful, and at least lazy-made. Even then, I said that we would be given a stereotypical story of revenge of one character against another, and all the zombie things would be thrown into the background. Although, I hoped until the release that Ellie’s immunity to zombie infection would be somehow played out and explained adequately.

So, in general, I am grateful to the spoilers for preparing me for the game and setting up the necessary expectations. And I was expecting sensible gameplay and graphics that are pleasing to the eye. To the cringe of the plot, I was ready completely.

Analysis of Setting and Synopsis

In this segment I will be looking at the ENTIRE SYNOPSIS of the game, so if you are afraid of Spoilers, then I recommend skipping this section and reading the opinion on graphics and design right now.

So, we begin the story in the town of Jackson, where Joel and Ellie took refuge many years ago, and since then, they live happily ever after. In this city there is a stock of agricultural products, electricity, transport and weapons, which has already knocked me down. Purely by rough estimates, 26 years have passed since the mass epidemic, which according to the plot of the first part was in 2013. During these 26 years, factories and plants did not work, a huge number of the population died out, the production of energy resources came to naught. Hence, I have a question: how, damn it, how, in 26 years, there was at least one unfired bullet in the country? I am still ready to assume the remains of weapons at the former military bases existed since the proportions of weapons and riflemen have changed. But in a small town on the outskirts of the country – how?

It’s the same story with electricity and food. We remember from the first part how Joel launched a local hydroelectric power station for the needs of the people. But, in the setting of the game it is winter, and people stupidly burn bulbs left and right for decoration. I am not a specialist in electricity, but even in our time, hydroelectric power plants have frequent difficulties with generating in winter simply because the water freezes over. The signs about the eternal access of meat and milk in the city also raised doubts. Obviously, local cows have record yields on local hay, enough to feed both old people and small children, of which the city is full.

And yes, you can consider me a nerd as much as you like, but such inaccuracies completely kill all the realism of the game. The same story is with the eternal games on the guitar, which, 26 years after the epidemic, remain as new, and even the strings on them do not crack! But this could’ve been corrected simply by indicating that food and resources are in short supply, nothing new is being produced, and in fact there are no better remnants of civilization left. For example, at the moment when in the music store Ellie takes the guitar, it would be much more logical for one string to break during the tuning and she would play on 5 strings. Likewise with packs of health-restoring snacks. They had been lying on the shelves for decades, and a normal person would have been nauseous from eating them. That is, the potential moment with indigestion from these snacks would be much more logical and would complement the decadent atmosphere.

But, in the end, the setting itself resorts to only half-measures. There are some moments when even the characters themselves are surprised that they find all sorts of useful materials on the shelves of abandoned apartments, but this is minuscule. In general, the game’s realism leaves much to be desired. But in every second room there is a Play Station 3 instead:

The plot has two main branches from two main characters: Ellie and Abby. They develop in parallel and occur simultaneously. In the introductory part of the game, right after showing the town where Ellie and Joel live, we are being shown Abby’s expedition, who decides to take revenge on Joel for killing her father in the first part of the game. Only here I already see a significant hole in the narrative. We are being shown how Abby wanders through the snow in search of information about Joel, because she only knows that he lives in this settlement and wants to somehow get to him. But during the search, a flock of zombies attacks her, and is being saved by whom? Attention-attention, Joel himself! Together with his brother, they pull her out of trouble, fight off the wave of the infected and try to hide. But for some reason, Joel, a man who has survived a series of attacks, betrayals, ambushes and losses, does not even have a doubt to ask who is this random young lady who comes across on the path he knows for the first time in his life? Moreover, he does not wonder where and to whom she is leading him. That is, he does not behave like Joel from the first part, but like an idiot!

All in all, Abby leads Joel and his brother to her group, where she successfully tortures him to death. At this moment, we see how Ellie, in search of Joel, flies into the same house where everything happens. And her actions, too, make me cringe as never before. We are being shown how she opens the basement door and sees how some woman tortures Joel. Attention, Ellie is armed, but for some reason she does not shoot instantly from an ambush, does not try to distract with a shot, but simply flies into the room like a complete idiot. That is, both characters from the first part are acting like idiots. As a result, Joel dies, and the story of the game begins.

The plot of the game consists of 3 days in Seattle on behalf of Ellie and on behalf of Abby. Tellingly, it was these three days of the development of the narrative that I liked the most. Each of the characters had a specific goal, followed them and at the end of their storyline met with the main offender. That is, we were given a dozen hours to play for Ellie until she bumped into Abby in the most unexpected form. Then we are given a dozen hours to play as Abby after Joel’s murder and how she met Ellie the second time. This is by far the strongest storyline in the game to focus on.

What killed me the most was the moment in the synopsis, when it turns out that one character from each storyline is pregnant. Moreover, this pregnancy turns out to be absolutely illogical and completely inappropriate. And if, in Dina’s example, her pregnancy affected her fatigue in the middle of the game, and she was only at the early stage, this was somehow understandable. But the example of Mel – Abby’s friend, who jumps on military vehicles, wields a firearm, and at the same time also manages to treat everyone raises doubts just because she is somewhere with a many-month-old belly, if anything. I understand that this is artistic symbolism that is embedded in the synopsis, but two pregnancies in one plot turn the original thriller into some kind of farce.

Moreover, we have a mess-up just at the very climax – a duel between the main characters could give us a choice whether to end the game on it or continue. We are given to play for Abby, and she must hide and secretly attack Ellie, otherwise she will kill her. In fact, it would be worthwhile to really make the ending where this murder takes place, but make it as if something remained unsaid. Old-school games used this approach perfectly, and gave the player more options to build their own story, and the one that was imposed by the authors.

The finale itself raises fair criticism. A huge number of smart-asses told us that, in fact, Ellie does not achieve her goal and does not avenge Joel’s death. They say that the motivation and the main motive of the plot is that revenge is always bad, that it always demoralizes everyone around, and also leads to the deaths of everyone who is somehow affected by this revenge. We see this directly in the fact that both heroines lose all members of their team and remain with only the only and most dear people: Ellie remains with Dina and the child, and Abby remains with Lev. Plus, for me personally, the strongest interpretation of the ending is not that the final revenge did not take place, but that Ellie saw how life itself punished Abby for her actions, and how she regrets to the last for what she did for all her life, and what it led her to. That is, the moral of the game is that for any revenge you will always bear a karmic “curse” in the loss of the people most dear to you. And it is precisely Ellie’s refusal to kill Abby that means breaking this karmic curse.

Thus, it leaves much space for cringing, while having nothing to do with the post-apocalypse and the narrative of the first part.

As I said, we have absolutely strange motivations of the main characters, who simply converge after the narrative of the game and diverge in the finale. As for me, it would be worthwhile to simply give the game’s plot right from the first day in Seattle, and gradually explain all the past moments with the murder of Joel and the plan for revenge of both heroines. It seems to me that this way things would be much more dynamic and interesting, and the ending of the game would not be guessed by almost the middle of the game.

Gameplay

The gameplay is almost identical to the first part, except for some points. The main difference is that both heroines are supposed to have different “builds”, if you like. They develop according to the “type” of different models and approaches to the gameplay. But in fact, they develop roughly identical skills: be it increased walking speed in stealth, better audibility of enemies from afar, more self-made materials, etc. Equipment and weapons differ, at least between them. Ellie fights with weapons found anywhere, and Abby is mainly armed with a solid arsenal of paramilitary format. That is, if Ellie fights with a savage bow, Abby has a beautiful crossbow; if Ellie has a single-shot hunting rifle, then Abby has a semi-automatic rifle, etc. That is, the weapon itself specifically changes the approaches to combat, rather than the system of pumping and developing certain personal skills.

Also, it is the rudimentary semi-open world. The first third of the game was just a failure for me. Horseback riding in Seattle was inconvenient, it was just painful to navigate the map, it was not clear where to go, and indeed it looked somehow strange. Joel has just been buried, so now let’s go for a ride for research purposes! As for me, it would be worthwhile to immediately give some kind of purely corridor section for several hours, as it was in the middle of the game, and after that, give a half-open world.

This initial map is a complex of various rooms inhabited by the infected, only scattered not in a corridor format, but in a freer and more spacious one. But at its core, the game will be a combination of zones and rooms filled with various enemies, which must be somehow cleaned up and go further. Tellingly, the game not only welcomes, but also imposes a stealth approach. This is especially noticeable at higher difficulty levels, when cartridges and resources collected by us are found much less frequently and in much smaller quantities, and our enemies in the open spaces are becoming stronger and smarter. But, with all this, the stealth tactic remains simple – to sneak behind the enemy’s back and stick a knife in the neck. That’s all.

Moreover, every time, with a successful murder, we watch an ugly and disgusting scene, as a close-up of a knife bites into someone’s neck. The first few times it really hits you with trembling and anxiety, I will not deny. But when you see the same animation from time to time, which will only change if you develop a certain skill, it starts to annoy at first, and then fully loose any interest.

Tellingly, the shooting itself and the open battle with the enemies are much better and more fun. You often fight like a driven Vietnamese guerrilla in the jungle, set traps, organize sabotage, shoot from an ambush –  you just behave like the spitting image of Solid Snake from the MGS. Here’s just the caveat that the palette of our actions is again limited. We fight on the sly only until the first detection, after that we begin to rush about like a chicken without a head and shoot everything that moves like some kind of John Wick. But they often manage to knock us down, our women often have problems with aiming and loosening the sight, and the enemies themselves do not always shine with intelligence during the battle. They almost never flank, do not throw homemade grenades, but just crowd at the point of the last shot. That is, this can also be turned into one tactic – just sit down at one point, set traps and pray that the bullets do not run out ahead of time.

That is, gameplay mechanics can be safely repeated using the same approach, because the variability of enemies is not as great as it might seem. Of the infected, we see simple runners who can be blown out with a pipe, clickers, from which you can’t really defend yourself, and it’s better to shoot to kill on sight and various big goons, in which you really need to put the entire arsenal on your hands to kill. Of the enemy military groups, these are soldiers or snipers with firearms in their arms and dogs on leashes. The dogs really did bring in an extra level of stress and dynamics, I admit that their inclusion was a good decision for fighting. On the side we’ve got the religious sectarians: hobos with bows, hobos with firearms and big hobos who fight with axes and clubs. And just the most interesting for the battle are the largest and most difficult opponents: goons with axes from sectarians, dog lovers from soldiers and infected giant monsters. The rest can be easily killed by inserting a knife from the back or ambushing them, when grouping them in crowds.

Tellingly, this gameplay became even boring to me to the extent that I tried to entertain myself by completely passing by the enemy rooms. There was one level when I decided to walk through it stealthily without killing anyone, saving ammunition and first aid kits, crawled to the end of the level reaching the desired cutscene. Not for long, but distracted from the monotony. The increase in the level of difficulty also saves of course. However, this will certainly not be to the taste of a significant portion of the players.

There are a number of surprise attacks, ambushes, attacks you don’t expect, and game sections where you are forced to crawl out of the grass and act on impulse. To be honest, I would like to have more of these things because somewhere in 75-80% of all game situations is a room or zone with enemies that needs to be cleared, like an outpost from Far Cry.

But with all this, you know what the paradox is? I wanted to continue further and even wanted to replay the same sections, but perhaps with a different approach, especially knowing what lies ahead. For all the monotony and even protracted gameplay, you can and should find entertainment in it, which you really need to reach. From the majority of random encounters, you can run away, hide and fight in a stealthy way, or shoot from all the cracks like Rambo. You just need to turn on the desire to diversify the gameplay, otherwise you run the risk of going through the game in one method indicated above.

Graphics & Design

Despite all its shortcomings, the game offers magnificent graphics so that the locations here are simply stunning. The play of light and shadow, each sunrise and sunset really creates a wow-effect of how beautiful the post-apocalyptic Seattle looks. It is overgrown in the grass, it is in ruins, with broken glass and boarded up doors, from which we always see a secret – either it is a cache of resources, or an enemy corner with the infected. Every detail of the interior, street objects – everything creates the atmosphere of this destroyed world in which completely new people live. Visually, it is a brilliant work, the pleasure of which is comparable to Uncharted 4, made (obviously) on the same graphics engine, where the level of detail and realism is simply achieved in the best way. The same story with the design of weapons and resources – everything looks alive and real, while always retaining a touch of antiquity and handicraft.

I was also generally satisfied with the character design. They were all the living people, not pixel puppets. Except for Abby, of course. I don’t know what a genius it was to make a real Hulk out of a woman – even modern bodybuilders don’t go with such unnatural arms and muscles, but in the post-apocalyptical world the steroids are in huge shortage. How hypertrophied was the female character’s design to look healthier and more muscular than EVERYONE else? The same Owen, who is depicted as a normal man, looks skinny in comparison. She should have been made much thinner, but wirier and more muscular, one could add some scars or burns to her to make her look more harsh and hardcore, but in the end she was just a muscle box, the appearance of which ceased to cause laughter only towards the end of the game. At least they could have left her complexion, as it was in her young years (see screenshots), but, apparently, it wasn’t destined to be.

In Total

The game is a whole series of delightful elements that are on a par with the dubious ones. The strongest side of the game is its ability to instill a post-apocalyptic atmosphere, create the mood that zombies and enemy groups are walking around and make you believe that this is visually all for real. Gameplay-wise I was also very, very happy when I figured out the basic mechanics and when the drive from stealth and open battles really started. Of course, most of them are best played at the maximum difficulty level to heighten the hardcore and adrenaline, but even at the normal difficulty level, you will surely have fun if you discard the whole heap of plot holes and gimmicks of a blunt AI that gets smarter only at the highest difficulty.

The plot has a lot of holes and absurdities. I still don’t understand why it was generally necessary to introduce the element of Ellie’s “immunity” if it practically does not play out in any plot except for a couple of scenes? The topic of infection and zombie disease faded into the tenth plane, leaving only a stereotypical story of revenge that could be much more philosophical, deep and comprehensive. For example, I would be much more delighted if, according to the plot, some enemy group captured both heroines, and the two of them had to get out and survive. This is how they could interact and progress from mutual hatred to understanding and further forgiveness. This would be the artistic power of the characters and a real transformation. But not here.

Here we saw a stereotypical beginning, a stereotypical ending and rather strange plot decisions, where the supporting characters are either pregnant, or gay, or die at the hands of each other. As I predicted in my opinion on Spoilers, I was satisfied with the graphics and gameplay in general, for the sake of it it is worth replaying the game, and the plot – well, it is, and it becomes less ashamed by the second playthrough. If you are thinking about buying the game now, or waiting for a discount, then I would recommend that you take your time to wait for a sale before paying the full price tag for it. It’s not as brilliant as all the game journalists position it, but it’s not so disgusting for you to miss. For me, it’s 3 out of 5.

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