THE LAST OF US PART II
A Brutal, yet Beautiful Tale of Retribution and Redemption.
After waiting 7years for a sequel, and a whole week since said sequel’s release on June 19, I finally got to play The Last Of Us Part II, the highly anticipated follow up to the 2013 masterpiece from the acclaimed studio, Naughty Dog.
The Last Of Us Part II is more daring than it’s predecessor, both in scope and the stories it aims to tell. In Part II, the world is much larger and the themes much darker than before; What this means is we get to traverse much larger areas in the world and explore characters that aren't Joel and Ellie on a deeper level. And this is where things really get interesting.
In the early parts of the game, we’re introduced to a new character: Abby Anderson, who’s every bit as important as Ellie in this story. Abby is a buff, beautiful 20-something-year-old who breaks the necks of infected for breakfast, has a serious case of acrophobia, and has a deep-rooted love for her dog Alice; and she has a score to settle with one of the game’s most beloved characters. Abby, accompanied by a small group of WLF (Western Liberation Front) members, a new faction in the game, travels all the way to Jackson Wyoming, the current city in which our protagonists of the first game: Ellie and Joel reside; In pursuit of retribution.
You don’t just watch Abby plot and plan her revenge through cutscenes, you are an active participant of her story, as Abby’s one of the three-characters you get to control in this game. The game does a great job of putting Abby in the driver’s seat fairly early into the story, an extremely contentious decision, giving you a sense of who Abby is as a character by setting up her intentions and obstacles, while also teaching you how to play as her, as her playstyle varies a lot from that of Ellie’s
Ellie is smaller, slender, relying on her trusty switchblade for quick stabs and long gruesome scenes of her foes gurgling on their own blood as she stealthily slits their throats from one end to the other with the aforementioned switchblade; while Abby uses her muscle to her advantage, handing out a barrage of punches to humans and infected alike or putting them in a chokehold before snapping their necks when dealing stealth blows. Those are just a few of the differences between Abby and Ellie in terms of gameplay. In spite of all these differences, the goal remains the same for both of these characters…Retribution.
The first hour of the game is chilled, for the most part. It opens 4years in the past, with Joel cleaning his guitar as he narrates the details of how he murdered all the Fireflies in the hospital towards the end of the previous game, choosing to save Ellie and doom humanity instead. To which Tommy replies, “Jesus Christ, Joel!” Not too long after, we jump to the present day where Ellie and Dina prepare to head out on Patrol.
Few hours into their patrol, a violent snowstorm forces Ellie and Dina to seek shelter in a cozy place, where the two open up with each other about a kiss they shared on the dancefloor the previous night, over some weed they find in a jar. A beautiful moment that sets the tone of Ellie and Dina’s relationship for the remainder of the game. Not long after, Jesse walks in on them, saying he saw the light outside and knew it was them. He tells them he didn’t get to meet up with Joel and Tommy at their intended meet-up location as they didn’t show, which worries Ellie, who suggests the group splits up to cover more ground in search of Joel and Tommy.
On the other side, Joel and Tommy come across a young woman stuck in the blizzard, overwhelmed by infected. They help her out, telling her to follow them if she wants to live, which she does. All of this serves as a prelude to our first taste of the extremity of violence in this game that becomes the catalyst for Ellie’s quest for revenge.
The game does not relent, forcing you to be an active participant in some of the most gratuitous violence you’ll ever witness in a video game, making me say, “Fuck” more times than Detective Bunk, on The Wire, every time I witnessed it. I looked at the screen in disbelief at this first “real” violent encounter in the game; forcing me to set my controller down for literally 15minutes to process everything I’d just experienced. When those 15minutes elapsed, I picked the controller up once more, completely shaken up, my hands trembled as I pressed the options button to continue. That’s when it really sunk in that this game was not afraid to push things further than the last game did in a lot of respects. I had just had my first real taste of the lengths the characters in Part II were willing to go to gain the recompense we can argue they so “righteously” deserve. In this game, nobody’s safe, and as the Director Neil Druckmann puts it, “Nothing’s sacred.”
In fact, the very sanctity of this story and its characters stems from the boldness of the writers Druckmann and Co-Writer Halley Gross’s denial to give in to fan service; choosing to write the characters as honest to the story they wanted to tell as possible. As grey and as vulnerable as possible. In the world of The Last of Us, there aren’t any real heroes or villains. There’s only violence. This is a story whose higher theme is the cycle of violence. How one act of violence begets more violence.
On the surface, The Last of Us Part II comes off as a game about hate. But at its core, it’s really a game about Love. Every major story beat or “life-changing” moment in this story happens in the name of love. When you look much closer, there’s a lot of beauty within the tragedy. It’s a much deeper story than it’s core theme, which is revenge. It’s a story about faith, love, loss, innocence, identity, and redemption. Something you experience in the lull moments of the game.
How these characters navigate all these themes is something that can’t be told alone to get you to fully sympathize or empathize with the characters. it’s something you have to experience on your own to say, “I get it now.” Only by playing as Abby for 10hours will you get to understand who she is. That’s what makes video games as a medium so unique from every other form of storytelling. Their ability to transform you into the characters on the screen. It’s easy to watch someone else play The Last Of Us Part II and still feel everything the game wants you to feel. Make you question everything the game makes you question. But only by undertaking Ellie and Abby’s journeys do you fully get to understand the gravity of their desire for revenge and rationalize their choices to fulfill this desire.
There are very interesting parallels in this game between the two main protagonists. Ellie and Abby are basically different sides of the same coin. This is a major theme you’ll notice through their journeys. As their desire for revenge consumes to the point that it affects many aspects of their lives, including their physicality. We see Ellie’s body slowly deteriorate on her quest, as she lets herself go almost to the point where she’s nothing but a bag of bones. Abby alters her body completely, turning herself into a human-machine capable of withstanding pain and exacting revenge. In the end, the two find themselves on equal footing.
At the end of the 20+ hour campaign, you’re guaranteed to be left feeling angry and conflicted. That’s exactly what Naughty Dog aimed for you to feel when making this game. An objective they succeed at so masterfully. It’s the very same emotion that you feel again and again throughout your playthrough, as the game forces you to do things you might not agree with. The Last of Us Part II doesn’t want you to just be invested, it wants you to be conflicted about your investment. This made some of the final battles in the game extremely difficult for me to play. I got to a point where I was conflicted about hitting the attack button even when I knew it was the only way to progress the story.
There’s been a lot of mixed reception about the story of the game and how the game chooses to tell its story. Hate it or love it, one thing remains true about The Last of Us Part II, It’s a brilliant game. A masterpiece. A game that turns video game storytelling on its head in the most rewarding ways possible. And just like it’s precursor, it opens up a discourse that will have fans going back and forth on message boards for many years to come.
There was nothing more satisfying than listening to the main theme of the game, composed by two-time Grammy Award-winning composer, Gustavo Santaolalla, play, as the end credits roll; gingering you back into your seat as you try to make sense of everything you just experienced.
As Gustavo’s strings wind down, and the credits continue you to roll, the familiar voice of Ashley Johnson: the actor who plays Ellie, cuts in, as she begins a rendition of Jonny Cash’s Wayfaring Stranger; with Troy Baker: The actor who plays Joel, who joins in for the second verse; for one last tearjerker to fuck you up before the screen completely fades to black. What makes this even more powerful is the fact that Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson don’t sing as themselves, they sing as Joel and Ellie; remaining in character for the duration of the song. Long after their stories in this game are done.