I enjoyed the first one, wanted to like this follow up... but just could NOT.
My Associated Human and I have been playing through this together the last couple of week and it has over all been a deeply enjoyable experience, though 2 big sticking points kind of ruined it for me. This review will have specific spoilers, so short review here and then a detailed one below the 'read more' jump.
Long story short, I DO NOT recommend this one. At least not buying it. Find a friend and borrow it, but do NOT give Naughty Dog more money for this vile piece of triggering shit.
It's a huge shame that I hate it like I do. The gameplay was fun, the graphics were astoundingly gorgeous, and most of the story was deeply enjoyable and extremely well-written... I fricken LOVED most of it. But I fucking HATED the ending.
Thirdly, it was an example of a grown ass man foisting his own damn trauma onto a barely-hanging-on teenage girl (whom his dead brother loved like a daughter) and explicitly asking her to do something he knows will be traumatizing because he is too physically disabled to do it himself.
And finally, that ending was a display of grossly misogynistic violence that the player is forced to carry out actively and personally, not watch as a cut scene.
Which all combined to absolute, visceral hatred of the ending for me.
Reminder, from here on out, there will be explicit spoilers.
The fact that Joel dies, brutally and horribly, with 97% of the killing shown directly on-screen and in front of an immobilized Ellie (and player, as it's in a cut-scene) also makes story-sense and is well presented to the player.
The whole Ellie revenge-quest makes sense, too.
Gameplay as Ellie was just as fabulous as it was in Part I, if slightly more linear than I was used to, and the unfolding story was excellent. The teenager dynamics and relationship problems and idiot-level life-complications that came up were awesome. The crafting mechanics were the same level of neat-but-aggravating and the supplies were a good balance of tricky to manage but permeated mostly with the fun kind of mild anxiety; ie, scarce enough to cause concern but perfectly available enough to make surviving plausible if attended to with diligence.
I really enjoyed it.
I even liked Abby. A lot, actually.
Lots of guys hate on her because she's 'ugly' which is misogynistic too, but not like I'm deeply offended kind of misogynistic (though, honestly it probably should be). Abby's butch as hell, buff like a freakin Greek God, and while it's not my thing, aesthetically speaking, I do like the concept of multiple ideas of femininity coexisting in character creation platforms. No one calls her out on being a weak female (she'd likely kill them if they did) and equally no one calls her out as being a failed female because she's hella built and not interested in femme-coded occupational roles.
Her story is also pretty cool.
Abby's revenge-quest makes sense, as does the guilt, anxiety, and PTSD she has dogging her after successfully executing it. As does the way her friends see her very differently because of it. Actually, psychologically speaking, in terms of both realness and fairness, Abby's story is awesome.
Gameplay wise, I missed Ellie's molotovs and daggers, but Abby's hella strong, like yeah let's just move that giant piece of concrete and steel because I feel like taking the direct route, kind of hella strong. It was neat.
And her world is super cool, too.
I would've liked more history and background on the Wolves and the Seraphites, both of which managed to create linked settlement communities in a legitimate CIVILIZATION kind of way, which I would have LOVED to learn more details about (history, logistics, hierarchical organization and advancement structure, etc).
The next big issue that polarized the audience was the fact that there was a transgender character present in the narrative as an ally. Lev's kinda fabulous (and actually mildly helpful in the fights, far more so than any of the other temporary companions the player-character ever gets). It's the softest toss underhand-pitch of a transgender character I've ever seen and it slides into the narrative well, non-aggressive but still solid representation without any hint of player-side narrative condemnation (nor is there any hint of it from a creator-level, company-wide kind of scale).
So, between Abby and Lev, I was hugely in favor of calling this one of the best games I've played in over a decade for like 99% of the game.
Even when we got to what I thought was the final arc and the story turned a bit iffy for my tastes, I still loved it...
And then it went bad. Not just disappointing, but like 'guh, I would feel actually dirty for having watched this in a cut scene, let alone having had to take an active role in it' utterly abhorrent and morally AWFUL.
So, the arcs (& their problems) go like this:
- - we re-meet Elli & Joel and see their life in Jackson
- - we meet Abby and see her revenge quest against Joel
- - Tommy revenge quest against Abby begins
- - Ellie, Dina, and Jesse take up a support / rescue mission for Tommy
- - Ellie's 'support' gets progressively darker
- - AND she takes up Tommy's revenge mission as her own. Finds Abby (sorta).
- - We see Abby's backstory & learn about the recent history of everyone we just killed as Ellie.
- - We follow Revenge Quest Mock 3 as Abby seeks out Ellie because we just killed all of Abby's friends.
- - Abby finds Ellie.
But then Abby finds Ellie. And we, the player, as Abby, have to go attack Ellie with intent to kill.
We kill Jesse, and shoot / stab Dina, and shoot Tommy in the face, and try really frickin hard to kill Ellie. Which was just really uncomfortable.
If that was it, I think I would've liked it. Because that discomfort illustrates the way that violence is a poison that breeds more violence and it could've been a cool comment.
Especially as Abby lets Ellie live.
- - Not-the-End-Game pseudo-ending...
- - Boring farmhouse mission, with a baby on your hip.
- - Visit from miraculously-survived, but visibly physically disabled Tommy.
Even when Tommy showed up, I was happy, like YAY, he's alive, and SUPER YAY, he actually looks like he took the dang damage Abby dealt him!
And then this grown-ass man foists his own damn trauma onto a barely-hanging-on under-age girl that his brother loved like a daughter. And literally, directly, and explicitly asks her to go on a super-dangerous quest that will totally screw with her PTSD recovery, begging her to kill Abby because he can't physically manage it.
For the people in the back: That is NOT fucking okay
But no, cue Revenge Quest Mock 4 (or maybe 57, because it was definitely getting old).
- - Abby and Lev in Santa Barbara
- - Things Go BadlyIt's a short part, but significant.
- - Ellie in Santa Barbara, looking to kill Abby... again. Yeah...
We just play the basics again. We don't learn anything about the new group of people except that they're organized and sadistic. We barely even learn their name, it only gets said like once (and I don't even remember it), let alone their community creed or belief systems or organizational structure... It honestly feels like it could be the free-trial version of a bigger game.
- - Ellie finds Abby. Again.
- - Tries to kill her. Again.
- - Fails. Again.
- - Abby STILL leaves Ellie Alive. AGAIN.At this point, if you still like Ellie, you are a psychopath and we need to have a talk about how to ensure that you have someone with you that you trust to keep your inappropriate impulses in check...
The moans are DIFFERENT. Decidedly sexual; breathy and full in a way that two girls who both have battered ribcages would not be able to manage.
The action is drawn out and it's required to have the player's direct involvement, committing repeated penetrative violence on a character that we as player sympathize with in no small measure. If it were a cut scene, I could deal. I shouldn't have to, but I'd probably just brush it off.
It's not though. It's a five-minute-minimum multi-segment fight scene (as in you fight, there's a blip of cut-scene-action, and then you fight again, through ~4 different stages), where we as player, are required to actively try to kill a girl who let us live TWICE previously, AND who is just trying her best to build a better future.
Ellie only stops because it's fucking traumatic to drown someone by hand and Ellie's already dogged by plenty of PTSD psychosis. It's not that she forgives Abby or ever sees the error of her ways, it's that she gets hit with a flashback, and Abby breaks free when Ellie goes limp, and then it only ends because Ellie doesn't have the fucking energy to try to kill her again.
- - Ellie goes back to Wyoming.
- - Actually the fucking End Game.
There's a dumbass flashback about Ellie talking to Joel about 'trying to forgive' and 'it may be impossible, but i'd like to try' and I think we're supposed to take that as Ellie has learned something, but that flashback happened THREE REVENGE QUESTS AGO and Ellie demonstrably did not learn that lesson during any one of those dumbass quests. It really just makes it all the more tragically sad and almost pitiable that Ellie's currently in the position that she has actively put herself into...
Again, it's SUCH a shame that I came to dislike it to this extent.
I really enjoyed playing it.
And I would love to play the first few parts again. I may even be able to do so eventually, but right now it's just too bitter a taste in my mouth to even consider it.
But forgiving it's fucking raging sunspot of a problem for the sake of appreciating the rest of the game is the kind of normalizing problematic that leads to giving a game like this popularity and convincing the people who did not hate the ending that such an ending, and such violence as contained within the ending, is not only permissible, but popular.
WHICH IS NOT OKAY.
I didn't walk away from this feeling like I'd just accomplished something, I didn't feel satisfied or inspired or energized, I felt like I was gonna fucking cry. I had to turn on the Final Fantasy Kingsglaive movie to feel better enough to carry on with my evening. (And I'd like to point out that FFXV Kingsglaive is a movie in which all the named characters, every single one of them, and countless unnamed civilians (whom we are given plenty of space to empathize with) either die by the movie ending or die later on in the game story and it made me feel WAY more optimistic and empowered than Last of Us pt II).
I don't like the fact that such a great game should be considered trash. But I like even less the idea that an ending like that could ever be considered worthwhile to play for...