This feels like a hard game to really talk about for me. I played it when it launched, took my time with it, avoided all spoilers and really soaked it up. As a person that stays current on the gaming culture and all that, there was a lot of negativity coming from certain corners of the internet around release. A lot of it spurned from story leaks and fanboys freaking out like children. This is mostly because of what happens to a major character and to the new character that did the bad thing. So I guess it’s time to say that I will spoil this story because you’ve all had enough time and who cares.
The problem with working on a review of this game, as a person that does not get review copies and has to play it like everyone else, is that their was so much social discourse surrounding the launch. You kind of needed time alone to think about the story and what happened to separate your thoughts from all the information coming at you from this vocal minority. It felt weird reading certain peoples reviews of this game, even from major outlets. I have one particular review in mind that I wont mention, but the reviewer seemed to really put a lot of their issues and the fact that they didn’t like what was happening on screen as to why the story wasn’t good. As a person that grew up watching films and studying films in college, just because a story challenges you or makes you see the world in a different light than what you consider ideal doesn’t negate the merit or impact it can or does have. I was a bit offended by the review and it made me completely write of the reviewer and the site that hosted it. A “professional” reviewer, which I clearly am not, should be able to see the merit of a work of art and inform their readers in a way so they can determine if they can also get something out of it. It’s hard to describe what I’m trying to get at. Yes, a reviewer can have an opinion on a story and how it affected them, but their personal believes shouldn’t determine the worth of the story itself. That mindset feels almost antithetical to what this person stands for, because the story doesn’t fit into a box they defined, it’s inherently of less value.
Second time through
So I recently went back through the game and cleaned up all the trophies I had missed. I didn’t want to use a walkthrough or anything like that on my first playthrough because I wanted to just engross myself into the story. Oddly, the first thing I though when I started playing the game was that I could immediately tell that it was a PS4 title. I was playing now on my PS5 with the updated 60fps mode. The graphics do hold up incredibly well, it’s just the little limitations in model complexity and streaming that you see here and there that give it away. I’m just looking forward to seeing what the The Last of Us remake for PS5 is going to look like now.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room then, Abby kills Joel and Ellie has to deal with that. That’s the big freak out moment that got everyone all worked up. Joel is a beloved character in gaming and now he’s dead. Ellie was always a cool character and now she’s a revenge obsessed, traumatized, human running around the West coast of America trying to exact her revenge by slaughtering hundreds of people. Abby’s father was killed by Joel mind you, so she’s traumatized as well. That leads into the meat of the game, the story.
What I like most about this game is the storytelling. It’s complex. People have emotions and you can see that in the writing and in the acting. The characters in the game are complicated and it shows. Not a lot of games can actually make that claim. It’s an issue I have with storytelling in gaming in general, most of the time it’s utter trash that you forget when you put the game down. The blending of storytelling through cinematics cut scenes and in-world dialogue is the glue that holds your attention, along with the insane attention to detail in character models and animation. This game is less about the horrors of the infected, even though you still get glimpses of that, and more about the horrors of being a flawed human. The real lesson is learning to not use violence to solve every problem, because more violence is what you’re going to get.
By the end of the game I wanted Ellie to just stop, she was so determined and focused on just exacting revenge that she becomes blind with anger. Others may say that having her go through all of that is the ruination of her character and everything she stood for. I say it’s what she needed to go through to learn the lesson, that violence will not solve all your problems. It’s a little amazing that you see Abby kill Joel at the beginning of the game and by the end you’re on her side when Ellie is fighting her in the water. You wish she still had her strength to shut Ellie up, to make her stop and see the errors in her way.
In this way it echoes the first game. Joel makes a decision to kill the Fireflies and the doctor prior to operating on Ellie. Players have no say in what is right or wrong. You don’t get a choice, but you do have to live with the story consequences. In the sequel you see Ellie going out of control seeking revenge, you see her anger well up and the destruction it causes. You have no say in how it turns out. The only salvation is that at the very end she chooses to forgive and let go.
Abby comes to learn to forgive, she’s capable of forgiving Ellie for killing the majority of the people she cared about, she begins to walk away from that life and wants to escape it. Ellie had that life with Dina and the baby on the farm. It was a peaceful life, that, if she were capable of it, she could be happy. Her anger eventually builds up and so she needs to destroy that life to try and end another. A viscous cycle she would be doomed to repeat.
I enjoyed the action and fighting scenes in this game. If you play at harder difficulty levels you really have to think about your environment and choose your moment to strike. I heard people have issues with the weapon controls, like they want it to be more responsive or something, but these characters aren’t skilled warriors out of a Call of Duty game. So I think the controls are fitting, they lend to the realism of the game. If you take your time and line up shots you’ll hit your mark. If everything goes tits up then you’ll be frantically running around trying to get some shots off and you’ll miss a few, like real life.
Another impressive aspect of this title is the character models. The level of detail in each character is at the apex of video games at this point. What makes this even more impressive is the sheer variety of models for each character. Flashbacks of Ellie each have different models and clothing. Characters will change clothing throughout the game, get wounded, lose weight and muscle, and get older. It all shows and it’s all completely believable. The first time you see Abby strung up on a pole by the beach you’re taken aback by her transformation. You believe that she’s been a prisoner of this camp for some time and it works to sell that narrative. It’s simply impressive to see the amount of character modeling and artwork that has gone into this production.
Would this game have been more enjoyable if Joel never died and you got to play as him throughout your fun little journey where all the people you love survived? Probably not. That’s clearly not what this series is about. It’s not what I want from these games. I want to experience a story that will resonate with me for years to come, and I think it’s succeeded on that front.
One of the last things I’d like to talk about is just how long this game is. I think my first playthrough took about 25 hours, my second was around 12. This is a long game. What makes that so impressive is that the production level is so high throughout that this must have cost a fortune to make. New environments keep coming, new characters are introduced, artwork, set pieces, and animation. It really does feel like the story was in no way hindered by time or budget. This is a rare thing to say in todays gaming market. Granted, the first time I played, I did get the sense that the game was just slightly too long and it could have used a bit of trimming. This playthrough, I only wish it took advantage of the fast loading on PS5 (it’s a little faster). If you could instantly skip some of the story bits it would make me want to play through it again at higher difficulty levels.
Final Score – 9.8
An instant classic and an achievement in video game storytelling. You may not like the story but you can’t deny the craftsmanship that has gone into this game. I believe that all gamers should play through both titles and experience the story for themselves. I can’t wait for the sequel and to see what happens to Abby. You don’t have to like what happens to your favorite characters but you should understand that this game is actually making you feel something for them. To me, in the world of video games, that in and of itself is an achievement worth celebrating.