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In my initial review, I expressed my mixed-to-positive thoughts on the game. The gameplay mechanics and visuals were excellent, and my thoughts on these elements have not changed. I have completed New Game+, however, and I wanted to write a follow-up to express how much my views on the game's story has changed.
The mistake I made on my first playthrough was thinking the story would follow Ellie in a straightforward adventure. While I knew that Ellie was not innocent, I also felt that she and Joel drove the center of the series' heart. The sequel, however, asks gamers to look into the perspectives of otherwise traditional adversaries, and the biases I developed not just from TLOU but the games medium as a whole drove much of my initial dislike for Abby.
Roger Ebert once stated that games are not art because they must always put "fun" above everything else. In other words, games don't often ask players to deal with hard story points that sacrifice fulfillment for greater impact. Having played the game again, I realize that much of my initial feelings were driven from a lack of comfort in the risks the story took, and I'm embarrassed for the ignorance I illustrated in my initial review.
The narrative is by no means perfect. There are a few contrivances in the later stages of the game, and my complaints on the pacing still stand. However, playing the game again made Ellie's crimes and Abby's gradual Heel–Face Turn more apparent in a way it did not when I still had the biases from the first game. What I once saw in Abby's backstory as "insincere" and "dishonest" was a deliberate and careful request for gamers to see beyond traditional biases in games. Long story short, I now appreciate the writers' risks, and I love the game for it now, but I can see how players can get upset with the game's plot.
Ultimately, your enjoyment comes down to three questions.
If you said no to any of these questions, then this game is not for you. Having given it a fresh look with NG+, however, I have come around to loving this game, and I can see this game's overall approaches to the narrative being Vindicated by History.
The first impression of "The Last of Us Part II" is that it is ungodly pretty. The hardware specs of the PS 4 are pushed to their limits to provide an epically pretty game, with polished animations, vivid setpieces, and scary looking monsters.
As pretty as it is, the game's strengths do not go beyond the superficial. Gameplay-wise, it plays like the first game in the series, and does not innovate in a way that seems meaningful. The mechanics of the game were a bit dated in the first part, so, over 5 years later, it feels utterly lacking and unimaginative.
Plotline and character wise, the thing that made the first game so beloved and made non-Playstation owners demand this gem go cross platform, the game fails in an epic fashion. The narrative choices of revenge and what it does to people not only feel like a Very Special Episode that could've been written for kids, but it can't even commit to this, as Villain Protagonist Abbie indulges heavily in revenge and gets everything she wants out of it, and less-lovable protagonist Ellie. The way previous game characters are treated borders on Put on a Bus to Hell, and the narrative's transparent attempt to make us feel for Abbie and believe her to be a well written character is far too obvious. At one point in the game, Abbie falls victim to the sort of Developing Doomed Characters moment in a horror film and takes delight in bringing harm to a pregnant woman. However, the game spends all of its time trying to tell us we should like her and sympathize with how she feels. But it is utterly insufficient, and forcing the player to spend time with her just makes her more unlikable.
There was a supposed narrative similar to the Far Cry series, particularly the third game, as well as Spec Ops: The Line, in which awful things happen and the game turns around and shames the player for indulging. However, slaughtering the Faceless Mooks of the Rook Isles is engaging and fun, only for the surprise to come later. Whereas in the Last of Us, we're forced to do things we never wanted to do, and the game still tries to shame the player.
All in all, don't waste your money. Sequels tend to be for people who liked the original. And you will only be disappointed. You can render a rat and make it look realistic and pretty, but it will still bite you and transmit some horrible disease.
Platform Reviewed: PS4 Pro
Works that become popular get demand for sequels from fans and studios alike. But just because they can get sequels, it doesn't always mean they should. Unnecessary stories have hurt the reputation of works like Terminator and The Hunger Games, and it's important for creators to consider how sequels can add to the original work without hurting or poisoning its impact in the process. Unfortunately, while TLOU Part II is a visual and gameplay triumph, its narrative decisions hurt the original.
Let's focus on the positives first. The game makes most of the PS4's capabilities in terms of visuals. The characters and setting all look photo-realistic, with Seattle standing out as the literal urban jungle you get to explore. This design change also means the original's linear corridors are replaced by open-ended environments that give players the flexibility to actually explore the collapsed city. I spent half of my playtime entering abandoned buildings and I enjoyed searching every nook and cranny for notes, workbenches, and artifacts.
I also greatly enjoyed its visceral approaches to stealth and combat. The addition of grasses to block LOS makes stealth much more feasible than the original, and improved enemy AI will not hesitate to flank or trap you if they spot you. There were fewer combat encounters overall than the original, but each one felt special and intense thanks to these changes.
Like other games from Naughty Dog, TLOU Part II is a narrative-driven game. I'm sorry to say, the game's story is its biggest issue. The pacing of the game often disrupted with flashbacks that could have been better served as DLC, and the focus shifts haphazardly between its two leads Ellie and Abby. This would be fine... if Abby wasn't a Villain Sue who stands as the most despicable Villain Protagonist I have seen since Light Yagami or Frank Underwood. Her Establishing Character Moment of killing a major character in the opening is nothing short of reprehensible and, while her story does get fleshed out later on, these moments are hollow. At best, Abby's story and relationships with others felt like a retread of Joel's from the original. At worst, these moments felt dishonest and insincere, especially since Abby continues to make (or at least consider) morally repugnant choices without remorse. These decisions for the game's plot put a bad taste in my mouth and its anti-climatic resolution made me wonder if Naughty Dog made this game to spite fans for their sequel demands.
Overall, if you're looking for a visual stunner with great gameplay and exploration, TLOU Part II is what you're looking for. Fans of the original and players who like story-driven games, however, will not like the choices this game makes. It's a case of Play the Game, Skip the Story in my opinion and its a sequel that ultimately hurts the original game.
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