The Last of Us Part II was one of the most hotly anticipated games of all time. The second chapter in Joel and Ellie's story took 7 long years to be revealed to gamers around the world. And when that treacherous wait ended on June 19th of last year, let's just say not everyone was happy with the final product. The second chapter was enthralled in a whirlwind of controversy, social media outrage and an overall clash of heads between fans, critics and developer, Naughty Dog.
After more than a year since its release, it's time to acknowledge that the second game is better than the first.
Oh, and there are spoilers ahead.
One of the many reasons why Part II was delayed for so long was due to its brand new game engine. Part II incorporates a revamped tech that adds more intelligent AI, more intricate animations and expressive agility. Combining these gameplay features with impressive sound effects, whether that be Ellie's breathing during stealth moments or the ear-wrenching sound of the Clickers; these elements feed into true immersion.
Minor details such as enemy humans addressing each other by name or crying if you shot their dog, aim to make you feel somewhat remorseful for your actions. Part II is the very definition of being in someone else's shoes; in this case, you are Ellie.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
For the most part, Part II offers two unique narrative perspectives in Abby and Ellie. When playing as Ellie, you truly feel Ellie's devastation and her need to avenge her father figure as she destroys Abby's closest friends. You also witness the emotional toll it has on her. But, the narrative shift to Abby offers a differing outlook, allowing you to witness the compassion attached to her with Lev and Yara, as well as the impact of the deaths by those closest to her.
From both perspectives, it is clear that neither of these characters is a hero, nor are they a villain. As much as the audience is attached to Joel and Ellie, both are a sum of their actions, successes and regrets. Joel's actions in the hospital in the first game eventually leads to Abby killing him, which leads to Ellie murdering Mel and Owen, followed by Abby killing Jesse and so forth. Part II emphasises the Cycle of Violence and how it is embedded within the characters' actions.
Part II offers a more complicated and emotionally draining narrative than Part I, by showing that there is no light or dark side; there are only shades of grey.
Let's talk about Joel
Joel's death is the inciting incident of the game. Many were and still remain resistant to this event, but it is necessary, not only to the wider narrative of the game but also within the world that Naughty Dog has set up.
Joel's death first and foremost, shows that no one is safe within this world. It shows that even the most beloved and admired characters can be wiped away almost instantly (and brutally, to say the least). It reminds the audience that this world remains grounded in gritty reality and no liberties are taken within this dangerous universe. Am I still sorrowful about what happened? For sure. But, is it understandable? Absolutely.
Joel's death also reminds us of the thematic narrative of the cycle of violence. At the end of the first game, who knew a quick and seemingly insignificant moment of the doctor's death would come back to haunt him? Just like regular life, the smallest moments can have the biggest consequences, supplementing the realistic nature of the game.
After playing the first few minutes of the game, it was apparent to me that Part II was going to be unlike anything else. I knew there was going to be an emphasis on creating a cinematic experience. This goes in line with PlayStation's previous single-player entries like God of War (2018), whereby which the single-camera scope during gameplay and cutscenes made it feel like one uncut game. Personally, I treated the game like a movie rather than a game. This perspective made me appreciate Part II more from both gameplay and narrative prospects. It may be ironic considering we are talking about a video game, but at the end of the day, it's all a matter of opinion.