[The following post is not a review of The Last of Us Part II. Because I have not yet finished the game, I cannot offer a full, complete, and informed critique. These are merely my initial impressions, copied and pasted from Twitter with minimal edits and accompanied by some screenshots that my brother and I captured while playing. MINOR SPOILERS BELOW; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
I didn’t want to dislike The Last of Us Part II—especially since the game’s detractors have been widely characterized as trolls, misogynists, and homophobes. Unfortunately, several hours in, I just can’t get behind the story that Naughty Dog is trying to tell.
Without spoiling too much, the game is simply too heavy-handed with its tone and themes. The writers want me to sympathize with the new co-protagonist after her extremely poor first impression, and they keep insisting I should feel guilty for killing psychopaths in self-defense.
The first game’s ending has also been recontextualized, completely robbing it of any sense of ambiguity or nuance. My interpretation was always that Joel’s choice was justified: the Fireflies are violent terrorists motivated by a hunger for power rather than genuine altruism; and even if they had the means to mass produce and distribute a cordyceps vaccine, is a broken world populated primarily by bandits, cannibals, and rapists really worth saving?
The sequel, however, proceeds under the assumption that Joel destroyed a guaranteed cure and singlehandedly doomed the human race. Sorry, Neil, but no matter how much you try to guilt trip me, I’m not going to blame Joel every time some idiot wanders off and gets infected.
It doesn’t help that the story is so poorly paced. The gameplay—a steady loop of exploration/scavenging and stealth/combat encounters—is perfectly enjoyable in the moment, but the monotony kind of dulls your investment in what should be a gripping revenge narrative.
The only parts of the game I like without reservation are the flashbacks revolving around the relationship between Joel and Ellie. These offer a glimpse at the sequel that might have been, exploring the emotional repercussions of Joel’s choice. Unfortunately, Naughty Dog seems more interested in delivering a ham-fisted moral than in meaningfully developing the central characters.
Perhaps the next few hours will redeem The Last of Us Part II, but it’s hard to forgive the overly confrontational and mean-spirited opening act. As of right now, I feel that the enjoyable gameplay does little to justify the ill-conceived story. And in a narrative-driven experience, that’s a huge problem.