All I could say by the end of The Last of Us: Part II was, “Wow. My heart hurts so much right now.”
Touted as a tale of revenge, the game incurs conflicted feelings — and that’s exactly what Naughty Dog, the studio that brought this long-awaited sequel, planned to do all along.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Like everyone else who may have just recently finished the game, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.
The game wants you to feel cheated. They want you to feel just as hurt, angry and driven to madness as a young girl would be upon seeing a father figure die right in front of you. They want you to hate a so-called enemy from the get-go and make you play 15 or so hours walking in his or her shoes, while every piece of you bites your tongue as you know they are emotionally manipulating you to gain your sympathy.
It’s a complete mind f**k. And it wouldn’t be good storytelling if it weren’t.
From the output, I have to say, this is some of the most incredible gameplay and cinematic masterpiece of a game I have ever seen to date. The graphics are insane: from the way the characters’ faces, hair, clothing and movements are so real; the way their backpacks move so accurately; the way weapons are wielded and strapped onto your back; how your hair looks in the rain; how the grass moves when you walk and crawl through it; to the astonishingly impressive sights of snow, Seattle rain, beaches by the coast, green forests, horses, dogs and even babies. The transitions from cutscene to gameplay are so seamless (a lack of loading screens), and the soundscape created pulls you from periods of complete isolation and quietude in a quarantine, to the pulsating horror and screams that happen when you’re spotted by an infected or enemy.
I have to add that, although I did grow up a bit of a gamer girl with two older brothers, I was not able to play the game myself since I don’t have any gaming systems (thank you TheRadBrad, though, for his 50-part series playing the game on YouTube, with no annoying comments, fuss or shrills, and for offering an entertaining and fair play-through that captured all our thoughts).
As the game takes us through nearly 30-said hours of gameplay, the way it immerses you within the world — taking you through different narratives and timelines and flashbacks — gives it an entirely different level of depth and scope of understanding that gives the game so much life and richness.
You start the game off with Ellie and Joel, the beloved duo from the first game. Ellie is our famed heroine. We learn the guitar from Joel with her. We explore Seattle through her eyes and begin to understand her world and the people around her. Her cheeky behavior and ultimate badass-ness is pleasant and we love it. The love between Joel and her is always at the forefront, which leads us to the first half of the game when we play through three days of Seattle, on her journey seeking revenge for Joel.
I won’t get into the itty-bitty detail of how the game continued to play out (as I’m assuming you’ve already seen and played through the game yourself if you’re reading this), but as we are forced by the game to play as said “enemy” Abby and see and experience the past three days of hell we had just witnessed through Ellie, we’re given some of the game’s finer moments: her weaponry and missions are far more interesting and fun; the storyline with the Scars is enticing; she makes friends with the enemies who save her, by taking in Lev and Yara; we see her own hurt and anger being thwarted into sh*tty situations; we see her almost die multiple times; and she gets her own weird love story.
When Ellie and Abby fatefully meet, it almost feels as if these two girls should have been friends in another life (they deal with similar hurts and struggles, are contained by their environments and outside factors, and seem to be driven by the same values — love for their fathers, family and protecting their loved ones).
As we play as Abby trying to kill Ellie, we feel so messed up. We obviously don’t want to kill Ellie because we love her and she’s our gal. And the game doesn’t make it easy — we see just how swift and agile Ellie is, as we felt when we played her, and when Abby spares Ellie and a pregnant Dina toward the end of their feud, we see Abby have her own awakening (thanks Lev).
Conversely, when we get back to Ellie and her life on the farm after their meet, she seeks out revenge for Abby, again — this time putting her relationship with Dina and a nice, simple life on the farm on the line, when her battle was clearly already long-gone.
Yet, the way the game shows Ellie’s continued PTSD and trauma, with flashbacks to seeing Joel’s face covered in blood, and even seeing her own blood, pretty much drives her to insanity and lose all judgment, only to seek pure bloodthirsty revenge.
The game definitely isn’t afraid to push limits. And it also isn’t afraid to show brutality, blood, and put us through pure horror.
That last scene, I have to say, was so difficult for me to watch. It made me uncomfortable. It was horrific to witness. To have to beat up a physically worn-down and pretty much dead Abby on that ocean beach post, with all “swole-ness” gone and not even wanting to fight, it seemed like Ellie had already won. What was the point?
But that’s life. And life isn’t always so pretty. It can drive people to insanity and desperation and darker parts of ourselves, as we’ve seen.
If Ellie or Abby had died, would it have been good?
Ellie is our heroine, yet we saw and played through her as she committed some of the most heinous crimes, literally turning her into a bloodthirsty monster. Abby is our villain and, although we didn’t have to like her, the game showed her through mostly a positive light, fighting and saving the kid Scars, fighting alongside the Wolves and supporting her community and friends, even as she went rogue.
If it weren’t for Ellie coming back for Abby, Abby would clearly have died. Ellie just wanted the option to kill Abby, and she could have.
A few lighter points
I’d be miss to not point out the fact that Ellie and her guitar are featured pretty prominently throughout the game (and I’d be a fool to not feel extra connected to her because of it). The guitar is a clear connection Ellie has to Joel, and one of the few things she has to remember Joel by.
I was a fan of Ellie singing “Take On Me” to Dina, and Joel teaching her “Future Days” — a song so telling and timely to their relationship (“If I ever were to lose you/I’d surely lose myself”). I even covered both those songs on my Instagram/Youtube lol. (Edit: The way they so accurately portray the guitar with the correct finger placements and transitions — wow! Their attention to detail is something else.)
The game also feels culturally “woke” and relevant, featuring diversity in its cast of supporting characters (asian Jesse and Ellie’s love interest Dina). And, I also love to see strong female leads as a female myself who longs to see herself reflected back in media.
Above all, the game tested us. It pushed us to our limits and told the story in a beautiful, compelling, f**ked up and non-expected way. It was beautiful and brutal and played with our emotions. And that last scene absolutely killed me.
The terror of trauma, panic attacks, and what it can cause one to do, is one of the most lasting impressions this game leaves on me.
And to hell if a story doesn’t have the power to affect you in that way.
What were your initial thoughts? What would you have liked to see? And what would you like to see if there is a Part III?
Also, I enjoyed this look at understanding more of the thematic elements of Part II, in this video by Girlfriend Reviews below (thank you friend for forwarding this to me):