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The Last of Us 2 - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Perspective shifts that reframe who is the hero and who is the villain
  • NPC companions feel sightly more active in stealth and combat
  • Permanent switchblade instead of breakable shivs
  • Ammo is very sparse, and each gun feels distinct
  • Introduction of stalker enemy
  • Dogs limit sneaking in circles
  • Natural history museum
  • Guitar mini-game
  • Late-game change-of-pace encounters
  • Exploration is rewarded with weapons and gear
  • Extensive accessibility features
  • No micro-transaction economy

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Most of first half feels like unnecessary padding
  • Tight camera and poor situational awareness
  • Frequent "gotcha" moments
  • Can companions be spotted during stealth or not?
  • Spores that cause the zombie disease are irrelevant
  • Mid-encounter checkpoints put me in worse situations than when I died
  • Excessive note-reading
  • Lacks the subtlety of first game
  • Naughty Dog embargoed reviewing second half of game

Overall Impression : A- for effort, but a D+ in execution.
A violently gruesome indictment of gruesome violence

The Last of Us 2 - cover

Developer:
Naughty Dog

Publisher:
Sony Interactive Entertainment

Platforms:
PlayStation 4 (via retail disc or PSN digital download)

MSRP: $60 USD

Original release date:
19 June 2020

Genre:
post-apocalyptic shooter

ESRB Rating: M (for Mature 17+) for:
Blood and Gore, Intense Violence,
Nudity, Sexual Content,
Language, Drug Use

Player(s):
single player

Official site:
www.playstation.com/en-us/games/the-last-of-us-part-ii-ps4/

Perspective shifts were used effectively in The Last of Us.

I'm a fairly outspoken critic of the first Last of Us. I felt that the gameplay was fairly shallow (though very well-produced), and focused too strongly on the zombie apocalypse plot at the expense of the surrogate father-daughter story that was being told. The best and most memorable moments were the opening scene in which you play as the scared 10-year-old girl as the zombie apocalypse breaks out, and the part where Joel and Ellie pet the giraffe. And maybe the very end where Joel confronts the doctors in the operating room, for those 40% of us who actually completed the game. And the only enemy encounter that was actually good and meaningful was the one-on-one cat-and-mouse boss fight with the cannibal David in the burning restaurant. Those sequences make up the emotional linchpins of the game and are genuinely moving moments of humanity [or inhumanity], and the perspective shifts that reinforce or contextualize those moments are -- dare I say -- artistic! But then 90% of the actual game that you play is rote cover-based shooting separated by stealth-lite and the occasional "puzzle" that never gets much more complicated than propping a ladder up against a wall.

For being a game about a grieving father eventually finding meaning in a surrogate daughter, it never really let the player act out the interactions between the characters. She was invisible to enemies in stealth and mostly took care of herself in combat. She lacked an upgrade tree and didn't really improve her combat or stealth abilities much over the course of the game, so there was also no ludic development of her character, and the player never feels like you are teaching her how to survive, or doing any of the surrogate father stuff that the game is supposed to be about.

So yeah ... overrated... Still good! But like a 7 instead of a 10 out of 10. "Sacrilege!" I know.

The companion isn't the sole focus of the narrative this time around.

This time, however, the relation between the player character and your NPC companion(s) is not the core of the story. This game is not about the character interactions that the player has no control over; this game is about the violence that the player absolutely has total control over! Ellie and Dina's relationship is the B plot behind the revenge plot, and gets further relegated to a C or D plot in the second half of the game. They're already friends/lovers before the game even begins, so there isn't much in the way of building a relationship. In fact, Ellie's story this time around seems to be more about how being a moody, self-absorbed teenager just pushes Ellie away from the people who care about her. It's more a game about being anti-social, which fits much better with both games' core gameplay.

Cycle of Violence

Now, I cannot talk about the artistic merit of the game without talking about the back half of the campaign. Naughty Dog may have embargoed publications from reviewing the second half of the game, but I'm not going to let that stop me from talking about it. Naughty Dog has no place telling critics or reviewers what they can and cannot tell consumers about the game. I'm personally not offended by the second half of the game like some other people are (I think it's the better half of the game, and Naughty Dog is lucky that I'm going to talk about it, because otherwise the game is a D-). I am, however, offended by Naughty Dog thinking they can impose a muzzle order on reviewers, even if it genuinely was in the interest of "not spoiling the game" (as opposed to just trying to hide a controversial element of design that might turn off some consumers). So yeah, I'm going to try to avoid specific spoilers of major plot developments, but this review will contain minor or moderate spoilers about the overall structure of the game.

Naughty Dog once again employs a series of perspective shifts to reframe the player and characters' actions in different perspectives. Even moreso than the first game, The Last of Us Part II takes advantage of the fact that the player's motivation is inherently aligned with that of the player character, and it uses this fact to try to make an artistic statement about the characters' actions, the impact that those actions have on the other characters, the guilt and post-traumatic stress that the characters suffer as a result of those actions, and the very idea of "otherness". The sequel uses its interactivity much more effectively than its sequel with regard to conveying this artistic statement.

Importantly, however, The Last of Us Part II is not criticizing the player's culpability in these actions. It is exclusively criticizing the acts themselves. This is a subtle difference between The Last of Us Part II and something like, say, Shadow of the Colossus, Spec Ops: the Line or Bioshock. Those other games actively criticizes the player for following the orders that the game gives you, and asks you to question your culpability in the violence that you mindlessly commit. The Last of Us Part II, however, puts the blame for this violence squarely on the characters. Most of the more gruesome and unforgiveable actions in the game are done by the characters within cutscenes, without any player inputs at all.

Opponents will beg for mercy after you've butchered their friends.

When the player does have control, combat is even more brutal and visceral this time around. It's ugly, it's dangerous, and the game goes out of its way to highlight the physical and emotional pains that your opponents endure at your hands. Putting an enemy victim in a chokehold often frames their face right in the middle of the screen as they struggle to get free, beg you to stop, or just to breath.

The combat and stealth are also mechanically rough, trying very hard to be deliberately unpleasant to play. I'll get more into that later, but for now, it's only important to know that the unpleasantness of the combat reinforces the game's criticism of its violence. It's supposed to make you uncomfortable. It's supposed to make you feel like the character is a sociopath for continuing to engage in it. For the first half of the game in particular, the character could stop this spiral of violence at any time, but she chooses not to. You, the player, have no choice but to follow along with her.

Joel made one damning mistake at the end of the first game, and the player was made to be complicit in it. Ellie makes the mistake a hundred times over in the sequel, and the player must be complicit with it, whether you want to or not.

There is maybe some ludonarrative dissonance in the way that the sequel celebrates and rewards the player's acts of violence. Killed humans (including those killed in stealth) drop ammo and supplies, and most of the upgrades provide you with more and better ways to keep murdering. Investing resources into gun upgrades (for example) invites you to use those guns in order to make the upgrade worth the investment of materials and the time and effort it took to find the materials. All of the ludic rewards encourage killing as many people as possible. Since shivs no longer serve as lockpicks, every craftable (except arguably for health kits and maybe stun bombs) is something that you use to kill.

Chokeholds frame the victim's face dead-center of the camera.

On the other hand, killing infected -- which is a morally justifiable action -- is rarely rewarded with more supplies or upgrade currency or anything. It's a begrudging necessity that you do just to get through the level. The first game could have possibly solved this problem by inverting the roles of the human and infected opponents, such that encounters against infected resulting in chaotic action sequences, while humans should maybe be so dangerous that you have to sneak through without being seen. But that is not the case for the sequel because it wouldn't work at all if it can't critique the violence that the character is committing against other humans.

But again, this game isn't interested in the player's role in the violence. It's only interested in using the player's point of view to contextualize the violence and manipulate your emotional response to it. It's actually quite clever.

Joel is the bad guy of The Last of Us.

In dire need of an editor

Players who somehow did not catch on to the fact that Joel was the bad guy of the first game, and that Ellie was bound to eventually despise him, and that you should too, are the players who are likely to get the most out of the sequel and maybe think it's brilliant. Or they'll refuse to examine their own preconceptions and biases and instead resort to completely missing the point by idiotically criticizing the game for being "too woke". Or [worse yet] by sending death threats to the game's director. Or [even worse yet] sending death threats to the voice actor of the actual hero of this game (who actually earns her redemption arc) because they both missed the point and also apparently are too stupid to know the difference between an "actor" and a "character". In fact, that delineation between "actor" (in this case, the player) and "character" is the point of the game!

And for those who think that Joel's fate is undeserved: what were you expecting?! Did you think that he was going to get away with it all? That there wouldn't be consequences for his rampage? That there wouldn't have been a falling-out between him and Ellie regarding the lie? Did you think he and Ellie would live happily ever after?

As for me, I was already on the "Joel is the bad guy" bandwagon since beating the first game seven years ago. So for me, the sequel is just preaching to the choir. Which brings me to my core problem with The Last of Us Part II: that it preaches for 30 insufferable hours!

When it released, some pundit compared The Last of Us Part II to Schindler's List. Both are very difficult pieces of entertainment to sit through and digest. Neither is really meant to be "fun". But there is a reason why Schindler's List is only three hours long and is meant to be consumed in a single sitting. That's long for movie standards, but it is dwarfed by The Last of Us Part II's 30 hour playtime. 30 hours is just a ridiculously long time to expect an audience to engage with this uncomfortable, nihilistic story. Heck, even the 12 or 15 hours that it takes to get through the first half of the campaign had turned into a slog for me. Worse yet, its length means that you're not going to be playing through the entire game in a single sitting -- probably not even in a single weekend. You're going to have to come back to it in several sessions. Consuming the game in 3-hour chunks (the length of Schindler's List) would require you to play the game every night for more than a week. But then on the other hand, if you only played the first few hours and then stopped playing, then it makes sense why you might be upset. You missed the entire point of the game.

One of the first rules of film-making is that every scene and every exchange of dialogue should move the plot forward in some quantifiable way. Scenes that do not progress the plot should be cut. Scenes that provide redundant information should be cut. Cutting such unnecessary content creates a lean, focused film.

Big-budget video games seem to have taken the exact opposite approach to their design and editing (or lack thereof). These games like to market their huge maps and dozens of hours (or hundred of hours) of content. They don't edit or trim their games down to be lean and focused (with some exceptions like Shadow of Mordor or The Evil Within 2). Developers with lots of money to throw around (and no regard for the health or dignity of their employees) go out of their way to add as much bloat as they can in order to pad out play-time.

Now, to be fair to video games, their interactive and immersive nature means the players necessarily get stuck having to perform more of the mundane activities that would easily be cut out of a movie to save time. Even the most trimmed-down version of a video game is almost guaranteed to have a longer playtime than the runtime of a movie trying to tell the same story. Games also have different ways to convey messages and information to the player. In addition to having a narrative plot, games can often have ludic plots or themes that are conveyed through gameplay, level design, character progression, and so forth. Even if a particular level or encounter is not progressing the narrative plot forward, it might still be establishing or reinforcing a ludic theme.

Case in point, even though I also think that Death Stranding goes on for far too long and could have benefited greatly from an editor, the length of the game gives players ample reason (and a sense of necessity) to use the network mechanics, which do an excellent job of conveying the messages and themes of the story.

The lengthy interaction with Death Stranding's world is the art.

The Last of Us Part II is basically two full-length campaigns stapled together. The second campaign is much stronger than the first both thematically and mechanically, and it supports the themes of the game well enough on its own. The existence of the first campaign is necessary to set up the central idea of the game, but it's way longer than it needs to be and feels like it is full of meandering padding.

What's especially frustrating is that the first Last of Us was so much better in this regard. It's shorter 12-ish hour campaign was divided up into a series of vignettes (each playing at about the length of a feature film or less), and each vignette was tightly focused around a singular theme. The characters that you meet, the enemy encounters, and the environmental story-telling details present in each vignette's levels almost all reinforced the central idea of the respective vignette, and usually in cleverly subtle ways. Furthermore, each vignette served to frame the questions of "who is 'us'?" and "how far would you go to protect said 'us'?". The different framings of those question come together and inform Joel's decision at the climax of the final vignette, as well as the player's reaction to Joel's decision. When people talk about The Last of Us being a "masterpiece", that is what they are talking about: the tight theming and the relatively lean and concise manner in which it delivers its themes and pays off the questions that the themes pose.

Lacks the subtlety of the original

In general, this sequel lacks the subtlety of the original in a lot of ways. Most notably, it's very heavy-handed with its central theme and spends way longer than necessary hammering that theme into the player's head.

But The Last of Us Part II takes a huge step down regarding its bluntness in a lot of other ways too. Just like with the first game, the best moments of this sequel are the moments of humanity between the characters, which are few and far between. This game has two "giraffe" moments (one for each half of the game), the first of which is a visit to a natural history museum, which (to the sequel's credit) is actually a playable sequence this time around (instead of being a cutscene like the giraffe scene was). But because The Last of Us Part II isn't as subtle as the first game, it insists on explicitly referring back to the giraffe scene from the first game. "Hey, you remember the giraffe you all loved so much? Isn't this just like that?" Yeah, I got it.

The sequel's heartwarming "giraffe" seen analog can't resist explicitly reminding us of the giraffe scene.

The environmental storytelling is several steps down as well. The first game might have you force your way into a barricaded room to find a skeleton holding a gun to its head, and several skeletons of children in sleeping bags with puddles of blood beneath their heads. It would leave it up to the players to fill in the gaps.

The Last of Us Part II has to spell out every single little background story with a note explaining exactly what happened. Part of this is in keeping with the game's overall design philosophy of trying to put names, faces, and relationships behind the victims of violence. Fair enough. That doesn't stop me from getting tired of reading a hundred notes about some poor bastards who got trapped and starved to death, or killed themselves so that they wouldn't turn, or died in the crossfire between two warring factions.

Sequel is much less subtle with
its environmental storytelling.

Early in the game, you can wander into a bank. If you open the vault, you'll find a skeleton wearing a kevlar vest (which you sadly can't equip yourself), holding a shotgun up to its jaw. Along with this corpse are a couple other corpses, and duffle bags half-full of gold bars and cash. Naughty Dog apparently thought I was too stupid to figure out what was going on, so they had to include a note written by the bank-robbers about how they decided to use the panic of the outbreak to rob a bank, only to have their getaway driver flee the scene when infected showed up. So they locked themselves in the vault and killed themselves instead of risking becoming infected.

Puzzles are similarly simple and obvious. Instead of using crafted shivs to pick locked doors, you can pick combination locks. Every single combination lock that I came across had a note in the next room that either gave me the combination or told me exactly where to find it. The closest this ever came to a full-fledged puzzle was an apartment complex late in the game. You find a note about people in nearby rooms becoming friends and trading resources (before they all die), and the safe combo is the two apartment numbers concatenated together. So you have to look at a whiteboard map that marks which rooms have infected in them, and also shows which room has the other pen pal. Then you have to go out into the hallway to read the apartment numbers on the doors. Except one door is covered up by overgrowth, so you have to infer which number it is based on the other numbers in the hall.

Is this note really necessary?! Come on. The calendar should be enough.

That was the most complicated it ever got. Most of the other notes simply told me to look at a number written on a wall somewhere. There could have been a difficulty setting for puzzles such that most of these notes would only be necessary on the "light" puzzle difficulty.

The plot is also not exactly the best-written. There's significant pacing problems -- the first half is mostly filler content that goes on for almost as long as the entire first game! There's issues with characters being given plot armor. I'm not sure I agree with the placement of certain scenes, or whether some of them even needed to exist. Heck, as I've alluded to earlier, I'm not even sure this is a story that needed to be told. The ambiguity of the first game's ending is part of what makes it so thought-provoking. But now there's concrete answers.

There's also the issue of the final chapter of the game in California. While this section has some of the best game design in the The Last of Us Part II, its conclusion feels at odds with the whole point of the rest of the game. Despite all the game's musing over the past 30 hours regarding the nihilism, futility, and collateral damage of the cycles of violence, and how revenge destroys a person's life and sense of purpose, the pursuit of the revenge actually somehow ends up causing a better outcome for the characters?! Well, for some of the characters anyway.

I get why the character can't let the past go and insists on seeking the revenge. Traumatic stress and the depression that it can lead to does cause people to lose a sense of self-worth and to act in self-destructive ways (often knowing full well how self-destructive they are being). I thought that the final chapter captures that aspect of mental illness quite well. As irrational as the decision might seem, you can't usually apply rational thought to someone who is suffering from PTSD or depression. I also understand and approve of the final decision that the character makes, as any other decision would have completely undercut the point of the game. The problem is that the writers crafted a scenario in which the pursuit of the vengeance is actually constructive and helpful in some ways, rather than completely destructive and tragic for everyone involved. It's just ... weird.

Violent grind

A big part of why this game degraded into a grind for me is that I simply don't care much for The Last of Us' brand of stealth-lite cover shooter gameplay. Some friends suggested that my complaints with the first game's play would be alleviated if I had played "hard" mode. So I obliged and tried the sequel on "hard", and had an even more boring and miserable time.

I feel like this game was just loaded with frustrating "gotcha!" moments and trial-and-error design for the sole purpose of draining the player's health and resources. Sometimes these are cutscenes that throw unexpected bosses or mini-bosses at me. Other times it's the way that unexpected lines of sight, overlapping guard patrols, and other aspects of level and encounter design seem intended to force me into open combat no matter how careful I am trying to be. Yet other times I swear that the game would spawn in more enemies to block off my path, or existing guards would be scripted to change their patrol paths such that I'd become cornered in stealth and have to shoot my way out. Maybe I'm just playing the game wrong, but I had to save-scum my way through a majority of encounters.

As soon as I leave cover, I get shot and knocked flat on my ass.

The alternative to save-scumming through the stealth is to engage in a shoot-out, and I dislike this even more than I dislike the stealth. In principle, I like that getting shot often knocks you flat on your ass, which makes guns feel particularly threatening. But I hate that so many encounters are just shooting through waves of soldiers who seem to have infinite ammo, but only ever drop 1 or 2 bullets when defeated. The improvisational design is completely undercut by the frequency of deaths and checkpoints, because the combat stops being improvisational if you're replaying the same encounter over and over again, learning every enemy position and how they react to certain approaches. This same problem plagued the Uncharted games, and was a big problem why I stopped playing those after the third. Enemy numbers are exacerbated by their tactical intelligence. They use cover fire to move between cover, they flank you, they rush you when you're exposed, and do forth. This would all be great if the game provided more tools for dealing with these tactics, or if it provided more obvious paths of escape.

The camera is so tight in on the characters that I have virtually no peripheral vision. Despite the characters having super-hearing that allows them to echo locate enemies through walls, there are no on-screen indicators that an off-screen enemy is charging or attacking. Sometimes your companion may warn you of someone coming from your flank, but I often don't have time to react, and if there is an on-screen indicator telling me where that enemy is, it must be really small and must blend in with the backgrounds because I never once saw it. So I'm constantly getting waylaid from behind, including by insta-kill Clickers in yet more "gotcha!" moments.

I found the infected attacks difficult to read.

I even tried changing the difficulty to "very easy" for several encounters in the mid-game, but it didn't seem to make much of a difference. I don't want to discount the accessibility features of this game, because That Last of Us Part II perhaps has the most robust and comprehensive set of accessibility options that I've ever seen in a game! That being said, the generous combat modifiers and other excellent accessibility features don't solve the underlying problem of not knowing what's going on around me. The high-contrast mode highlights enemies in bright primary colors, but it doesn't matter how bright or colorful an off-screen enemy is if I still can't see it because it's off-screen.

And when I'm out of bullets and stuck in melee, the flailing arms of most infected makes it very hard to read the tells for their attacks -- even if that infected is in plain sight, dead center of the screen. Sometimes there's a prompt to dodge, and sometimes there isn't. Sometimes your own melee attack stuns them, sometimes they immediately counter with their own attack. This results in yet more cheap hits and undeserved deaths.

The game's awful checkpoint system only compounds the frustration. When I die, the game often respawns me in the middle of the arena, surrounded by enemies whose positions and patrols have been reset, which is usually a far worse position than I was in when I died. Thankfully, the pause menu includes an option to restart the entire encounter, which I used a lot, at the cost of dragging out the length of the game even more. All of this combined to encourage the behavior of simply camping behind cover in a corner of the map (so I can't be flanked), and just waiting for all the enemies to come to me, which is the absolute most boring way to play.

I win most shoot-outs by hiding in a corner of the arena and picking off enemies.

More novel encounters, please!

Personally, I would much prefer if there were settings to decrease the number of enemies, rather than simply decreasing their health and giving them stormtrooper aim. Or maybe even a "Skip Action" feature to compliment the "Skip Puzzles" option. Or better yet, maybe design the game with more encounters like the boss fight with David from the first game, or the boss fight with Mr. Freeze in Arkham City -- you know, a tense, cat-and-mouse encounter with a single dangerous opponent, instead of wave after wave of grunts that artificially inflate the body count and make the characters look more and more like sociopaths as the game drags on.

There are examples of good one-on-one encounters.

In fact, The Last of Us 2 offered several perfectly good examples of high-stakes, one-on-one encounters that could have served as templates for dramatically reducing the body count. They're all in the tail end of the game (which is part of the reason why the second half is a better experience overall). In one case, you have to move from cover to cover while being sniped from a bridge. As you approach the sniper's nest, the sniper even takes shots at cars and other metal surfaces in your general direction to attract nearby infected. This forces you to have to fend off the infected while still staying behind cover so as not to be sniped. It's a tough sequence that does a good job of testing your ability to think on your feet. Best of all, the infected spawned in directly ahead of me, so I never felt like I was being ambushed in another cheap "gotcha!" moment.

Not long after that, you have a boss encounter with a single opponent in an abandoned theater. This encounter comes closest to resembling the confrontation with David in the first game, except this time your opponent is more heavily armed and uses tactics similar to the player character, such as switching weapons and laying traps. The opponent is even able to throw bottles and bricks to try to distract you and confuse your super-hearing, while flickering shadows and other visual tricks will give the false impression of movement at the edges of the screen.

One set piece requires hiding from a sniper.

The climax of the game then involves a prolonged, bare-knuckle fist fight. Think the final boss fight of Metal Gear Solid 4.

Had novel encounters with intelligent and capable opponents like these been sprinkled throughout the game, instead of 30 hours of putting hundreds of grunts and zombies in chokeholds, I probably would not have become so impatient as the game dragged on. Even the non-boss encounters late in the game are a dramatic step up from the slog of the first 25 hours. One has you sneaking through the crossfire of two warring factions, with both sides being more focused on each other than on you -- like the opening chapter of Metal Gear Solid 4. Another allows you to unleash infected to distract (or kill) guards. But it was hard for me to enjoy these late-game changes in pace because I was so exhausted and, frankly, sick of the game that I just powered my way through the ending as quickly as possible.

Naughty Dog took steps to relieve a common complaint with the first game, which is the ease with which human opponents can be dispatched by simply sneaking around in circles. Their answer is to introduce guard dogs. The dogs can smell or hear me from behind nearby cover, which prevents me from simply grabbing a guard as they come around a corner. More importantly, the dogs can sniff out the path I've walked. If a dog happens by a place I've already been, it can pick up my trail and will follow me to wherever I am hiding. This prevents me from simply moving back and forth between a few "safe" hiding spots while picking off patrols one by one.

Dogs can sniff you out of cover or hiding spots.

This throws a much-needed wrench in the first game's optimal strategy in a believable and dynamic way. I wish the dogs had been introduced earlier in some of the larger, more open arenas, and that they had been employed throughout more of the game in order to discourage the player from meticulously picking off every patrol before moving on to the next area. The downside, of course, is that murdering so many good bois doesn't help with my perception of Ellie being a psychopath...

The infected equivalent to the dogs are called "Stalkers". They quietly spy on you from hiding spots, which prevents them from showing up in your super-hearing mode, and then sneak up on you from behind. The introduction of these enemies is a great pure horror moment, and their appearances mixed in with other infected types later makes stealth-killing your way through the infected much less straight-forward. Again, they're a good shake-up that didn't feel cheap. Their existence is always telegraphed ahead of time, so it never felt cheap when one jumped out at me from behind.

I really do like the larger, more open arenas. Wandering patrols are much easier to avoid or run away from, which alleviates the problem of so much of the game turning into a shooting gallery. I also really like that there were some really good rewards for exploration. I found a couple weapons by exploring off the beaten path, and I'm not sure if I would have had opportunity to find those weapons later in the game. It's a real shame that most of these are front-loaded in the game and occur before patrolling dogs start showing up.

Open-ended exploration adds more risk / reward decisions.

Just another zombie game?

Now this next complaint is going to be super nitpicky, but I want to throw it out there before I wrap this review up. One component of the game's story that is sorely under-utilized in a ludic sense is the fungal spores. In fact, the spores that cause the zombie disease are even more irrelevant in the sequel than they were in the first game. First of all, it's completely silly in both games that characters can somehow see the microscopic spores floating around from far enough away and with enough time to put on masks before inhaling them and infecting themselves. Like, geez, wouldn't it be handy during this COVID-19 pandemic if we could actually see the little caronaviruses being coughed and sneezed out of people's mouths and noses, so that we know to run away or put on a mask? In both Last of Us games, whenever you come into an area with spores, the characters just put on their masks and go about sneaking, scavenging, and shootouts exactly as they had done before. There's a minor plot point about Ellie's immunity to the spores, but it doesn't come up again for the rest of the game. So for a large chunk of the game, Ellie doesn't even bother putting on a mask anymore.

This stood out particularly because Part II introduces more open-ended exploratory bits, with optional buildings to scavenge. Masks or mask filters could have been a crafted accessory that would allow you to enter optional locations that are polluted with spores, similar to unlocking doors with shivs in the first game. Maybe once Ellie is outed as being immune, you can opt to enter those areas even without a mask, but you have to do so without your companion, making it more dangerous. This would add a ludic impact to the character development of others learning that Ellie is immune.

The infectious spores are severely under-utilized as a gameplay mechanic.

Of course, Naughty Dog would have to find a way to allow the player to cross required areas that have spores. But that could have been easily resolved. They could just pull a mask off a dead character or find a fresh one just prior to entering the required spore area. In fact, they did just that for one level later in the game. Or every required area with spores could have been designed to have an optional, but longer and more difficult path that does not have spores. Not having a mask would force you to have to take the longer, more difficult path. You could be given one option to take a shortcut path that is infested with spores and infected, or take a longer path that is guarded by more dangerous human patrols.

In any case, Naughty Dog (and the developer's defenders) are quick to point out that The Last of Us is totally not "yet another zombie game" because the zombies aren't actually zombies; they're "infected". Yet they operate exactly like zombies, by spreading the infection via bites. The one thing that separates the infected from more traditional zombies is the spores that Naughty Dog didn't bother to develop any actual mechanics around.

I applaud the attempt, but still didn't like the game

I had a very hard time deciding how to score this game or how to conclude my review. On the one hand, I applaud Naughty Dog's attempt to make player action more relevant to the game's story and message this time around. In that regard, they succeeded, and I'm happy to say that The Last of Us Part II has a better claim to the title of "interactive art" than the first game. But just because I acknolwedge the game's status as "art", does not mean that I necessarily have to also think that it is particularly good art, nor am I obliged to actually like it. Even though I respect the fact that the player is supposed to feel "uncomfortable" when playing the game (and I am able to value or look past that quality in other games), that still doesn't change the fact that I just didn't enjoy the vast majority of my time playing The Last of Us Part II, which was only compounded by the outrageous length of the game. It might sound like a copout, but it's genuinely how I feel.

And if you did enjoy the violence in the game and weren't sick of it by the end, then you maybe missed the point and the game didn't successfully convey its artistic message. Schindler's List may be a tough movie to watch because of the monstrous barbarity on display, but at least that movie presents a compelling character drama that keeps the audience's attention throughout the three-hour runtime. I just didn't care about anything that was happening for most of The Last of Us Part II. It lacks much of the heart that made the first game's story so resonant.

I went in halvsies with a friend who was laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and played Outer Wilds while I waited for him to finish up. I wasn't willing to pay full price for a game from Naughty Dog considering the abusive crunch practices. Maybe if you didn't make a game that is so bloated, you wouldn't have had to abuse your workers with crunch.

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Other Game Reviews I've Published

Ace Combat 7Ace Combat 7Alan WakeAlan Wake
Alien: IsolationAlien: IsolationAmnesia: a Machine for PigsAmnesia: a Machine for Pigs
Amnesia: the Dark DescentAmnesia: the Dark DescentAmong the SleepAmong the Sleep
Assassin's Creed IIIAssassin's Creed IIIAssassin's Creed IV: Black FlagAssassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Assassin's Creed: OriginsAssassin's Creed: OriginsAxis Football 18Axis Football 18
Axis Football 2019Axis Football 2019Back to the Future Episode OneBack to the Future Episode One
Backbreaker FootballBackbreaker FootballBanishedBanished
Batman: Arkham CityBatman: Arkham CityBattlefield 1Battlefield 1
Blair WitchBlair WitchBloodborneBloodborne
Bloodborne: the Old HuntersBloodborne: the Old HuntersCall of Duty World War IICall of Duty World War II
CatherineCatherineCities SkylinesCities Skylines
Cities Skylines: After DarkCities Skylines: After DarkCities Skylines: CampusCities Skylines: Campus
Cities Skylines: Green CitiesCities Skylines: Green CitiesCities Skylines: IndustriesCities Skylines: Industries
Cities Skylines: Mass TransitCities Skylines: Mass TransitCities Skylines: Natural DisastersCities Skylines: Natural Disasters
Cities Skylines: ParklifeCities Skylines: ParklifeCities Skylines: SnowfallCities Skylines: Snowfall
Cities: Skylines: Match Day & ver. 1.4Cities: Skylines: Match Day & ver. 1.4CitiesXL & Cities XXLCitiesXL & Cities XXL
Dark SoulsDark SoulsDark Souls Artorias of the Abyss DLCDark Souls Artorias of the Abyss DLC
Dark Souls IIDark Souls IIDark Souls II: Scholar of the First SinDark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin
Dark Souls IIIDark Souls IIIDark Souls III: Ashes of AriandelDark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel
Dark Souls III: the Ringed CityDark Souls III: the Ringed CityDawn of ManDawn of Man
Dead Space 2Dead Space 2Death StrandingDeath Stranding
Death's GambitDeath's GambitDemon's SoulsDemon's Souls
Devil May Cry 5Devil May Cry 5DmC (Devil May Cry)DmC (Devil May Cry)
DOOM (2016)DOOM (2016)DreadOutDreadOut
F.T.L. (Faster Than Light)F.T.L. (Faster Than Light)Fallout 4Fallout 4
Fallout ShelterFallout ShelterFar Cry PrimalFar Cry Primal
Final Fantasy XIIIFinal Fantasy XIIIFinal Fantasy XVFinal Fantasy XV
FirewatchFirewatchFive Nights at Freddy'sFive Nights at Freddy's
Game of Thrones (Telltale series 1-2)Game of Thrones (Telltale series 1-2)God of War (2018)God of War (2018)
God of War IIIGod of War IIIGone HomeGone Home
Grand Theft Auto VGrand Theft Auto VHellblade: Senua's SacrificeHellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
Her StoryHer StoryKingdom Come: DeliveranceKingdom Come: Deliverance
L.A. NoireL.A. NoireLifeless PlanetLifeless Planet
Lollipop ChainsawLollipop ChainsawMad MaxMad Max
Madden NFL 11Madden NFL 11Madden NFL 12Madden NFL 12
Madden NFL 13Madden NFL 13Madden NFL 15Madden NFL 15
Madden NFL 16Madden NFL 16Madden NFL 17Madden NFL 17
Madden NFL 18Madden NFL 18Madden NFL 19Madden NFL 19
Madden NFL 20Madden NFL 20Mars Rover LandingMars Rover Landing
Marvel's Spider-ManMarvel's Spider-ManMaster of Orion: Conquer the StarsMaster of Orion: Conquer the Stars
Maximum Football 2018Maximum Football 2018Maximum Football 2019Maximum Football 2019
Metal Gear Solid V: the Phantom PainMetal Gear Solid V: the Phantom PainMiasmataMiasmata
Middle-Earth: Shadow of MordorMiddle-Earth: Shadow of MordorMiddle-Earth: Shadow of WarMiddle-Earth: Shadow of War
Monster Hunter: WorldMonster Hunter: WorldMoons of MadnessMoons of Madness
NCAA Football 11NCAA Football 11NCAA Football 12NCAA Football 12
NCAA Football 13NCAA Football 13NiohNioh
No Man's SkyNo Man's SkyObservationObservation
Outer WildsOuter WildsPapers, PleasePapers, Please
Portal 2Portal 2Red Dead RedemptionRed Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption IIRed Dead Redemption IIResident Evil 2Resident Evil 2
Resident Evil 3Resident Evil 3Resident Evil 7: BiohazardResident Evil 7: Biohazard
Resident Evil RemasteredResident Evil RemasteredReturn of the Obra DinnReturn of the Obra Dinn
Rock Band 3Rock Band 3Room 404Room 404
Sekiro: Shadows Die TwiceSekiro: Shadows Die TwiceShadow of the Colossus (2018)Shadow of the Colossus (2018)
Sid Meier's Civilization VSid Meier's Civilization VSid Meier's Civilization V: Brave New WorldSid Meier's Civilization V: Brave New World
Sid Meier's Civilization V: Gods & KingsSid Meier's Civilization V: Gods & KingsSid Meier's Civilization VISid Meier's Civilization VI
Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering StormSid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering StormSid Meier's Civilization VI: Rise and FallSid Meier's Civilization VI: Rise and Fall
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond EarthSid Meier's Civilization: Beyond EarthSid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth Rising TideSid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth Rising Tide
Silent Hill 4: the RoomSilent Hill 4: the RoomSilent Hill HD CollectionSilent Hill HD Collection
Silent Hill: Shattered MemoriesSilent Hill: Shattered MemoriesSillent Hill DownpourSillent Hill Downpour
SimCity (2013)SimCity (2013)SimCity BuilditSimCity Buildit
SomaSomaSpider-Man: Edge of TimeSpider-Man: Edge of Time
Spider-Man: Shattered DimensionsSpider-Man: Shattered DimensionsStar Trek TrexelsStar Trek Trexels
Star Wars Battlefront IIStar Wars Battlefront IIStar Wars Jedi Fallen OrderStar Wars Jedi Fallen Order
StellarisStellarisStellaris mod: New HorizonsStellaris mod: New Horizons
The Amazing Spider-ManThe Amazing Spider-ManThe Amazing Spider-Man 2The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimThe Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLCThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLC
The Evil WithinThe Evil WithinThe Evil Within 2The Evil Within 2
The Last GuardianThe Last GuardianThe Last of UsThe Last of Us
The SaboteurThe SaboteurThe SwapperThe Swapper
The Witcher 3 expansionsThe Witcher 3 expansionsThe Witcher 3: Wild HuntThe Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
This War of MineThis War of MineThis War of Mine: the Little OnesThis War of Mine: the Little Ones
Tomb Raider (2013)Tomb Raider (2013)Total War: AttilaTotal War: Attila
Total War: Rome IITotal War: Rome IITotal War: Shogun 2Total War: Shogun 2
Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTotal War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTrineTrine
Tropico 5Tropico 5Ultimate General: Civil WarUltimate General: Civil War
Uncharted 3: Drake's DeceptionUncharted 3: Drake's DeceptionUntil DawnUntil Dawn
What Remains of Edith FinchWhat Remains of Edith Finch 

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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A Demon's Souls remake? What to keep, what to fix, and what to addA Demon's Souls remake? What to keep, what to fix, and what to add08/18/2017 Rumors of a Demon's Souls remaster or remake have been floating around for a while now (as have rumors of a sequel). I have mixed feeling on the idea of a remake/remaster. On the one hand, Demon's Souls is one of my favorite games ever and may represent the peak of the series. Naturally, I want more people to play it and recognize...

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