Brett Barnett

Seven years after The Last of Us was released by Naughty Dog, fans could hardly contain their collective excitement when Part II came out in June. To quickly recap the first game, we are introduced to the primary protagonist, Joel, early on at his home in Austin, Texas. It quickly becomes evident that there has been some sort of strange outbreak — in light of recent events, we are controlling characters in the midst of a world-ending pandemic.

Eventually, we meet the second protagonist, Ellie, a 14-year-old girl who appears to be immune to the infection — the only known person in the world with this particular condition. It is Joel’s job, controlled by the player, to get the girl across the nation from Boston, Massachusetts, to Salt Lake City, Utah, to a group called the Fireflies, where they’ll hopefully be able to manufacture a cure for the disease, later coined the Cordyceps Brain Infection.

Once they arrive, Joel learns that in order to isolate the disease and reverse engineer a vaccine, they will have to kill Ellie because the virus lives on the host’s brain. After briefly considering his options, Joel decides to save Ellie from being used to create the vaccine, killing all those who stand in the way. Once out of the facility, Joel opts to lie to Ellie about what actually happened since she remembers nothing due to being put under anesthesia to have the surgery performed.

That’s where the first game leaves off. Critics and players alike gave the first game sterling reviews, receiving a 10/10 from IGN.com and a 95/100 from the site Metacritic. Users on that same site gave the game a 9.2/10 rating. That game would ultimately garner the position of seventh best PlayStation 3 video game of all time.

Normally, this column wouldn’t be dedicated to something like a video game but given the situation in the game (a pandemic), as well as the complicated emotional narrative woven throughout the game, it all seems particularly relevant in today’s society. No, we don’t have any zombies in real life, but, in a way, it does seem as though everyone is just trying to figure out how to survive everything that’s going on. With all that said, I’ll try to proceed delicately and avoid any spoilers.

Firstly, this game has received incredible reviews from critics, just like the first game did. Fans, on the other hand, have had mixed reactions. On Metacritic, the former gave the game a 94/100, making it one of the greatest games in PlayStation 4 history. The latter, however, have given the game a 5.6/10 thus far, a significant departure from Part I.

Potential players who played the first game will be happy to know that the gameplay is largely the same. Many of the combat commands, puzzle sequences and basic commands have remained largely the same, but in a way that’s fresh. The game also features astounding visuals, just as the first game did. Naughty Dog implemented the full capabilities of the console, it seems, right before this generation of PlayStation retires in favor of the next-generation PlayStation 5.

All of the greenery that dazzled players is still in abundance, and much of the game’s physics are truer to life, with minimal bugs (at least in my playthrough). The same hazards are present in the game, including other people, but also zombies we saw from the first like runners, clickers and bloaters. The game also introduces new forms of zombies, one being a shamble and another being the biggest “boss” in the game.

I assume that most game players don’t have much of a gripe with the way the game plays or its visuals, but more likely with the story the game tells. Again, I’ll tread lightly so as to avoid spoilers while conveying what there is to like, but more likely, dislike about the game.

In Part I, the player largely controlled Joel, with the exception being the beginning when the user controls Joel’s daughter, Sarah, and then in the latter half of the game when the user takes control of Ellie for a period of time. In Part II, however, gameplay is largely split between two characters – much to the chagrin of most, it seems. Some players, however, seemed to appreciate the multiple and conflicting perspectives.

Much like Part I, Part II is largely predicated on the elements of human emotion. A host of new characters are introduced throughout the game, and the creators made an attempt to compel the player to care about the storylines of each, although this is one of the game’s greatest weaknesses. A web of love stories is woven throughout the game — something that was largely absent in Part I — and for many, that was one of the biggest complaints they had.

While the player follows two parallel stories, the game attempts to show similarities to two seemingly different characters, in an attempt to question the validity of the player’s preconceived notions regarding certain characters. For the most part, these efforts seemed to fall short. While more reasonable players didn’t like the story arc overall, they understood the effort and gave credit to the developers and writers at Naughty Dog — while also complaining about the final product.

Perhaps the Naughty Dog team underestimated player allegiance and loyalty to characters instead of to the writers and production team. From my perspective, many players bonded with Joel and Ellie as their relationship grew in Part I — the game’s ultimate strength. But in many ways — without getting too specific — the game departed from the original relationships, while many claim that the characters betrayed their convictions and motives from the first game. That’s the reason players review-bombed the game at its release.

Some players gave the game a review of zero right at release, which means they assuredly never played the game — it’s a game that most take 20-30 hours to complete. But there were major leaks prior to the game’s release, and so certain players felt it incumbent on themselves to destroy the ratings of the game before it got a chance to get off the ground. This type of assault on the game seems dramatic and unnecessary but it’s somewhat understandable. However, I am of the contingency which believes you should at least play a game before offering any kind of review. That seems obvious.

To conclude, it seems the Naughty Dog team intentionally departed from the aspects that made the first game so great, instead opting for equal opportunity misery. Throughout the game, violence and suffering reign supreme for all characters and, by extension, the player. For that reason, it can be a marathon to get through the game. More than that, the creators attempted to create another world full of characters that the player cares about in the same way they cared about the original characters. This effort falls far short of their goal, making much of the gameplay uncompelling and uninteresting. Make no mistake, it’s a good game, but it’s a far cry from Part I.

Brett Barnett is a senior majoring in English. He can be reached at bbarne18@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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