‘The Last of Us Part 2’, analysis with spoilers: these are the problems and strengths of the second half of the game
Since we went through the middle of the game and realized that the tremendous turn in the narrative that happens after a certain point in history was going to be what determined the general tone of the adventure, many of us had early access to the latest From Naughty Dog we realized that our reviews were necessarily going to be incomplete. This is what we specify both in our first impressions, as in the criticism without spoilers, as well as in our list of points to take into account when facing the game.
There's a lot to talk about in the new Naughty Dog game, which is why many critics choose to give a few brushstrokes about the story and focus on the overwhelming tech part. Its virtues are indisputable and allow us to set aside something that, first out of obligation and then out of respect for the players, we could not reveal. After a few days, and with the peculiarities of the game being more or less public, past its equator, we will delve into what it does well and what it does badly. Needless to say, from here spoilers of all kinds abound.
It also goes without saying that we are not going to focus next on the ridiculous controversy or the review-bombing who has suffered the game, because ... well, because we are no longer twelve years old.The game has no other agenda than to present a lesbian relationship with some responsibility, sadly atypical in current fictions, and with the same normality, to show a secondary (but essential to the plot) trans character, a circumstance that forces him to abandon his home. There is no other agenda than that of conscious diversity in the characters, and if that is a problem for you, it is strictly yours. Certainly not from Naughty Dog, who is doing the right thing.
What happens in the second half of The Last of Us Part 2?
A small note of where the shots are going to go is pointed out at the start of the game, when Ellie is still the protagonist. We have to control Abby, a (we don't know yet) member of the Lobos paramilitary organization, and who locates Jacksonville - along with a friend who we'll also get to know better - the fortified town where Ellie and Joel live. We control it by making our way through a snowy environment, but all of this is done in the context of the first few bars of the game.
This resource is relatively common: as a tutorial, to offer the player action and exploration sequences without being artificially crowded at the beginning of the game and when the characters are still introducing themselves, use or flashbacks action or control other characters. This is the case of Abby, whose intentions we do not know, and who, of course, cannot suspect that she will be the person who, soon after, murders Joel in the presence of Ellie.
The impact for the player is not radically new - video games have already experimented on multiple occasions with forcing the player to control characters with whom he does not identify morally - but it works. But Naughty Dog goes much further in the second half of the game: Abby becomes just as important a character (perhaps more, or at least is less Manichean described) as Ellie, and we'll get to know in depth the motives that lead him to kill. Joel.
And that is the approach of the narration of 'The Last of Us Part 2': control the two enemies and establish multiple parallels between them. The loss of someone loved as the engine of their actions, the immersion in situations of violence that they cannot avoid, common enemies (infected on the one hand, seraphites on the other), and multiple meeting points between their stories, as if as much as they wanted they were meant to meet. And of course, they are controlled in the same way: the game, mechanically, is the same for both; another obvious parallel that goes beyond history.
My objections start from this same approach: not only is it not especially original, but it blurs the tension in an extraordinary way. The game lasts twice as long as the original (25 hours, something extraordinary for a title of this type) due to this decision to also double the point of view. But it means that the evolution of Ellie's character is much more neglected, since we lose sight of her during the many hours in which we control Abby.
The problem of strong feelings
I have no problem neither with the characters described with axes, nor with the schematism. Revenge is a sentiment that we can all identify with because who is not a bit spiteful at times, and the movies that use it as a narrative engine (from the monkfish & revenge from the seventies to the actioner Liam Neeson's sixties) work precisely because of their simplicity. A simple sentiment taken to the extreme, which we understand conditions personalities and radicalizes behavior.
But for that resource to work (hell, it worked already in the days of Cain and Abel and Beowulf) we must stay very close to who experiences that desire, so that it is not evident that it is a schematic and somewhat tricky storytelling trick. That is, to make it clear to us that the character has not had the chance to think twice that his blind feeling of revenge is foolish or unwarranted. You have to turn him into a beast with nothing else in his head, and that's why 'Women's Day', 'Death Wish' or the first 'Max Payne' work: there is nothing else in the thought of the assaulted that the culmination of revenge (and for this reason they are also partially tragic characters: they remain empty when they carry it out).
For revenge as a narrative engine to work, it must be ensured that there is nothing else in the thinking of the assaulted that the culmination of revenge
But dividing the narrative into two narrative paths spoils that feeling and turns Ellie into a stick figure. We simply cannot lend credence to such a basic and essential feeling of revenge (the benchmark is not 'Red Dead Redemption'; it is Charles Bronson) when the game gives us a break, and lets Ellie's story take over with character changes and long flashbacks that demonstrate with some luck that you are a person with complex feelings.
The funny thing is that with Abby that story works: her story has a certain three-dimensionality, and the "adoption" of the seraphite kids goes back to the relationship of Joel and Ellie in the first title of the series, in which it is undoubtedly the game of The most discreet and complex mirrors in history. The problem with this character, who as I say, has a more interesting story than Ellie's (unlike her, she doesn't look for violence, but it seems to cross her path again and again) is that after seeing sadism With the one who dispatches Joel, there is no way to empathize with her. We are controlling a character that we dislike.
And that, I insist, there are multiple traits in her personality that make her interesting. How she forgives Joel's companions, including Ellie, and how she does it again in the final installment of the game, reveals her as a true heroine of the show, and with a much more focused and vengeful mission for revenge for Joel's death. credible than Ellie's. Ellie wants to end the world; Abby, alone with her father's killer. And yet we cannot, it is impossible to empathize with it. Naughty Dog has over-tightened the nuts for credibility.
Someone may say, not without reason, that now we are not going to pretend that video game characters show great depth when the resource of the blank canvas is so recurrent for the player to apply their own characteristics, and even more with so many great titles whose plot is as banal as "rescue the princess". And it is true, but they are not usually games that make narration and emotion their flag: when your purpose is to tell a perfect story, you have to refine a little more. And on the other hand, the masterful mechanics and playable part of 'The Last of Us Part 2' are more than discussed and praised.
All these narrative problems are doubled with two extra elements. On the one hand, the mechanics of the game, which consists of literally killing hundreds of people from behind. The cruelty with which Ellie (and Abbie) dispatch even people from their own side, often without the possibility of avoiding battles, without giving the player the option of knocking enemies out, and even raging animals, shows that the game has been written by one party and designed by another. The sensational fusion of mechanics and storyline provided by recent playable experiences like 'Death Stranding' or 'Doom' (so far and so close) is nowhere to be found anywhere.
And the second element where everything falls apart is the conclusion, the decision to make Ellie spare Abby's life thanks to a flashback and, above all, after having killed hundreds of people and, beware, having left behind by their own choice a perfect life. Naughty Dog does not even bother to resort to the sabated but effective resource of making the two enemies unite against a common rival in a final stretch before facing each other, he simply trusts that the then-undressed motivations of the protagonists sustain the drama.
They don't, of course.
It should be remembered that none of this has to do with nostalgia for the first game, that we have an excessive affection for Joel or any of those arguments that we see written lately. Killing a character is perfectly legitimate if used as a springboard to tackle something complex, but from a dramatic point of view it is only half achieved here. As it is also undeniable that it often does: the desperate mechanics and the limit of concealment and stealth does a lot to convey the atmosphere of basic feelings and movements that guarantee death to the slightest error.
A small problem that partially tarnishes a sensational game, and that in any case it is worth playing and playing thoroughly, as it is technically an absolute marvel. Naughty Dog's obsession with torturing his characters (and one that already unbalanced some 'Uncharted') reveals all his risks here in the worst possible way, and it's a shame. Even in an absolutely superb game in so many and many aspects like this.