In defence of The Last Of Us Part 2 – Reader's Feature
A reader examines some of the complaints – reasonable and unreasonable – about The Last Of Us Part 2 and why he disagrees with most of them.
***WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE LAST OF US PART 2***
I recently finished my first playthrough of The Last Of Us Part 2 and ventured online, and specifically to Reddit, to see what others made of the game and whether my enthusiasm was shared. A lot of what I found left me disappointed.
I say disappointed because a lot of the negative comments and reviews were not even remotely even-handed or constructive in any way, but often made deeply personal attacks directed towards Neil Druckmann. For me it’s never acceptable to throw personal insults towards someone because you didn’t like the creative decisions they made in a game or other form of media. And if you make or condone death threats then I’m sorry then in my view that disqualifies you from your opinion being in any way valid or relevant, despite how compelling an argument you may have.
Most of the criticism online seems focused on a few points of contention which are seen either as contrived or plot holes.
First is the manner of Joel’s death, in which the grievance is that by letting his guard down and by him and Tommy revealing their real names goes against the nature of his true self. I would argue somewhat that this is explained at the end of the game when Ellie and Joel are sitting on his porch talking and he mentions trading with some travellers that passed through Jackson. This suggests that Joel had become a more settled, more trusting, and perhaps less cautious individual in the time that has passed since the first game.
Joel’s death has also been seen to be problematic as many view Joel to be heroic after he ‘saved’ Ellie at the end of the first game and he deserved better treatment from the writers and Abby torturing him was overkill. Whilst I agree that his death was shocking and brutal, I think in many ways it needed to be to prove the catalyst for Ellie’s quest for revenge.
Also, most of the violence and gore is imagined by ourselves, rather than depicted on screen. This isn’t to say the game isn’t bloody or at times gruesome but some of the more effective ways it portrays this violence is when it cuts away and we the player use our imagination to fill the gaps. The death and implicated torture of Nora is example of this.
I would also counter by saying Joel was, if anything, celebrated throughout the game. Even though his death occurs early on in the game the flashback sequences further humanise his character. His death and Ellie’s determination to avenge him fuels the entire narrative.
To imply Joel was a hero is surely to misinterpret the ending of the first game and what the developers set out to achieve. Joel, and indeed all the people that inhabit this world that has been created, are neither hero nor villain. They are complex, nuanced people. This is what makes The Last Of Us so memorable and interesting.
The other major issue that people seemingly have is with Abby. If it was simply that they couldn’t empathise with her because they were unable to get past the death of Joel, that I could perhaps understand. However, it seems many people are not even willing to entertain the idea of forgiving or understanding Abby because she is a ‘psychopath’.
Some of the reasons stated for this are that she tortured Joel. When challenged that seemingly Joel, Tommy, and Ellie all have committed the same act the response I have usually encountered is that they all had good reasons to do so and that Abby was unjustified in her actions and she only did so out of sadistic pleasure. Whilst this is partially true it would be dismissive to not at least try to understand Abby’s reasons for this. If gamers are able to accept Ellie wanting revenge for the death of her father figure then how can they not do the same for Abby?
Usually the counterargument I get back is that Joel was right in killing the Fireflies as they were ‘terrorists’ and that the vaccine wouldn’t have worked. These opinions are mostly stated as if they were facts. One particular person stated that a vaccine wouldn’t work as vaccines don’t work on fungal infections. As if somehow they were experts in microbiology in the field of a fictitious disease. They didn’t seem impressed when I linked a number of medical articles that were researching methods of creating vaccines to fight fungal diseases and infections.
Mostly though the common response is either outright abuse or saying either I misunderstood the game or am a ‘fanboy’ who couldn’t comprehend the themes of the game. Which is somewhat ironic when I consider empathy and considering the point of view of others is a key theme in the game.
Another criticism levelled at Abby has more sinister undertones of misogyny and sexism. The fact that people are unable to grasp that women can be muscular and don’t always conform to a certain body type. Some have suggested they find it difficult to accept anyone can achieve that body in a post-apocalyptic world. However, the WLF have more resources than most, even a gym. And Abby has sacrificed all other aspects of her life to dedicate herself to her training.
If players are able to accept Joel somehow surviving impaling himself on a metal bar, without proper medical attention and with no long-term repercussions in the first game then why can they not grasp that some women have muscles?
This isn’t me trying to badmouth the first game. I love the original too. I’m just arguing that I’m sure nearly every piece of storytelling has a moment where you can poke holes in the logic. Every work of fiction surely requires some suspension of disbelief on the part of the consumer.
I feel mainly though that Abby isn’t accepted, not because of this logic but because of this outdated belief that somehow traits such as strength, courage, and aggression are still viewed as being masculine in nature and it doesn’t go down well when this notion is challenged. Numerous posts have suggested that Joel would have ‘kicked Abby’s ass’ in a one-on-one fight, as if his gender automatically assures victory. I’m not sure about anyone else but since Joel must be nearly 60 and has likely taken some damage over the years, then my money would be on Abby.
I can accept genuine and valid criticism. No game is perfect. For me though the narrative works. At first I was sceptical as to whether a sequel would work and might dilute the impact of the ending of the first game. I was also unsure how Joel’s death would affect the game after seeing the leaks. But if anything I now think it was the best decision that could have been made.
Joel’s death at the hands of Abby shows the ramifications of the choices he made. I think if we had got something similar to the tone of the first game with Joel and Ellie on friendly terms it might have cheapened the ending. Showing a more complex and strained relationship between the two, with Joel’s death forcing Ellie to confront her true feelings, not only felt more real but showed how Joel’s actions, and in particular him lying about it, actually serves to strengthen the narrative of both games.
The Last Of Us Part 2 is, for me, the standout game of the year so far and one of the defining games of the generation. Its themes and complex storytelling, as well as the fact it’s a AAA game that focuses on both female and LGBTQ stories, could lead to more diverse and varied games in the future. I would love to see either another sequel or DLC. Particularly I think it would be interesting to see more of the Rattlers and what happened to Abby and Lev in Santa Barbara. I’d also like to see their journey to meet with the remaining Fireflies. It’d be nice too to see Ellie finally find some peace and a more redemptive tale.
I heard on a podcast someone mention, in regards to grief and loss – which the game also touches on, that Ellie may have been so focused on revenge because things between her and Joel felt slightly unresolved and she never got to say everything she wanted. I never considered this before, but it resonated with myself, as shortly before playing the game my older brother died suddenly.
Because of COVID, and due to being busy with family and home life, we hadn’t seen each other for a while and I always wish we’d had one last night together with a few beers, chatting nonsense. It made me wonder if this had given me an extra reason to connect with the game.
I think only time will tell if this game will be considered a masterpiece and how it is viewed in years to come. For myself though I can’t think of a game where weeks down the line I am still processing it and how it has stuck with me.
By reader Matc7884
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