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The Last of Us Part II – Zero Punctuation

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This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews The Last of Us Part II.

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The Last of Us 2, then. Title’s still not accurate ‘cos there are quite a lot of people still alive in the Mumblecore Apocalypse, although in fairness the main characters seem to be doing everything they can to rectify this oversight. Now, don’t get me wrong, viewer; playing the Last of Us 2 was a pretty miserable experience. (pause) Kinda sounded like you were going to say But, there, Yahtzee. Mm? No. It’s really fucking miserable and depressing and I would have enjoyed my weekend more had I spent it teasing out my bum hairs with pliers.

I used to think the Uncharted games rubbed me up the wrong way because they were too smug and quippy and didn’t give all the murdering its due seriousness, but I guess that couldn’t have been it because Last of Us dialogue is mostly sad people mumbling very serious things in between five minute dramatic pauses, so it must be something else about Naughty Dog games. Is it that the enemies always pursue the protagonists far beyond the point where it makes any sense for them to do so? Probably not, because that’s only because they hate the protagonists so much, in which case, hey, we’ve got something in common, enemies. Let’s ditch these losers and patrol the local bowling alley.

Oh it’s a perfectly well made game, even if it is a stealth action adventure with crafting and collectibles, which is to say, the same as every fingerblasting generic triple-A single player game now, since I can only assume the corporate games industry finally tracked down the last creative person in it and replaced them with an algorithm, but it is pretty good stealth action.

There’s a skin of your teeth desperate sort of thrill to it, it’s not difficult to lose the enemy if you do get spotted so the cockups don’t cascade, the AI is surprisingly dynamic. They even all have individual names which they cry out in horror whenever they find a corpse, a feature that I assume exists to make the protagonists seem even more like bastards. Especially when the dudes with adorable sniffer dogs show up and after you murder them everyone yells “No! You killed Doctor Sniffybum! And his dog!”

In the non-stealth action bits, however, gameplay’s a bit of a slog. Quite a large percentage of it essentially boils down to “press forward to continue” and usually the game indicates the direction in which “forward” lies by having someone point to the skybox and say “You see that? That’s where the next plot event is. You see everything leading up to it? That’s all the meaningless fucking filler you’re going to have to slog through to get there.”

No doubt there’ll be at least one infected hangout. You’ll know you’re there when you get instakilled by a zombie you weren’t ready for because all the pushing forward to continue was putting you to fucking sleep. Actually there’s a token open world section early on, perhaps because of algorithms again, but the side objectives only really provide optional loot and very little in the way of extra challenge or story, so it’s only there if you feel like putting off the rest of the plot. Which you might, if you hate watching horrible people take the most irrational course of action available.

Welp, that’s as far as we can go without spoilers, so only continue watching if you’ve stopped caring, you aloof disenfranchised zoomers, you. Here’s the plot. Protagonist of last game gets murdered by group seeking revenge for thing protagonist did in last game, adopted daughter of protagonist goes to group’s home base to get double backsy revenge which happens to be in a really shitty holiday destination, and no, it didn’t escape me that this is the same plot as Silent Hill 3. Now, Joel in the last game was a basically relatable gruff hairy dad learning to love again who made one very questionable decision at the end.

But Ellie in Last of Us 2 seems to be of a mind that the best way to commemorate gruff hairy dad would be to beat his questionable decision speed record as many times as possible. And already I hear the same people who gave me shit about not liking the last game slithering out from behind the fridge to make the same argument – you’re not supposed to like or agree with the characters! It’s complex and challenging drama!

Yeah, thanks Professor, I got we weren’t supposed to be entirely on Ellie’s side around the Doctor Sniffybum incident. But the message is muddled by everyone in Ellie’s conventionally attractive mumblecore support group assuring her that revenge is the tops and totally justified, and the villains’ equivalent act of revenge against Joel for doing something a lot worse was totally not justified because they hadn’t had nearly enough screen time. Which is presumably why, just as the plot is starting to look like it’s wrapping up, the game suddenly flashes back and makes us play as the main villain for way, way too fucking long, to show that ooh they have redemptive qualities as well and from their perspective Ellie is basically a less eloquent Jason Voorhees.

So we have to slog through more endless hours of get to the thing in the skybox filler gameplay before we can have that promised plot resolution, and none of it’s necessary because it was already perfectly clear that nobody’s in the right on all this and the end result is that I don’t sympathise with anyone. Yahtzee, you don’t need to sympathise with the characters for a plot to work. You liked Spec Ops The Line, and everyone in that game’s a drawstring shitbag. Can I do a spot of disabusing here? The kind I always have to do whenever they put out a David Cage game or anything else presenting a facade of dramatic depth.

The following things do not make a character deep or compelling. 1. Getting hurt a lot. Looking at you, Tomb Raider reboot. 2. Being sad. 3. Doing morally questionable things. And we might as well tack on 4. Being a member of a minority, just ‘cos I’ve already given up hope for this video’s comment section. What does matter is that characters at least be interesting to watch, and these aren’t. The banter between Ellie and her girlfriend as they adventure together sizzles like a flask of slightly tepid water because they’re too similar, in personality, background and motivation, to have good chemistry.

But the most important thing is growth. Walker in Spec Ops The Line slowly becomes a monster as he’s twisted by the constant backfiring of his good intentions and that’s why it’s compelling. Ellie has no character development. Villain lady does a little bit for stupid reasons along the lines of suddenly realising that the enemy faction she’s been genociding unquestioned for months are also human beings with families and would rather not be genocided thanks, but Ellie just sets out to do something shitty and remains a shitty person. In fact the game keeps droning on for about two hours after you think it’s finally ending just to continue establishing Ellie’s shittiness.

And corporate game dev being what it is, when I think of the developers almost certainly being exploited and overworked to make this miserable game so unnecessarily long, I wince, viewer. I wince at the pointless suffering. ‘Cos you could strip four or five hours of gameplay out of Last of Us 2 and lose nothing. Then use the money you saved to make a low budget platformer on the side about a funny cartoon dog on a quest to sniff all the butts. Whose character grows when he realises he doesn’t have to define himself by sniffing butts. Bam, compelling plot and we didn’t even have to retroactively make him a lesbian.

About the author

Yahtzee Croshaw
Yahtzee is the Escapist’s longest standing talent, having been writing and producing its award winning flagship series, Zero Punctuation, since 2007. Before that he had a smattering of writing credits on various sites and print magazines, and has almost two decades of experience in game journalism as well as a lifelong interest in video games as an artistic medium, especially narrative-focused. He also has a foot in solo game development - he was a big figure in the indie adventure game scene in the early 2000s - and writes novels. He has six novels published at time of writing with a seventh on the way, all in the genres of comedic sci-fi and urban fantasy. He was born in the UK, emigrated to Australia in 2003, and emigrated again to California in 2016, where he lives with his wife and daughters. His hobbies include walking the dog and emigrating to places.