Why The Last Of Us - Part 2 does it put us in a position to live such painful situations? Why wasn't this narrative accepted by everyone? And why will this title still mark the history of video games?
WARNING: this article contains extensive SPOILERS about The Last of Us - Part 2!
After seven years from the release of a monolith that has made an important contribution to the philosophy of video game design, from 21 June 2020 we can get our hands on the second chapter of The Last Of Us. Still surrounded by clickers, always equipped with anything we can find on the street, it can be transformed into a weapon, immersed in United States of America post-apocalyptic, we try to overwhelm the dangers that surround us.
After playing from start to finish The Last Of Us - Part 2, and after thinking about it for a long time, here is one reasoned review of the game. After a short comment window on the gameplay, we will talk about this title and its narrative choices, trying to understand the reasons behind the type of story being told and, above all, behind the way the game tells us and makes us live this history. We will therefore also talk about how The Last Of Us - Part 2 is extremely interesting to frame the growth of the video game as a means of communication.
As per disclaimer, this review will contain SPOILER, so we invite anyone who hasn't played at The Last Of Us - Part 2 to read only if he is willing to discover important plot turns.
A brief introduction on the gameplay of The Last Of Us - Part 2
The Last Of Us - Part 2 he kept the general structure of gameplay and narration similar to the previous one, with small evolutions. Thanks also to the greater amplitude of the environments, it is possible to avoid many fights by remaining in stealth. We can therefore take advantage of the classic squatting position, or new setting elements that allow us to get around enemies like tall grass. But we can also continue prone on the ground, sliding into narrower areas once considered inaccessible.
If you prefer, or unintentionally run into an action clash, we can engage in more complex fights thanks to the addition of the dodge. To defend ourselves from even more numerous different types of enemies, the quantity of weapons available to us increases as the game progresses. In the end, as in the previous chapter, perhaps we even reach an excessive number of options, which in the most frenetic moments hinder the choice.
The world of The Last Of Us - Part 2 not only does it take advantage of console technology to its fullest potential to show even more realistic and expansive environments, but every single detail placed by the developers tells something. In this way, a extremely complex world outside that of the individual protagonists. So we go from collectibles scattered around, such as letters, or propaganda writings on the walls, the fighting styles of different factions, or ritual phrases of secondary characters, up to optional conversations. Whether inside or outside Jackson's walls, each element articulates what is around it, showing how causes and effects relate and influence each other.
The Last Of Us - Part 2: why do we have to suffer?
Through Joel's story, Neil Druckmann made it clear to the public that he was not interested in conventional heroic narrative.
With Uncharted 2, but also the most recent Uncharted 4, two other Naughty Dog projects he has worked on, his interest in morally questionable characters placed at the center of the story. These are characters tormented by a goal and willing to get what they want at any cost.
The entertainment market constantly produces books, comics, television series, podcasts, films where the hero and villain are easily identifiable. Where we know that the protagonist must fight for his right to be happy. Where his actions are justified and acceptable. Because he deserves it. Because he is the hero. And somehow, the hero is us.
Often this hero is not a saint, but his ability to suffer due to various injustices make it easy to move the balance needle. The story with its ups and downs allows us to accept, and often make us become attached, to a character who has performed a questionable action, a moral sacrifice, which however will never be as serious as what the antagonist is capable of doing.
How did he do The Last Of Us - Part 2 to create so much mess with just one hour of play?
The Last Of Us surprised the critics and the public in 2013, with the ability to transmit from a cold screen, through a plastic joypad, the growth of the relationship between Joel and Ellie. This mutual trust runs parallel in our head (or in our heart) thanks to accurate narrative choices. In fact, not only do we have to press keys to shoot enemies, but also to interact, chat, hold out Ellie's hand when we help her overcome a leap into the void in a dangerous building.
The moments of interaction are not Quick Time Events ends in themselves, but crucial moments for the formation of this relationship. By pressing those keys, we are therefore responsible and involved in the birth and growth of their relationship, not merely passive spectators. One of the most surprising gameplay choices is when this little girl, this one damsell in distress, is forced to become our avatar in the DLC Left Behind.
And from this relationship of trust, we must look at the other side of the coin and see things from his perspective.
The Last Of Us - Part 2 keep asking us to play the role of two different characters. But this time it seems that one of these is not on the good side. Who could ever accept it?
Because for many The Last Of Us - Part 2 it did not work?
If what we are offered on the gaming market gets us used to and cuddles us in a repetitive pattern where I participate, I share and live an adventure that leads me to win and obtain a satisfactory result in a troubled narrative / playful arc, nThere is nothing strange if a large part of the public does not accept being thrown off the carousel.
Accustomed to live videogame experiences where pressing keys allows us to get sweaty victories that are not always guaranteed in real life, it can be taken for granted that after a few hours of playing The Last Of Us - Part 2 all you want to do is throw the controller on the wall and turn off the PS. So on Metacritic many players who did not take some narrative choices well shared their opinion with the world, inserting totally negative evaluations. We talked about this review bombing here .
After buying the full price title, they felt betrayed by a story that forces them to carry out Joel's brutal murder. That Joel they had worn in the first title, with whom they shared hours and moments, and helped save what little was left in a cruel and violent world.
Why do we have to do things we don't want?
In the first title, the game mechanics don't allow us to choose what Joel can do, but only to implement its actions, becoming its accomplices. Since the prologue, the narrative is articulated in such a way as to understand, empathize, justify and motivate every single violence that perpetuates, although we know it is not the most correct one. We are always unable to choose the final result of the decisions.
The sequel does not differ at all in terms of narrative control. But instead of repeating the same pattern as its predecessor, from a linear history it completely overturns the patterns we are used to. So, build one delicate relationship between past and present, between foreshadowing and flashback, not only from Ellie's point of view, but also from that of her enemy, Abby. These continuous exchanges allow us to actively play, and not only passively assist, the personal vision of the events of the protagonists. Just as it is present in them at that moment of the game, the confusion of the situation it can make us feel uncertain about pressing the square button right away when we see the small icon on the screen to violently hit an enemy.
Why do I have to feel bad?
Suffering, pain, loss are the constants of the whole trip. Throughout the game it is not only the actions of the two protagonists that are disturbing, but the whole videogame aspect, from images to sounds, it reaches a realism and a quantity of details designed to underline the horror of a world where the struggle for survival is a matter of a second.
We are forced to play violent choices, and often senseless (or wanting to appear as such), just as they are violent and difficult to fully implement and justify for Ellie and Abby. We participate in a long spiral of actions dictated by the thirst for revenge, we observe what the two protagonists are willing to do, not only to appease her, but also to demonstrate to themselves and to the other what they are capable of. To survive, to declare one's intentions and needs, to find meaning in one's pain.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions
One of the tricks used by the authors to get away from a story where the good guys and the bad guys are easily identifiable is very simple: shift the point of view from the victim to the abuser. And continue this exchange until the end of the game, filling us with doubts and questions. Unlike The Last Of Us, where game mechanics help you stay on Joel's side, in The Last Of Us - Part 2 you never stop asking yourself "What the heck am I doing?".
The intention of Neil Druckman was of tell a story about the cycle of violence, how actions call for answers, and show all the different aspects that may arise from this. Not necessarily to talk about good or bad, but to explore as many consequences as possible in response to individual actions.
This exchange of points of view is not only of the characters, but also temporal. Continuing the game, obtaining the flashbacks as proofs of the solution of a mystery, we slowly solve the difficult choices of the protagonists understanding their origin, confusion, anger. We get not only simple explanations, but a personal game experience where we explore the roles of the characters and the story as if it were ours, in a way that would not have worked otherwise. Everything is designed for question our scale of values, and the way we react and experience violence, actively through play, and not exclusively through dialogues and cutscenes. Because it is not just a question of beating a game up to the end credits with the joypad in your hand, but of solving it with your head and heart.
What is left for us
The Last Of Us - Part 2 it also has the advantage of having started many other discussions.
These discussions are based not only on technical choices of writing, technology and direction, but also on those of LGBTIA + representation (to compare with the representation of Disney o by Rowling). There has been talk of marketing and relevance between trailer and final product, depression and psychological problems. We then talked about the toxic communication on social networks between the world of players and professionals in the sector, the difficulty of accepting female figures that diverge from the status quo pop imagery or crunch system in the gaming industry. These are complex and vast themes, which I preferred not to include in this article, and deserve a dedicated space.
Definitely, The Last Of Us - Part 2 shows how video games are continuing to grow, and in addition to bringing moments of reflection, they still provide many other possibilities for experimentation.
That of Ellie and Abby is a long journey, each mirror of the other. Difficult and complicated, real and moving. They do not diminish, but rather enhance the experience of the game, without giving rise to the concern of not being able to include the term "fun" to be able to define it, pigeonhole it, circumscribe it, label it.