OPIRG - Dis-O Week 2021
New Canadians Centre
Sparq Retail
Still from 'The Last of Us Part II'

The Last of Us Part II was my Favourite Worst Game of 2020

Written by
Evan Robins
and
and
July 15, 2021
The Last of Us Part II was my Favourite Worst Game of 2020
Still from 'The Last of Us Part II'

When forced to decide which game best encapsulated my time in the pandemic for this article, I was presented with a monumental task. In many ways, I was really spoiled for choice. In the absence of the hassles of in-person events, or, you know, leaving the house for the past year, I had played a lot of video games. I cleared out the dozens of games in my backlog, clocked hundreds of hours on PlayStation Network playing Call of Duty with friends, not to mention spending many a dull lecture playing indie games on my laptop (apologies to my profs). When it comes down to it though, there was only ever going to be one for me. 

To anyone even dimly familiar with the world of gaming, The Last of Us Part II was always going to be a very big deal. The original – which follows survivors Joel and Ellie on a post-apocalyptic road trip mission to synthesize a cure for a deadly fungal pandemic – was one of the best selling games on the PlayStation 3, a veritable masterpiece which would come to define games as a medium for storytelling and laid the groundwork for Sony’s domination of the console market for the next seven years. The Last of Us is one of those universally revered games comparable to Final Fantasy VII or Metal Gear Solid in terms of its universal adulation. It reinvigorated an interest in both survival-horror and serious, story-driven games, broke new ground in queer representation in games media, and cemented developer Naughty Dog’s reputation as a critical darling. Part II undoubtedly had big boots to fill. 

However, the actual launch of The Last of Us Part II was rocky, to say the least. The game received near unanimous critical praise, but was review bombed on release day, dragging its user score on Metacritic to a measly 3.4/10. The ensuing controversies and vitriol have been well documented, and the game’s controversy might well be better remembered than the game itself. But what of that game? Did it deserve all the backlash it received? Is it even any good? 

The simple answer is, yes, the game is very good. It feels in every way like a fitting sequel to a game which was already excellent on its own merits, expanding the story and themes of the previous instalment while still paying homage to its predecessor. The prologue, set five years after the events of the original, effortlessly sets you back into the world of the Last of Us as though you’d never left. Its accolades speak for themselves – Part II is the winner of the most Game of the Year awards of all time. The game is an incredible piece of art, but as a product… well, that’s another story. 

The Last of Us Part II is both a gripping, emotional story about the cost of revenge and the lengths we go to protect the ones we love, and the product of systemic worker exploitation at great human cost. It is a game that had a fraught development cycle, ripe with crunch and worker burnout, yet still managed to garner near-unanimous critical praise. The struggle in writing about a game like this is finding the balance between the art and the product, because as much as I want to like this game, to do so feels gutturally wrong to me. 

When I try to look objectively at it there are several things I know. This game is, simply in terms of graphic fidelity, the most beautiful game I have ever played. The lighting engine is phenomenal, the textures on water, foliage, and skin are unparalleled. The atmosphere throughout is palpable through lighting, smoke, and fog, and the motion capture brings characters to emotive, tangible life like no game I’ve ever played. The gameplay is also stellar. Stealth has been refined and redesigned from the previous game, and every element of combat feels immersive and weighty. Gunplay is tense, hand-to-hand combat is kinetic and brutal. Most of all, this game is scary. Part II takes the horror elements of the original and runs with them. That first game was at its best when it put you in claustrophobic situations with limited resources and time, levels like the flooded hotel stick out for those very reasons. This sequel is rife with tense, claustrophobic, terror inducing sequences – crawling through air ducts to sneak past spore-tossing zombies, running from a terrifying religious cult who mercilessly hunt down those who encroach on their territory, being chased by a horrific Cronenberg-esque monster through the ruins of a sunken hospital – which superbly balance action in survival-horror in a way many games fail to do. 

The story is where a lot of people get lost. Personally, I really enjoy the plot of The Last of Us Part II, and feel it not only serves as a fitting sequel, but also simply as a good piece of art. The principal story takes place over three days in Seattle, bookended by “prologue” and “epilogue” segments which form a pseudo five-act structure. Most people remark on how “dark” the story is, and make no mistake, it is bleak. However, this bleakness is counterbalanced by fleeting periods of happiness delivered through flashbacks, and tender moments of Ellie playing the guitar, or characters simply having conversation in moments between the more heightened set pieces. It’s a tone which won’t work for everyone, but for those invested in the story will (in my opinion) give the darker moments more cathartic impact. The story also carries on the template set by the original for thoughtful character work and inclusive writing. Ellie, Joel, and Tommy have all had time to grow in the five years between games, and new characters like Dina and Jesse are welcome additions to the cast of this game. The importance of queerness and race, even in the post apocalypse, are not lost on the writers, and this game provides incredibly thoughtful and compassionate depictions of queer characters which are so vanishingly rare in games media.

This all being said, for as good as I personally think The Last of Us Part II is, I have a hard time enjoying it because I know exactly what went into its making. The games industry is one filled with abuse. Workers are regularly underpaid, forced to work exceedingly long hours, and subjected to “crunch,” an incredibly exploitative practice that entails working up to 60 hour weeks, 12 hour days, and often cases days and days on end, including weekends, in an effort to finish a game before its projected deadline. The Last of Us Part II was twice delayed, meaning developer Naughty Dog was in crunch mode from at least (if not before) the original February deadline until its June 2020 release. Even after the game was released, programmers, voice actors, and creative leads were subjected to targeted harassment campaigns and death threats for their work on the game as part of the latent, post-gamergate “Anti-SJW” attitude many still cling to. The Last of Us Part II is a shitty, vacuous product made from a broken system which sucks people for all their worth. The abuses of Naughty Dog and countless other AAA devs are well documented, and become increasingly inexcusable when indie titles like Celeste or Hades manage to tell equally compelling, equally inclusive stories without the crunching and abuse behind them. So for as deeply as I love The Last of Us Part II, I don’t have to like it. Play this game, but if you do, buy it second hand, borrow it from your friend, don’t give the studio your money. If you’re looking for an incredible gaming experience, with fine-tuned gameplay, incredible characters, and inclusive storytelling, this game will give it to you. It’s just a shame it has to come at such a cost. 


OPIRG - Dis-O Week 2021
New Canadians Centre
Sparq Retail
Written By
Sponsored
OPIRG - Dis-O Week 2021
New Canadians Centre
Sparq Retail

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