In which I review THE LAST OF US 2 without ever playing it

I loved The Last Of Us— I bought a PS3 basically just so that I could play it, and I called it the best game of 2013 after I beat it. If you’re not familiar with that review– and why would you be, since I wrote it seven years ago– you might want to give it a quick read before you read this. Also, I intend to spoil the hell out of the sequel, so if you’re going to read this you should probably have either already beaten the game or not plan to play it. Lemme throw a separator in here to help you out:


SPOILERS ABOUND BEYOND THIS POINT


If you didn’t read the previous review, here’s the important parts: I really connected with this game as a dad, and that resulted in 1) paternal feelings toward Ellie that made the part where you play as her, and thus get killed over and over and over again, really emotionally difficult, and 2) totally understanding why the game ended by forcing you to gun down the scientists who were trying to find a cure for the Cordyceps fungus– because it would have killed Ellie, and there’s just no universe where Joel would have ever allowed that to happen.

I got all kinds of whispers and rumors about this game before it came out that made me feel like playing it– especially right now, with all the other shit going on in the world and in my life– was not going to be an emotionally sound decision. Kotaku called the damn game a “misery simulator.” I don’t need that. But … damn, it was the sequel to what is still one of the best games I’ve ever played! Made by the same people! How do I just ignore this?

I decided to watch a Let’s Play on YouTube instead, which would provide me with the game’s story– in this case, most of what I cared about– and allow me the ability to either 1) buy the game if I decided that’s what I wanted or 2) nope out at any time. And so for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been watching a couple of half-hour episodes a day as they’ve been being released, and up until last night I was more or less still secure in my decision but also thinking eeeh, I probably could have bought this, but never really coming close to the point where I needed to. Plus, it’s violent as hell, to the point where I don’t want my son exposed to it yet, so I’d only have been able to play after he went to bed. This decision worked for me, is what I’m saying.

Well, the guy I’m watching isn’t as into the story as I am, and after having to watch him complain through one of the quieter parts in the denouement at the end of the game, I decided fuck it and went ahead and Googled the spoilers for the rest of the game. And this is where I’m exercising my nope the fuck out option and not even watching the rest, because despite having watched probably 90-95% of it the game has somehow saved a good 2/3 of its assholery for the final minutes.

Huh. I haven’t actually spoiled anything yet.

Here’s the thing: The Last of Us 2’s central thesis is that every decision you can possibly make is going to lead to loss and heartache. That there are no good people, that there is no forgiveness in the world, that where forgiveness does exist it is a fatal mistake, and there is no way, ever, to do the right thing. That the right thing is in fact an illusory concept from the beginning. It’s going to come back and bite you in the ass eventually no matter what you do. Literally every decision any character in this story makes leads to pain. Every single one. There are two moderately sympathetic characters, neither of which are playable, and both of them are put through utter hell. The two protagonists, Ellie and Abby, are both repeatedly shown to be awful people, and I think Ellie absolutely gets the shorter stick in that regard, so if you, like me, came into this game predisposed to like her as a character because you viewed her as a daughter … well, be prepared for the game to hurt you for that as well.

Every decision every character makes in this game leads to the death of their friends and family members. Every single one. And in case you’ve picked up elsewhere– because I haven’t talked about it yet– that revenge is a major theme of the game, be aware that the game shits on its characters both for seeking revenge and for not seeking revenge. Both are terrible mistakes. You cannot escape them.

I, uh, don’t need this in my escapist fiction right now. There’s a place for depressing entertainment out there, but I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that your average Holocaust movie is told with a lot more hope for humanity than The Last of Us 2. There is nothing but nihilism here, nothing at all, and I don’t need it.

The gameplay looks to be about exactly the same as the first one, by the by. That’s a recommendation; if a semi-stealth shooter with absolutely gorgeous graphics is what you’re looking for and you’re capable of ignoring the story you probably will have a good time with this. I can’t; or at least I can’t with this particular series. I’m not even watching the last couple of episodes now that I know how it ends. I’m fucked up enough from reading about them; I don’t need it in my head. I’ve got enough real emotional stress right now without letting fictional misery in.