Updated: Sep 23, 2020
By Mihika Sujir
“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” - Confucius
From the first game itself, Naughty Dog made it absolutely clear that this game is not for the fainthearted, but what about the cool and uncaring?
The long and popularly awaited sequel that came out after seven years has taken the gaming industry by storm but not for the reasons one might expect.
In the first week itself, the game sold a record 4 million copies making it the fastest selling game of 2020. However, it scored a devastating 3.4/10 review on Metacritic solely because of players unsatisfied with the heavy storyline and diverse characters.
So, firstly for the non-gamers, what is this game about?
The Last of Us series is a survival game created by Naughty Dog, a first-party video game developer. The game takes place in post-apocalyptic America ravaged by a deadly fungus called the cordyceps, which has the ability to turn humans into flesh-eating zombies. With no public order or laws in place, humans have to fight not only the infected but also the various human factions driven by their own anarchic motive for survival. The first game is played from the point of view of a smuggler, Joel, who involuntarily takes in a child, Ellie, in his pursuit of survival.
The Last of Us 2 takes place nearly five years after the first game, but with Ellie being the main character she embarks on a tormenting quest to Seattle to avenge Joel’s cruel death.
But what’s polarising and unorthodox about this sequel is that it has proven to be unequivocally ruthless and unforgiving in regards to the storyline and the violence.
The hyper realistic combat where every gunshot or melée hit results in a body part being dismembered to the agonising cries of the enemy the player kills, all this coupled with shiver inducing background music and impeccable sound design really creates a palpable atmosphere of awe and disgust. With the sheer amounts of gore and violence, you start to realise that whatever moral compass you once held on to, ends up in complete shambles.The infected or “zombies” which were the primary enemy in the first game take a backseat in the sequel. The players spend more time fighting the different groups of survivalists in the dystopian game making it even more cruel.
In terms of the visuals and the astounding graphic fidelity, everything is so painstakingly detailed and consistent with regards to the quality, it leaves you no choice but to take a step back and take in the staggering landscapes. The different environments are incredibly vast, almost resembling an open world game. From endless nooks and crannies to scavenge for resources to the colossal skyscrapers of Seattle, every aspect is so well planned out and designed, it is truly a game miles ahead of its time, something Naughty Dog is best-known for.
However, what really sets it apart from the other games is the storyline- the reason why the series is receiving so much criticism and since it is a plot so relentless in its pursuit that it has many players giving up on the game. But what one needs to realise is that it is very easy
to make popularly demanded content, fulfil the general consensus and earn massive profits. This is why it is admirable that the game developers really let their creative freedom run free to create a story as hefty as this.
You cannot hate nor like the game in its full capacity nor can you hate any character because there is no one side to a story. With Ellie blinded by pure hatred to avenge Joel’s death, you see her turning into someone she’s not. Every enemy she kills she loses a part of herself but she
doesn’t stop, she can’t stop because the
hatred has plagued her entire body. You start to realise her quest for revenge is absolutely futile and is destroying her.
The above still is when Ellie finally realises the futility of her actions since evidently it has exhausted her to the brim
Abby on the other hand, faces a similar fate where she kills Joel to avenge her father’s death. She faces the consequences brought on by Ellie which leave her broken as well. Both these characters have such a similar tragic past that if they just talked in a civil manner they would realise that both of their actions were justifiable in their own ways. But Ellie’s hunt doesn’t stop even when Abby has given up, only in the end does Ellie finally realise that her actions are not helping anyone, in fact they are only hurting her.
The sequel also involves a lesbian couple (Ellie and Dina) as well as a trans character (Lev) acted out by an actual trans actor (Ian Alexander) where they wonderfully tackle the story of Lev and how he came to accept himself even though the community he once belonged to did not.
Through this game we perceive that the world isn’t just black and white, there are countless causes for a single effect. Exactly why the game makes the player play characters of both perspectives and forces you to empathise with the “enemy”. The enmity between the various factions is caused by the difference in beliefs and because of one misunderstanding, endless hatred ensues, as seen in the case between the Washington Liberation Front (WLF) and the Seraphites. But when Abby (WLF) and Lev (Seraphites) start to bond over survival we see that there is no absolute side and a difference in beliefs can easily be accommodated by being more empathetic and inclusive.
And this is applicable to modern times too. The animosity between people of different religions and this rising culture of the “perfect opinion” on social media is taking room away to exercise our freedom of speech. All over the internet we only notice debates and in many cases harassment, we rarely ever see any legitimate dialogue taking place. Cancel culture and extreme “wokeness” are offsprings of this characteristic. This may be a bit of a digression, but it is a hard pill to swallow.
The series has a sombre ending but it is a fitting one to such a grim game. It is a mistake to get attached to any character because there is a high chance that they may end up dead in the most brutal manner possible. But all in all, it is one of the best games to come out in 2020.
Video games are becoming more and more cinematic with Naughty Dog at the top and what the next gen games will bring is beyond anyone’s imagination.