The Last of Us Part II is a true definition of Videogames as Art. It is Brutal, Beautiful and Visceral.
Why are my hands shaking, I have done this, killed and hurt people before, why are my hands shaking. I can’t stop thinking of that girl, Nora, the one I made talk, the one I made tell me where she is. I did things I thought I could never do, but I had to know, had to end this.
These people are wrong, they are evil, aren’t they? They shoot first, they…they kill people we love but why do they cry out for their friends. Why do they plead, why can’t they just disappear.
Through all of this I am worried about Dina, wish we were home, all of us together and I could finally show them and…Joel…my own music. Have a mini concert even, I don’t know why I never played any of my own songs, will they die out here with me?
no. NO. I will not die till I am done, I will not cry again until it is finished. I will not stop or rest until I have killed very last one of them. Even…even if it means my soul dies along the way. It ends. I will find her.
The Last of Part II is a harrowing, visceral often uncomfortable journey into rage, love, anguish, violence and revenge. It is not an easy game to play, both in it’s challenges and content but it is a masterpiece of emotional storytelling and visual design.
Kicking off 5 years after the events of The Last of Us the story in this sequel begins around Ellie, the immune child, now a grown woman, from the first game. Revealing anything else will be a major spoiler but the game shows us this post infection world, focusing on it’s flawed and diverse characters and does not hold anything back as the story unfolds.
There are some amazing narrative choices made in this game, from detailed interactive flashbacks to segments played as other characters that really bring depth and substance to the story. The many locals and environments visited are stunning and often unfold in ways that pull the story in directions I was not expecting.
Developer Naughty Dog put so much effort into this world to make it feel real it is almost scary. Paths through dust, pools of water or blood that leave trails, stores that are brilliantly realized and devastated after years of nature retaking the land all make this world live and breath.
Enemies in The Last of Us Part II are familiar but oh so different. The humans encountered are smarter, call out to each other or check on patrols or partners. The infected roam in much more scary and believable ways and weapons are scarce and precious. Skills and weapons can be found and upgraded but that is just part of the mechanism to deliver this stellar experience.
What I found interesting is that the interactions with infected are more of a diversion this time around. They are still encountered often, but the game frames humans as the true predators and monsters this time. Roaming bands of violent cultist type figures are talked about like bogeymen and other communities violently guard their territory. The infected can be handled and avoided, but the humans in this world are the true danger.
That is what makes The Last of Us Part II so powerful. Naughty Dog has added a humanity to everyone. The humans encountered are real people, when someone is killed parties call out the missing by name and hope they are OK. These are not the nameless hordes of the Uncharted series, instead these are real men and women with relationships, loves, friendships and it has weight when they are killed, even when it is me controlling the action in the game.
This weight pervades the game, from the strained relationships that still burst with love, to burning hatreds towards others, emotions are key to this game. The story unfolds in ways that are shocking, hard to experience yet stunning to behold.
Even when the game takes an unexpected twist it is all towards adding nuance and substance to all the characters. Right becomes wrong and flips everything on it’s head. Aside from some obvious factions the enemies in The Last of Us Part II are only villains by perception and these perceptions change when the whole story is realized.
If there is ever an argument again that games are not art I will hold up The Last of Us Part II as my exhibit A proving they are in fact art. I felt as much playing this game as I have ever felt listening to music, reading poetry or looking at a painting. I was sad, angry, happy (rarely), disgusted, worried, introspective and puzzled and these feelings ran around in circles.
In the end I just plain absorbed the entire experience and felt it grab hold of me. I enjoyed the playing of the game, it was challenging and technically amazing to behold, but more importantly I felt moved and impacted by the experience. That is a rare feat from any artistic medium and one The Last of Us Part II gave me time and time again in my playthrough.