In many spaces, the loudest voices have the least amount to say. That couldn't be more true in the avenue of gaming. The most popular personalities in "anti-media" are parroting talking points without even experiencing the piece of media they're talking about. It's more frustrating that the discussions around a movie -- unlike film, it's impossible to boil longer, epic video games down to a couple of log lines. That's precisely what happened in the case of The Last of Us Part II.
Whether it be a legion of fans upset over the plot direction or the inclusion of "SJW-tinged" characters, you don't have to go far to read hot takes on the direction of the series. Had the game's story stayed under wraps, fans would've undoubtedly seen it as the game it truly is. Too many people gave in to the hive mind and made their decision before the game even had a firm release date. Naughty Dog were very unlucky. No one could have expected that a network vulnerability deep in their servers would lead to over an hour of cutscenes being leaked. Those who read the leaks (myself included) were treated to a fan fiction rundown that filled in the blanks in the quickest, sloppiest way possible. There wasn't a single shred of nuance or purpose. I was angry, like many. I even said I wouldn't buy the game on launch. I did.
Many things crossed my mind in the weeks that followed the leaks. I thought about the human cost of making a title like this; seven years of hard work reduced to a single paragraph. Anyone would hate to spend a chunk of their life only to have it bastardized in the home stretch. I imagined how demoralizing it must've felt to have the artistic integrity of your vision twisted into something entirely different. Judging from the initial sales of the game (4 million units sold in three days), it doesn't seem like the leaks had much of an effect. If you were to judge solely on word of mouth, however, it paints an entirely different story. Everywhere you go, you hear people asking: "How is the game? I've heard that it's great gameplay, but the story sucks." What often follows is comment threads rehashing the same details of the initial leaks. Sometimes the person will claim to have played the game in its entirety only to miss crucial context or details that only the player would know. The cycle of misinformation continues and less people are willing to play something they think they already have experienced. What I've learned about my social circles through this is that my peers lack empathy, understanding, and objectivity. MAJOR STORY SPOILERS TO FOLLOW!
When I read that Joel would die, I expected it to be something that happened in the middle of the game -- or closer to the end. Something that big had to have a weighty location in the overall plot. I never anticipated it would happen so soon. I was completely taken off-guard -- and frankly, I was impressed by the courage to tackle it so early in narrative. I was actually more relieved by the infamous golf club scene than I was saddened. After that, the game was no longer tethered the simple narrative leakers had established and I felt free to enjoy the rest of the story. Knowing the fate of Joel before playing helped me deal with the initial anger before I even touched the game. I don't know if I can say this with finality, but perhaps I had an advantage over some players who were blindsided by the event. To address the critiques, it's very easy to be angry at a plot that doesn't go the way you wanted it. People aren't wrong to say that there are hundreds -- if not thousands -- of ways the story could've unfolded. However, keeping Joel alive would only hinder Ellie's story. The majority of players would be obsessed with how his story continues, but Joel's story was far done. Part II needed to push the world further. Needless to say, hate is the easiest feeling to succumb to. Critical reviews of The Last of Us Part II state that the game is boring, overlong, and lacks action. In my first 10 hours, I experienced far more action set pieces than the first game -- akin to what you'd see in an Uncharted title. I fail to see the need for criticism here.
Gamers have a control problem -- the moment the story is out of their hands, it's unfair. It's absurd for something to happen that you have no hand in. "This character wouldn't do this because I wouldn't do this." It's pretty telling that, even in RPGs that allow for insane levels of customization, the overall story is fairly linear in how it's told. The community at large seldom have the same issue with those types of stories due to the illusion of choice. Sometimes, it's better to not have that illusion at all. When have your choices actually mattered in a game? The point of The Last of Us Part II is to subvert revenge story tropes. In that respect, it succeeds in spades. Without saying too much on the story, I wholeheartedly believe it needs to be experienced in context of the gameplay. The story works because of the way and method it's told; even something as simple as learning and playing guitar resonates in a powerful way before the credits roll. You can't get that sensation from watching a movie -- or reading a lackluster summary. There's a segment early on that echoes the "giraffe" moment from the first game(you'll know it when you see it). The critics are blindly wrong; there's no misery trip here. It perfectly strikes the balance between sadness and bittersweet happiness. In closing, I'd like to pose an honest question -- what would you have preferred to see in a sequel to one of the greatest stories ever told through the medium? It was a simple tale that flirted with complexity near its ambiguous end. Part II serves to expound on that concept and stretch it over 30 hours. I found it perfectly paced, engrossing, and endlessly engaging. It's been a long time since I've felt this moved by a game. Buy it. Rent it. Don't sell yourself short only reading about it. Don't give in to the overwhelming culture of hate.