This article assumes the reader has played both The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part II through their entirety. Be warned, there are extensive spoilers ahead.
The Last of Us Part II was the much-anticipated sequel to the beloved game, The Last of Us, which originally released in 2013 for the PlayStation 3. Seven years later, The Last of Us Part 2 released for the PlayStation 4. Both games were developed by Naughty Dog, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony Interactive Entertainment, who has a fantastic reputation in the gaming industry for making “amazing” games (whilst not treating employees very well). Fans of the original game had very high hopes for the sequel. Some people loved the game declaring it a “masterpiece.” Some have personally elected it the “Game of the Year.” Others consider it a heaping pile of garbage. Why has this game had such an impact on its players? Why was it so polarizing? There’s no doubt that Naughty Dog set out to make a controversial game. They knew there would be people who didn’t like it. Whether or not they suspected the sequel would completely divide its fanbase is anyone’s guess. From a new, female protagonist, to the death of a cherished character, it has kept us talking months after its release. The Last of Us Part 2 won Ultimate Game of the Year at the Golden Joysticks and The Game Awards’ Game of the Year, along with several more awards as well. Love it or hate it, this game is full of controversy and is definitely the most controversial game of the year.
Before I dive in to explain what I mean, I think The Last of Us (part 1) is one of the most incredible games I have ever experienced. The story is well-written, meaningful, and poignant. We felt a closeness to the main protagonists, Joel and Ellie. We knew them; we understood them. I also had high expectations for Part 2, and I felt very disappointed after playing it. The combat was great. I loved the more realistic upgrading of the weapons. I was impressed by the new enemies we encountered. The graphics are some of the best we’ve ever seen in video games. The story, though, is too long. It dragged on in places. It felt repetitive, and as if I was just guiding it along with a controller. And most of all, the story really lacked. Rather than paralleling the stories of Abby and Ellie separately, intertwining their stories would have had more of the impact that Naughty Dog sought to provide. It just wasn’t fun. The themes of vengeance, redemption, hate, and “violence isn’t the answer” are boring. I’m not a The Last of Us Part 2 hater, though. I would give the game 8 out of 10 stars, because it’s not a “trash” game. But it is flawed, and far from being a masterpiece, in my opinion. I played it twice, though, for what it’s worth, so I did dedicate nearly 60 hours of my life to it.
We can’t have an article about controversy without discussing our newest protagonist, Abby Anderson, a Firefly whose father was gunned down by our very dear Joel Miller. Abby is a ridiculously buff, badass woman who we were unaware of in the first game, and were forced to play as for half of the sequel. We asked ourselves, “Who is this woman and why am I playing as her?” Her identity is revealed in due time when we find out that her father was the doctor making the tough decision to kill Ellie to save humanity (more on this later). Joel killed the doctor, rescued Ellie, and they lived happily ever after. Or so we thought. Upon the start of the sequel, Abby and Joel cross paths, and Abby beats Joel to death with a golf club. Immediately we hate this woman, and then have to play as her for 15 hours. This move no doubt angered some fans. According to Jason Brown (@geekmid), “… It commits a cardinal sin of killing off a character you’re already deeply engaged with – and then puts you in control of the person who murdered him.” How can I possibly enjoy playing as Abby when all I wanted to do was find ways in the game to kill her?
Naughty Dog’s mission was to show us Abby’s side of the story, and get us to go from, “I HATE THIS WOMAN WITH EVERY FIBER OF MY BEING” to “Okay, I understand and respect her.” Did this work? Not for a lot of people. A common thing I saw mentioned online is that Abby did not redeem herself for quite a lot of players. She remained a disliked character throughout the game. Jason Brown (@geekmid) stated, “When a character is someone you can’t empathize with, or does stuff… that you don’t agree with, I just don’t see the point. [It] creates too much cognitive dissonance for me to remain engaged.”
Abby’s controversy is set around many aspects. The first being that she is so fit and muscular, some people accused her of being transgender. Let’s set the record straight that Abby is not transgender, and even if she was, cool. It doesn’t bother or offend me one bit. She shares a sex scene with Owen in which a lot of people were turned off by this calling the scene “super gross,” but then didn’t address Ellie and Dina’s sex scene. Again, Abby is not a man; she’s not transgender, and like her or not, if she were real, she could certainly kick our asses.
Naughty Dog attempted to humanize Abby with a few soft touches. Her fear of heights is one of those ways, and certainly plays an unnecessary role throughout the game. Secondly, while Ellie kills dogs in the game, Abby pets and plays with them. Some people were so off-put and angry by the killing of dogs in this game. But we can’t be mad about killing dogs in one game and not in others. I digress. Lastly, Lev is included in the story as a prop to show Abby as a redeemable, motherly figure. This is another gimmick for you to like Abby. I wish I didn’t analyze situations like this, because I’d probably enjoy stories more in general.
There is a scene at the end where we are in control of Abby and we must shoot Ellie. How many of us intentionally let Ellie kill Abby to see what would happen? I know I sure did. I felt extremely uncomfortable shooting Ellie, which was the purpose of that scene.
No matter how hard Naughty Dog tried, Abby just did not redeem herself for me. I didn’t care about her before she killed Joel, and I still didn’t care about her when Ellie spared her life. According to Sarco (@Sarco1893), “If Naughty Dog had released something akin to the ‘Left Behind’ DLC… somewhere in that seven years between the first and second game, that could have provided the framework for investment in the story of the second game.” I agree with this sentiment. We probably could have cared more for Abby if we had at least been aware of her existence.
The first game was primarily focused on Ellie, Joel, and their relationship. Ellie nursed Joel back to health after falling out of a window and landing on a metal rod. We know the exact moment Joel falls for Ellie as his own, calling her “baby girl” and holding her in his arms. We have hope that Joel will teach Ellie to swim and teach her to play guitar. Further along in the game, Joel saved her from certain death. We know and love Ellie just as she is.
In the DLC, “Left Behind,” we find out Ellie is a lesbian and we see her first kiss. In watching game trailers for part 2, Ellie kisses Dina which led to points of contention for quite a few gamers who hadn’t played “Left Behind.” We see silly comments like: “Why is Naughty Dog shoving their SJW agenda down our throats?” Yada, yada, yada. It’s 2020 and we still have to have these discussions.
In the sequel, Ellie is nineteen years old and cares for herself. She is struggling with Joel’s lie because she now understands what her life means. She doesn’t want to speak to Joel anymore, not knowing what fate has in store for him. To understand Ellie, we have to put ourselves in her shoes. I’ll give you two examples of what I mean.
I want to discuss this topic from today’s perspective, because it is quite relatable. In today’s society, we are currently in the midst of a global pandemic from a coronavirus called COVID-19. There have been 64 million cases of COVID-19 and 1.5 million deaths from COVID-19 worldwide at the time I’m writing this. Let’s ask ourselves, if there was one person who held the cure for the coronavirus, everyone would be cured, life could go back to normal, no one else would die, and there wouldn’t be any more toilet paper shortages, would the killing of that one person be justified? I hope your answer is no. I mean, what if it was your child? Ellie was someone’s “child” and deserved to live her life. Now, imagine life as Ellie, carrying around the burden of knowing her life could have been worth saving all of humankind.
Unfortunately, Ellie doesn’t get to resolve her issues with Joel because before she can, Abby murdered him right in front of her. Ellie spent the entirety of the story searching for Abby and wanting to kill her for revenge. Throughout the story, we really watched Ellie self-destruct. She killed pregnant Mel, but couldn’t stand to lose pregnant Dina begging Abby to spare her. Ellie sets out on a solo journey to find and kill Abby to put her mind at ease, only for all of her anger and vengeance to come crashing down at the very end (minus two fingers) when she realizes “violence isn’t the answer.” In the end her desire for retribution potentially caused her to lose everything, including her family with Dina.
This led to anger that the story had an unsatisfactory ending. Playing devil’s advocate here, but imagine yourself in Ellie’s shoes. If your loved one was murdered right before your very eyes, you would likely see red, and may want revenge as well. Though, there are consequences for revenge, and I think this is an important message to remember when considering the ending.
Maybe the most controversial move on Naughty Dog’s part was the killing of our beloved Joel, who was arguably one of the greatest video game characters of all time. I get it. It’s okay to hate Neil Druckmann for this decision (though it’s not okay to harass him over it). Joel was my video game love, and I probably would have been heart-broken over this scene if it hadn’t been spoiled for me beforehand. Nevertheless, let us discuss why Joel was murdered in the first place.
At the end of the first game, Joel saves Ellie from certain death to selfishly protect himself from hurt again. Remember, his daughter Sarah died in the game opener. In order to seek a cure for the cordyceps brain infection threatening humanity, Ellie would have had to die. She was immune, so she was an ideal candidate to help create a cure for the disease. Now, Joel had fallen in love with Ellie as if she were his own flesh and blood by the end scenes. And by saving Ellie, he did two things: He killed Abby’s father, the doctor who was operating on Ellie, and he did irreparable damage to humanity, as humans were still suffering from the outbreak. The cure had been prolonged or eliminated completely due to Joel’s selfishness. He did a really bad thing. So in part 2, even after protecting and saving Abby, Abby brutally murders him with a golf club to the head. Is his death justified? That’s up to you to decide. Killing such a well-rounded character one hour into the sequel, just didn’t do it for me. If he has to die, can we have it later so we can experience more of his story without flashbacks that provided nothing to the game?
Everything we knew and loved in The Last of Us was ruined in part 2 – the hope, the love we shared for Ellie and Joel – all gone. I can absolutely see why some people hate this game. The ending really left a disgusting taste in a lot of people’s mouths; however, it’s worth mentioning that it did make us feel something, good or bad. Regarding the ending, Sarco (@sarco1893) stated, “No Joel. No vengeance. No Dina. No vengeance, again. Down two fingers on our left hand. I did, however, gain a truckload of WTF moments, confusion, and a general ARGH! sense of feeling when thinking of The Last of Us Part II.” There’s no doubt part 2 has angered some fans, and some to the point that they wouldn’t be interested in playing a part 3.
I don’t really understand the 10 out of 10 review scores, but I can appreciate the reasons why people could love this game. It’s well-made. The characters felt alive. The post-apocalyptic world was beautiful and inviting. And there was incredible attention to detail in every single turn. It’s okay to have differing opinions on the game. No one is right or wrong here. But disagreeing with others’ opinions by throwing insults at the other side is unjustified. I see many variations of: “You must be stupid if you don’t like this game. You just didn’t understand it.” Or maybe I just wanted a stronger theme than “violence isn’t the answer.” I understand why this story was made. I just didn’t enjoy it.
Regardless, there are many more controversial topics we could discuss about The Last of Us Part 2. I haven’t touched the surface of what I’ve seen people complain about online. No matter our personal feelings, we can all admit Naughty Dog pours their heart and soul in their games. They set out to push the limit with The Last of Us Part 2, and they definitely succeeded. I honestly don’t know if we’ll ever have another game with so much divisiveness, so much controversy. I wouldn’t elect it as my personal Game of the Year, but it definitely wins the award for the Most Controversial Game of the Year.