CNET's Jeff Bakalar's spoiler-free review of The Last of Us Part II

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plinko

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I'm not sure if it's cool to post this here but this just went up a couple hours ago! I think the game looks really nice visually but the description of how realistically the game tells its story is making me question if it's a good time to play it right now...

What do you all think?

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Humanity

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He sure talks up a big game. I'm a little worried about the performance on a base PS4 so I'm gonna have to check out a digital foundry breakdown.

Also love the fact that Jeff spends the entire review gushing about every aspect of this game, and then below there is a comment saying "This guy is always so bored and unimpressed by everything"

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Captain_Insano

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Jeff is great.

I don't know if I'm emotionally prepared for this game. I didn't have kids when I played The Last of Us, this will sound corny but playing these heavy games is more taxing since having kids. I loved God of War for example but some of that was heavier to deal with than it would have been otherwise.

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mikachops

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I have zero desire to play this (looks way too violent and depressing) but that was a great review.

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reap3r160

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@captain_insano:

Same, I mean I WILL play it because I enjoy Naughty Dogs level of story telling and characters but, it's gonna be rough.

I was gonna play through 1 again in preparation, got myabe 3 hours in and was like "yeah, I can't handle both these games within a few weeks of each other".

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armaan8014

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I have zero desire to play this (looks way too violent and depressing) but that was a great review.

Yeah, it's the spooky stuff for me, game looks so tense. I made it through TLOU but I don't think I can do it again, for what looks like an even scarier game. Plus have no time cause of backlog and Ghost of Tsushima.

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csl316

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Jeff's pretty good.

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mellotronrules

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#9  Edited By mellotronrules

excited is probably the wrong term to use- but i'm really looking forward to experiencing this. every professional review seems to be landing in a different position, so i'm curious to see what it ends up meaning to me.

jeff did a great job with that review, and i'm curious to hear him talk about it on the beastcast this afternoon. i'm even more curious to see how the gb staff react to it- we've got fans of the first (abby, brad)- people who don't typically latch on to narrative-before-mechanics games (jeff g.)- and a lot of relatively new parents that probably find themselves in a very different emotional place than 2013's original release.

oh and the context of release i suppose might be an influence. /s

kinda nuts to consider how perception of this game has almost undeniably changed in the final few months prior to release. especially given the length of development.

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Kemuri07

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The Polygon review is interesting contrast to this one where the review makes clear that her issue with the constant nihilism of TLOU2 lead to her not enjoying it. Which is fine! This is what challenging narratives are: They should be pushing us past our comfort zone.

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plan6

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@kemuri07: the best comment on that review is “The Last of Us 2 is the “End of Evangelion” of video games.

For those not in the loop regarding the End of Eva, it is one of the most stunning pieces is visual animation out there. But also is aggressively nihilistic towards its viewers. And has some super incel undertones that have only gotten worse with age. I loved it when I was 19 and think it’s a plate full of toxic frosting at 40.

The last of us two has powerful bioshock infinity vibes.

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Milkman

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Pretty amazing to go to Metacritic and see the game at a 96 and then look at my Twitter feed and see pretty much nothing about negativity about it.

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Efesell

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#13 Efesell  Online

Depending on the day I would probably say Last of Us was one of my favorites of that generation but frankly right now I'm too bummed at reality to be bummed in a video game.

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Kemuri07

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@plan6: hahah. That's a fantastic comparison.

I remember watching End of Evangelion and being blown away by it. It completely changed how I felt about Evangelion (which at the time I thought it was overrated), and just stuck with me. In regards to the Polygon review, I think my issue is that review using "Humans are better than this" as if its some unarguable fact. Honestly, I've been sliding towards "no I don't think we are better than this," for awhile now. I'm not hopelessly misanthropic, but I also no longer take for granted the idea that "people are good." Because I don't think that's true either.

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madpierrot

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This is one of those weird reviews where you see so many high scores, but three outlets that don't use scores (Kotaku, Polygon and Vice) all kinda... hated it. This is one of the aspects of game reviews that I'm always fascinated by. Obviously different people will have different views and that's totally normal and good, but when you see some nuts and bolts stuff about reviews where one outlet says it's a masterpiece and others say it's just bad I find really interesting.

God I would love some kinda podcast where a bunch of reviewers from different places with wildly varying scores talk it out.

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plan6

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#16  Edited By plan6

@kemuri07: I think the main problem is that the game is just saying the same thing it said last game, but with the character that you would assume won’t go down the same path.

Also “violence begets violence” while giving the player endless tools to violence is peak video game. Our game is serious and has things to say about humanity, now look at all these brutal executions.

Edit: A lot of the reviews about this game seem to be that it plays well, has problem with tone and game play clashing. Which was a problem with the last of us. People forget the sniper rifle vs armored car part of the game.

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Kemuri07

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@plan6: I think that's a fair complaint. I said this about TLOU, but that game really should have had limited enemy types. When you do fight human enemies, the game making you question your actions can work because you're not just killing people 24/7.

Unfortunately, because this is a video game, there's an expectation for the length of these things. So a game like this has to be padded out with action and violence.

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Efesell

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#18  Edited By Efesell  Online

Reading further and kinda going back to the idea that perhaps The Last of Us was a pretty powerful singular experience and could have just stood on its own.

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plan6

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@kemuri07: it is one of the problems with games like this. They play in the realm of prestige TV(Mad Men had like 5 million viewers on average ), but want and need to sell like a Marvel movie. So you get the end of the last of us one, where you fight your way out of an entire hospital with assault rifles.

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BladeOfCreation

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@madpierrot: Those are the outlets one would expect to not enjoy this game. I skimmed that Polygon one, and while I get where the reviewer is coming from, it's also one of those things where I just have to say, well, what did you expect? Of course the game is going to be absurdly violent. (As with the Polygon reviewer, I particularly hate the thing games do where they don't give your character a choice, and then at some point the game tries to make you, the player, feel bad. It is incredibly lazy writing.)

A podcast of various reviewers from different outlets is a really cool idea.

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plan6

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@bladeofcreation: I don’t think the reviewer was surprised by the violence. It is more that the game says over and over that violence is terrible and the source of the suffering the characters experiences; while also never giving the player the tools to project that lesson into game play.

To put it another way, Ellie thinks her actions are justified. The player doesn’t, and from my reading, the tone of the game does not. But yet the game requires brutal violence to progress through it.

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Kemuri07

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@plan6: Right. It seems like the reviews hang up is that she has an ideologically disagreement with the game.

I think this might be a game in which it helps to maybe not race through it.

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plan6

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@kemuri07: Ideological is a weird phrase to use in this. The games theme is “murder and violence are bad”. I don’t think anyone disagree with that stance.

Reviews like this remind me that video games have a long way to go as a medium. Both audience and games. They want to be treated like art and film, tapping into and exploiting nuanced subjects with depth and high levels of craft. But with that comes the other aspect of art and film, which is nuanced critique. And that means that big, important games that tackle heady subjects like brutal violence and humanity are going to get a variety of pieces written about them. If all those pieces say the same thing, it’s both dull and a disservice to the medium.

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mellotronrules

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#24  Edited By mellotronrules

honestly it's kinda why i'm stoked about the response to this game thus far. i'm glad the response seems varied, divisive and complex- it suggests that there's at least some sophistication to the character work, and some real consequential narrative commitments were made- which are the source of my enjoyment for TLoU in the first place.

i might end up being really disappointed- but at the very least it sounds emotionally challenging and burdensome, which is kinda what i want from a game like this (as odd as it might sound).

i'm not playing to have a good time- i'm just looking to be moved (in whatever direction that might be).

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Nodima

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#25  Edited By Nodima

Yes, please, let this game get the level of criticism something like, I don't know, The Souvenir got last year. I expected that movie to be entirely my shit, saw it in theaters, kind of completely hated it, found Richard Brody's review in the New Yorker which said exactly what I was thinking, then read review after review that argued so heavily in its favor that by the time it showed up on dozens of Best Of lists for 2019, I realized it was on Amazon Prime and gave it another shot. Turned out I did really like a lot of aspects of the movie - its tone, its setting, its truly nostalgic quality that made it feel as if a dream - and knowing what to expect, I was able to settle into its groove a bit more. I still had my central problem with the movie - primarily, that almost every time the drama reaches a boiling point, the camera looks away or the script moves on to a new scene. But with hindsight and further critique, I could see why Joanna Hogg made that decision, even if I didn't fully appreciate its execution.

The Souvenir wound up being exactly what I wanted it to be when I first saw a trailer for it - a movie I thought about for most of the year to some degree, and still think of as a definitive 2019 film, even if it's not making a list that also includes Parasite, Hollywood, Endgame and The Lighthouse, it's a movie I think about and want to discuss with people just as much as those other movies.

Moments like that are far more rare in video games, partly because it's audience is full of "well, duh, that's what the game is!" blow-hards but also because it's hard to find structural fault in, I dunno, a Mario game. So then it just matters if you can jump as high as you want or not. I think the interactivity makes it harder for players to play something and constantly think about how much they're not enjoying the experience, but I personally get a weird kick out of it. I remember something Patrick said near the end of his tenure at Giant Bomb that became part of his beat at Kotaku - he was making a more conscious effort to play games he'd been told were bad, or remembered were bad, to analyze and attack his or others' reasons for that badness.

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VincentVendetta

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I'm not surprised about Vice, Kotaku and Polygon being down on the game; their stance has always stroked me as the college moralist hipster that is popular in young American media and that has exasperated me for quite some time. Not that I trust (or should I say, respect) anyone else when it comes to narrative, even the Giant Bomb crew.

I have a big problem with people who just reject a game or a film, simply because they don't agree with what the main character does or think. Sure, Ellie (or any character) may be wrong in what they're doing, but that's okay, it's okay to be wrong, it's okay to step into the shoes of someone who is wrong, and to see how they got there, how they see the world, without going through the usual judeo-christian redemption story or public apology. Like, we're finally playing games, playing characters that don't have the same skin colour, the same gender, it only makes sense that we play character that don't have the same ideas, that don't have the same morals (without necessarily being a complete psychopath). A movie actor, especially one that plays a villain, doesn't think in the same way as the character they are playing, and that's okay! But in this current climate, I understand that's not what people want...

I will play it down the line, maybe a year from now, so I can close the book. I'll probably even read the complete synopsis on Wikipedia before buying it, it don't mind about spoilers.

I'll probably get thrown rocks for writing this... Oh well. That's my funeral.

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plan6

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College mortalist hipsters is my favorite discourse-core band. They killed it at the Market Place of Ideas last year.

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flatblack

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Seems like the main criticism from vice/kotaku/polygon reviews is not a moral disagreement but disappointment that the material doesn't give a deeper read than "violence is bad and you should feel bad for doing it." Which is totally fair.

On the other hand, part of the argument, at least from Maddy's review, is that the game wants to rub her nose in a lesson that she's already keenly aware of. I'm with that, but at the same time...maybe a large portion of the broader video game audience does need their nose rubbed in that lesson. It's a cynical take for sure, but considering everything... maybe not an unjustified one.

All that said, I'm definitely still going to play this and I'm looking forward to forming my own opinion.

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BladeOfCreation

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@plan6: Pfft. Sellouts ever since they signed with WokeAss Records. I like classic discourse-core, like Ludo and the Dissonant Narratives. I saw Ludo and the Dissonant Narratives open for Games, Art? back in 2006. They were great!

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Nodima

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Reading Maddy Myers' review now; I'm kind of tired of this angle she's taking to explain the thing she's tired of: "Few games had questioned their own body count until that point, but suddenly, in the early 2010s, they were all reacting to the state of in-game stories in the same way: by forcing the player to do things, and then blaming them for doing that thing, even though the player had no other way to proceed."

It's not very often that I feel like the avatar I'm controlling in the game is an extension of myself, and that's almost never the case when that avatar has a name, face, background and characterization I play no part in. I can accept feeling tricked, duped or led down an empty mineshaft in the context of a game that deliberately builds itself on choice: this is what makes Mass Effect 3 feel so perfunctory in its final moments. I, and many others, had expected our choices to matter when everything culminated, especially when the Suicide Mission from the previous game had given us a glimpse at exactly how that could play out. Instead, every player got the same ending with a few changes in dialogue.

But The Last of Us 2 isn't that; every player will get the same ending, and more importantly expects to. So to play this game and bristle at the idea that the player wants to do one thing but the character wants to do another is, to my mind, invalid because this was never an option and everyone who comes to Last of Us 2 shouldn't be expecting the choice of a pacifist playthrough ala Skyrim. This is like someone coming to Bloodborne and feeling disappointed when they learn their only option other than murdering hundreds of humans-turned-beasts and the False Idols and Gods they made the mistake of praying to is to not accept the contract and end the game (because most players miss that this is an option, maybe Far Cry 4's intro is a more apt comparison).

Anyway, I'm not saying all this to say, "well, what did you expect?" because that'd be pretty ironic of me considering what I said just a couple posts ago. I don't think Myers is wrong to play a violent game about violence that seems fundamentally opposed to that violence yet forces the player to perpetrate it over and over and over again. If you don't want that, it's well worth examining why the game doesn't make the argument it thinks its making, or fails to make it convincingly. But framing that in the context of, "I didn't have any other choice!" just doesn't feel entirely genuine, because we're not living in the fantasy world of Her where every game is equal parts VR immersion, open-world exploration, action game and lifestyle sim.

The Last of Us 2 is an action game with horror elements and ambitions of grandeur when it comes to storytelling. It's going to have action in it; the question is, did it need to be an action game to make its point, or should it have aimed for something else entirely?

@plan6 said:

College mortalist hipsters is my favorite discourse-core band. They killed it at the Market Place of Ideas last year.

Can you submit this to Texts From Your Existentialist?

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flatblack

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@plan6 said:

@kemuri07:

Reviews like this remind me that video games have a long way to go as a medium. Both audience and games. They want to be treated like art and film, tapping into and exploiting nuanced subjects with depth and high levels of craft. But with that comes the other aspect of art and film, which is nuanced critique. And that means that big, important games that tackle heady subjects like brutal violence and humanity are going to get a variety of pieces written about them. If all those pieces say the same thing, it’s both dull and a disservice to the medium.

I think this sums it up really nicely. Outlets like Vice are clearly more interested in critical analysis of games. Games that posture themselves as cinematic stories should be criticized accordingly. Not just for gameplay or graphics but for their themes. I hope y'all realize how corny you sound for calling that "hipster"

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plan6

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@flatblack: The tiring part of these discussions are folks who put in undo effort into knocking down review like the one from Vice or Polygon. Like Batman/Nolan-super fans who couldn’t deal with Dark Knight Roses being a blah movie, they rise up in every comment section to dominate all discussion with how wrong the reviewer is. It is just tiring.

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Shindig

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From the limited reading I've done, I get the sense this is a dark middle chapter. Think back to how The Last of Us was. Think what a dark middle chapter would look like. Bleak.

It would not surprise me if some outlets are done with it. Especially if this game leaves you with nothing to cling to or resolves itself. I will watch a playthrough of this game just to know.

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Socuteboss

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I suppose I'll just have to see for myself, but a game that endless tells me violence is bad but gives me no options to not engage in said violence is kinda eh? I read somewhere that enemies who see you kill their comrades will cry out and act grief stricken, but that feels kinda cheap when I only killed that dude because he attacked me on sight. Honestly, for all it's faults, Pathologic does this much better because the violence IS often a choice and there are real consequences to consider. From what I've read The Last of Us 2 just makes you brutally kill tons of people than in a cut scene tells you "No no, that was a BAD thing you just did"

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ragnar_mike

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#38  Edited By ragnar_mike

@shindig said:

From the limited reading I've done, I get the sense this is a dark middle chapter. Think back to how The Last of Us was. Think what a dark middle chapter would look like. Bleak.

It would not surprise me if some outlets are done with it. Especially if this game leaves you with nothing to cling to or resolves itself. I will watch a playthrough of this game just to know.

I sometimes feel like the original star wars having a great, dark middle chapter has lead to a lot of shitty sequels trying to push a trilogy into places the IP doesn't inherently need or want to go. Ironically that also includes the new Star Wars trilogy. Yes, Force Awakens is safe and nostalgic. But so was A New Hope. You don't always need to reinvent the wheel. Just make a good wheel and most people are happy.

TLOU foundationally has a very common movie trope theme. Its the execution of that theme was what carried some less than stellar gameplay and made that game a classic. TLOU2 is ALSO a very common movie trope, but the same rough gameplay edges seem to be showing their age when the part of the series that held everything together is leaving a bitter taste is people's mouths. I really liked Rob Zacny's article on the matter. Being dark, and gritty and nihilistic isn't the problem. It appears from what I can tell from reviews its that they don't DO anything with it. Its a setting the game takes place in rather than a narrative or morality play.

Not really spoilers, but tone comparisons, I guess you could infer between TLOU 1&2:

It sounds an awful lot like this game is trying to be the last 5 minutes of the first game stretched out over 25 hours without realizing that if you don't have the build up in tension and changes in characters disposition, that last 5 minutes is just nihilistic spiteful shit. The arc to that choice, the journey the characters and player makes to understand that decision and why its made is what matters, not the choice itself.

That being said, the game looks gorgeous. Props to errybody who worked on it. But man, live by the sword and die by the sword in regards to narrative driven story games, I guess.

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aktivity

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#39  Edited By aktivity

@socuteboss said:

I suppose I'll just have to see for myself, but a game that endless tells me violence is bad but gives me no options to not engage in said violence is kinda eh? I read somewhere that enemies who see you kill their comrades will cry out and act grief stricken, but that feels kinda cheap when I only killed that dude because he attacked me on sight. Honestly, for all it's faults, Pathologic does this much better because the violence IS often a choice and there are real consequences to consider. From what I've read The Last of Us 2 just makes you brutally kill tons of people than in a cut scene tells you "No no, that was a BAD thing you just did"

Wouldn't that depend on the kind of game your playing? Like if your playing an RPG and are forced to do brutal kills, only for the cut-scenes to tell you the player is a bad person. That would definitely feel cheap. But if your playing a game trying to tell a very specific story about it's characters (and not the player) being violent, then it's kinda difficult to allow the player the choice to circumvent the violence.

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Socuteboss

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@aktivity Right but if Naughty Dog wants to talk a big game about this is them trying to move games forward as an art form or whatever, it's something they should really think about. I know it's a more or less linear single player story game, but me spending 20 minutes brutally stealth killing every guard in an area because that's the one way to progress the story only to be shown a cut scene where it's made to look like this horrible senseless atrocity makes me kinda just shrug. This whole thing could make for a fantastic movie, but it just creates a sense of the actual video game stuff holding back the story.

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Onemanarmyy

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#41  Edited By Onemanarmyy

Yeah i read all the discourse around this game and i don't think it sounds all that interesting, but at the same time i know that if i would sit down with this i would swallow it whole in a few sittings and have a great time with it. The journey is what matters to me, especially when a big selling point is the atmosphere and visual force of the game. I remember going into There Will Be Blood thinking the description of the movie sounded like it could bore me, but then the journey was so good that i just couldn't stop watching. TLOU1 on hard was such a good experience for me, that i can't imagine it would be any different here.

But at the same time, i completely understand why people would shrug or actively avoid this. Especially these days.

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OurSin_360

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Hated the first game and I'm really not interested in the tone of this anymore. I hope they atleast changed the combat though.

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Justin258

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I don't know if I really want to call reviewers "split" on this game, as this game has a Metacritic score of 96 as I'm writing this, but the negative reviews - Kotaku and such - have me more interested in this game than I would be if it had gotten straight 9's and 10's and GOTY awards and such. It's not that I'm hankering for a depressing and violent experience of awful people doing terrible things to each other, it's that I'm morbidly curious to see it all for myself.

As far as the level of violence goes... I dunno. Have you ever read the Wikipedia page for Salo? Video games have a long way to go before they get there. Maybe Agony gets close? But I never played that, that was almost universally panned. Not that you need to get there to be an awful and demoralizing experience, just that The Last of Us 2 - from what I've seen - looks like a mere shoulder shrug in comparison.

The only thing I'm really worried about is the 25 hour playtime. The first game is about 15 hours long and that's about as long as it needs to be. 25 hours is a really hefty runtime for a third person shooter.

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BladeOfCreation

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This is definitely the best review by a Jeff today.

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kmj2318

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I stopped playing a lot of games and just watch them on YouTube. Most games are just as good watching as playing imo. But since it’s a big last hurrah of the ps4, I’m considering getting it. It looks great.

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Whitestripes09

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#46  Edited By Whitestripes09

I feel like I've already gone through an emotional roller coaster with this game without even playing it.

There was the question if the 1st game even needed a sequel and what the story would tell. Then the backlash of all the LGBTQ characters. Then it was criticized for being too realistic with its violence. Now it has released in the worst time possible with people questioning violence in American society while under a global pandemic.

6 months ago this probably would have been a game of the year contender and everyone would have praised it for its "brutal attention to detail and realistic characters."

Now it's just depressing and no longer resonant with people. Kinda feel bad for Naughty Dog since they can't really predict the future, but... maybe they should have thought it out a little bit more than just having a revenge tale with no moral theme.

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doctordonkey

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@milkman said:

Pretty amazing to go to Metacritic and see the game at a 96 and then look at my Twitter feed and see pretty much nothing about negativity about it.

Don't put too much onus on Metacritic or Rotten Tomato critic reviews. Look at Mario Odyssey and The Last Jedi, critic and consumer opinions can vary wildly and is not always a great indicator.

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zoofame

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I think people are being uncharitable in dismissing the critique from Polygon as "I don't want to do bad stuff in a game". I guess if you just skimmed it and only read the bold text you might come away with that impression.

But the crux of her argument is that the characters behave in ways that defy credulity, and which don't serve any narrative purpose other than to chastise you for playing. I haven't played the game obviously, but it appears to be a common theme among the critiques I have read, in particular the Ars Technica review. From what I gather there is a sharp change halfway through that tries to do something ambitious with its storytelling. Apparently that doesn't play out in a way that is believable, worthwhile, or even novel compared to games that did this ten years ago. And at least in the Ars review, it doesn't live up to the laudable self-contained story of the original.

Of course, this game was going to be showered with 10/10s and GOTY nominations simply on technical merit. Its production value is impeccable, and it sounds like it reaches new heights for motion capture in conveying human emotion through subtle details in the face and hand animations. Add some competent gameplay and that's more than enough for a lot of people who play games.

Where opinions split is on how important character and story are to their enjoyment of a game. I think it's more than fair to judge Last of Us 2 on those aspects, especially as a followup to a game that broke new ground for those very reasons.

Also, lol at "college moralist hipsters". I had no idea Holden Caulfield was a GB fan. Anti-hero protagonists have been in vogue in American pop culture since at least the 1950s. The concept itself predates Christianity.

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Shindig

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There's something to be said about going with the ending of TLOU and just rolling with it. I don't think game fiction does what they're (possibly) going for at all. Plucky humanity always finds a way. Imagine if they've went with, "Well, there's no escape out of this. This is how a species dies."

Can I take 25 hours of that? Probably not. And if that's what they're after, they could've gladly implied that at the end of the The Last of Us and worked on something else. Is the journey going to justify this being made?

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#50  Edited By mellotronrules

@zoofame said:

But the crux of her argument is that the characters behave in ways that defy credulity, and which don't serve any narrative purpose other than to chastise you for playing. I haven't played the game obviously, but it appears to be a common theme among the critiques I have read, in particular the Ars Technica review. From what I gather there is a sharp change halfway through that tries to do something ambitious with its storytelling. Apparently that doesn't play out in a way that is believable, worthwhile, or even novel compared to games that did this ten years ago. And at least in the Ars review, it doesn't live up to the laudable self-contained story of the original.

this appears to be the dividing line in much of the criticism that's out there- it appears by end you either buy the characters and their motivations, or you don't. it's really difficult to speak to any of this without knowing the specifics of the game- but i'm finding it really interesting that someone like Kallie Plagge from Gamespot says this 'shift' in narrative in the second half that many critics are referencing is the reason the game worked at all for her- whereas others are saying it's a total miss.

maddy's review does seem very well considered, and i'm eager to return to it once i have my own impressions of the game. i will say- i think the subhead 'did you know murder is wrong?' while very much in line with maddy's authorial voice (i can hear her saying that in my head every time i read it) does seem reductive in a way that's difficult to square without experiencing TLoU2 firsthand. i think one could apply that same subhead to the first game honestly (i wouldn't, but if your perspective is Naughty Dog says 'all people are terrible, actually' then the first game certainly seems to be consistent with that). which begs the question- how tonally and thematically different *really* is the 2nd game from the 1st? i guess i'll find out in a week!

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