Emmett Watkins Jr. – PlayStation Stan/Bad Boys II Apologist

The Last of Us: Part II

I know how unoriginal it is to claim The Last of Us as one of my favorite games of all time. I know that everyone and their mother fell in love with Joel and Ellie when they played the game. I know we all were captivated by the writing, blown away by the graphical fidelity, and if you were in love with the combat as much as me, had a not-so-minor addiction to the Factions multiplayer. Even its ending was considered to be so perfect that none of us were left wanting for a continuation of the story.

But, against all odds, we got one. Sure, I was excited to revisit these characters again, but from the get-go, The Last of Us Part II was fighting an uphill battle to not only prove its quality in comparison to its predecessor but to prove that it should exist in the first place. However, not only did TLoU P2 justify its existence, but it also managed to surpass my expectations entirely.

You see, to me, The Last of Us is a classic video game in that it uses well-known tropes of zombie and post-apocalyptic fiction to tremendous effect. With major exception to its final twist, I don’t feel like the original game did anything revolutionary or subverted any expectations, but we all excused that fact because the characters and the world-building was so well done.

That wasn’t a knock on the game, as it’s still one of my favorites of all time, but just look at this plot on paper. Oh, look, a camp full of cannibals led by a charismatic psychopath. Oh look, a man with a dark past that has a jaded outlook on life has his heart softened by a girl he’s forced to protect. Oh look, that girl slowly loses her innocence over time due to the harsh world she’s forced to grow up in. Oh look, turns out this girl has the cure and she could potentially save the entire world. I could go on, but it’s like Naughty Dog took every post-apocalyptic trope out there and blended them all together, but because their use of these tropes is so well done, it makes TLoU feel like it’s one of the classics of post-apocalyptic fiction that it borrows so heavily from.

That is why I find The Last of Us: Part II so fascinating in comparison because it no longer feels like “a tale as old as time”. It now feels like a modern tale that doubles down on the daring tone switch of the original game’s ending. After the intro, which I’m sure lulled us all into a false sense of security, the game very quickly showed that it didn’t want to just meet our expectations, but play with them. It might just be the seven years of anticipation talking, but The Last of Us Part II truly felt unpredictable in a way that very few games do. There were many predictions made in the lead up to its release, and so many of them managed to both be right and wrong in ways none of us saw coming. This made the game feel way more dynamic and unpredictable than the original game, and it kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire 24 hours it took for me to beat it, all the way up to its supremely climatic, yet refreshingly quiet conclusion.

And all of that praise comes before even mentioning how fantastic the updated combat feels. The higher fidelity of animations made combat feel cinematic at all times while showing the impact of that violence in a more visceral, and often disturbing, way. Traversal has even improved, with many new mechanics being introduced from Uncharted: Lost Legacy, my favorite in the series. Graphically, the game has truly entered the uncanny valley for me. It looks so much like real life that I found myself perceiving the game as a live-action piece of art. Lord only knows how, or even if, those animations or that graphical fidelity will make it into the multiplayer mode later on.

So, until another game manages to dethrone it this year, The Last of Us: Part II has blown me away more than any other game in 2020. Some might have stronger narratives, some might have more compelling gameplay, some may even be more visually striking, but I can’t imagine any other game being as great of a complete package as this game. And if something does top it, I will have yet another of my expectations subverted.

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