This will probably be my first, last, and only videogame review. But since I’m running out of shit to talk about, and this over 20 hour game is basically just one long epic movie (too long really), and since the first game is a masterpiece, I thought I’d chime in with my two cents. But not as it played as a videogame, but on the story telling and narrative level I’m so used to critiquing. And to warn you now, I will ruin a lot of what goes down in it, including the ending, so if you haven’t played it and can’t stand spoilers, probably best to turn back after this first paragraph. So let me get the game play out of the way in case you are trying to get to my one sentence at the end of this paragraph that gives you a hint at what I thought of it overall. I played it on light mode, because I’ve always not been great at videogames if they aren’t called Goldeneye on N64. Although I ended up finding the gameplay to be immersive, fun, easy going, and inventive. Had a lot of fun using all the different weapons, upgrades, and supplements. Knowing what to upgrade first was challenging as you don’t want to make the wrong call, but you get the hang of it. It expands upon the first game in that area in many ways while not trying to over complicate things. It gets an A+ in that department, even though I just said that I am not an expert on the matter what so fucking ever. On a storytelling level, the game is depressing, overwhelming, too long, and not very unique. It ends up beating a dead horse when it comes to the revenge tale, so much so that I think it might’ve ruined any new revenge movie I see here on out, because I don’t think I can take the repetitiveness of it anymore. It was just too much.
Okay, spoilers from now on. Again, you’ve been warned so you can’t get mad at me…unless you’ve played the game and completely disagree with what I am saying. Here’s the message of the entire game: “Revenge doesn’t do anybody any good, no matter what it isn’t worth it, and if still pursued will end up hurting or killing your loved ones around you more than it could ever effect your psyche.” That’s it, that’s the whole game. One of the most hated new characters (according to social media) in video game lore named Abby, ends up killing one of the most beloved main characters of the first game, Joel, only about an hour/hour and a half in. Ellie, the other main character of the first game, wants revenge and goes out to find Abby, and ends up killing a bunch of Abby’s friends (the ones that were there that witnessed her getting her revenge on Joel). Abby ends up finding her after Ellie kills a bunch of her loved ones, and then kills some more of Ellie’s loved ones before turning her sights on Ellie. But then the game stops there and goes back in time Abby for a long while, showing the audience that she’s human too, as she had her own self discovery adventure while Ellie was seeking her revenge. All of it was to show that Abby isn’t so bad of a person and maybe deserved her revenge against Joel. Then we finally catch up to the present, Abby and Ellie fight, Abby gains the upper hand and let’s Ellie go, says she never wants to see her again. It seems as though that’s the end of the game as it flash forwards a couple of years later. But Ellie’s PTSD gets the best of her and she finds out where Abby is and goes to kill her, effectively ruining the new and safe-ish life out in the middle of nowhere she gained with her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s baby (too long to explain that thread). Then Ellie finds Abby, and is about to kill her, drowning her in the ocean, but then decides against it for no reason and lets her go. Ellie goes back to where she had established a good life out in the middle of nowhere and the place is abandoned, her girlfriend had left her. The End. Oh, and the entire game both Ellie and Abby have to fight off the infected from the first game (basically gross mutated zombies) but also new sections of insane human being cults called The Scars. But both the infected and The Scars seemed to be an afterthought as the most interesting storytelling aspects of the game are relegated to the background while this repetitive uninteresting tale of revenge takes the spotlight. Yeah…that explanation was really heavy handed and confusing unless you have played the game. But it’s the best I can do. Now let’s get to why it didn’t work as a narrative, shall we?
The narrative doesn’t work because instead of earning those devastating moments and emotions with some whip smart plot structuring and mythology building, it instead just becomes “Shock Value: The Movie w/ Flashbacks To Try And Kick You In The Feels & All The Interesting Mythology is Buried Deep In The Background As A Bridge To Eventually Bring To It To The Forefront In Part III”. You like a character and get to know them? Fuck you, we are going to shoot them in the head a scene later and keep going so nobody properly gets to grieve. The game knows that a lot of people are going to be pissed off with Joel’s death, so instead of just that being the last we see of him, a bloody mess on the floor, they bring him back in flashbacks to show why he and Ellie had a falling out between the two games. Yeah…you don’t do that if you want your story to be structurally sound. Yes, I didn’t care for Joel’s death yet I knew it was coming ever since the really dark and brooding ending of the first game, but I didn’t think he was going to get killed an hour into the new game. It felt to me like it was just trying to subvert your expectations just so you wouldn’t think of it as a generic sequel. However, it still becomes a generic sequel because it is about nothing other than revenge and how it isn’t worth it. We’ve seen that play out in too many better films. It’s overdone already, why did Naught Dog think it was okay just to do it again. What the game should’ve done is let us experience these moments in the present: Ellie finding out what Joel did at the end of the first game, their falling out, their falling out that is part of the foundation of a new story, that new foundation wrapped around a new mythology building plot with The Scar people we got in this game, forgiveness buried deep down in the dark but the possibility of it coming into the light. We get NONE of those things. Hints of them, but all buried deep in the background, focusing on a dish best served cold that has already served more entrees than McDonald’s has burgers.
I literally rolled my eyes when it revealed the reason why Abby killed Joel is because her father was the surgeon about to operate on Ellie, he had to kill her to extract the cure that would’ve saved the world, and Joel stopped him by murdering him. I called it even though it doesn’t reveal what happened until bout halfway through the game. I was begging, pleading for it not to be as plain and simple as that. But it was, and nothing was added to it to make it more complicated. To be fair, there are some fantastic sequences in this game. You ride a horse while a village is on fire, it was absolutely breathtaking. You climb a really tall building to get to a hospital faster, go across to another building and then have to treacherously go back down, and it takes a bit to make you feel like you are really doing it. The graphics in this game are state of the art and absolutely incredible. And if the story had been solid, it could’ve been The Empire Strikes Back of the series. When I think back on the ending, if there had been one shot, just one 4 to 5 second added shot at the end right as Ellie is drowning Abby, the story might’ve worked for me. If they had just added Ellie looking at a new character named Lev for a few seconds, that was dying on the boat Abby was going to take to get them to safety, it would’ve earned Ellie ending up not killing Abby. That look would’ve proved that Ellie finally realized that revenge is killing those around them rather than calming down their demons. But no, it was just a random realization while drowning. It is very obvious the writers and director of this thing didn’t keep the emotional substance that they managed to magically conjure up from the first game. They had lightning in a bottle, and while developing this sequel, foolishly opened the jar.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate the character of Abby like some of the trolls on the internet do. There were rumors before this game came out that she was an trans-woman and all the women hatin’, homophobic hatin’, and trans hatin’ men came out of the shadows; their sexist, trans-and-homo phobic guns a blazin’. Turns out she’s just a really fit and muscle-y woman. I didn’t like her character because she kind of had just a generally shitty attitude towards everyone, even her friends, and she reminded me of a couple of women I dated in and after college. They try to give her some humanity where she ends up caring for an innocent brother and sister duo from the rival Scar community, but by then, which starts 3/4th of the way already into the game, it was really too little too late. And we’ve seen the “Enemy Mine” and/or “Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend” story line as much as the revenge one. It is TIRRRRRRRRED. The fact of the matter is, they turned some likable characters from the first game and made them unlikable, and they tried to make unlikable new characters likable, but didn’t put enough effort into it where it ended up feeling forced and unearned. Not every character is unlikable though. I still am fascinated by Ellie (voiced and motion captured masterfully again by Ashley Johnson) even though the game almost made her unlikable for me at the very end. And I liked the new character Dina (voiced to perfection and motion captured by Shannon Woodward) and the brother and sister Scar siblings. And Joel, with how little he is in the game, is still likable and voice and motion captured perfectly by Troy Baker. The last flashback scene between him and Ellie almost made me shed a tear. But everybody else was an asshole, and just like opinions, there were too many of them.
Just like the videogame, my review is too long and not in a narrative cohesive structure, so I’m going to end it with this paragraph. Listen, a lot of you may disagree with my analysis. It’s just how I feel. It’s an underwhelming (notice how I didn’t say very) sequel that showed potential but ended up not delivering in the end. It is probably one of those games that the first one should’ve just been left alone, that it didn’t need a sequel. There are seeds planted near the end of this one for a Part III, such as the regrouping of the Fireflies from the first game and possibly new factions of dangerous cults, and maybe Ellie trying to find Dina and the baby again and get a peaceful life back, but if revenge is anywhere lurking at all in the story, waiting to pounce out of nowhere, I don’t want any part of it. My guess as to what they are going to do, for hopefully a final trilogy ending third part, is some story where the Fireflies come back in full force but are more sympathetic this time around and Abby is involved somehow and they try to redeem and make her character better. Also, Ellie in the end ends up sacrificing her life to provide the cure to the world like what would’ve happened at the end of the first game if Joel hadn’t have stopped them. And if they can interweave all that with a unique story that has nothing to do with revenge or forgiveness, I’m willing to give it a whirl. Otherwise, I maybe just bow out the next one. It’s a well made game. There is no doubt about that. And in time I will maybe even play it again and become more appreciative of what it did in terms of the game playing experience. But I don’t think I will ever forgive its really generic story that has effectively ruined revenge tales for me. They need to try to not subvert expectations, and try to just come up with threads that will emotionally earn everyone’s investment, otherwise it might be the last of our sanity.