At the end of thirty hours of play you spend killing, observing, chasing and hiding; thirty hours lived first in Ellie’s shoes and then in Abby’s, made up of stories, memories, wonderful cutscenes; and pain, suffering and bigotry, anger mixed with hatred, and awareness combined with despair; here: at the end of these thirty hours, what remains?
An extraordinary story remains, much deeper and more complicated than it may seem; and it remains a unique experience for the player, an experience in which, perhaps for the first time, he found himself in difficulty: because to proceed, to reach the conclusion, he had to witness dozens of violent deaths, he had to sit next to him to Ellie and listen to her lose herself, find herself, imagine herself different. She had to live her life and Joel had to cry with her, and she also had to learn to live with the inevitability of choices. Why is this, then, that boils down to The Last of Us Part II.
Not just a story of revenge
It is not just a story of revenge; it is not the story of a girl who loses her guide, the man who saved her life, and who somehow wants to find an answer to all the pain she feels. The Last of Us Part II is a revised and dirty western, is a passionate tale, full of details and small nuances, full of normality (Ellie who loves, who wants to change, who wants to start over) and sincerity (we don’t kill for others, but for ourselves) upsetting.
The Last of Us Part II partially rewrites what had already been said from the first chapter, and tries to build a bridge of empathy with the gamer. And try to do it with history. With the script, the direction and the editing. Evoking atmospheres and moments. Trying to say something more about Ellie, stripping her of the stubborn teenager’s clothes. Giving Abby the same role that Joel had.
In The Last of Us Part II, there are dozens of reading levels, and each of them delves deep into the characters, the setting and the events. Everything takes place within a few days and then everything seems to go back to the beginning. To a single image. And then there is the music. That of the soundtrack signed by Gustavo Santaolalla and Mac Quayle. But also the one that Ellie plays. Music is what unites it to Joel, which allows it to remember and which gives the gamer a plan to move on. Music, as the best stories do, manages to immediately touch the most sensitive strings.
And in the choice of two composers, of two voices, there is yet another attempt to divide the story in two. Santaolalla signs almost all songs from the scenes with Elllie, while Mac Quayle focuses on those from the scenes with Abby. And they have two different tones and two shades. The guitar is replaced by electronic bass. Plucked notes disappear in the redundant gloom of percussion. tremble, you are scared. But you also manage to feel nostalgia, to believe that things can improve – or at least, that they can be different. The Last of Us Part II should also be experienced with the ears, silently.
It is important to let yourself be carried away by the rhythm of the story. The story itself, so articulated, so wonderfully assembled, tries to give a precise cut at every moment: the cutscenes intervene at the right time and are almost lost in the gameplay. But above all the rhythmic and intelligent alternation between the points of view of Ellie and Abby. The first obsessed with revenge, and the second, however, ready to redeem itself.
But is this really what they want? Ellie, for example. We are convinced for most of the game that it is only her desire to kill that drives her. And perhaps, however, it is something else. Maybe he feels guilty. She lost Joel just when she thought she found him forever, just when she decided to forgive him. And then Abby. She is not just a murderer, a warrior, a soldier ready to carry out orders. She is also a daughter, just like Ellie. And like Ellie, she is an orphan. He finds hope when he meets two innocent, two “children” – a bit like what happened to Joel in the first game, if you think about it. And until the end try to start again. She looks for the past, Ellie, however, wants a future.
Between these two extremes lies an infinite plane of particularities, passions, loves and identity. There is no forcing. No exaggeration. We are often used to living video games for what we expect them to be, especially in later chapters of a saga. In The Last of Us Part II Naughty Dog and Neil Druckmann made a precise choice. They erased everything they gave us in the first chapter.
They took Joel away and gave us back a different Ellie, more aware and more adult. And then they asked us not to have mercy, to identify ourselves with a role that we never thought we would play. And it is the role of monsters, villains, those who are cornered and have no way out.
None of the characters we move are heroes. Nobody does the right thing for someone else – or at least, nobody does it right from the start. Both Ellie and Abby are selfish. They do what they do to ease their pain. By killing, they don’t save anyone. By killing, they end up getting lost even more, to be less and less, more and more incomplete, more and more sun – and the conclusion, perhaps momentary, of Ellie’s bow is proof of this. They could stop and instead let an endless sequence of acts and revenge continue – there is a song, signed by Mac Quayle, which is titled “Eye for an eye“, eye for an eye.
And while the world is burning around them, Ellie and Abby are not feeling any better. The first, at some point, she is so obsessed with the thought of Joel’s death that she can no longer sleep and eat. She relives those infinite seconds in her head, with her eyes open, while she is awake; she hears Joel’s voice calling her, asking for help, pleading for her. And inside her mounts a new anger, a different anger, a more conscious anger – because, for once, it is turned against itself.
A story that becomes immortal
The Last of Us Part II it is a downward spiral, full of darkness and darkness, in which the few positive moments shine with an intensity that can blind and forcefully embed themselves in the player’s experience. Think of the cutscene at the Museum of Natural Sciences. Think about when Ellie enters the spacecraft and lies down next to Joel, and closes her eyes and imagines. Here, in that instant, perhaps the most beautiful of the whole game, The Last of Us Part II becomes immortal.
Become one of those stories that go beyond the language and the way they are narrated. It becomes a beautiful, positive memory, something warm to let yourself be lulled by. “Welcome to Earth,” Joel says to Ellie, at the end, when the light returns, when they got off the spacecraft, and the world – the terrible world in which they live, tormented by the pandemic and by the anger of man – resumes its shape and its consistency.
Ellie had a taste of what life once had to be, and she knows it: you can read it in her eyes, in the soft cut of the smile, in the happiness with which she looks at Joel. After that journey, which took place entirely in his head, he is a different person. And so, in a way, it happens to us after finishing The Last of Us Part II. Sure: it’s a fictional tale.
Of course: some things are exaggerated and sometimes sequences drag on for a long time, losing strength and biting. But it is this that at the end of thirty absurd, painful, sharp and tormented hours remains. A story. One to be able to talk to friends, to fight over, one to keep.
A video game isn’t just a video game, just like a movie it’s not just a movie or a book it’s not just a book (and in The Last of Us Part II, how many references there are, how many references, how much culture). A video game worth playing is a video game capable of shaking the player, to upset him, to leave something on him. Even if it is about anger, discomfort and fear. In The last of Us, the protagonists are the last survivors of the human race, and in this violent selection, the most particular and interesting individuals resist. The broken ones. The aware ones. Those who know or pretend to know. And by playing, in a way, we too become like them. Last and alone.
We have a crazy story ahead of us, intelligently written, where nothing is as it seems and where the genre – survival horror – is just an excuse: a label. And we know it as soon as we begin to see through Ellie’s eyes and find ourselves in the desperate joy that Abby feels when she is saved by her mortal enemy.
The Last of Us Part II asks us to make an effort, to try to be present and, at the same time, to be absent. To live the moment. To listen to music. Of playing. It doesn’t tell us to choose. Whether to be good or bad. It forces us where we are, in front of a screen, in the darkness of our rooms, leaning forward to see better. IS he asks us for an act of faith. He asks us, even if for a short time, even if for just thirty hours, to believe.