Saturday I put the remodeled media room to good use with some socially-responsible zombie killing. The Last of Us Pt II was released on Friday; the long-awaited follow up to a game that ranked third on J's all time list and fell just behind Metal Gear Solid on mine.
Brief intro to the timeskip
Spoiler-free discussion (review?)
Some low points from the internet
The big controversy (early game spoiler)
Four years have gone by...
TLOU2 takes place four years after the end of the first game. Joel and Ellie have settled in the survivor haven of Jackson, run by Joel's brother Tommy. It's a neat spaghetti western town in the mountains of Wyoming. Life for the protagonists appears to be largely positive, but with a dose of reality that spans petty teen problems to some semi-betrayal.
Review (spoiler free)
The "Part II" part
So this game is a sequel in every sense. It follows the previous story chonologically and iterates on the gameplay. Everything about the first one - good and bad - has carried over to this one. I'll summarize with a synopsis from my post on that one:
TLOU is very The Road-like, but with zombies. And so it makes for an intense, bleak, and well-developed story that is told in a cinematic, immersive way. Some credits: - Awesome visual effects - reflections, textures, and lighting that is ahead of its time. - Great voice acting. - Motion capture and environment interaction that makes NPCs move more naturally than any game to date. - Writing, like a dark Firewatch.
So in this one do they just walk back to Boston?
Happily, this one actually handwaves away a geographically-long journey. While this requires a mild amount of suspension of disbelief, it would have been unfriendly to the player to implement the journey.
Is this one on rails?
Yes and no. While the first game was completely on (well-masked) rails, this one has some sections where there's a map and nonserial exploration. It's nothing intimidating like a GTA or Skyrim, but provides a sprinkle of variety. I'm largely for it, however even the two-block on-rails portions makes the scavenging a bit on the tedious side. That said, this isn't always opening 1,000 drawers, the supply canvass (an important part of the postapocalypse) often includes mini-dungeons and puzzles.
Okay so what is the game like?
Walk and talk with your companion while scavenging
"Encounters" where you face zombies or human enemies, often best accomplished through stealth
Deal with all hell breaking loose when it does
That's it. It's very streamlined experience, like the first one.
Is it a good stealth game?
Pretty good. More fun than frustrating, some clever bits. You can still creep along a desk opposite a grown up human being and have them not see you. That said, NPCs call out to each other and take notice if there's no reply. And there are scent dogs.
In your corner of the stealth ring you have half-decent listening and the ability to crawl through grass. Also one time you can throw a bottle and make the zombies attack the human baddies.
Companions are helpful and don't break stealth.
Is it still cinematic?
"Is it still cinematic?" Can you believe this guy? Of course it is. If you didn't like that about the first game, don't play this one. It's meant to be a miniseries-length interactive movie. You don't use subtitles, you don't skip dialogue.
What still blows my mind - or blows it more than the first time - is how the entire game appears to be motion-captured second-by-second. I'm used to seeing enemies move mechnically or in set patterns. There's even some of that in this game when you're stealthing non-zombie patrols. I'm also used to seeing NPC movement that looks fluid the first time but follows the same pattern a half dozen more times throughout the game. So it really stands out when, say, a character flops down on a couch in a smooth and natural way but doesn't use the same move on the next couch.
Either Naughty Dog is really good at motion scripting, or they walked the mocap actors through almost every moment of the game and streamed that to the game engine. That, in addition to the obvious elements like story and voice acting, makes the "playable movie" thing work. And I can give a counter example to emphasize the point. While TLOU2's motion capture includes the intricate facial expression rendering that was groundbreaking in the first game, there's something about how it renders a smile that kicks you deep into the uncanny valley. It's Mass Effect Andromeda-level weird and makes me happy that the game is dark enough to only rarely employ that facial expression.
One more note on this, the density of dialogue is pretty spot-on. The exploration and walking simulator parts have distinct conversations that provide backstory, character development, or insight into the environs. It's like when I texted a screenshot of the overworld map to Jon, he replied:
The square under the "no gas" is where I signed the paperwork for my house. And west of the "gate" is where Dave kept a lookout while I took a piss.
How does it handle?
Like naughty dogshit. See what I did there? No joke, if you remember how Resident Evil 4 revolutionized zombie games by allowing you to point at things and shoot them, this is more of a throwback to the early REs and Silent Hills where you would swing wildly at jump scare undead. Here's why I'm okay with this:
It's a zombie game. You're supposed to suck. It's not PUBG or Super Smash Bros where my enjoyment is derived from my competence.
It puts a premium on stealth. And that's the challenging, videogamey bit.
A player of your caliber must look at a lot of load screens, how are the tooltips?
The tooltips are helpful. While some stuff can be learned the hard way, it's nice to have the game tell you explicitly, "Zombie type x can't be stealthed" and "Yeah, running at enemies with guns increases their accuracy".
Are the craftable items in the hundreds or thousands?
Riiiiiight. You remember how this isn't Skyrim? The inventory/crafting/upgrade system is a bit more elaborate than the first game, but still very lightweight. The item additions like (Fallout grade) proximity mines and silencers allow you to approach encounters in different ways, and that's the biggest gameplay improvement compared to the original.
Crafting materials are thankfully minimized to a few item types. Upgrade currency is just bolts and pills that allow you to choose abilities from skill books. Simple. Unobtrusive. But more variety than scouring 1,000 drawers to find two types of health packs.
How does it look?
It ranges. From super high res cinemas:
... to detailed but polygonal environments:
... to suprisingly-low-detail models:
How are the puzzles?
A lot like the first one. Zelda-like, easy enough to figure out, sometimes annoying because you're just spending a bunch of time to do a very common thing, sometimes kind of clever. The rope physics are kind of neat.
But are there flashbacks?
That's a weird and specific question, but yes there are playable flashbacks that revisit the four year story gap. They're narrative heavy and are a nice break from scavenge/scour (because your items don't travel through time), but it does take you out of the unfolding story. Put me down for a single thumb up.
Is it as potty-mouthed and gorey as they say?
Yep. The foul-mouthed, throat-slitting fourteen year old grew up and just became more intense. It's the z-poc.
Can I get a lame mashup of action set to the protagonist playing acoustic guitar?
Well yeah, electric guitars are a rare commodity in the non-Mad Max timeline.
Lastly, can we see if your thumbnail algorithm is any good with very dark screenshots?
Metacritique (cleansed of spoilers)
I'm not sure how or why, but there's been an interesting internet response to this game, brought to my attention by Gage and Derrick. Apparently the plot was leaked and that might have primed the pump for scathing, anonymous reviews. This is more about the internet than the game, but I found it fascinating.
 This franchise is all about the story. Without the story the game means nothing. This game does have great visuals and great gameplay, but the main focus needs to be the story. The story just isnít good and it tries too hard to make you feel sorry for people that you immediately donít want to feel sorry for. And the ending tries so hard to make you feel sad, without making any logical sense. Hello_There23
We'll start off with someone who is reasonable. Even though Hello_There23 has 1 rating and 1 review to his name, he seems to capture that TLOU games are about the story. I haven't gotten there yet, but I think I'm in for a controversial ending.
Now let's get to the fun stuff: 0s and 1s across the board from users with no history with single-sentence reviews that are deemed "helpful" by other users. I thought about writing a script to create a histogram of user histories, but I got too much going on to deal with if there's any js to get around.
 My disappointment is immeasurable, and my day is ruined. I waited 5 years to play this And they gave me a horrible intro and **** ending I just want to forget about this game. Bulgwang, 1 rating, 1 review
 ... My rating for the game: Graphics 10 Gameplay 7 History 0. Since the main thing in the game is the story itself, the result is 0. ... Dantemax29, 2 ratings, 2 reviews. Other review is a same day 10/10 for Days Gone which was released a year ago.
 Awful story, wasting characters, false trailer, and ruined one of the best game series. [Spoiler omitted] gjahtp584, 1 rating, 1 review 639 of 871 users found this helpful
 Could have been the best game of all time, but it suffered from a bad narrative. I got the game early, I liked the world, but hated every character in it. cmpank88, 2 ratings, 2 reviews - the other is a P5 Royal review  posted on the same day (months after that game's release)
Wait, "a bad narrative"? That's an interesting word choice.
 ...less a fun sequel to a great game, and more a 10 hour long commercial for whatever agendas they want to push. Citizenmane, 1 rating, 1 review 357 of 489 users found this helpful
 disappointing plot and game play experience. NaughtyDog really know how to add PR tags to the game, but at the end of the day, what really matters is still the quality of the game and its story line. autonote, 1 rating, 1 review 398 of 543 users know what a "PR tag" is
 The game seems to push a feminist/trans/LGBTQ agenda. Which seems extremely forced.... Hopke2000, 1 rating, 1 review 124 of 170 users found this helpful
I guess I'm not to that part yet.
 Let me break this down for you quickly: PANDERING has negatively infected gaming culture and the Last of Us 2 is the quintessential example of it... [Text wall continues for many lines] LaymenGaming, 1 rating, 1 review 604 of 823 users found this helpful
 The worst game ever in this year. I don't know how the publisher allow ape sex scenes in the story and make player uncomfortable. The story in this game is totally worse than the first episode. It should be take out from the market and thrown to the trash bags. Do not buy it. Ukuhama, 1 rating, 1 review 116 of 158 users found this helpful
I honestly can't tell if this is legitimately upset fans afraid of reprisal or if bots have now moved from politics to commerce. I guess if there's an "agenda/narrative" in there, this is politics?
Some story discussion (early game spoilers)
If you hadn't guessed from screenshots or angry people posting spoilers because the game is "SJW nonsense", Joel is brutally murdered during the prologue. The game is about revenge. It's dark and refreshingly unambitious in a world of Marvel and hyperbole.
But you play for a few minutes as the villain. Like why? I let her die a few times in hopes of a Far Cry 4-like shortcut ending (also cause I was playing on hard and I suck). It's not a surprise that she's evil. Her team cases Jackson and refers to a male target who can only be one of two characters in the game.
So then the inciting murder happens and it's pretty difficult to watch - everything I expect from the series and probably the only way to make Ellie's revenge quest believable. I didn't realize until later, but they purposefully or accidentally borrowed dialogue from the one death scene more tearjerking than this one.
Teen revenge force, disassemble!
The brief adventures of Ellie and Dina is a little tough to swallow. I get that postapocalyptic young adults are probably more badass than present day ones, but couldn't they have managed a group of three? And the fact that half of Jackson seems to be traveling solo 1,000 miles to singlehandedly take down some paramilitaries gets even more farfetched. But it's not tough to accept and move on.
Like the first game, the plot of TLOU2 is fairly straightforward. The story comes from the development of characters, new and old.