A reader examines the disconnect between The Last Of Us Part 2’s superlative (but uninteractive) storytelling and more routine gameplay.
GameCentral published my letter on Monday, in which I complained about the repetitive gameplay of The Last Of Us Part 2 and suggested that for this reason the game is not a classic. While sympathetic, you asked how on this basis one would evaluate something like What Remains Of Edith Finch? I’ve played this too and while not my cup of tea, it’s certainly a masterclass in interactive visual storytelling.
I think GameCentral shares my view that Super Mario Galaxy (2) and Zelda: Breath Of The Wild are no less than the best video games ever made. The stories are terrible, though, full of clichés and even sexist. They nonetheless have stories and deserve their 10 out of 10 accolades. Another classic, Tetris, it could be argued, is pure gameplay. Edith Finch is at the other end of the spectrum, any further and it’d be a film. Personally, I’d prefer that such games were not rated as I don’t think they can fairly be compared to those with clearly delineated gameplay elements.
It’s tempting to say that The Last Of Us Part 2 sits somewhere between Tetris and Edith Finch. But as gameplay is heavily woven into the narrative and integral to it I don’t think it can be compared to Edith Finch. While I think GameCentral were perhaps generous in giving The Last Of Us Part 2 a 9/10, it’s evident from the review that gameplay was taken into account. A question I’d like to ask you is what you’d give it if stripped of its story (or imagining it like Zelda) and judged only by its gameplay? [We address this in the review – GC]
But that’s not the game under consideration here. The problem is not even so much with the gameplay but how as a character you interact with the narrative elements. GameCentral mentioned in their review that Ellie engages in morally questionable, perhaps even unconscionable acts. The problem is that there’s no moral ambiguity whatsoever. Judging by her actions she’s a dangerous psychopath.
While I get how this works rhetorically when each of the story elements and perspectives are brought into view, the problem is that the player has no agency to decide on whether or how to take opponents down. It’s not an interactive story in this sense and may as well be a film that we’re watching. The death of some characters matters to the overall narrative but the developer could’ve afforded the option whether or not to kill, except at these times.
The problem, of course, is that it is always absolutely necessary to kill because the adversaries act like psychopaths too, robotically programmed to kill without any consideration of context, any attempt to negotiate or make enquiries before attacking. The artificial intelligence is terrible but less forgivable, considering this is supposed to be the developer’s forte, is characterisation.
Even allowing for the backstory, the complexities of emotion, traumas and so forth, Ellie’s actions make little sense either. Are we really to believe that she’d go to the lengths she does, with barely a reflection, because what happened to **** and even though she knows what he did? For the story and characters to work their actions have to be believable within the universe as conceived and the flaws in this respect are fairly glaring. It’s certainly no Dostoyevsky nor even a Dan Brown.
While it’d be unfair to expect Breath Of The Wild levels of consistency when walking through foliage, negotiating your way past furniture and so on, it strikes me as lazy programming when you can crawl through short grass directly in view of the person you’re going to attack and still not be seen. Situations like these, the clunky and repetitive gameplay, the character issues mentioned, none of these are deal breakers when by video game standards it’s still fairly exceptional.
But they cannot be ignored either. And I don’t think GameCentral did ignore the flaws. The same cannot be said, however, of many of the other professional reviewers, and the consensus amongst them that this is a 10 out of 10 classic. It could’ve been much more than it was. But in reception and sales Naughty Dog have little cause for reflection or a reason to make a Part 3, if there’s going to be one, any different. The customer will get what they enjoyed.
By reader Ciara
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