Great looking game, some great moments, but let down by story & gameplay decisions
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 22 June 2020
I pre-ordered this in August 2017 and so looked forward to playing this for a long time. The game looks incredible, I've got an original PS4 and worried about how it would perform, but had no problems (other than my PS4 sounding like a jet engine for a while on first playing and occasionally throughout, much louder than it ever has before). The acting from the characters is very good, the animation is generally very good also.
The motivation for Ellie to seek revenge was what I expected, it is a shame that as a player, unlike similar scenes in the first game, despite the improved quality which could have aided the emotional impacts of various scenes in this game few felt particularly emotional, there are a few areas that have some emotion, but not like the strong and often shocking emotional scenes from the first game. The emotional areas are often feel-good moments or sad nostalgic moments. I could understand why moments in the story were emotional for the characters, but there was a disconnect between what was happening to the characters and the experiences of the player, partly I think because there is a lot playing out in cut-scenes or from a perspective that disconnects the emotion from what you are doing.
The combat, for me, took some getting used to but once I was used to it, it was better than in the first game. There are some new infected which are far more challenging than the infected in the last game. Humans and dogs can be a challenge. Early in playing, like I normally do when playing these types of games, if I can sneak and avoid killing, I will, but unlike the first game where environments were marked clearer to know where to get to, in this game I often couldn't find where to get to so my only option was to kill all the people and dogs so that I could have the time to roam around trying to find where I needed to go. I had hoped there would be a knockout option when taking people out, but there isn't and when people beg you not to kill them and so you leave them alive, they just go for you again and you end up killing them, so you may as well just kill them anyway.
Despite feeling too drawn out at times the first half of the games was okay to play with some great and memorable moments, and playing guitar is interesting. I would love to just be able to click a menu option to do guitar practice, there is lots to discover and lots of interactions and touching moments you can easily miss just by not investigating specific locations.
The second half also started okay and had moments of growth and progression for the character. It was too long though. As it went on, whenever a character would say something like 'you need to get to this location' I would think, 'please let it just be a cut scene and we are back there' as it would get so tedious. So most of this segment of the game was fine and I was happy to play it as a section, but it could have been a third of the length.
The end of this section ended with a gameplay choice that annoyed me. I suspected it was coming and didn't want to play it, I didn't mind the outcome of this section, or how it played out as part of the story I just would have preferred to play it like normal.
After this section comes what I feel should have been the end of the game showing a clear story arc with growth of Ellie as a character that links back to the previous game, dlc and lots from this game. Often in the first game, the dlc and in this game people are portrayed as making decisions/changing their behaviours because of love. This game decides that with Ellie love isn't important enough, that giving her life meaning isn't important enough (even though they touch on Ellie wanting her life to mean something) that her feelings of love and the behaviours you do at this point in the game are obviously just superficial and that Ellie may talk about wanting her life to have meaning, but she doesn't actually care about this either - this isn't something I believe about the character of the games, but is what is written into the story. It is like someone writing for a character in a franchise they don't know and so all the fans see that this character is saying and doing things out of expected character with no good reason for doing so.
The final part of the game, I was hopeful that Naughty Dog had misled everyone with vague wording and that these lessons had been learnt and that the ending would demonstrate this, but, no, it turns out there was no depth, Ellie was out to do what the characters in the story felt she was out to do. There is a bit more to it, but I am doing my best not to reveal things, but it isn't what I would expect as the ending. That isn't saying the ending should be what I expect, but what I mean is for example, the ending of the first game is what you expect Joel might say and do, so even if you didn't know that would be the ending, when it happened, it matched with what you could see Joel doing and why etc.
The game isn't terrible and I'm sure there are people who will like the story and the way you play, but for me, these are the bits which let the game down. I think what my main issue was is the way Ellie is portrayed and the fact that they hint throughout at Ellie realising consequences of actions and how you can lose everything that is important to you, including yourself, but then portraying it as Ellie deciding that this is fine, that she would rather lose everything, herself, loved ones, meaning in her life etc despite writing in her journal about the importance of these things, despite behaving as if she cares about these things and wants to protect those she loves and despite it being portrayed that she is increasingly struggling with the behaviours she has done, for me, when I finished the game having played for about 30 hours, it made me feel that the whole 30 hours was a waste of my time. If it had ended where I hoped it was going to end, that would have been a nice nod to Riley putting love before the Fireflies and deciding to stay with Ellie, and to Joel settling down into the role of father out of love for Ellie and becoming a good man, it would have given Ellie's life meaning that she kept saying she wanted and it would have ended with character growth showing the negatives if the destructive cycles of behaviour aren't broken and then that you can break these destructive cycles of behaviour and that people can help you through trauma etc.
Obviously, this is the story they decided to write and how they wanted it to go and people can create whatever stories they want, but for me, the ending few hours of playing was playing I was doing just to get to the end of the game, I lost interest by then with some of the decisions that had been made in gameplay and the story mismatching what I would expect Ellie to do based on the previous game and on everything it seemed she was learning in this game up to the ending and then her attitude at the end was not the attitude I could link to the Ellie character based on playing through both games and the dlc to that point, it seemed so out of character and just something else that ruined what could so easily have been a game of the year, or even the best game on PS4.
I knocked a star off for the issues with the gameplay, with the levels often being too open (at least for me) and so too difficult to find where I needed to get to next and too much gameplay that was taking too long to get from point A to point B where the dialogue etc between characters could have happened in a shorter amount of gameplay while heading from point A to B, and a star off for the story, specifically the end of the story where it felt like a final natural ending point to the story and then, like there was what felt like an encore no-one asked for after a long show when everyone is thinking 'okay, that was okay, but I am glad it is now finished' and then they come back to do more. I actually liked playing some of this bit (in terms of shooting and stealth etc), it was far more linear and focused and as mentioned before, although I felt exasperated thinking 'there can't be more...?' I would likely have finished the game and given it 4* if, despite some of the story related gameplay choices being worthy of losing a star, it ended on a high (gameplay high, not necessarily a 'happy ever after' ending, perhaps a neutral ending). I thought near the end it was going to tackle PTSD in a positive light but this and so much more was thrown away for a different ending.
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