Gamer’s Diary: Critical Dissonance and The Last of Us Part II

People always want to get weird with reviews about games they haven’t even played yet

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I won’t lie: I never wanted this game.

The Last of Us was the last major game I played on the PlayStation 3 way back in 2013 and ironically it would be the game that would serve as the game would signify my “semi-retirement” from video games for three years before coming out of it to play it again. It felt like a fitting end to my life as a gamer since it was a period where I distinctly felt I needed to move on from that life and deal with personal responsibilities as an adult (one day I will explain what led to that decision and why I decided to play games again but I digress). While I thought that the gameplay wasn’t as mind blowing as most critics made it out to be, the presentation, story, and characterization made it an exceptional experience. It was a game that I steadfastly enjoyed and it had such a near-perfect, intensely bittersweet conclusion that I felt there wasn’t any need for a sequel or a follow up of Joel and Ellie’s adventures.

Lo and behold, the fandom whined and cried and demanded a sequel. So of course, Naughty Dog decided to grant their wish and give them a sequel.

The game was announced at the PSX Showcase in December 2016 to much fanfare. While everyone was ecstatic, I had a mixture of intrigue, excitement, and concern. Why bother continuing a story that felt so conclusive? What’s the point of it? Will there be new areas to explore or will I retread old grounds again? Will there be new enemies or will I have to deal with the repercussions with the Fireflies again? Whatever the case may be, Naughty Dog made it clear they were doing this so I might as well suck it up and get ready for another intense journey of a post-apocalyptic world with Ellie taking the reigns as the lead protagonist as opposed to Joel and I was cool with it.

After a much-troubled development cycle, the game will be released this Friday, June 19 with high critical praise. So far, the game is currently being ranked on Metacritic as one of the best (if not THE best) games on the PlayStation 4. Critics have lauded the story, the presentation, the voice acting, and the dark, mature themes. That was to be expected. After all, before a certain pandemic crisis, a lot of us — myself included — expected 2020 to be yet another “year of the gamers” since a plethora of highly anticipated Triple-A games were expected to be released this year such as Nioh 2, Animal Crossing New Horizons, Resident Evil 3 (2020), Final Fantasy VII Remake, Persona 5 Royal, Cyberpunk 2077, Ghost of Tsushima, etc. So I expected The Last of Us Part II to be thoroughly praised and be a damn good game. However, what caught me by surprise wasn’t the critical praise but rather the negative criticisms and it turns out there was a LOT to take in. And I mean a LOT.

Some notable major publications like Vice Games, Polygon, Kotaku, and even Gamespot were either mixed or downright negative towards this game and what’s funny is that the very factors that were praised by other reviewers were criticized by others. There also seems to be a split among the fanbase that is trying to justify which review speaks the truth in regards to the game. Worse is that there are those that are speculating that Sony may have paid these publications to garner praises for the game while the “real” reviewers are providing truth about the game that Sony doesn’t want fans to hear. That statement is ludicrous of course but because of the nature of social media these days people’s opinions get swayed by the construct of messages that support their own ideals without actually confronting them with critical-thinking and some restraint.

This begs the question: why are people using these reviews to downplay a game that they haven’t even played yet?

The actual physical copy of the game comes out this Friday. So far, no other person other than reviewers of major publications have gotten “friend codes” to play the game early. So how does the negative reviews justify an experience that never actually happened from most gamers? That’s a fascinating reaction that I admit caught me off guard.

For those who don’t know, the plot apparently leaked late April 2020 and this garnered quite the negative reaction from fans of the original game. Seems that key plot points REALLY didn’t sit well with them and judging from the responses from the reviewers that weren’t thrilled by the game’s narrative, it seems a good portion of those leaks turned out to be true. I only heard about the leaks via gossip and I usually never take them at face value until I actually experience it for myself. In either case, said fans seem to believe they are true and are using it to justify the negative reviews.

Like I said before, I only accept the spoilers once I actually experience it for myself. Unlike most people, I don’t spazz or freak out whenever I hear a key plot point to a story told to me ahead of time because the difference of hearing about it while actually witnessing it are two totally different experiences. For all I know, that spoiler could be a total lie or not exactly the way it is explained. You actually have to witness it to better understand the context because the impact could still be felt through that method instead of simply being told about it.

Yet despite this, fans are using that to argue that the game isn’t good. How exactly would they know? And that’s my problem with this whole ordeal. People are making brash judgments based on other people’s experiences which makes no sense.

When I read or listen to a review about an art of interest, I always be sure to take in what the reviewer liked and didn’t like about it. It doesn’t mean that they are right or wrong but they are recounting their experience with the art and are using factual information to support their subjective viewpoint. And that’s the keyword there: subjective. The reviews are not meant to be the definitive proof of the quality of the art itself. It can be critical but it doesn’t mean that everyone is going to have the same experience. For example, I personally thought that the Joker (2019) was an overrated film that had a very poor interpretation of the working class and mental health and tried to use an iconic comic book villain known to murder mass amounts of people to make a flawed argument that doesn’t justify anything despite its extremely well-acted scenes. Yet, there were people who felt opposite of my views and tried to justify it when discussing it with me. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are right or wrong but rather their experiences were different from mine. It resonated in a way for them that it didn’t for me. And that’s fine. I can’t expect everyone to have the same viewpoint as me. So while there will be most critics that agree with me, there will be some that just feel differently and will try to argue their points with their own factual proof. Heck, they may point out to something I never noticed before.

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As for me, I don’t know if I will actually play the game. Prior to the leaks, I wasn’t sure if I would be bothered to play a game that emphasizes on the players being uncomfortable for the duration of their entire playthrough. That type of taxing, stress-inducing experience doesn’t sound like something I would like to bug myself with. I don’t need a game to tell me that “violence is bad, I should feel bad, and that the characters of this game should feel bad.” Based on the gameplay footage Naughty Dog has released to the public so far, I’m fully aware that The Last of Us Part II is going to be very violent. I will more than likely be shocked by the gratuitous ways I can butcher my enemy and be on my toes with foes that could kill me in the worse ways possible. However, I also fear that there’s a possibility that I could be bored with the excessive violence at some point. Most reviews have stated that the game is over 25–30 hours and that’s a long playthrough for this type of game. This sort of reminds me of Rockstar’s Manhunt. Like TLOU2, that game was a third person survival-horror that emphasized its violent gameplay for shock value and put the player in intense, stressful situations. The first hours shocked me with its violence but after a while I just stopped caring and got bored. Violence with no substance makes for a mundane experience and the best stories know when to pull back on the shocks and be more subtle with its approach to violence, especially if its one of the core themes of the story.

So who knows if I will actually play it. I want to wait and see what the gameplay looks like online. I think by then I’ll have a good idea if I want to pour my energy into something like that. I have a lot of games in the back burner I need to finish so it’s not like I’m in dire need of a new game right now. Still, fans shouldn’t use a review to justify their opinions, especially if its something they haven’t experienced. Leaks also don’t tell the whole story so they shouldn’t assume that’s the full narrative and be done with it. Experience the art for yourself and then make your judgment. Fans will have to wait until Friday for them to do so.

SportsRaid, InDemand, Thrillist, VIBE, hibu, 1&1 Internet, and Amplify, Inc. Penn State Alumnus. Insufferable Blerd. for business inquiries

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