The Best Piece of Art in Entertainment of 2020: The Last of Us Part II

The Last of Us Part II (PS4)

There has been no doubt in my mind for many months now that ‘The Last of Us Part II’ was the most profound experience I had with any visual or audio medium this year! It may even be in the Top Ten experiences I have had with any piece of art in entertainment in my entire life. The feelings that it gave me and the experience it put me through was that profound to me.

It has taken half a year to put into words my feelings about this unforgettable experience and I still believe I won’t possibly do it justice. There has never been a game before this one that has garnered as much attention or division as this one. And there may never be another game that takes the level of risk that this game takes with it’s characters.

Which is one of the biggest reasons that I am in such awe of Neil Druckmann and the team at Naughty Dog who put this piece of art together. It wasn’t enough for them to create a game with the best stealth gameplay mechanics ever experienced or the most realistic character animations ever realized in a video game. They did not settle for creating the most accessible video game in history or the game with the most painstakingly created graphics ever witnessed in a virtual medium.

Naughty Dog could have easily settled for these monumental achievements in gaming and delivered a story that followed  their beloved characters down a familiar path. They would have likely received similar accolades for their innovation and not divided their fan base. They could have just played the story safe.

Instead, what they delivered is the most emotionally frustrating, painful, and harrowing experience that has ever been forced upon gamers in the history of the mediums 40 year existence. They forced gamers into situations many did not want to experience and others found physically discomforting to witness. I admit that there were several moments in this game where I did not want press the button or head into the next room. Not because it was too scary, but because I did not want to do the thing that I was being asked to do.

I have certainly witnessed things like this in movies, but never in a way where I had control of the protagonist. It’s one thing to watch someone try to kill a character you’ve grown to care for. It’s an insanely different experience to be put in the situation where you have to try and kill that person you love in order to move the story forward.

If this sounds hard and painful to you it’s because it is. And that’s why some people have understandably reacted with a level of discontent and vitriol. However, the last piece of the puzzle is the one that has caused the most negative reaction and it’s also the reason this game is such a masterpiece!

****Stop here if you want no spoilers******

The closing section of the ‘The Last of Us’ forced the player into an unthinkable situation. In order for the world to be saved Ellie (Ashley Johnson) has to die. Does Joel (Troy Baker) kill the people who are trying to save the world or does he lose the person he’s grown to love like a daughter.

It’s a hell of a conundrum. In the end, Joel’s love for Ellie won’t allow him to let her go and he slaughters everyone in his path. Then, he lies to Ellie about what happened.

‘The Last of Us Part II’ is all about the ramifications of those actions. This is personified in the inclusion of the character named Abby (Laura Bailey). A woman who’s father was killed by Joel in the rescue of Ellie.

The game opens with the brutal murder of Joel at Abby’s hands and we don’t know why. She is given some depth, but it’s clear that we are intended to see her as the villain. Then the game seems to be Ellie’s revenge tale.

What the game is actually about does not come into focus until you are forced to play the game from Abby’s point of view. We see that her father was the doctor Joel gunned down in the first game. Then, we also begin to see Abby is no different than Joel.

In the original, Joel was a broken man who was trying to redeem himself for a horrible life he had made after the death of his daughter. Which is almost a mirror of Abby in this game. Meanwhile, our beloved Ellie becomes the personification of evil that both Abby and Joel had become before her.

This cycle of violence and what it does to those around us is the essence of this story, but it’s the ultimate lesson of forgiveness that rings most true. And it’s because of the fact that you have to walk through both of these young women’s shoes, and do those things that you don’t want to do, that it lands so fervently. Without all the struggle the game puts you through, the lesson would ring hollow.

In the end, loss is all that revenge brings and that loss is felt in your gut. It’s a brutal and beautiful ending to a painful story. It’s also the most unforgettable journey of 2020!

Nathan Ligon

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