Can ‘The Last of Us 2’ overcome it’s rocky release and getting review-bombed?

June 30, 2020 - Review / Tech

Naughty Dog’s hugely anticipated sequel to their hit action-adventure, horror game — The Last of Us is finally here.

The Last of Us Part II picks up five years after the point at which the previous game left off and fans of the series had to wait seven long years to finally learn how the story progresses after the dramatic ending of the first game. To avoid spoiling either game, this article contains no revelations of story elements from either game.

The Last of Us franchise has an enormous player base, having received numerous awards including the D.I.C.E. Game of the Year award for the year it was released, and ranks among the highest rated games on Metacritic for both users and professional critics.

The game is consistently hailed by many as one of the greatest games of all time. Yet despite all of this the release of The Last of Us Part II saw some significant twists and turns before finally launching amidst controversy. Here we’ll look at key points during its development leading up to its rocky release and end by trying to answer the question – should you get it?

Problematic release

You might be wondering why we’re talking about this game’s release now and not last year, when it was originally scheduled for release. Well, The Last of Us Part II was delayed twice – firstly pushed into May, 2020, due to development simply needing more time to polish the game’s systems and presentation and secondly pushed further due to the coronavirus pandemic that has affected so many in the industry and beyond.

While many of the franchise’s loyal fanbase understood the need to postpone the release of the game given the virus and its impact on development, others questioned the strategy of simply delaying the game indefinitely rather than announcing a new date for release.

This upset reinforced earlier ill-feeling among some fans who had reacted negatively after learning of gay representation in the game a few years earlier via early story teasers. This had been a point of contention chiefly among the gamergate crowd who criticized its inclusion as being politically motivated but also among some progressive audiences that were critical of how this representation was managed.

When the first proper story trailer emerged ahead of release, this sadly coincided with the spoilers being leaked for the game’s narrative. While the apparent overall polish and quality of the game presented in this trailer were both very warmly received (but noted alarming levels of violence – more on that below), the gamergate crowd’s anger spilled into hateful commenting and downvoting, leading to PlayStation and others disabling comments and voting on social media sites.

It should be worth mentioning, however, that these negative comments posted based on spoilers before the game was even released were directed at more than gay representation – they were compounded by a feeling in the player base that major characters hadn’t been done narrative justice in this installment of the franchise.

This criticism followed the game all the way to its release where it suffered a spectacular volume of so called review bombing, where thousands of users left negative reviews across game review aggregator sites such as Metacritic days before it even launched. Even now, at the time of writing, The Last of Us Part II has a rating below 5 out of 10 on Metacritic.

Review Bombed

This has been called out for not representing the quality of the actual game but instead focusing on non-gameplay elements given that these ratings were both given before anyone had even played the game but also because they differed so strongly from the impression professional reviewers reported. Game critics conversely received the game to massive acclaim with a majority of outlets, such as Pushsquare, Screenrant and Gamerant, scoring it a masterpiece.

While the user rating average on Metacritic did recover somewhat as players actually got a chance to play through and finish the game, there is still a remarkable discrepancy between the two sets of scores.

The issue of review bombing has been around for a while in many industries, but is particularly notable in the gaming industry where consumers seem willing to negatively review products based on factors other than their actual quality. Following a number of high profile politically motivated review bombings on Steam last year, they addressed this behaviur by introducing algorithms to counter its effect.

The review bombing of The Last of Us II has brought it once again to a focus of discussion. Suggestions for how to limit its prevalence include adding more moderators of user reviews, forcing players to actually own a game or have owned for a period of time before leaving a review or relying on the kind of data-driven objective analysis provided by sites in related areas such as Labslots providing the best payout slot games. Others argue that review bombing isn’t necessarily worth combating as consumers need to be able to voice their concerns.

Although game critics provided overall extremely positive reviews, the violence present in the game garnered some negative attention from notable outlets including Polygon and Kotaku. These critiques pointed to the difference between the game’s storytelling about how violence is brutal and sad and the game’s mechanics, which center almost exclusively on being violent.

This has been described as a form of ludo narrative dissonance – a term invented to capture this story-mechanics mismatch that has previously been applied to Naughty Dog’s Uncharted franchise. It seems that whatever problems the studio has with managing to align narrative with gameplay have not yet been resolved.

So, in summary The Last of Us 2 suffered a troubled development cycle, culminating in a rock release to mostly positive reviews but a lot of backlash from the gaming community. While concerns of gay representation are of course unwarranted – diversity in a gaming is a sign of the progressive times – issues surrounding the prevalence of violence in a game supposedly about the tragedy of brutality should warrant some caution.

Our advice is to pick up The Last of Us Part II as the gameplay has been so universally praised. This also means you’ll get a chance to experience the story and reflect on whether it feels fitting for you given the mechanics of the game. One thing is certain – The Last of Us Part II is an important game that acts as a touchstone for many of the current debates and conversations around gaming – for this reason alone it is well worth playing!

› tags: game review / Naughty Dog / review / The last of us / video game /

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