It's been an exhausting few days if you've found yourself caught up in the Twitter discourse around The Last of Us Part 2 that raged over the weekend. In the wake of reviews dropping on Thursday, a fairly nasty argument erupted over The Last of Us Part 2 that included prominent journalists, director Neil Druckmann, and even God of War director Cory Barlog.
It was a conversation started in part because of The Last of Us Part 2 being compared to the film Schindler's List by podcast host Jeff Cannata. "In a medium where everything is John Wick, The Last of Us Part 2 is Schindler's List. And just like that film, there were times when I wasn't sure I could keep going. It is a relentless emotional assault that I suspect will force even the most jaded gamer to feel empathy," Cannata wrote.
The tweet received pushback from many in the games press and elsewhere given the film's connection the Holocaust. The discussion devolved from there, at one point getting so bad that noted indie developer Rami Ismail joked, "Really got to hand it to Sony's marketing department, I'm impressed by this pre-release The Last of Us 2 ARG that turns Twitter into a exhausting post-apocalyptic hellscape that brings out the worst in people in endless cycles of hatred and grudges and tribalism."
In the course of this argument, Druckmann screencapped several tweets from former USgamer editor Bob Mackey and Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier, writing, "With all due respect, I find these kinds of ironic 'jokes' to be unproductive at best. We can do better with critical discourse—especially by those of us with thousands of followers... and especially about sensitive subject matter."
Druckmann was specifically referring to Bob's cheeky comment that "Ikaruga is the Elie Wiesel's Night of schmups," but the cry for better critical discourse was what jumped out at me. We all want to have a robust conversation about The Last of Us Part 2 right now, but that's not exactly easy right now given the current spoiler restrictions. And with specifics being hard to come by, generalized hyperbole and ironic jokes are going to have a much easier time ruling the day.
For those who aren't aware, Sony Interactive Entertainment laid out notably strict guidelines when providing The Last of Us Part 2 early review code, including specifically forbidding journalists from talking about large areas of the game. Suffice it to say, these elements are hugely important for understanding The Last of Us Part 2 as a whole, and it's very difficult to have a meaningful discussion without them. That didn't stop many journalists from trying, and some excellent reviews were the result, most notably from Vice Games, Wired, Paste, and Polygon.
But while reviewers did the best they could—and managed to provide a surprisingly robust critical discussion as a result—there was plenty of grumbling over the onerous restrictions. Proud as I am of USgamer's review, I feel like there's so much more to say about The Last of Us Part 2, which will unfortunately have to wait until after release. I'm continually jealous of my colleagues in the TV and film business who can write interesting reviews without fear of angering spoilerphobes across the internet.
It's admittedly a knotty problem for games. Even The Last of Us Part 2, which ultimately isn't that long, is still 10 times the length of the average film. It's possible to knock out a movie or even a Netflix series in just a couple sittings, but a game requires a much stronger commitment. That makes it that much harder for people to consume the media and then return to the review for a more thorough analysis.
With publishers driving so hard to limit spoilers, though, game reviews have become almost useless as a tool for meaningful critical discourse. Unable to discuss specifics, the bulk of reviewers all too easily fall into the trap of writing a glorified product review; one that winds up treating a game more like a new iPhone than a piece of art worth considering. That feeling is further amplified by the continued obsession over Metacritic scoreboard watching, in which a single arbitrary number is treated as definitive proof of a game's quality.
It's because of this that we've now settled into a familiar cycle: game review arrives; everyone obsesses over the Metacritic score, and then the real discourse begins after release. It's telling that I'll happily read TV recaps and movie reviews, but that I almost never want to read a game review after the fact. All the best discussion happens in the essays and YouTube deep dives that follow—the ones that aren't nearly as concerned with spoilers as the actual reviews.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that reviews shouldn't be concerned with spoilers at all. Instead of trying to obfuscate key plot points, publications and developers alike should trust game players to read as much or as little about the game as they want. There are plenty of people who don't care a bit about spoilers and will happily read all the critical discourse before experiencing the work for themselves and forming their own opinion. Other people, myself included, will intentionally go on media blackout and avoid even trailers before playing a game or watching a movie.
Ultimately, I can decide for myself how much I want to be spoiled. I don't need a publisher deciding what I need to know ahead of time, and I certainly don't need reviewers tying themselves into knots in order to provide an incomplete picture of the game at hand.
In any case, I don't think reviews are changing anytime soon. We're certainly not going to abolish Metacritic—though with the way 2020 is going, I suppose pretty much anything is on the table. My main hope is that when Ghost of Tsushima drops next month, reviewers will be able to have a more complete discussion of the game without having to constantly worry about tripping over strict embargo guidelines. It'd be good for journalists; it'd be good for readers, and it would ultimately be good for the game, because it would make it easier to have an informative discussion without falling into generalized hyperbole.
Whatever happens, I look forward to being able to have a real discussion about The Last of Us Part 2 when it finally launches on Friday.
Major Game Releases: June 15 to June 19
Here are the major releases for the week of June 15 to June 19. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.
- Persona 4 Golden [June 13 for PC via Steam]: This technically happened over the weekend, but Persona 4 Golden leaving its Vita home for PC is worth a shout-out here. It's not a remaster, so the graphics are largely the same, but you can now play the upgrade version of Persona 4 on a modern platform, and hopefully, modders will get in there and start having some fun soon. Our own Caty McCarthy took a look at the port and praised the inclusion of the Japanese voice acting in this version.
- Disintegration [June 16 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One]: Disintegration is the work of a small team at V1 Interactive, a brand-new studio led by the former Halo art director Marcus Lehto. The title seeks to bring together first-person shooter and real-time strategy genres, but unfortunately, it stumbles a bit. In our review, we found that the experience didn't fulfill either the FPS or strategy sides of its creation.
- Desperados 3 [June 16 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One]: The folks behind the excellent Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun return to bring their unique vision of tactical strategy to the Wild West. Desperados 3 carries forward the same gameplay mechanics of Shadow Tactics, tweaked slightly for the new environment. Will it be a great follow-up to the original Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive? We'll see when Desperados 3 launches tomorrow. .
- Burnout Paradise Remastered [June 19 for Switch]: Following its release on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2018, Burnout Paradise Remastered heads to Nintendo Switch. Get out there on the streets of Paradise City, racing around at breakneck speeds and trying to take down the competition. Now you can take the takedowns with you wherever you go.
- The Last of Us Part 2 [June 19 for PlayStation 4]: It's kind of a soft week for gaming until you get to The Last of Us Part 2. Naughty Dog's latest adventure is one of the two games closing out the PlayStation 4 era, and as we mentioned above, it's led to some... shall we say... robust discussion. Our review praised its ambition and production values, but felt that it was maybe 5 hours too long. No matter how you feel about it, there's no denying that there's a lot to unpack when it comes to Ellie's journey through Seattle.
Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week In Gaming
- The Last of Us Part 2 is almost here. The biggest game of the month is releasing this Friday. USG editor-in-chief Kat Bailey reviewed the game, finding it to be a "darker, more introspective follow-up that seeks to challenge the conventions of big-budget action games.".
- EA has announced Star Wars Squadrons. This 5v5 multiplayer game looks to bring back Star Wars starfighter combat in fine style, with many comparing it to the classic X-wing vs. TIE Fighter. It'll even support VR, which is tremendously exciting for Star Wars fans who identify more with Wedge Antilles than Luke Skywalker. Gameplay will be shown at EA Play later this week, with the release date set for October 2.
- The PlayStation 5 is finally a real thing. During last week's PlayStation 5 State of Play, Sony Interactive Entertainment not only showcased a number of games coming to the PS5—Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Resident Evil 8, Hitman 3, a Demon's Souls remake, and Horizon Forbidden West—it also showed off the system itself. Still no price or firm release date yet, but we had thoughts about how Sony pulled off the reveal and the odd design of the console itself.
- Bungie has revealed the next few years of Destiny 2. The now-independent Bungie has shown players what the future of Destiny 2 is looking like. The next expansion is called Beyond Light and it marks the beginning of a multi-year journey, as Bungie commits to updating a single game rather than moving onto another sequel. Plans include putting certain Destiny 2 content in The Vault and bringing back old Destiny 1 raids, while also offering next-gen upgrades for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.
- The Dialogue Box has been renamed! Last week, we launched a brand-new podcast featuring in-depth discussions with folks around the gaming industry. As we move into the second episode, we've decided to change the change the name of the podcast: it's now called Branching Narratives. You can still catch last week's episode, with Austin Walker of Waypoint Radio and Friends at the Table fame.
Axe of the Blood God for June 15, 2020
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. This week, Kat and Nadia talk about the PlayStation 5 reveal, Persona 4 Golden's move to PC, and a brief chat about The Last of Us Part 2. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.