The Last Of Us 2 is getting review-bombed on Metacritic, but there’s more to it than that.
Credit: Naughty Dog
Well, it should come as no surprise—critics and gamers disagree wildly on The Last Of Us 2, though the reasons for this divide are less than clear-cut.
Of course, not all critics adored the game—I wrote a pretty lengthy round-up of negative reactions to Naughty Dog’s latest outing from critics at Kotaku, Polygon and elsewhere—and not all gamers hate it. That’s too narrow a dichotomy for obvious reasons.
In any case, if you’re reading reviews from critics or gamers right now, or following the discussion about these reactions on social media, it probably doesn’t hurt to have a little more context. So let’s dive in.
Warning #1 — Review-Bombing
As Paul Tassi covered already here at Forbes Games, there is definitely some degree of review-bombing going on here. That’s when a bunch of gamers—whether through coordinated action or just common cause—head over to a site like Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes and express their collective anger toward a game/movie/developer/studio by giving it really low review scores and driving the aggregate down.
In this case, as of this writing, the game has a 95/100 critic review score (though many of the negative reviews I link to above are unscored and therefore don’t impact the overall aggregate number) while the user review score is just 3.4/10.
That’s not as low as Warcraft III: Reforged, which was review-bombed to dust thanks to a legion of problems with the game and a general antipathy for Blizzard following the whole Hong Kong protest censorship fiasco.
At the time, I pointed out that review-bombing was one of the only realistic tools (beyond voting with wallets) normal consumers have to voice their discontent and anger at a game or game company. I noted that review-bombing doesn’t necessarily mean a game is as terrible as the score (there’s no way Warcraft III: Reforged is a 0.6/10) but it is an indication that something is wrong, and not just with “entitled gamers.”
But more on this in a minute. For now, warning #1 is simply this: User review scores are not currently based on actual reviews. The game was bombed immediately. Within hours innumerable 0/10 user reviews were posted. There’s literally no way any of these people could have finished the game, and as a critic myself I don’t think you should post a scored review if you haven’t finished a game like The Last Of Us 2 even if you’ve watched the spoilers and leaks. Watching isn’t playing and I would personally never watch a game and then review it.
So take the user reviews with a grain of salt—but also, take the response to these reviews with a grain of salt. Which leads me to my second warning.
Warning #2 — Don’t listen to the ridiculous backlash against gamers.
Here’s a tweet from former Gears Of War developer Cliff “Cliffy B” Bleszinksi reacting to the evil gamers—you know, the people who have bought his games for years and helped make him wealthy and successful (and my response):
Okay, so this is the general reaction I’m seeing online to people who don’t like The Last Of Us II. They are anti-SJWs who hate gay people and want to burn down Naughty Dog for being a den of Social Justice Warriors and pushing everyone’s noses into their politics.
Now, okay, there is some glimmer of truth to this. Some people are genuinely homophobic. Other gamers are reactionary when any kind of progressive politics are found in games. But there’s way, way more to this than meets the eye.
In fact, it (once again) reminds me a lot of the fallout after Mass Effect III. That game also received glowing critical reviews, tons of player backlash and review-bombing. At the time, many game journalists and game devs said it was all because of homophobia and “entitled gamers” when the reality was, a lot of people—normal gamers and plenty of critics—felt cheated by the ending. Were there some homophobes out there also? Sure. Of course. But to dismiss everyone who didn’t like Mass Effect III’s ending as “entitled” or hateful was wrong, and it’s wrong now, too.
Here’s another tweet:
This implies that gamers are mad because there are girls in The Last Of Us 2. Which is so laughably absurd I’m not sure it even deserves a retort. There are many popular, well-received games with girls in them from Tomb Raider to GRIS to A Plague Tale: Innocence to Horizon Zero Dawn to Naughty Dog’s own Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (which did fine on Metacritic despite female leads in a male-led franchise) that are all well-received by critics and gamers alike. Or more recently, Half-Life: Alyx, a critical darling and huge hit with gamers, despite Alyx being a woman.
If this theory is true, that The Last Of Us 2 is getting panned by gamers because of “girls” then why are all those games okay?
It makes no sense. It’s a stupid, lazy argument.
Okay, but Ellie is gay. That must be why gamers hate it!
If that’s the case, then why did The Last Of Us: Left Behind score so well with both critics and gamers? It has an 88/100 critic score and 8.2/10 user review score on Metacritic:
The Last Of Us: Left Behind did just fine on Metacritic.
Credit: Metacritic / Erik Kain
This is the expansion to the first game that introduces Ellie as a lesbian. It’s really good. People loved it. Were people just less homophobic and sexist back then? Not according to everyone yelling at gamers after Mass Effect III!
As I said above, review-bombing can be a way to voice discontent and that’s exactly what’s happening here. Gamers have seen the leaks and are not happy with them. YouTubers who discussed these leaks on their channels were given takedown notices by Sony, even when they didn’t show footage, and gamers are unhappy about this as well.
Also, what should we do about the many critics who disliked the game, such as Riley MacLeod from Kotaku? He had many problems with the game, saying that he appreciated the game’s diversity at first but after a while it “just felt like an equal opportunity for different kinds of people to suffer as the game went on.”
Are critics who were upset by the game’s violence crybabies? Are they entitled gamers? Are they just mad at SJWs? Is anyone who dislikes this game immediately a black mark to shun and mock?
Of course some people are just out to fight the SJWs and there’s plenty of outrage and malice to go around. It’s unfortunate. It muddies the waters of conversation. I’m sure I’ll get yelled at by all sorts of people for even writing this, because you’re not allowed to have a nuanced take anymore. You’re with us or you’re against us. That’s how this ridiculous game works.
So be it. I think there’s truth to be found in all the nooks and crannies of an outrage war, left scattered in the wake. There are going to be people who genuinely like or dislike this game and that’s fine. Nothing is for everyone.
I have yet to play The Last Of Us Part 2 yet. I’ll have some thoughts next week. I look forward to playing because I loved the first game (even though it’s a game, which apparently means it can’t be deep or original or profound or something). I hope I love the second. I guess we’ll see.
The Last Of Us 2
Credit: Sony / Naughty Dog
I’ve gotten quite a lot of feedback on this post and it’s interesting to see what different readers have to say.
Some people hadn’t considered how review-bombing could be a tool for consumers to use against corporations that otherwise might ignore them.
Others were happy with the nuance of the original piece, which I appreciate. I don’t think there’s a clear-cut answer for why some people really dislike this game while others love it. I think some games are just divisive—and that’s okay.
Still other readers find the backlash to The Last Of Us 2 to be completely over-the-top and absurd, the clear result of an anti-SJW campaign that’s taken root on forums and YouTube.
There’s truth to that, too, of course—I’ve seen some pretty absurd accusations from that corner of the internet—but it’s far from the whole story. It certainly doesn’t explain how progressive critics at Kotaku and Polygon and elsewhere found the game so off-putting.
Meanwhile, we have our own official Forbes review up now thanks to Paul Tassi burning through the game after release. He gave the game a 9.5 out of 10 and seemed rather upbeat about the whole experience, which he says is very similar to the first game. You can, and should, read his review here. He concludes:
“This is a great game. One of the best I’ve played in years. No, I’m not going to go into GOTY nonsense in June, and no, I won’t be one of the 50 outlets giving it a perfect score, even though yes, I do believe you can give imperfect games 10/10s, given that nothing is completely without flaws. But The Last of Us 2’ actual gameplay leaves enough to be desired for me to take it out of contention for that.
“But it’s stunning. It’s important. And it’s a deeply well-told story to the point where I genuinely cannot fathom why anyone who has fully beaten the game, not just heard the spoilers, not just watched a streamer snark their way through it or watched ripped YouTube cutscenes, doesn’t appreciate what it has achieved here. But again, I can only offer my own opinion and my own defense of what I think is a must-play as a huge fan of the original, even as someone who loved the characters they’ve murdered and maimed and morally compromised here. It’s remarkable, and it will stay with me a long while, just like the first.”
I generally have very similar taste in games and movies and TV shows and literature as Paul, so this makes me think I’ll probably also really enjoy it, but who knows? I’ll start playing Wednesday. Since neither of us received a review copy, and since Paul’s is the “official” review, I’m in no hurry. I’ll take my time and write up my thoughts and hopefully enjoy the ride—however dark and violent. I’m no shrinking violet when it comes to video game violence, after all.
Stay tuned for my thoughts on the game as I dive in this week. I’m equal parts excited and filled with trepidation, but I generally love Naughty Dog games…so I’m crossing my fingers.
P.S. It’s so strange that Sony and Naughty Dog didn’t give us copies given that Paul’s review is very positive and the score he gave is exactly the same as the Metacritic average. Just seems like a missed opportunity to have this review out sooner for gamers and Naughty Dog alike. Oh well.