The Mundane Reality of Mourning in The Last of Us Part II

This post contains major spoilers for The Last of Us Part II.

The enormity of The Last of Us Part II is inescapable.

It is a game that is trying so much, with such wildly varying effectiveness depending on who you speak to, that the reactions to it are still pouring out – almost a month after release. Long form writing, tweets, message board posts, video essays and more; praise, condemnation, commentary on its themes, backlash, backlash to the backlash, examining its politics, praise of its LGBTQ representation, criticism of its LGBTQ representation. It’s a lot of things to a lot of people, whether they loved it or hated it.

Despite its almost overwhelming scope, and ponderous themes about human nature, love, hate, and everything in between — one of the most memorable scenes in the game’s 25 hour runtime is also one of its simplest.

The story of Part II is set in motion by the violent murder of Joel – the player-controlled character of the first game. The flawed-but-still-beloved protagonist of 2013’s The Last of Us suffers a reckoning that was certainly to be expected, but was nonetheless still very shocking.

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Randy Orton vs. Edge (WWE Backlash, 2020)

At Backlash, Edge and Randy Orton worked very hard and had a genuinely great pro wrestling match. They told a simple story that progressed nicely across the surprisingly breezy 40+ minute runtime. Little things like Orton dodging an armdrag and dominating much of the early grappling were complimented by good facials that never veered into over-acting, and hammered home the story that maybe the more battle-worn Edge wasn’t quite able to hang any more. They worked with intensity and crispness, but never phoniness.

Like a lot of modern matches that intentionally shoot for ‘an epic;’ I would have trimmed more than a few nearfalls, and nixed the section where they imitated finishing moves of their peers — most matches like this need to be reigned in, and this was no exception. But beyond that, this was evidence that both men still have it in them to produce compelling matches — which is honestly as much of a pleasant surprise with regards to Orton as it is with regards to Edge.

Obviously there’s a big ‘but’ coming here.

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Top 10 Games of 2019

This is easily the latest I have ever written one of these lists.

Last year was so jam-packed with big releases, spread so wide across multiple genres, that it was honestly overwhelming. So much so that I was fairly sure I would not be able to make a significant enough dent in the backlog to write a list like this and be satisfied with it; I had basically resigned myself to not bothering.

Then 2020 happened. And suddenly I had enough time to get through those remaining 2019 releases. Funny how that worked out.

Anyway — games in 2019 absolutely ruled. It felt like a year that took nothing for granted, with a lot of my favourite games this year presenting fresh ideas — like, really fresh ideas! Not just refinements on existing genres or series… I mean, sure, there was plenty of those too, and that’s great. But as I look up and down my list of played games this year, debating in my head what order I was going to organise everything in, I was really pleased to see so many truly unique ideas brought to life in last year’s big releases.

Before I jump into the HYPER OFFICIAL, DEFINITIVE NUMBERED LIST of 2019’s games — here is a list of honourable mentions. I enjoyed all of these to various degrees and some of them have been on and off the numbered list right up until the point I hit ‘publish.’ I recommend them all, they’re all winners folks!

Disco Elysium 31_12_2019 23_08_49

  • ApeOut
  • Baba Is You
  • CTR: Crash Team Racing (remake)
  • Disco Elysium
  • Gato Roboto
  • Katana Zero
  • My Friend Pedro
  • The Outer Worlds
  • Super Mario Maker 2
  • Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  • Totally Accurate Battle Simulator
  • Void Bastards
  • What The Golf?

And now for the actual list.

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Tiger King (Season 1)

There’s a pretty clearly defined sub-genre of documentary that has emerged on Netflix in recent years; the streaming giant has punctuated every few months with a new meme-worthy shocker that has become instant watercooler talk across the globe.

Making A Murder set the tone, Fyre and Don’t Fuck With Cats are more recent examples, and the first half of 2020 has been dominated by Tiger King.

The dramatic opening credits, the somber strings of the closing credits, the cliffhanger endings, and perhaps most importantly; the somewhat shameless editing to weave a narrative more similar to a scripted drama than a linear retelling of events.

To be clear; the story at the heart of Tiger King is wild, unpredictable, and totally unique. Following the exploits of the self declared ‘king’ of wildlife park owners, we’re told of a turf war between zoos and animal rights activists, with everyone boasting a dark past and supported by shady background business partners. Guns, drugs, sex, betrayals — it literally has it all, and is tied together in a package that on the surface is slickly produced and sharp as hell.

There is obviously a big but coming here.

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A Week In Barryland (Animal Crossing: New Horizons)

One of my favourite things in games is a perfectly balanced instance of ‘The Loop.’

Titles that focus on a ‘loop’ are gaming at its purest.

It’s simple; you gather resources until you meet a certain benchmark. That benchmark opens up new, faster ways for you to gather resources, and the loop restarts. You keep playing to reach your next trinket, and the trinket encourages you to keep playing.

While it wouldn’t be fair to say Animal Crossing is entirely a game of numbers, the spirit of The Loop lives on in my adorable little island with my cuddly animal pals.

Animal Crossing 4

I’ve never played one of these games before, but a combination of the inescapable hype for ‘New Horizons‘ and a fairly light release schedule for 2020 made me take the plunge.

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AEW Revolution

All Elite Wrestling came out swinging in 2020. After kinks in the armour started to appear towards the end of 2019, the company entered the new year with a sense of vigor and focus. Their first pay per view of the decade, Revolution, served as a perfect foundation for things – as it provided a destination for the television show to drive towards; telling a series of well structured stories weekly, that came to a head on Saturday night’s show.

While arguments could be made about what the ‘real’ main event was on paper; tradition dictated, and the closing match saw the coronation of Jon Moxley as the new AEW world champion.

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Top 10 Pro Wrestling Matches of 2019

Wrestling somehow got even stupider in 2019, and it was amazing.

I know it’s extremely cliche to talk about how ‘there’s never been a better time to be a fan!’ — and also somewhat gag-inducing with how overly cutesy and positive that is — but seriously; wrestling is anything but boring right now.

There’s a ratings war, and it’s getting competitive. There are bidding competitions for top talent, as companies try and compile as compelling a roster as possible. There’s been tonnes, and tonnes, and tonnes of controversies. There’s been returns, there’s been departures. New entities have sprung into existence, and established names have struggled to reinvigorate themselves. There’s been niche wrestling, and there’s been new faces in major league wrestling. Numerous companies have carved themselves out a unique sense of style, and pushed the boundaries of what the genre can be.

And then there’s the actual wrestling. It’s been amazing, and it’s been dreadful; both in quantities you would never have enough time to actually get through.

But ultimately, irony and cynicism aside; there has been an insane amount of great matches this year.

While not perfect promotions in their entirety, places like OTT, Riptide, and AEW presented styles of wrestling that truly made WWE near-unwatchable for me; as the industry leader’s deeply entrenched tropes and production ticks are as noticeable as ever, and other groups prove that theirs is not the only way to skin a cat. But even with that said; WWE themselves made a handful of moments this year that I would rank among my favourites they’ve produced in my 20 years as a fan.

I can also comfortably say this was the most wrestling I’ve ever watched in a calendar year. I watched every tournament match in the Best of the Super Juniors AND the G1 Climax — genuinely something I have never even come close to previously. While there are people out there whose watchlists dwarf mine; it felt good to seek out as much good wrestling as my free time would allow.

Hell, I even kept a SPREADSHEET (!) of my favourite matches this year! Over 150 matches in the four stars or over range! Across 16 promotions!

And that segues nicely to the actual list. The aforementioned ‘sheet was a wonderful tool to help me actually keep track of all the great matches I watched this year; although I won’t be copy-and-pasting my top ranked bouts from there to here, directly.

Some stuff withstood the test of time better than others. Some five star classics on a first viewing (or even a live viewing) didn’t quite hold up under scrutiny once the (figurative) ecstasy and (literal) cider wore off. Some matches that were ‘merely‘ granted a 4.5 rating upon initial viewing, actually ended up burning themselves into my subconscious to the degree that it would almost feel unjust to not include them on a list that should encapsulate all that was great in 2019 wrestling. Such as… Number 10!

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Cara Noir vs. PAC (Riptide, 2019)

This match is available to watch for free here.

The post-WWE career of PAC has already been tumultuous and fascinating, despite us only being a year in.

In the ring; early reviews were mixed. But the former Neville quickly proved he still had it – with match of the year contenders with Kzy, Walter, and Will Ospreay in the first half of 2019.

From there, however, the conversation has shifted to PAC’s seeming inability to lose while he’s a champion in Dragon Gate — or perhaps his unwillingness to do so.

While the purpose of this review isn’t to speculate on that, or open the can of worms that is debating what amount of loyalty is “right” in pro wrestling – it’s a crucial bit of context for this match.

For the last few months, PAC has been a world beater. He has dominated in Japan and Europe. He’s put away everyone from Chris Brookes to Pentagon Jr – and anyone who came close to scoring a win had their efforts go up in smoke via a disqualification. Coupled with the fact he’s jacked to the gills, as well as finely tuning the minutia of his sneering bastard character – and PAC has cultivated quite the aura. He’s an ass-kicking champion, whose primary objective is to win; he has no time for your post-match hug or ‘this is why we love wrestling’ promo. He sees himself above it.

And then he comes to Riptide Wrestling.

While the promotion’s billing as ‘Cinematic Professional Wrestling’ immediately makes sense to anyone who sees it — with their atmospheric lighting and super high fidelity video making them stand out from the crowd — the company has developed a new unique selling point in the last few months.

Riptide very much feels like the ‘Land of Misfit Toys‘ in British wrestling. A boutique promotion that feels almost hand-crafted in how it’s run. It’s a passion project, scooping up talent others seem to not believe in; or haven’t yet given a chance to. It hosts the rebounding TK Cooper on his journey to redemption; it gives a much more prominent role to Spike Trivet than its larger peers; and in this match it pits a top star on the international scene against a cult favourite among the local crowd.

Cara Noir

Cara Noir’s entrance coupled with Riptide’s production is a match made in heaven; an instantly arresting visual that will make immediate fans of anyone watching for the first time. It’s such a refreshing change from other promotions where so many people are varying degrees of ‘I’m the toughest guy’ or ‘I’m the zaniest guy.’ Cara is very much his own person.

And then we get PAC. Black trunks, title belt, thoroughly unimpressed look on his face.

The tone is set immediately for the character dynamic of the match; it’s like a full on culture clash — as though PAC is so out of his element in Riptide that his appearance is like something from a ‘What If’ edition of a comic book.

But when the bell rings, it doesn’t matter what the setting is for PAC. He is the man. He is the international champion. And he takes charge. He dominates things early, as Noir constantly gets back to his feet and requests a handshake. PAC doesn’t just ignore the handshake; he mutters something to Noir every time, in disgust. This is a fight for respect for Noir — and it doesn’t come easy.

Cara handshake

The thing about this match is that they don’t convey Noir is on PAC’s level by having him go 50/50 with the man, and having them exchange moves endlessly. Such is the way with matches like this, more often than not, and it’s starting to feel passe.  This wasn’t a squash by any measure, but the story of the match was PAC, the world-traveled champion, was the better man and won. Noir was elevated not by any kind of elaborate booking or “protection” near the finish — he was elevated by using his natural charisma to garner sympathy from the crowd — due in part to his tremendous selling in the second half. While wins and losses will always matter, there is so much more to being a successful pro wrestler than that – and earning sympathy in defeat will always be a pillar of the art.

With this match, PAC is confident and assured, and when the resilient Noir gets his flurries – the Dragon Gate star is caught unaware and is left flustered. They don’t need to do ten 2.999 nearfalls to illustrate Noir has heart; he illustrated that in the match regardless. Likewise, true to his character, PAC doesn’t raise Noir’s hand and tell the crowd what a sport he is — why would he? And with the match they just had; it wasn’t needed. The crowd didn’t need to be told ‘Noir came THIS close to winning!’ – his performance was so endearing that they respected him for fighting to the bitter end, despite the unbeatable aura of his opponent.

This was wonderful pro wrestling.

AEW Fyter Fest

With their debut event in May, AEW made an unflinching declaration of war. They have money, they have an eclectic talent pool, they have some fresh ideas, and most importantly; they have already amassed a cult following. The first show, Double Or Nothing, was energetic and memorable, with seemingly everyone working with a chip on their shoulder.

With June’s Fyter Fest, they had the unenviable task of following themselves, and proving that they could be more than a high-production super indie – especially as their shift to episodic television is looming.

The results were mostly positive, but as the promotion chugs along, with two fully fledged events and dozens of ‘road to’ videos under their belt; their identity remains muddled.

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“I’ll Never Forgive You”

As the familiar strings of ‘Allegro con fuoco’ rang around the National Basketball Arena, it was hard to process everything that had unfolded in the last ten minutes. Despite being over 20 chapters deep; the Walter/David Starr story continued to get my heart racing and keep me guessing. I was certain Walter was winning. Of course he was. This story that began in earnest in wXw was hardly going to culminate here in Tallaght, was it? And to be even more cynical; current WWE UK champion Walter wasn’t going to lose to outspoken WWE critic David Starr, was he?

But as the match entered the fourth quarter, all that rationale went out the window. In a true representation of everything that’s great about pro wrestling, and how the medium can physically pull you in like no other comparable genre of entertainment; the misdirections and elaborate plays on previous matches had me doubting everything. It speaks to Starr and Walter’s in-ring intellect, and their understanding of what wrestling fans understand about the art. It speaks to their understanding of the language of pro wrestling, that they were able to signify to fans three or four times that the match was over, usually by alluding to one of Starr’s previous errors that lead to his demise, only to flip the script yet again; all without feeling like overkill. I jumped to my feet, I bought every nearfall — and I was one of hundreds in attendance who did, all bellowing at the top of our lungs with every violent flurry and every defiant kick-out.

Beyond just being yet another great match in a series of great matches, this match represented the latest evolution of the story – a story that spans years and many promotions, but has taken a fascinating slant since arriving on Irish shores in June of 2018.

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