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The Last of Us: Part II – We did “Endure & Survive”, now what awaits us?

The highly anticipated sequel to the much acclaimed video game by developer Naughty Dog, “The Last of Us”, is finally out today on PlayStation. To mark the occasion, I’m going to revisit the original and talk a bit about how far the story has come since it released in 2013.

Ellie overlooking Jackson, screenshot by Martyn Foster.

I was going to start this off with an obligatory “this article was not paid for by Naughty Dog” but none of you would believe me if I said I was paid by them to write this so I’ll leave it at that *winks*.

The hard-hitting, emotional rollercoaster that was “The Last of Us” quickly become a favourite amongst gamers worldwide and has since developed quite the cult following. The game opens in modern-day America and the beginning of the outbreak of a pandemic (too soon?), with the opening segment hitting hard like Simba coming across a dead Mufasa. A ballsy move from Naughty Dog to stick something that emotionally provocative in the opening scene, but it paid off…big time! So, whilst there are still plenty of “zombies” to kill in this disease-ridden environment (different levels of ‘infected’ from the cordyceps fungi), this game very much emphasises the human element of such a situation.

A warning you see AFTER you come out the door, screenshot by Martyn Foster.

The game then skips forward in time where you pick up playing the rest of the game in a post-apocalyptic setting as Joel, a hardened and pragmatic smuggler with a watch that no longer works on his arm as a reminder of a world that is no more. Joel and his smuggling/business partner Tess are then given the task of what seems to be harmlessly transporting a young teenage girl (Ellie) to another area, but things are never so innocent in this world. Now, I’m not just going to regurgitate the storyline as that has been done countless times elsewhere (and if you haven’t played it yet – or watched someone else’s playthrough – then I’d highly recommend it, even for the story alone), but there are reasons why the notion “this game makes a great movie”, stuck.

The character development and arcs, the dialogue, the settings, the level of detail and ‘feel’ of places, scenes and actions teamed together with a beautiful score make for an incredible experience rivalling those of a cinematic disposition. The pacing of the game/story is fantastic, mixing and transitioning from heart-racing do-or-die moments to times where you can take a breath and gather yourself or take in the eerie tranquillity and beauty of the world that is both empty and full, of both life and death. “The Last of Us” is a brutal and violent game at times and it doesn’t hide from that, and there are moments which will genuinely crush you emotionally, but there are also these moments of contrasting beauty and uplifting to the soul and spirit of humanity.

The infamous "Giraffe Moment", screenshot by Martyn Foster.
Joel searching for Ellie at Hidden Pines Corral, screenshot by Martyn Foster.

The relationship between Joel and Ellie is an interesting dynamic and we get to experience the highs and lows of it during its development throughout the story. One of the major elements is that Joel learns to trust Ellie and view her as competent in handling herself (and a weapon). However, Ellie is still a child who has gone through a lot of her own (and if you played the “Left Behind” DLC you get a sense of some of this), and there is a scene at an abandoned ranch which perfectly encapsulates the feelings of a young person who has been forced to grow up rapidly, but is still in essence, a child.

Ellie and the Merry-Go-Round, screenshot by Martyn Foster.

There are many deep and serious adult themes explored in this game (e.g. autonomy, agency, death, loss/grief, meaning/purpose) and I know I have not talked about a number of them, but for the sake of brevity, I must move on.

I personally felt “The Last of Us” worked fine as a standalone game, I didn’t think it needed a sequel, but like anything original that becomes successful, it got one. Now, I believe that with Part II coming out director and writer Neil Druckmann more recently has said that it was always intended to be a two-part story. Part II takes place five or so years after the culmination of the first game (playing as Ellie this time), but I have deliberately stayed away from too much story reveals to give myself the best (unexpected) experience, but such is the nature of the internet – it’s like it goes looking to spoil/leak information.

Some well-placed humour despite the tragedy of their circumstances, screenshot by Martyn Foster.

Anyway, I won’t end on a bad note, “The Last of Us” was one of the best games on the PS3 and gave it a great swansong before the PS4 came out the following year. Can Part II do the same thing for PS4 in the wake of the recent announcements of the PS5? If the below ‘State of Play’ demo is anything to go by, I’d say they’ve given it their best shot!

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