The Last of Us is quite high in our top 25 races of the decade and is also my own choice for first place. I love every facet of Naughty Dog’s amazing work, from the exquisite writing to the guaranteed staging, breathtaking performances, expressive sound design, haunting environments and visceral fights.
Suffice it to say that because of my dizzying fanaticism it has been quite difficult to narrow down the list of key points in the title. I was so spoiled by the choice that the gut prologue didn’t even look like it, and I would describe it as one of the most exciting hooks in the history of entertainment! Anyway, the point is I like the Joel and Ellie story so much that I can celebrate the top 100 without having to use pens. Lucky for you, I concentrated on the ten digestible ones.
So let’s take a look at TLOU’s finest moments. Oh, and if it’s not clear, there are some big spoilers up front.
10) Navigation in the metro
Hearing that signature echoing through the halls is a terrible omen.
Closest to the outskirts of the TLOU you will pass through a network of poorly lit subway tunnels on the outskirts of Boston in that order. To give you an idea of what awaits you, this dark and despotic part of the game is filled with a standard breed of infected tokens, as well as a few misplaced clickers that can rip out your throat in a single bite.
Stealth is the key to getting out of this treacherous maze in one piece, while you think about how to strategically rid yourself of the monsters without warning the larger group of your presence. You need to use Joel’s advanced listening skills, share a horde of scattered distractions and carefully plan your route to avoid getting stuck in a corner. In the end, the slightest miscalculation – be it a misplaced offensive, a loud noise or a missed threat – will warn of any inheritance. And from that moment on it gets really hectic.
Don’t forget that you don’t have a weapon yet, so any direct confrontation with harder opponents is extremely unpleasant. The only possible approach at this stage is to remain completely still and avoid the very sensitive clicking noise. By implementing these clever combat rules, Naughty Dog creates a theoretically infinite pool of Silent Place– just like in scenarios where you feel a huge risk in a single step. Nervous stuff.
9) Dismissed by Ellie
It is rare that a VNC does not respond, which is in fact a conscious design choice.
While filmmakers tend to get the lion’s share of fame and recognition, it would be a shame to neglect the more interactive methods Naughty Dog uses to tell their stories, because some of them are quite inventive. One of the more subtle examples are the rapid environmental tests that interrupt combat operations. While the two protagonists work together, you force these undemanding puzzles to perform simple tasks such as combining forces to move bins, rearrange wooden planks into makeshift bridges and use rafts to help Ellie cross the water.
On the surface they are indistinguishable from the swampy obstacles you find in a buddy’s house (e.g. Army of Two, Gears of War or Resident Evil 5), and they don’t have much influence on your mental abilities. However, they serve as an additional function and illustrate the relationship you have with your IA partner. You see, the first time you give Ellie an impulse to go to a higher level (so she can go through an inaccessible object), Joel explains the details of the plan so she knows exactly what to do. Over time, however, as the duo synchronizes, this ritual becomes almost second nature and there is no need for verbal communication. Soon you won’t even have to take the tips from the buttons anymore, because Ellie actively searches for solutions herself.
That is, until your expectations are canceled just before the climax of the game, when the couple opens a tacit break-up. During a particularly spectacular exchange you’ll see a ladder hanging over the ledge and press the button on the triangle to call Ellie for an obligatory foot treatment. But in an unprecedented move she doesn’t immediately follow your instructions and you have to press the button a second time to get her attention.
It’s a small speed jump that will probably go unnoticed by most players, but it’s the way the characters slowly move away from each other. The inconvenience is exacerbated by the fact that this setback is not just an isolated scenario and undermines your regular relationship with the world. You feel uncomfortable because you (like Joel) are afraid that it won’t be like it used to be. In general, it’s a good example of how developers can use the language of video games to convey an idea orally, and it’s all the more powerful for them.
8) Suburban sniper
To make the duel even more organic, the shooter will shout specific taunts based on your behavior and current position.
After a temporary alliance with two brothers named Henry and Sam, our heroes are haunted by a colony of murderous gangsters from Pittsburgh. On the run to a suburban area they seem to be safe when suddenly a fugitive shooter with a large calibre rifle starts shooting at them. Joel admits that they are hopelessly stranded and begs his surviving comrades to stay seated while he manoeuvres to avoid the sniper on the flank.
The trick of this part is that it is relatively open and non-linear. You can choose between several options: a network of shelters in the streets, a gradual progression through the houses (which protect the enemies themselves) or a jump over the picket lines. Whichever option you choose, you’re participating in a high stakes game that promotes a one-on-one game you can’t get anywhere else in the game.
Moreover, you will be outraged by this annoying enemy and the vulnerability you feel every time you push your head around the corner. On the other hand, it’s this oppressive speaker who makes your revenge even sweeter when you finally storm the crow’s nest and topple your sworn enemy once and for all. In fact, arresting this stunning suicide bomber and then using his weapons against his friends is an extremely pleasurable turn of events.
7) What are you so afraid of?
A perfect example of advanced technology and showmanship.
With the documentary BasedBrandon Scott (who plays Henry) reveals the benefits of performance capture. In choosing the procedure for the theatre, he claims that everything can be done from any angle, and that even the smallest [movements] are always recorded. For me, it is this ability to preserve barely perceptible gestures – and then translate them into a finished character model – that makes the TLOU cups so unique and exciting.
I don’t want to pretend now that the game was the first to use this technology in the environment, because that would clearly not be true. However, I would like to say that what has been achieved here by a bad dog hasn’t surpassed anyone yet, although it is now quite common to dress the actors with funny swimsuits and optical sensors. It’s just that there’s something incredibly raw in the way the actors interact, as if on a whim they’re going beyond the script. They talk to each other convincingly, start their sentences again in the middle of the river and water the fillings in every other line of the dialogue like real people.
If you want to better understand how they work with these plausible scenes, Grounded is a necessary point of view. However, if you prefer to look at the final product, I recommend a filmmaker who accuses Joel of wanting to leave her. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson blow up this argument with so many realistic details that can only come from talented performers bouncing off each other in the heat of the moment. There is, for example, the way Joel avoids eye contact when he is defensive, the slight wrinkles in Ellie’s eyebrows when she is agitated, and the spontaneous thrust she gives to an irresponsible defender when she is agitated. These authentic (and widely adapted) colours make the difference between the embroidered backing you’ll find in other AAA releases and the exciting drama TLOU so appreciates. Of course, even a phenomenal letter can’t hurt.
Not only do we have to turn our eyes back to the reverse perspective, but we also have to fight the limited freedom of movement and swaying of the reticule.
One of the characteristics of Naughty Dogs is that they know how to put together a damn impressive package. While this reputation for showmanship is certainly justified, there is no denying that it stems primarily from the Uncharted franchise, which has consistently surpassed it in every subsequent position. They offer classic adventure series and actually let you play the role of a blockbuster hero in role-playing games, in the guise of Indiana Jones or Ethan Hunt.
However, while this series is clearly focused on white ridge pyrotechnics, the TLOU is much closer. Hence the question why it would be so inappropriate to give the impression that one is hunting a caravan in the desert by, for example, cheating on Drakeso. In the light of TLOU’s application for the prestigious status of playwright, she could not afford to make the same daring escapes that made Nathan Drake’s name famous. Actions should instead focus on chubby and dirty encounters, tactical thinking and careful management of resources, rather than reckless running and shooting.
From time to time, however, he starts from the idea of pulling the vanilla cover to offer something special. A good example of this is when Joel lures his foot into a trap that lifts him to the ceiling and leaves him hanging in the air. Your job here is to protect Ellie, who’s hanging upside down, from an imminent wave of infection if she tries to break the mechanism’s counterweight.
Full of beautiful, almost raw mistakes, this series is surprisingly intense and puts you to the test in everything from your reflexes to your marksmanship and your ability to prioritize threats. The six-arrow limit means that you also have to take into account the constant restart, which adds another nice ripple to the process. But best of all, it perfectly matches the realistic vibrations of the name. The prefix in Uncharted usually contains the presence of a small army, improbable acrobatics and bombardments, but TLOU manages to do such a memorable thing without the slightest bloating.
5) This appearance cannot be denied
The base YouTuber reacts everywhere on video, it is impossible to forget the first time you saw these majestic creatures.
Born into a world already paralyzed by a deadly pandemic when we met Ellie, she spent her entire life in the company of death. Her immunity to the Cordyceps virus has allowed her to survive countless lovers, she has experienced things no child should ever have to see and an unimaginable burden has fallen on her shoulders. So when she examines a teenager’s bedroom before he walks away, she can’t even imagine how privileged his existence was, how trivial his problems were compared to hers, and how he could look forward to a future with a sense of hope instead of despair.
On the other hand, the dark circumstances of his life at least gave him the opportunity to enjoy things that others took for granted, such as the charm of sticky garden gnomes, the lure of dusty old record stores and the lure of dancing fireflies in the woods. In other words: Because Ellie is so used to the ugliness that surrounds her every day, she consciously tries to hold on to beauty. And this attitude pays off when she gets the chance to pet a giraffe professionally!
Overwhelmed by fear, she hurries up to the roofs and then looks up at the tower with the animals roaming the streets of Salt Lake City as if it had been her natural habitat all along. Like Ellie, you can’t help but be fascinated by this image of natural splendour, where the lush greenery overflows every artificial structure and wildlife is not afraid to be outside. This image of tranquillity is complemented by the reassuring assessment of Gustavo Santaolalla. What else can we say but to quote Ellie: Is that fucking cool?
4) Shopping centre Cooling
As many of us now understand, people in difficult times have to find all the pleasures not to go crazy.
For all the childish deaths, senseless acts of cruelty and dog morality that underlie TLOU, you will be forgiven for thinking that it is absolutely without warmth and compassion. that no one has ever felt the whiteness of happiness in this terrible world.
Take this from someone who survived The Walking Dead through his ups and downs; just because the characters are trapped in a state of eternal anger doesn’t make the drama exciting. On the contrary, there must be light to compensate for the darkness, otherwise you will be burdened with a bunch of unreliable and miserable intestines that just keep spinning around.
You see, the contrast makes the sad parts really sad and doesn’t let the sombre tone become monotonous. This is clearly understood by Evil Dog, for he balances every accident he inflicts on you with a positive manifestation of human tenderness. One of these highlights is the Left Behind extension, which serves as a long flashback to the last night Ellie and her boyfriend Riley spent together.
They live in the universal fantasy of taking over the mall after it’s closed. They have the freedom to rule and do what they want, and you have the opportunity to share all the tips. They can challenge themselves to throw stones at abandoned car dealerships, simulate different Halloween masks, have fun in the photo booth, or declare an aggressive war on super moccasins. All this helps to make the transition from violence to fear, so that children can be children in a world where they would otherwise have to grow up too quickly. The fact that you actively participate in this Halzion Night of Fun helps you to form a deeper connection with Riley, making the heartache even more destructive.
3) Winter has arrived
This section not only keeps us in suspense about Joel’s fate, but also allows you to spend some time in Ellie’s place and see how she has evolved over time.
One of the smartest decisions Neil Druckmann made when writing TLOU was to summarize everything in clean seasonal segments. Although the whole trip takes about ten months, we only have a brief overview of this period, which is reviewed at particularly remarkable intervals. If you calculate everything, you basically have a combined week with a few days in summer, stretch marks in autumn, a panting winter morning and a spring afternoon.
Honestly, that’s all you needed to make the story. Just like in trilogy The Lord of the Rings we can conclude that the characters cover a much larger area than we do, and that we can do that without having to travel all the way to find them. Druckmann knows exactly what is important to us and where we can best leave the action points to our imagination. In fact, some of the best stories take place between chapters.
Perhaps the best example is the abrupt transition from autumn to winter. The last thing we see this time is Joel being pierced by a piece of open reinforcement steel. The bleeding is alarming, the bleeding becomes so severe that it eventually falls off the horse on a hard, paved surface. Then we hear Ellie’s desperate pleas for him to stay conscious, and the clean cut in black doesn’t leave us completely indifferent.
Some time after we have remained in this painful ambiguity, a title card appears on the screen announcing that winter has finally arrived. The right change of scenery, everything gets awfully quiet, and Joel is nowhere to be found. In the new snowy landscape an enchanting rabbit comes out of its burrow, jumps a little, wags its nose, and then suddenly pierces it with a clever arrowhead. While the camera remains fixed on a lifeless rabbit’s body, we get the message loud and clear: Welcome to Zima. She is cruel, insensitive and shows no remorse.
Now more than ever, we’re starting to get seriously worried about Joel. But instead of giving us immediate answers to our burning questions, the game forces us to simmer in uncertainty during a long hunt. Here we accompany Ellie (who turns out to be our mysterious archer/battler) through the frozen forest while she hunts for a wounded deer. There is no struggle, no mysterious solution, no dialogue. It’s just a quiet introspection. And if you need to be shut down urgently, there’s nothing more unbearable than that.
In short, it is a very cost-effective way to show that everything has changed, and it paves the way for what could be the highlight of the whole game.
2) Does this make you all nostalgic?
An acceptable dose of dizziness can be very important if handled properly.
If I had identified the exact moment when TLOU really started clicking for me – and rightly wondered if it would be one of my absolute favourites – it wouldn’t have been one of the obvious scenes with tears in my eyes. Instead there will be this unpretentious speech when our heroes leave Bill’s village in a newly restored van.
The discussion here focuses on the various items that Ellie folded and stored in her backpack, with a number of important points to emphasize, including: the tapes that go with the record, the poor condition of the comic clip media, and the adult magazines that Bill kept in his safe house. Because it has no decisive events or devastating revelations, it leaves a much-needed pause when the characters turn into the wind and behave like normal people.
Reliable exchanges like these are unfortunately rare in the AAA sphere, where fairy tales are so often expected to be impulsive and progress at a furious pace. However, by taking the time to get away from the headlines to have a normal conversation (extremely well written and charismatically executed), Naughty Dog puts you psychologically into something that other titles just can’t do.
Joel’s face lights up with a sad memory like a well-known tune on the radio, Ellie jokingly wonders why the pages of a porn magazine are glued together: These keys make them look like three-dimensional signs with which they can identify. That’s when I realized how much I cared about these guys, and since then I’ve been forced to endure their adventures to the end. Not because of achievements or trophies, but because I wanted to know what it would look like for them.
Ashley Johnson opened the veil over the ambiguity of this last move.
Treating Joel like a hero of the TLOU is pretty spectacular. Even the most generous interpretations should portray him as a deeply evil and selfish man, while the less forgiving among us might call him seemingly evil. Eventually, the clues to his dark side are left behind as the game progresses, such as when he tortures David’s men to get information and then kills them as soon as their goal is reached. There is also his chilling revelation that he can predict imminent gang attacks because he was on both sides of the equation.
Make no mistake, if you are tragically robbed of your child, that doesn’t justify Joel’s transgressions, and you don’t have to look away because he crossed almost every line imaginable to keep Ellie alive. Or rather, to spare you the pain of losing another daughter. Driven by my instincts and willing to do anything to get him – and his tribe – to the top, he is no different from other villains. He just happens to be on the right team here.
Some fans seem to think that letting her father take care of Ellie is a kind of saving grace, that she is moving and represents positive moral growth. But it is by no means a redemptive salvation. It is not the case that someone learns to open his or her heart again, but that he or she transmits all his or her pain to another person and then refuses to let go.
This huge character flaw is revealed in an extremely brave captivity in which our hero hides the truth from Ellie to keep her close. When he successfully escorts his station to Fireflies, he discovers that they plan to study their immunity to cordyceps in order to synthesize a cure for the virus. But the friction is that the operation needed to do this will inevitably be fatal for them. If Joel doesn’t accept this compromise, he’ll go crazy and kill everyone on the base.
When Ellie later escapes the anesthesia, he hides the horror by giving her to a bisexual about the fact that the fireflies have already given up and rejected the vaccine. He then took her to a remote sanctuary where he wanted to spend the rest of his days with a surrogate mother to replace the lost daughter. But before they arrive, the suspect gives Ellie Joel one last chance to be honest with her. She describes the overwhelming guilt of the survivor she fights every day and how she will give everything to make the world right again. She puts him under oath and asks him to swear to the truth of his story. Then he repeats the lie, the camera follows Ellie’s incomprehensible expression, she speaks well, and we cut in black.
At my first breakthrough I couldn’t believe that all the balls were in this end, but it’s a note with perfect pitch because we can’t be sure that their reaction will translate us into language: I trust you, or if you prefer: Okay, I can see that. Yet the emotional aftertaste is very complex. On the one hand you’re glad Ellie seemed unharmed, but on the other hand you feel dirty when you think about the price of such an outcome. Ellie herself was expropriated from her desk, and those who gave their lives to protect her – and the future she represented – in fact died in vain. Their victims were eventually rejected by a man who simply couldn’t bear the prospect of being alone.
I can’t imagine any other end I’d like: a master class that leaves the audience with a series of conflicting emotions.