Following the recently announced release date of The Last of Us Part II, I decided to take a look back at the 2013 PS3 classic to see how it holds up, how it influenced future games since then, and what we can expect for Part II. For those not familiar, I must warn you there will be some spoilers as I’ll be discussing the main story and its DLC side-story.
To begin, June 9, 2013 comes around and PS3 fans rejoice as Naughty Dog, just two years after closing the third chapter of Nathan Drake’s story in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, release a brand new IP with The Last of Us, a third-person, survival horror, action-adventure game to near universal critical acclaim. The game was also shown to have a much grittier and darker tone compared to its light-hearted sibling Uncharted. The story follows Joel and Ellie as they trek across the country as Ellie seems to be the key to a cure that could wipe out the zombie-like outbreak that has plagued the country. Nearly every aspect of the game was lauded from the story to the award-winning portrayals of actors Troy Baker (Joel) and Ashley Johnson (Ellie).
We begin with a brief introduction to Joel and his daughter Sarah right before the outbreak beings. As soon as it begins, Joel’s brother Tommy arrives and informs them they must leave to seek shelter elsewhere. However, during the escape and the chaos surrounding them, Tommy is briefly separated from Joel and Sarah. Coming across a soldier patrolling the area, Joel tries to explain they’re merely looking for safety but the soldier is given orders to execute them. They attempt to run away but are shot at until Tommy reappears to kill the soldier. Unfortunately, while Joel only suffered minor injuries, Sarah’s were fatal and she dies in his arms as time jumps ahead twenty years. Joel has grown bitter and cold and, after about an hour or so into the story, is tasked to escort teenager Ellie to a research facility. Ellie, born into a world of chaos, would be around the same age as Sarah was before her death. As the two travel through incredible ups and downs, fending off infected and hunters, and suffering through countless traumatic injuries both physical and emotional, Joel and Ellie form a familial bond: Ellie having Joel as her new father figure and Joel treating more Ellie more like a daughter (not one to replace Sarah, but who would have been a sister to Sarah).
On Valentine’s Day, 2014, Last of Us would receive a DLC prequel story titled “Left Behind.” It begins in the “Winter” chapter as Ellie tends to Joel who suffered severe injuries in the “Fall” chapter. We are then shown a flashback about an adventure she had some time before meeting Joel and Tess with her friend Riley who had joined militia group, the Fireflies, a reoccurring source of problems for Joel and Ellie in the main story.
During the course of their adventure, they explore a mall and we see a rare glimpse of enjoyment had by any of the characters as the two girls are allowed to be teenagers and have fun. Unfortunately, they are ambushed by infected resulting in both being bitten with Riley eventually succumbing off-screen as the story ends. The story is perhaps most well-known for the kiss shared between Ellie and Riley, a landmark event in gaming history and for the LGBTQ+ community.
Last of Us’s stories truly do hold up six years later. While yes, we’ve seen many zombie-like themed stories and this type of scenario of childless parent forming a familial bond with an orphan is not new, Last of Us presents it in a way that makes you truly care for the protagonists. As mentioned before, it is because of the phenomenal voice and motion capture acting done by Baker and Johnson. The performances are grounded in reality and the writing clearly shows that. You feel the tension in every scene, even the quiet ones as you know that those quiet moments are going to be temporary before hell breaks loose. The realistic depiction of a near-future apocalypse also is worth mentioning as Naughty Dog crafted a believable world where humanity has seemingly been reduced to a military-run dystopia where any form of resistance is met with a swift end.
As mentioned before, “Left Behind” left a huge mark in gaming. It showed another side of Ellie we had yet to see in the main story. LGBTQ+ representation, while having been in many games before it, had never been in a spotlight as focused as the one Last of Us had been in. It could be said that perhaps thanks to the mainstream success of Last of Us, we’ve seen a steady increase in representation as seen in games like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Overwatch. This newly revealed side of Ellie seems to go more in depth in the sequel as shown by the trailers in where she has been shown dancing and sharing a kiss with possible romantic partner, Dina. However, it seems that romance might be short-lived as evidenced by the trailers in which Dina is seemingly murdered in front of Ellie.
Of course, since its release, there’d be no doubt that Last of Us would influence many games to come in both story and gameplay. Two that come to my mind are 2019’s God of War and Days Gone, funny enough, both PS4 exclusives. In the case of the former, the over-the- shoulder gameplay and the Kratos/Atreus duo evoke a strong a similarity with Last of Us and Joel and Ellie. On that note, Days Gone features a similar post-apocalyptic setting and ravenous enemy similar to the Clickers as Last of Us.
Where it is different, however, is that Days Gone is presented in a more open-world style of game compared to the more linear gameplay of Last of Us. In a world where multiplayer games seems to be king (especially with titans like Fortnite and Call of Duty) it’s refreshing to see companies like Naughty Dog understanding that single-player experiences are far from dead.
February 21, 2020. That’s the day we finally get to see what’s happened to Joel and Ellie when The Last of Us Part II comes out exclusively on the PS4. Until that time though, Joel and Ellie’s journey can be played in a variety of options: the original PS3 version or with the Last of Us: Remastered edition on PS4 which includes the “Left Behind” DLC, audio commentary, PS4 Pro enhancements, and other updates. At the time of writing, it is currently available for free for those who have a Playstation Plus membership.