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The Last of Us Spoiler Space

the last of us shot 3

If you listened to Episode 180 of Jumping the Shark, or if you have finished The Last of Us, you know that it’s close to impossible to discuss the game fully without giving away a significant amount of the game’s story. With that, and the desire of some community members to keep the discussion going in mind, consider this a full-on, spoiler filled discussion of The Last of Us. If you read this post, things will get spoiled. If you read the comments, things will get spoiled. You have been warned.

It took a couple of days for me to be able to stop thinking about The Last of Us. Some time around the side trip with Tommy the game changed for me. The combat got, I don’t know, better. Maybe I just had more resources or maybe I finally got a grip on it, but it felt like I could approach every encounter like a puzzle and figure out the best combination of tactics. That probably has as much to do with me realizing that it didn’t have to be just sneaking or just killing as it did the encounters themselves, but something changed.

That trip with Tommy also marked a change for me in that it showed me that the game wasn’t going to rely on the “typical” story beats. I’ll admit that the beginning couple of hours were incredibly predictable. Ellie is the key to the cure, Tess gets bit and dies, none of this was particularly new or surprising. Before setting out with Tommy, Tommy’s wife gives Joel the “don’t make me a widow” speech and I thought , “Oh here we go.” Of course, Tommy was going to die. Of course Joel would tell Ellie that he will bring her to the Fireflies because Tommy’s death has to MEAN SOMETHING.

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Then, the game pulled a fast one on me. Ellie realized what Joel was doing and she split. Tommy and Joel went after her and not only did Tommy not die, but Joel quietly and without a big speech about responsibility and family and whatnot asked Ellie to get up on his horse and they left. That’s it. Nothing trite or cliche, just a character who, up until this point had been very selfish, doing a selfless thing.

The best part of that exchange isn’t that it didn’t fall into cliche, it was that it didn’t mark a Turning Point for Joel. Most games these days seem to think that bad people can continue to be bad as long as they’re on the receiving end of your bullets, but bad people that you play have to end up getting redeemed. I know I’m not Joel. I don’t need Joel to end up as a saint because of some inability to relate to people who aren’t perfect. Hell, I’m not perfect. I like my characters with a little dirt on them.

And make no mistake, there is no redemption for Joel in this game, which is in part why the ending stuck with me. Joel’s “selfless” act in the end was completely selfish. He went from being a guy who selfishly pushed away a scared child just so that he wouldn’t have to deal with the 20 year old death of his daughter to a man who selfishly rescued that same child from death simply because he didn’t want to lose that same daughter again. Now, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have done the same thing, but the thing about the ending that twists that knife is how he handles it after the fact.

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Ellie was pretty clear with Joel that they had to get to the Fireflies because after the events with David, she had to know that the journey wasn’t for nothing. Ellie was in no position to tell Joel what she would have wanted as she was unconscious and being prepped for surgery but after the fact, Joel owed it to her to tell her the truth. Maybe she would have agreed with him, maybe she would have hated him, but whatever the case, after everything they had been through together, Joel should have treated her like an adult and told her what he had done but he didn’t. In the end, the selfish Joel who never wanted to shepherd this kid across the country lied to her, not because he wanted to protect her, but because he didn’t want to lose her. You could make the case that Joel was just protecting her, but Ellie had earned the right to decide for herself how she felt about the whole thing.

If I had to describe this game, I’d say that it’s better than the sum of its parts. The zombies were inconsequential, the AI was frequently dodgy the combat and stealth encounters early in the game made for some encounters as rote as the early story beats but by the end, I wanted to do nothing but play this game because I wanted to see what happened to these people. I wanted to see where this journey led Joel and Ellie and where it led me was disappointment, not in the game, but in the main character, a disappointment that hit hard and stung deep.

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The Last of Us may not be the best game I’ve played this year or the best game on the PS3, that would be Fire Emblem: Awakening and Uncharted 2 respectively, but it’s a game that stuck with me a long time after the disc stopped spinning.

Brandon

Brandon loves games, which shouldn't be a surprise given where you're reading this. He has written for GameShark, The Escapist and G4, and made them all less relevant as a result.

12 thoughts to “The Last of Us Spoiler Space”

  1. Hmm, I’ve been resisting the siren call of this game even though everybody has been praising it, because it looked like another linear, AAA set-piece driven third person cover-based shooter. Like Uncharted with better characters. At least got a good story going on, even if the gameplay doesn’t look particularly interesting.

    Side note: I’m glad to see somebody else recognize Uncharted 2 as the best in that series! The first one was okay, but not particularly interesting on the gameplay front. The third one had some nice technical improvements and big set pieces, but the story was totally nonsensical, there were too many characters going on, and Elena Fisher got seriously shafted much to my chagrin.

    Uncharted 2 represented a major technical improvement over the first one, the story flowed nicely from one point to the next, and the pacing was damn near perfect. Walking around that isolated mountain village was a perfect rest before watching it get torn apart by the tank later on, and the two train chapters combined are probably one of the best action levels I’ve ever seen.

    1. Oh, don’t worry, there are many of us who think Uncharted 2 is the best one in the series. And don’t start me on Uncharted 3…

  2. Second half of the game was certainly better than the first, both storywise and gameplaywise – especially after you meet Sam and Henry, and after that sewer part, all the way through the brilliant sniper encounter, and then onto the rollercoaster to the end (which I played in one sitting, since I couldn’t put the game down after starting the Fall chapter). And what an ending! And that brilliant Winter section, and then giraffes…

    Regarding the ending itself, it really did suprise me, although I’m not sure I’d say that Joel disappointed me (maybe slightly, but it was such a human thing to do). And no, I have no idea what I would have done there, so it’d be a great pain if you had to chose something a la Walking Dead. Also, I firmly believe that Ellie knows that he’s lying, and she just accepts it. I mean, just look at her at the end – she knows.

    And now let’s just hope that Naughty Dog leaves Joel and Ellie alone if they ever make a sequel, since their story is finished, and I’m totally hapy with how it turned out. And if they do make a sequel, then new characters would be more than welcome. Put them somewhere in Europe/Asia/Africa/some other interesting setting devastated by the apocalypse and let us be on our way.

    PS – did anyone of you people who finished the game recognized Nolan North? I certainly didn’t, and gotta admit that he nailed it, again.

  3. When Ellie was revealed as the cure, and Tess was inevitably bitten and martyred, I also feared a rapid descent into cliche. Only at the games conclusion, did I understand precisely why ND had to work those cliches in. It’s risky, because it’s a tactic that could lead to gamers disinvesting themselves from the world, but man is the payoff worth it.

    ND I’m sure are aware of how cocky us gamers are in our confidence to guess the story progression, and they used it to their advantage. Well played indeed. That ending was note perfect, especially in a period of big titles that have promised brilliant endings, and failed to deliver (yes, Infinite, I’m looking at your unnecessary convoluted mess).

    As for it being better than the sum? My immediate inclination is to agree, but similarly there are parts of it that feel as if they should be a mandatory experience; the beginning of winter, the giraffes, the intro sequence.

    Huge props for Nolan North, the man is truly a chameleon, but this is easily Troy Baker’s best performance as well. Leagues ahead of Booker.

    1. It’s funny. I knew Nolan North was in this game, but I thought he was Tommy so I convinced myself that I heard his voice in Tommy’s voice. When I watched the credits and saw he was David I was shocked. Now I need to go back and see some of David’s stuff to see if I can hear him.

      Troy Baker was exceptional. Some of the best acting I’ve seen in a game since, like, ever.

      As for the giraffes, I loved that section but once it was over, my first thought was “they are going to have a very bad winter”.

      As for whether or not Ellie knows that he’s lying, yeah, maybe she does but it’s the extent of the lie. He told her that the fireflies had a dozen “cured” people so they didn’t need her. That’s a huge lie to tell her and one with massive implications.

      I do not want a sequel to this game. I want it to be its own thing and exist on its own. I think it deserves that much.

      1. You can recognize Nolan if you are trying to do it, and even then not always, just during some parts of his dialogue.

        And huge props to both Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, they were brilliant. That game opening and Troy’s cry…

  4. Wow. I finished it last night, so I’m only getting to this post today. That ending is a punch to the gut. I’m still processing it to some extent, but The Last of Us is a very angry game. For me, the thesis of the game is that The Last of Us aren’t worth saving. That Joe’s decision to save Ellie is the right one, even if he’s too much of a coward to tell her the truth and defend it.

    Excluding Tommy’s place, everywhere Joel and Ellie go, the people have already lost their humanity. In Boston, quarantine is maintained through martial law and public executions/shows of power. Bill essentially lives with the infected, his partner having killed himself from frustration at what’s left of their life.

    Philadelphia is populated by looters who kill anyone who passes through. They had no future even before Joel killed almost every single one of them, considering they couldn’t hold their homicidal tendencies back long enough to recruit even a single woman to their cause.

    I think I probably missed Ish’s last note, but the sewer dwellers maintained their humanity for a time. But it couldn’t last. And that locked door with the note and the covered dead children ranks up there as one of the most intense environmental visuals I’ve ever experienced.

    David and his people have a functioning society. That feeds on people. Then the Fireflies are so focused on saving humanity they can’t even be bothered to wait for the scared little girl to wake up to ask for her sacrifice. All Marlene can do is beg for forgiveness from Ellie’s dead mom. It’s hard to know who is more of a coward, the woman who couldn’t face the girl she sentenced to death for humanity or the man who couldn’t admit to choosing the girl over what’s left of humanity.

    1. Now that you mention that part with dead children… there are couple of moments like that, when I scavenged around, not paying attention to some of the environment, and after reading the note and hearing Joel’s comments finally seeing it. And man, I’m usually happy when I see some of the environmental storytelling in games, but not here. The whole atmosphere and tone is masterfully maintained throughout the whole game – and both in story and in gameplay (if we ignore some of the AI wobbles and couple of other possible nitpickings).

    2. Yeah, there’s a note from Ish that says they made it out of the sewers but I don’t think they put a de facto end point on his story.

      He was actually my favourite character, seriously.

      This game was amazing and delivers so much more than what you expect from the opening three hours.

      Once you actually have a slew of combat options, oh man, combat is such a hoot. Booby trap this, lure that, stealth kill, punch, flambé. I think they took an amazing tact with the game not being about the zombies at all. They are a huge factor, but in reality it’s about the way people’s true natures are revealed in the face of such catastrophe.

  5. Having had a little more time to process the ending, I’ve found myself appreciating the implications the game has for many of the presuppositions the consumers supposedly holds about gaming. The immediate one of course being, the gender imbalance in gaming is in part due to the unreadiness of male gamers to want anything other than the white male protagonist. What does Last of Us do? Makes us play as a teenage girl for the first ten minutes, makes us dependent on Tess (because she absolutely calls the shots whilst she’s in the picture) and later lets us play as another teenage girl.

    Hopefully we can dispense with that particularly ridiculous notion now. Yo, industry, you just concentrate on delivery well written and well characterised protagonists, I’m pretty sure we’ll continue to play regardless of whether it’s an Adonis or an Ellie.

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