Cut to the December of 2016, to the Sony event when the teaser of The Last of Us II was revealed, bringing back a barrage of emotions. I have to admit, when I first saw the firefly logo; Ellie, strumming the guitar, and singing; and Joel, walking up on her, calling her ‘kiddo’ as he does, with Gustavo Santaolalla’s pitch perfect score in the background, I welled up a little. I don’t expect a lot of you to understand that emotion, but for those who have played the game and endured it in all its brutality and mindnumbing, heartbreaking, yet absolutely beautiful storytelling, I know we stand in solidarity. It is not difficult to guess what I did next: played the first part again, for days at end.
I have never considered ‘The Last of Us’ as merely a game. For me, it is an extended film, one of the best I have watched, that requires me to lift my controller every now and then to reveal what happens next. Needless to say if my rant hasn’t already brought that out to the front, ‘The Last of Us’ is singularly the best game I have played till date, and while I really hope the second part changes that, the original will always have a special, special place in my heart for what it made me feel the first time I played it. Again, it’s an emotion not many of you would resonate with, but for those who do, there’s lots to read on and reminisce.
The ‘The Last of Us’ is a survivor cum horror cum action game set in the distant future, wherein the outbreak of a mutated fungus ‘cordyceps’ that causes humans to become aggressive, braindead creatures (referred to simply as ‘the infected in the film, akin to zombies) has caused close to half the population being decimated, and the remaining population remains quarantined in safe zones governed by militia. Entire cities are abandoned and cordoned off, and ration card, weapon, food, and resource smuggling is rampant. The protagonist Joel is one such smuggler, but his story started twenty years ago on the night of the actual outbreak, when his entire world was turned upside down.
The game actually starts off in 2013. Joel is shown living a solitary life with his daughter Sara, and a passive, rather tranquil existence, one that is shaken by the outbreak of the fungi. All hell breaks loose as people break into the streets and flee for their safety, not actually knowing what caused the turmoil or how, and this state of confusion and haste is wonderfully depicted in the game, the players feel the sense of urgency in the situation. Not showing the origin of the outbreak, in my opinion, was a smart move on the makers’ part. The players remain as oblivious as the characters, even though their lives are completely transformed following the incident, and that makes the proceedings in the game all the more thrilling.
In the ensuing chaos, Sara is shot dead by a soldier, and she passes away in Joel’s arms even as he pleads her not to go, demolishing your heart in the process. This one scene establishes brilliantly what many a villain have tried establishing about the society’s good guy act: they are shed at the first sign of real trouble. The soldier was ordered to shoot down Joel and Sara, even without completely knowing whether they were infected or not. The soldier shows some conscience, but proceeds on receiving the order all the same, which broke my heart a little.