Friday, 13 September 2013

The Last Of Us - Personal opinions, synopsis, other bullshit *SPOILERS*

Okay, so it's fair to say Naughty Dog's very own The Last Of Us was a commercial success. Widely lauded as the greatest game of this generation so far, a plaudit which the game fully stands up to. After playing it to death upon it's release and then more recently I have more than enough to say about it. The bad news is that I have few people to share my thoughts and opinions with, so I thought a blog post was necessary. Also I shouldn't have to remind you that this will be ***SPOILER*** heavy. Let's begin.

YOU ARE NOT JOEL

First thing's first, you are not the main character. Yes, you control his movements, shoot enemies, pick up items etc but his thoughts and reactions are his own. This is a common recipe in recent games, and it's a clever strategy. You are not the hero. While the game moves at it's own pace, forcing you into decisions and putting you on emotional pedestals, it's important to know that while you control Joel, you are not Joel.
Some examples:-
-The final chapter; During the Ellie rescue mission from St Mary's hospital you encounter 3 surgeons in the operating room. Naturally you give them the bullet treatment, but only 2 of them. The third can also be stabbed, depended on if he moves towards you, resulting in the knife-happy reaction from Joel. This advances a few minutes later to the moment when Joel kills Marlene, something he didn't have to do.
-Not saving the world; Linked to the previous point, as Joel takes Ellie away from the hospital. About half the game states that as Ellie is immune, she is hailed as the vaccine for the infection. America is full of infected citizens and it is up to you to save it, but Joel has other ideas. He'd rather sacrifice everything, just to stay in Ellie's company. I'll explain more on this later. So without further ado:-

JOEL IS THE BAD GUY

This is a big one, and one that will be mostly overlooked until the final two chapters, depending on how you attach yourself to Joel during the playthrough. By this point he has spent almost a year fighting alongside Ellie. But he has also manipulated and even lied to her. Evident in the final cut scene, after Joel rescues Ellie from the hospital. As they make their way back to Tommy's. He had previously lied to her that the Fireflies had given up on a cure, explaining how the two of them had left St Mary's together. She then stops and turns to him, begging him to swear that he was telling the truth. He again, and shockingly after all they've been through, lies again and says yes. The cutscene can be seen in full here:-

My opinion is that Ellie already knew he was lying, judging by how resigned she sounded in her response, but by this point the emotional bond between them was too strong for her to break. I would personally love to see a DLC released explaining their future, or better yet a sequel. Only time will tell.
So back on point, looking at the game from a wider perspective, we see that Marlene and the Fireflies want to save the world. She tasks Joel with smuggling Ellie to their Lab out west, where she will be operated on in the hopes that she produces a vaccine to save the world. Joel could quite easily have walked out of the facility knowing his job was done but decides against it. He instead attempts to 'raise the dead' if you like, essentially replacing the memory of his dead daughter with Ellie.
Even before this there were signs. His manipulation to use his brother Tommy against the wishes of his family. His claims of being on both sides of ambushes, including his awkward silence when Ellie asks if he'd ever killed any innocent people. Most of all it's during the moments when Joel proclaims they must kill all enemies, even in clear areas. Obviously this is gameplay based but Joel is never shy about his hunter urges and murderous tendencies. This is mostly evident during the scene when Joel kills David's two cohorts. First he captures them as they were running away, then tortures them for information before killing them. This is all while he was recovering from a near-fatal injury.
There is also the damaging effect Joel's killing spree has on Ellie. On more than one occasion she is forced to kill to survive. So it's interesting when you wonder at what point does a once smart and sweet girl (remember when she stole the toy for Sam) become a murderous monster.

ELLIE IS THE STRONGER CHARACTER

I am speaking emotionally of course. Over the course of the game we see Ellie develop into a stronger person and a powerful ally, but the truth is that deep down she was already in a better place mentally than Joel. Lets take the facts. Joel witnesses the death of his daughter 20 years ago. Not much is known about him after that so we can assume he didn't lose anybody else close to him. Ellie on the other hand had already stated that she'd lost her parents during the outbreak and she is forced into a military school. She then explains her childhood friend Riley is killed from the infection. Then most recently she witnesses the death of her newly infected friend Sam. But she never lingers on these things. Her only remaining 'family' of sorts is Marlene, who Joel mercilessly guns down in the final chapter.
When Ellie first brings up Tess' death to Joel, he flies off the handle and tells her to button it. Again, he reacts angrily when she mentions the death of Sarah, his daughter. We assume that Joel is merely keeping things inside to keep composure, but it's plain to see how he mentally unravels as the game goes on.
My opinion on the final chapter is that Ellie knew he was lying, and by not acknowledging it to him that she knew, she was allowing him to play protector, and condoning his actions without them having to discuss it at that moment. I think she was trying to protect him from any further trauma.

BILL IS GAY

This was a subtle reference, so a lot of people overlooked it. The first moment is when Bill mentions the death of his 'partner' Frank, somebody he cared about. The bigger key moment is during the drive away scene, in which Ellie is reading through the gay porno mag she stole from Bill, claiming the pages are stuck together.




THE FIRST CHAPTER

Honestly, I did not see Sarah dying. It was incredibly bold of Naughty Dog, putting you in the perspective of Joel's teen daughter for the first 15 minutes. Witnessing the horrors of the outbreak through her eyes and being thrown along as the story picked up pace. So clever how the game forced you to be emotionally attached to this girl that when the death scene suddenly comes it puts you in shock. I am not ashamed to say I had numerous man cries during this game, starting with this scene. you can see it here:-







THE FINAL CHAPTER

So Ellie mutters the final words of the game, "Okay", the screen fades to black and the credits roll, accompanied by the familiar chime of acoustic guitar. I am sat there, motionless, mouth open. The ending is so incredible and powerful and horrifying all at the same time that it's impossible to digest in your first sitting. From the 18-odd hours it took me to complete it for the first time it felt like a constant emotional rollercoaster. At this point I knew little of the bigger picture and ideals of TLOU, as it was a hard enough job keeping up with the evolution of Joel and Ellie. It's a game that i had simply bought on a whim and one that I am eternally glad I did. All credit has to go to Naughty Dog for their portrayal of two fictional characters, essentially putting them in the hearts of all who play the game.



SEQUEL?

So where does that leave us? The simple formula for this game would have been Ellie growing up, Joels evolution through grief and the world being cured of the infection. However, Naughty Dog cleverly set up the possibility of a sequel with their ending. Joel reinvents his daughter in Ellie and she goes along with it.. For now. It's fair to say she knows he lied to her so it will be interesting to see what her reaction is. She had always claimed that she was afraid to be alone so one wonders what the revelation of her only living 'family' lying to her will be, especially after everything. I don't think that we are done with Joel and Ellies relationship and personal battles just yet.
The bigger picture is that America is still infected. The world still needs saving. Naughty Dog would have to invent new characters however. With Tess, Marlene, Henry and Sam dead and Bill essentially cutting all ties it doesn't leave much current character development.
We also don't know much about Joel during the 20 years between Sarah's death and the start of the game. That's something Naughty Dog could touch on, either in a DLC or a sequel.

All in all The Last Of Us is a stunning and immersive game and one that I am glad I played. It has a solid and deep story and a high replayability factor. It's a game I had fun completing and I still enjoy playing it now. Thank you all for reading!




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