The Last of Us was a bittersweet swan song for the 7th generation of gaming consoles. It stands as a testament to the advancements that video game storytelling experienced during this generation. Plus, it’s simply an iconic game overall.
Exactly what made this game so special back in 2013, though? What factors have made The Last of Us be recognized universally as a titan of gaming? This answer lies largely in the characters and story.
Since The Last of Us Part II is set to release on June 19, now is the perfect time to reflect on some of the moments that gave the original game such an impact on fans.
The Last of Us opens on a quiet night on the protagonist’s birthday. The excellent writing and acting displayed in this scene quickly cements the bond between Joel and his daughter, Sarah. This warm moment abruptly ends when Sarah is woken by a desperate phone call from her uncle.
The hectic scene that follows has always been notorious for unexpectedly shattering the hearts of players everywhere. In a game where death is openly expected, The Last of Us manages to give death the tragic weight that it deserves.
Tess’s final scene
While Joel’s partner Tess wasn’t the most endearing or intriguing character, her presence was never unwelcome. She was often incredibly useful in combat, as well as in cutscenes. The way that she interacts with Joel also provides a welcome warmth following one of the most infamous death scenes in recent memory.
Naturally, this makes the revelation that she has been infected much worse. Once again, Naughty Dog took an event that was incredibly predictable and managed to make it enthralling to many. Once the character has taken her bow, her absence can be felt immediately, too.
The hotel basement
The Last of Us is filled with some pretty terrifying enemies. These zombies infected with cordyceps make every scene that they’re present in tense and desperate. One of the first true tests against these monsters takes place in a dark, silent basement. In this moment, Joel must carefully activate a generator so that he and fellow protagonist, Ellie, can escape.
The game had been unsettling leading up to this part. However, this is where The Last of Us firmly plants itself in the horror genre.
Ellie vs. David
The Last of Us features many characters lacking in the morality department. However, the man known as David is the only character that can be honestly called a villain. From his introduction, David has an uncomfortable atmosphere about him. While the game does briefly attempt to paint him as a potential ally, he is always creepy and off-putting.
This antagonistic relationship between David and Ellie ends in a desperate fight. This scene forces the beloved young character to viciously kill David in an emotionally charged moment. This is immediately followed by Joel showing up to comfort the poor girl in a stirring display of their tight bond.
While technically a DLC, Left Behind was a supplemental campaign that contains the best that The Last of Us has to offer. This side story shows more of Ellie’s past and shows a side of the character that helped make her historic.
Following Ellie and her closest ally, Riley, Left Behind explains how the story of The Last of Us actually began. It also reminds the player that Ellie is still just a young girl who has been through more than most people could endure in a lifetime. Seeing the young heroine play and act silly with Riley paints her in a completely different light than she is typically cast in.
Plus, the biggest moment of the DLC reveals that Ellie and Riley had feelings for each other. This incredibly touching revelation is actually quite important to gaming as a whole. Ellie was a universally praised character ever since her debut. However, her presence as a member of the LGBTQ+ community helped pave the road for much more inclusivity within the medium.
The fate of Sam and Henry
The Last of Us features many trustworthy friends to Joel and Ellie. Among this cast is the two brothers, Sam and Henry. The two relate to our mismatched partners pretty well and provide a bit of relief from the harsher parts of the game.
In fact, Henry actually manages to get a genuine smile out of Joel. This happens during a conversation reminiscing on old world motorcycles. This scene alone is one of the better moments of the game, as it shows these two desperate men can easily slip back into memories of the past.
Just a few moments later, however, The Last of Us once again telegraphs a predictable twist. Then manages to make it far more effective than you’d think it could ever be. With this comes the revelation that younger brother, Sam, has been infected. His sudden loss results in a shocking scene depicting older brother, Henry, taking his own life.
The fact that both deaths happen in under a minute make the scene all the more traumatic.
While The Last of Us really runs on executing predictable twists in incredible ways, there was one twist that was never telegraphed at all. In fact, the scene is designed so that the player takes a moment to realize that something major just happened, allowing the sudden urgency to set in all at once.
This twist happens when Joel is knocked off of a balcony and impaled on a rusty shaft of rebar. The fall itself doesn’t look that bad. In fact, fellow Naughty Dog protagonist, Nathan Drake, fell harder and farther in the Uncharted games without a hint of concern.
However, Joel’s labored breathing, blurred vision, and pool of blood instantly proves that the scene was now much more serious. This also leads into the Winter revelation. This is where the player suddenly takes control of Ellie without revealing whether Joel survived or not.
The ending of The Last of Us was a hot topic for months following the game’s release. Some praised it, others disliked it. However, the general consensus all these years later is that the ending was spectacular.
Following Joel’s arguably monstrous decision to gun down an entire hospital filled with vital doctors and surgeons, the question remains as to what happens now? Ellie is no fool and clearly knows that Joel did something bad while she was under anesthetic. This leads to her asking him directly whether he was lying or not.
Joel, being the arguable villain that he is, lies to her once again. Ellie, being in no position to question him further, accepts his words at face value. This is a bittersweet, thought-provoking ending to a game that is still openly debated today.
What do you think is the best moment in The Last of Us? Tell us in the comments below!