The Last of Us: 10 Years Later

A long, long time

The Last of Us: 10 Years Later
Source: Press Kit.

Time is a weird thing. A certain amount of it can sound like something so big you can’t believe you’ll live to see it. Then, when you actually realize you did live through all that time, you’re shocked by how quickly it all went by. The passage of time has a way of changing your views as well. Things you once loved might start to show their age and things you couldn’t previously stand are now your favorites.

Spoilers ahead for all versions of The Last of Us.

A lot can happen in a decade. You grow up, meet new people, leave behind some old ones, discover new things, fall in love, face tragedies, and might have even made a dream or two come true. There’s no limit to what can happen in 10 years. And when you look back at where you were back then and where you are now, you might be surprised by how many things remain the same… and how many things are just different.

At the time of this writing, Naughty Dog's epic The Last of Us has turned 10 years old. It’s absolutely insane to me that it’s been a decade since we were exposed to Joel and Ellie, and took on one of the most emotional journeys in video game history. But looking back at all of those 10 years? I also can’t believe that The Last of Us went from what I believed was an example of a perfect video game to a franchise so far up its own behind. This decade-long journey was definitely something, and I’m here to talk to you about it today.

Source: Press Kit.

The Beginning

Our story starts back in 2011. Developer Naughty Dog had just launched the third game in the Uncharted series. At the time, I was a big fan of Naughty Dog. From the PS1 days of Crash Bandicoot, through the PS2 evolution with Jak and Daxter, to the PS3 heights of Uncharted. So, with the PS3 being around for 5 years at that time and with Nathan Drake rolling credits for the third time, I figured that was it for Naughty Dog’s days on the PS3. There were jokes about the possibility of an “Unkarted” going on, given the developer’s history, but I believed that Nathan was finished and the PS4 would bring us another IP.

Only this wasn’t the case…

At the Video Game Awards of that year, Naughty Dog revealed they were not done with the third PlayStation as they revealed their next game, a new IP, would debut on it. To say people were surprised would be an understatement. Naughty Dog was described as a “one franchise per console” company, so what happened that they decided to launch their next game on the PS3 only months before the PS4 hit the market?

Questions were thrown all over the place, not to mention some skepticism over what appeared to be another post-apocalyptic story, which was starting to become a fad at the time. Actor Elliot Page (at that time known as Ellen Page) even criticized the game, claiming Sony ripped off his likeness to create the character of Ellie, despite having starred in another game released by the publisher, Beyond: Two Souls. I myself wasn’t certain of where this was all going, but I didn’t want to just rule the game out. I mean, of course, I’d buy it, I loved Naughty Dog and I trusted them with anything. But was this really what I would have wanted from them?

Source: Press Kit.

The Last of Us

June 14th, 2013. I remember looking through a small video game store in my area for something when suddenly, unexpectedly, it was there: The Last of Us, Naughty Dog’s new game. I made sure with the seller that it was indeed the game and not some sort of a fancy cover before picking it up. I ran home, booted it up, and not even 10 minutes in… I was crying.

The beginning of the game still stands as one of the most affecting and emotional bits of gaming I’ve ever played. In less than half an hour, I was invested in these people. I wanted to make sure they were okay. I was horrified by the events happening on screen. And as you can imagine, I was weeping over the death of Sara, Joel’s daughter. Finding myself in such a vulnerable state in so short a span of time was an experience I’ll never forget. No game has ever re-captured that feeling since and it might be impossible for it to happen again.

As you’re probably aware, the game never slowed down afterward. From Joel’s broken life after losing a daughter, to his meeting Ellie for the first time, the back and forth between the two, not to mention all the experiences they went through along the way, concluded with an ambiguous ending that still leaves me with a perfect bittersweet feeling. It was an experience I’ll never forget. I can write a whole article on EACH of my favorite moments in The Last of Us, but I’ll stick to what makes it work so well.

What really makes this game work and click is what makes any story work and stick with its audience: the main characters. Joel and Ellie are among the best duos in the video game industry. They’re not siblings or long-time friends; they’re complete strangers who are as different from each other as you can imagine. Joel is a middle-aged grumpy man who once had everything he wanted cruelly taken away from him due to a horrible tragedy, leaving him with wounds anyone would find hard to recover from. Ellie, on the other hand, is a cocky teenager born into a broken world with no recollection of what it was like beforehand, nor did she ever experience anything which felt complete to her.

Concept art of Ellie and Joel. Source: Press Kit.

These contrasting individuals are strangely enough the perfect team-up because they make each other whole. Joel might see Ellie as a mission he needs to complete but ends up taking a liking to her due to how much she reminds him of his daughter. Meanwhile, Ellie sees Joel as another person who’d just disappear from her life after a bit, only to find out he does care for her and essentially becomes her new family. Add to it the brilliant dialogue between the two characters and the amazing performances by Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker, and you get one of the most amazing relationships in gaming.

I can talk for hours about what makes The Last of Us a masterpiece. Tight controls, intense gameplay mechanics and scenarios, breathtaking graphics even all of these years later, excellent pacing, the other characters… all of those wouldn’t have worked to wow us so much if Joel and Ellie weren’t as strong as they are. They carry the game, as the lead characters should always do. We became invested in the game because we were invested in their story. And I’m not the only one who thinks so, as the game was acclaimed for everything I mentioned and more upon its release.

People often refer to The Last of Us as the best game of all time, and you know, I can see it. It’s not my favorite game ever personally, but it’s definitely on my list! Everything it does just… works. I know there will always be detractors when it comes to something being hailed as the best but in my humble opinion, The Last of Us is deserving of the accolade! It’s a gaming experience I’ll never forget and very few games that came after have managed to get even close.

The Last of Us Part 2

When I finished the first game, I never really thought about a sequel. Despite the open-ended final scene of The Last of Us, I never saw the point of a sequel or even a possibility of where Naughty Dog could go with a follow-up. Rumors popped up, talks were in the air, Naughty Dog was quiet about it and if that’s not enough, their PS4 debut was another Uncharted game. I wasn’t necessarily opposed to a sequel, but I also didn’t think it was happening because the story had basically concluded.

Fast forward to PlayStation Experience 2016. To this day, I’d argue this was one of the best presentations held by any gaming company. Many reveals, first looks, and surprises delighted fans during that presentation, and at the very end, was The Last of Us Part 2. I'm not going to lie, I was screaming with excitement! I may not have seen the point of a sequel but I was willing to give Naughty Dog the benefit of the doubt as I believed they could do no wrong. This hype lasted for about 4 years until June 2020.

Source: Press Kit.

I remember that day just as well as I remember the day I picked up the first game. I was just hanging out with some friends celebrating a birthday. Just as we were about to split for the evening, I got a text about my pre-order being ready for pick up. I jumped in the car and drove straight to the store, picked up the game, and sprinted back home to start on the next adventure. Only this time… I wasn’t as impressed. In fact, I was disappointed.

Since I know The Last of Us Part 2 is a controversial topic in the world of media, allow me to start by saying that I do NOT absolutely hate the game. I do NOT wish ANY harm to people involved with it. My problems with the game have NOTHING to do with it being “woke” or any other nonsense like that. And most importantly; it is very much VALID to anyone reading this to like and even love the game. I bring this up because I’ve seen plenty of discourse about it from either side and both sides can have such… extreme and over-exaggerated responses to the point it becomes scary to talk about it. It’s a video game at the end of the day, and people can be mixed on it without taking an absolute stand.

With that, I’m sorry to say that The Last of Us Part 2 left me disappointed. I didn’t absolutely hate my time with it, but it is a bloated, unfocused, at times poorly written and poorly put-together mess of ideas. If the first game nailed absolutely everything it set out to do, then the sequel tried doing too much to the point it forgot what it even wanted to be. And for the record, I was on board with it at the start! I didn’t even mind the fact they killed Joel off as it felt fitting to the story they wanted to tell and if you know me, you know I’ll always give extra points for a ballsy move even if it doesn’t make sense. The idea of Joel’s choices at the end of the first game biting him in the ass is an interesting angle to go with, not to mention how it eventually causes more pain to Ellie than happiness.

For the first 15 hours of the game (give or take), I was on board with it. I was sad to see Joel die but I figured it was a necessary step to keep going with the story. Ellie found a family, so what does she do when it’s taken away from her? But you know what happens after, and you can tell exactly what I’m about to say. The moment you’re forced into playing as Abby for her 3-day portion of the story, the game comes to a complete halt. I know what they were trying to do with Abby’s section and the idea isn’t a bad one on paper. The problem is that after 15 hours of a game in which I’m trying to kill Abby, I now need to go through another 15 hours(maybe even more) of playing as her. I know it’s supposed to be clever storytelling, but that point becomes mute when I’m sick of your game.

Do you know how people say games are too short? Games can be overly long as well and boy, did The Last of Us 2 drag. There are so many plotlines they’re trying to shove into this game which are all fighting for screen time, the main message of the game about revenge being bad only starts showing up at the point I just want it to end. Even then the game keeps going for an extra 2-3 hours which are useless since the idea was hammered home enough. My problem with the game isn’t the core ideas and themes, it’s how the writing took a backseat in order to hammer those home.

Source: Press Kit.

But all of this is nothing compared to what I believe is the biggest problem in this game. The characters are just not likable. Remember when I said Joel and Ellie were the heart of the first game? So these new characters better live up and… I don’t think they do. Joel might be dead, but we get plenty of flashbacks with him and Ellie and it’s not a coincidence these scenes are the best thing about the game. Why? Because they’re the same great, layered characters from before! I’ve seen people refer to Ellie as the villain of the game and whether you agree with it or not, she’s the only character with any layers to her and that’s mostly because she’s carrying over from Part 1.

So one main character who I somewhat care about and the other is a new character whose first big on-screen action is killing Joel. Forget the fact this is a big turn-off for Abby right off the bat, she's not interesting when we actually play and learn more about her. Abby isn’t a good person, and I know this because even her friends and teammates say that she isn't and her actions only drive the point home. Her growth feels forced just to fit with the theme and nothing she did was interesting enough to make me feel anything after I was already burnt out.

Like with the first game; there’s a lot to talk about beyond one article, but I’ll conclude this portion by saying that I was left disappointed by The Last of Us Part 2. It didn’t hit as hard in the feels, the characters weren’t to my liking, the pacing was slow and agonizing and I just left the game depressed. That might have been the point, but that’s not a good note to end on when you’re already tired of the game. I know it has its fans, but I walked away feeling disappointed.

What Came After…

With a first game I loved and a second game I didn’t, I wasn’t sure what was next for the franchise. I figured we’d see something happening with the release of the PS5 and I was right, as a ground-up remake of the first game was released exclusively for the current-gen console in 2022. I haven’t played that release of the game, but I’ve seen enough to know I don’t really want to bother with it for now. The game is essentially a graphical overhaul of the original, which is still the base game I know and love looking better than ever, but at full price. There are complete overhauls of classic games sold together in a collection for lower prices, and they’re selling this for a full $70$ when the original was $60. Naughty Dog, Sony, whoever decided on this, you can do better than that.

The release of the remake left me thinking that I’m probably done with The Last of Us. After a sequel that tried so hard to say something and failed, and a remake which gave me less for more, how can I accept this? As a fan of a franchise, I want to see that franchise grow and that remake didn’t grow anything besides the technology which is a given considering the new hardware. It was depressing to see a game I thought so highly of, not to mention a developer I once called the best in the business, fall to such a shameful low.

Source: Press Kit.

Things changed however with the release of the HBO Max adaptation. I wrote about the first episode back when it aired and have now seen the whole show. It’s not only a masterful adaptation of the source material which also reminded me why I was a fan to begin with, and was also a very well-made show which knew what to keep the same and what should be changed. In a world where movie and TV adaptations of video games are becoming a force to be reckoned with, I’m glad The Last of Us delivered the goods. For the first time in a long while, I was excited about the franchise again.

So what now? Naughty Dog is working on a multiplayer game in this universe, which may or may not ever come out after the recent reveal that it was put into hack by Bungie. Even if it does come out, I’m sorry but it does nothing for me. I’m just not into games I HAVE to play with someone all the time. Not that these games aren’t fun, but I grow tired of them quickly. I’m sure it’ll have its merits, but I’ll sadly pass on it as it’s not my thing. Talk of a third game is also being bandied about if I like what I see, I’m willing to give a third game a shot. Hard to say at the moment but if and when this happens, I’ll be willing to give a third entry its fair shake.

Ten years later and I’d say that yeah, I still love The Last of Us. It’s weird to think that ten years ago I thought nothing could ever take the franchise down only to see now that what truly ruined it was itself. There are a lot of talented people working on this IP and they’ve done a lot of great things, but people can mess up sometimes and I can’t just ignore what I don’t like just because I loved what came before.

Whatever the future holds, be it as great as the original or as disappointing as the sequel, the first playthrough of the first game is something that might not be possible to recreate, but it’s also impossible to undo. The Last of Us will always have a special place in my heart for the emotional journey it took me on. It doesn’t matter what direction it takes, those feelings of sadness, intensity, fear, occasional joy, and of course love, will always be there.


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