Why you’re wrong about the first hours of The Last of Us

Let’s get this straight: if you think the very opening of this game and The Incident are boring, you Sir/Madam are dead inside. Go look at pictures of puppies until you feel some compassion again.

If however you’re talking about the opening after The Incident then you Sir/Madam are wrong and because I like you, I’m going to tell you why.

But don’t worry, I’m not one of those people who thinks the whole game is perfect, there’s some aspects of the gameplay I can’t get on board with (those infuriating ‘find the crate for Ellie so she can get past the water’ sections are mind numbingly dull) but the narrative and flow are flawless.

Spoilers will obviously follow.

At the start of the game Joel is a shell. Twenty years after witnessing the death of his daughter has totally removed him from the man he was. He’s clearly done horrible things in that time to get by, he’s seen and probably been the worst parts of humanity (a line from his brother later on in the game the he still has nightmares about the things Joel has done underlines this). The first thing we do as him is hunt down a rival, brutally murdering your way through his gang before getting to their leader. The one thing he’s got is Tess and he doesn’t show many signs of affection towards her. He’s gone from caring father to a monster. The intro needs to be like this so you get a real feel for who he is now and exactly how far he’s willing to go to get what he wants (which resonates with the ending). It helps make his behaviour towards Ellie be more believable, his reluctance to take care of her is more real because we’ve been given time to see exactly how far down he’s fallen, to do it again would kill him.

Here’s the other great thing about the pace: it gives Naughty Dog the chance to really sell this world to us. Those twenty years have been devastating, the world is a mess of military checkpoints, food banks and the ‘outside’ areas; past a concrete wall of safety and into a world of dilapidated, collapsed buildings where nature has taken over and infected roam large. There’s a lot of detail packed into those opening sections, the little snippets of dialogue between survivors, brief mentions of The Fireflies and their fight for a cure are dotted around, hinting at the larger plot yet to come. The barred doors in apartment blocks clearly showing that infected homes and maybe even the people were just blocked out, left to die. It apes a lot of the tricks of that other classic game in visual narrative, Half Life 2 in the way that the details tell the story for you, showing you what you need to know without heavy exposition being thrown at you.

The beginning of this game is exactly how it needs to be, without it the game just wouldn’t be the same. I’m not saying this is the perfect way to do it, there’s many more visual and storytelling tricks that could be employed, but for me, the intro is brilliant. Much like the slow, awkward combat in Silent Hill 2, this is exactly what Naughty Dog intended it to be.


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