Since we’re celebrating The Last of Us week here at Respawning, I thought I’d take this opportunity to rank my top 10 favourite TLOU moments before the release of TLOU Part 2 this Friday! There’s not many things I enjoy more in this world than The Last of Us but writing up a list feature is right up there, so needless to say, I’m excited to get into to this.
Sit back, relax and make sure you think up your top 10 to give me in the comments below. If you’d prefer to watch the video version of this list (which the more eagle eyed viewer will notice has a last minute change in entry 9) then you can do so in the link below.
Note: It goes without saying that I’ll be diving into full spoilers for the first game and that some (well, all) of the events are either extremely violent or depressing. So when I say greatest moments, I’m not trying to glorify these tragic events, rather shine a light on some incredible storytelling.
This is such a small and poignant moment which often doesn’t get talked about when thinking back to The Last Of Us. Quite early on in the game, Joel and Ellie are passing through an old rundown shopping area when Ellie notices a poster of a model before the outbreak. Innocently she asks Joel “That girl is so skinny, I thought you had plenty of food in your time?”. Not only is this a great world building and character moment, but also holds a mirror up to modern day society.
In the opening scene of the game during happier times (more on this later), we see Joel’s daughter Sarah give him a watch for his birthday. Joel makes a joke that it doesn’t work and the two of them share a funny and sweet father/daughter moment. This now broken and battered watch plays a subtle yet important role throughout the game, acting as a constant reminder of Sarah. Ellie asking questions about the watch, or in their first meeting where she simply states “you’re watch is broken”, are moments where Ellie doesn’t mean any harm but we know as the player, are tugging on Joel’s heartstrings. Great storytelling in a game that’s full of moments just like this.
In one of the more horrifying moments of the game, after spending a good chunk of time with both Henry and little brother Sam, the both of them are ripped away from us in the most emotional and devastating way imaginable. What really made this moment stand out was how quick it all goes down. In the space of about 1 minute, Sam turns after a bite and attacks Ellie before Henry turns the gun on his little brother then quickly doing the same to himself. Just like that, Joel and Ellie experience even more loss
The Last of Us isn’t your typical video game because the harsh truth is that we’re not playing as the hero. Although Joel is one of the best characters in video game history and very easy to relate to, there’s no denying he’s committed his fair share of bad deeds. When he wakes up after a near death injury to find Ellie missing, Joel’s paternal instincts kick in and he has no problem with torturing and murdering his way through whoever gets in his way on his mission to save Ellie. I’d be outright lying though if I didn’t admit to loving every single second of this.
Continuing the theme of Joel not being a good guy, I want to talk about the games’ ending. Ellie confirms on more than one occasion that she’s willing to do pretty much whatever it takes to help the fireflies in finding a cure, and although being killed so they can dissect her brain is never directly talked about, it’s pretty obvious that Ellie knows her fate as a true hero who could save the planet. That is until Joel goes all Liam Neeson and annihilates the entire firefly organisation in one gigantic final effort to not relive the tragic loss of his daughter. Rage fuelled adrenaline carries the player through the final onslaught but the moment that really paints Joel as the villain comes when Ellie asks him directly what happened that day…and Joel lies to her face despite it being very obvious that Ellie is aware of the truth. It’s during this heartbreaking moment where the credits roll and the relationship between these two excellent characters (which has been the driving force of the story) end on a sour note. It’s brave, it’s bold and despite the controversy, I love it.
What’s amazing about this moment.. well I say moment but this is actually more of a story told over a short period of the game. What’s brilliant though is that Ish managed to become one of my favourite characters in The Last Of Us despite never meeting him or even knowing what he looks like. After being washed up at a sewer entrance, our protagonists come across an abandoned fishing boat which contains a note from Ish. In this note he explains how he stayed out at sea during the outbreak for as long as possible until it was no longer possible. As you progress through the sewers, we are treated to Ish’s entire story of how he met new friends through a mixture of collectable notes and locations in the sewers such as homemade classrooms, living areas and tragically.. dead bodies. After finding out Ish’s story came to a devastating end after some infected managed to get in, you escape from the same threat through the front entrance of the sewers only to find a giant notice saying “do not enter”. It ends a short and tragic tale with a bit of comedy relief. Well as close as you can get to comedy in this dark world anyway.
Bill is such an interesting character who I’d love to find out more about. In fact I’m hoping we get the chance in the sequel to catch up with him, though I do fear for where he may have ended up. First impressions of old Bill aren’t great. He’s abrasive, angry and more than happy to live alone and let’s you know he does not want to spend time with you. After spending a bit more time with Bill, he mentions in passing that he had a partner. Towards the end of Bill’s level, you come across his partner hanging in the living room of an empty house. Although he’s clearly cut up, Bill never drops his stone wall demeanour and goes on to cut the body down. It’s get worse when you find a suicide note which heavily hints the two were lovers and had ended the relationship badly. You then get the choice whether to hand the note to Bill or let him never know how his partner/love committed suicide hating Bill’s guts.
I could have picked the entire Winter section of this game here as it’s brilliant from start to finish and is of course the first time we get to play as Ellie. What stuck with me more though was how Ellie handles the trauma of what happened to her. After a narrow escape from being either murdered, eaten or raped (we’ll never know but let’s face it, it was going to be awful either way) by David and the rest of his cannibal group, Ellie is never the same again. The way the game hammers this home is part of what makes The Last Of Us a masterpiece. For hours and hours, the game has you pressing the same command over and over to give Ellie a boost up to areas you can’t reach. In this moment, you go to perform this task you’ve done a million times but get no response from Ellie. As you look over to her she’s clearly lost in her own head and still trying to mentally recover from the life changing experience that she went through. It’s a pitch perfect storytelling moment that can only work in the confines of a video game and one which only strengthens the relationship between Joel and Ellie.
Literal seconds after the events of the previous entry comes the games happiest and brightest moment. Once Ellie finally gets boosted up to the next level, she demands Joel catches up with her ASAP. After hours and hours of living in this horrible world, your brain automatically expects danger. What Ellie finds though is something truly beautiful amongst all the darkness. A few wild giraffes have found their way to the building where Joel and Ellie are passing through and for the first time in the entire story the mood lifts. The music is calming, the colours are bright and the game actually let’s you stay in this moment for as long as you please, giving you sufficient respite from the flesh eating monstrosities and constant death which have consumed the story to this point. It’s also from this point where Joel and Ellie are at their closest and most open with each other, a true turning point.
I was really unsure about making this my top moment, mostly because it’s almost like admitting that the game peaks in the opening 15 minutes which isn’t the case. The reason it’s the most important moment for me is because this prologue acts as the foundation the entire story is built on. It’s the tragic loss of Joel’s daughter Sarah which happens in the most awful way imaginable that sets Joel on this course. It’s because of this opening that he’s the way he is (the bad guy remember) but more importantly, it’s also the reason we never really stop to question his actions. The Prologue is a masterpiece within itself, watching the world crumble around you while you’re powerless as both Joel and Sarah to actually do anything is so powerful. Then comes the acting, I say acting by the way and not voice acting as the entire scene was motion captured with Troy Baker, Hana Hayes and directed by Neil Druckmann. What they achieve in this scene transcends video games and should be spoken about in the same breath as some of the greatest movie scenes in history. It’s heavy hitting, emotional and has brought everyone who has played it to tears. It’s so powerful that the game will often subtly refer back to it during moments when Ellie is in danger and as the player you are instantly transported back to that first moment. In my opinion it’s the strongest storytelling moment in video game history and deserves the top spot on this illustrious list.
Remember to let me know your top 10 TLOU moments in the comments below and keep it right here at Respawning as we continue to celebrate The Last Of Us week!