No matter what, you keep finding something to fight for…
In a darkened room that is lit only by the glare of a TV and the light of a PS4, four figures are hunched in almost reverent silence. I’m sat cross legged on the floor next to the sofa supporting my Pa and older brother, with my other brother sat in a seat just beyond them. My older brother is holding the controller; I’m just holding my breath. We all watch as two characters talk on a grassy hillside, with a vista of a few squat buildings in the distance. Despite the mundane nature of what’s on screen, there’s a tension in the air.
“Swear to me.
Swear that everything you said about the Fireflies is true.”
A pause that seems to last a lifetime.
A mournful guitar brings to play.
That was my experience with the ending of The Last of Us. There’s more to the story, such as the fact that all four of us had been together whenever Ben (my older brother) played the game, making it one of the very few times when all four of us had managed to come together for a full play through of a game. We hadn’t even really intended to play through the whole thing together: Ben had gotten the game for his birthday, and we had all agreed we would watch the first fifteen minutes of it and then leave him to it. But if you’ve ever seen the opening fifteen minutes of the Last of Us, you know that you’re damn well sticking around for the whole ride.
It was perhaps one of the most chaotic runs a game has had to endure. Ben was more than competent on the controls, and we tried to act as rationally as one could, but we naturally devolved into shouting out advice and making various panicky noises when bullets started firing. Likewise, the eternal debate of what the hell to do with the limited supplies we had raged all of the way through the game. It was always in good fun, though, like the time Ben insisted that we really needed to upgrade the pistol’s fire rate, and I pointed out that increasing the fire rate without also upgrading the capacity was a god damn foolish move and he could shove that damn gun right up his-…anyway.
It’s true that pretty much anything is more fun when you do it with more people: watching paint dry is monotonous torture by yourself, but watching paint dry with someone else means you can at least get some good commentary going on. This is especially true of my situation with my bros and Pa, and especially especially true of me and video games.
I have no doubt in my mind that The Last of Us is a fantastic game, from it’s simple but elegant gameplay to it’s completely amazing story and presentation, but I wonder if I favour it even more so because of how I experienced it. If a game is more fun when experienced with friends, then a game must be stupidly improved when experienced with family.
The main point I’m trying to make is that when I experienced the ending to the Last of Us, it was something that I had the privilege of sharing with a number of people I cared about. It made the already extremely effective and gut punching ending even more powerful, especially since the ending raises the question of what exactly would have been the right thing to do in that situation. We weren’t certain if what Joel did was the most morally right thing to do, but I think we were all in agreement as the credits rolled that there was perhaps nothing else Joel could have done.
The game’s ending by itself is already one of the strongest in recent times, and the way I viewed it only made it even stronger.
And now, in a move that I’m am simultaneously absolutely shocked by and not at all surprised by, the Last of Us Part II has been officially announced. On one hand: OH SHIT, THE LAST OF US PART II!? On the other: Oh shit…the Last of Us, Part II.
This move should be, in many ways, no surprise at all. The Last of Us is one of the most highly acclaimed games of the decade, and was definitely one of Naughty Dog’s big sellers. Anyone could look at the kind of reviews and sales the game pulled in and say with confidence that a sequel was a no brainer.
But when I stop to think about the very idea of making a sequel to the first game, I can’t help but feel kind of worried. The ending of The Last of Us was pretty much perfect. I wouldn’t have changed a single line, moved the camera an inch, or made the game last even a second longer than it did. It is definitive enough to make it feel like Joel and Ellie’s story really had reached a natural conclusion, while leaving just enough room for interpretation that the player could make their own thoughts about what exactly it means (such as the ‘Ellie knows Joel is lying’ theory).
It really is a conflict between my heart and my brain. My brain is saying that a sequel isn’t necessary, and even might be at risk of cheapening the fantastic ending that The Last of Us had. My heart, meanwhile, reminds me of how much fun it was to play through the first game with my bros and Pa, and is holding out that it can relive that golden time.
To give credit to the game’s creators, Naughty Dog very rarely make a bad game. Even their weaker creations (Uncharted 3 on release and the Last of Us DLC) are still pretty bloody great. And even more credit goes to them because they know how fans are kind of worried about the prospect of a sequel to a game that ended on such a strong note. Neil Druckman, a writer and programmer that works for Naughty Dog and was one of the creative leads for The Last of Us, said that
“So much thought went into this – I know there’s trepidation about going back to these characters. We feel that as well. No-one loves these characters more than we do, and we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t have the right idea. I had ideas with different characters and it didn’t feel right. The Last of Us is about these two characters. All I ask is that fans of the first one put some faith in us – we’re going to do right by you.”
I’m confident that Druckman isn’t lying, and that the team behind the first game really has put a lot of thought into this; knowing how highly rated the first game was, it would be a permanent mark against the company if the sequel was a rushed out and poorly conceived job. And hell, even if it was, Naughty Dog’s ‘rushed out and poorly conceived’ is still probably a really fun game. But I think a healthy level of scepticism needs to be maintained until the game is actually out, since allowing myself to over-hype it before it’s even finished is a possibility.
One of the reasons The Last of Us hit like a meteorite and burned twice as brightly was because no one saw it coming. It was a completely new IP, and no one went into the game expecting it to be the emotional-roller-coaster-disguised-as-a-game it turned out to be. A sequel, meanwhile, will always have a high expectation, and it’s not always easy for even the best development team to meet that expectation.
So, to sum up this rambling torrent of thought: I’m not sure what to think, and can’t be sure until the actual game comes out. I know that I’m worried and excited in equal measure. And I know that I’m going to do everything that is humanly possible to get my bros and Pops to do the four person play through that we somehow managed to do for the first game again. And the final thing I know is that, even if the sequel isn’t the best thing in the world, this wonderfully heart-breaking series gave me something to bond over with my bros and dad.
Maybe it was only natural that a game so steeped in the importance of familial bonds would also bring one set of brothers and their father just a little bit more together, and that’s something no lackluster sequel could possibly take away.