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Creating the disturbing soundscapes of Hyper Light Drifter

In addition to its challenging gameplay and vibrant visuals, Heart Machine’s Hyper Light Drifter is also notable for its unsettling, discordant audio design.

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Hyper Light Drifter - GDC

In addition to its challenging gameplay and vibrant visuals, Heart Machine’s Hyper Light Drifter is also notable for its unsettling, discordant audio design.

The game’s soundscape – comprised of music by composer Rich Vreeland (Disasterpeace) and audio effects by Heart Machine’s sound designer, Akash Thakkar – is fundamental to the Hyper Light Drifter’s success. In their GDC talk this week, Thakkar and Vreeland spoke about the methods they used to create the game’s memorable audio textures.

Vreeland’s process began by composing ‘piano sketches’ inspired by game concepts from Hyper Light Drifter’s creative director, Alex Preston.

“Something I like to do is sit at the piano, come up with lots of ideas, and let the project inspire me,” says Vreeland. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that music I’m gonna write will be music that we use, but it’s a good place to start.”

Although one version of these early sketches did end up in the game, others, although useful in determining the soundtrack’s tone, fell by the way side. Vreeland attempted various experiments to give the score a distinct sound. One involved running the soundtrack through a cassette deck to give it an analog sound, although, unfortunately, the results didn’t work as hoped.

“Doing that makes the speed of the recording fluctuate. If you’re trying to do dynamic music in a game where you have multiple layers of music that are moving through different scenarios, and that are meant to stay in sync with each other, you’ll lose the synchronisation of the layers. So I had to scratch that.”

Hyper Light Drifter concept art

For Hyper Light Drifter’s arena mode Vreeland also experimented by laying out flashcards on a table that contained musical notes and drew paths between them to generate variations in tonality. One result of this endeavour was a driving, pulse-like composition that was used in early demos of the game.

“It was a piece we didn’t end up using but it helped solidify the idea of having up-tempo music in the battle sequences,” recalls Vreeland.

“It was also during convention season where they were taking the game around to different events. Alex, the creative director, would be on the floor talking to people, showing the game, and this music would be running in the background. It was 50 second loop and so he would be hearing this music 6000 times. He hated it by the end.”

Thakkar’s approach to creating Hyper Light Drifter‘s sound design was to generate nightmarish effects from scratch, without relying on existing sound libraries. Like Vreeland, Thakkar looked to the past and used a 1950’s wire recorder. In addition he also used a stethoscope connected to a microphone and a garden hose spigot to record low noises, such as a the thrum of a refrigerator, and even the sound of Thakkar’s own blood. The resulting, deep rumble used to underscore the game’s last boss battle.

Thakkar largely stuck to using these self-made samples, instead of synths, to create the game’s range of audio textures.

“The reason I decided to sample and record stuff with the wire recorder, or stethoscope microphone, or whatever mics I had handy, was because it allowed me to have the sounds grounded a little bit in reality and then stylised out from there.”

Hyper Light Drifter stethoscope recorder

This meant that although the sound effects had style, a shotgun would still sound like a shotgun, albeit an otherworldly one.

Hyper Light Drifter’s music and sound effects were not created in isolation and Vreeland and Thakkar often had to ‘cross the streams’ to create the end product.

“There are some musical sound design elements, and some sound design-y musical elements,” says Vreeland. “They just popped up naturally.”

One example is the item fanfare which combines both contributors’ work to create a noise that is a dark twist on the traditional Zelda-like chest jingle. Another is the disturbing sound of the birds found in the game’s northern region.

“I wanted to to create this menacing sound of of bird swarming and use that as a texture in the music,” says Vreeland.

Despite the musique concrete approach found throughout Hyper Light Drifter the game also contains a few ‘iconic’ sounds and melodies.

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The stinger – first heard on the title card of the game’s second trailer – came out of a collaborative process with Alex Preston. Vreeland saved hundreds of piano sketches to a drop box from which Preston identified a three chord piece he wanted to use as the theme.

“We felt that it was very evocative in a very short amount of time. It was something you could latch on to,” Vreeland says.

Thakkar explained that he spent most of his time working on making weapon sounds, and making them as cool as possible.

“To do that I use a technique called layering,” he explains. “Every single sound is made of multiple things playing at the same time.”

Up to 20 different sounds – many created using the wire recorder – would be layered to create distinctive weapon effects, such as the diamond shotgun. To create some of the game’s blood-curdling monster effects, Thakkar resorted to squealing like a pig into a microphone and then processing the recording.

“What I did is record directly into my wire recorder then put it back into Logic Pro,”says Thakkar. “And then I took that sound, time-stretched it, added reverb, and bit-crushed the hell out of it.”

The final effect is truly chilling, reminiscent of the noise made by an Aztec Death Whistle.

Although the creative process was largely smooth there were differences of opinion on the style of music in the game between Preston, who wanted haunting epic melodies, and Vreeland, who believed a more understated approach would be appropriate.

“We often found the right solutions to things by having these really long conversations, and talking it out, and finding a common ground,” says Vreeland. “For bosses and vistas we’d have the music sweep up, get kind of cinematic and have some kind of melody, and everything else is more subtle. It helps to build a contrast and dynamism in the music.”


Check out more details on the Hyper Light Drifter dev blog.

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Thumbsticks editor and connoisseur of Belgian buns. Currently playing: Dragon Quest XI, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and Transistor.

Features

14 reasons Abby’s arms are realistic, actually, in The Last of Us Part II

The Last of Us Part II: 14 reasons why Abby’s arms are realistic, actually. (Numbers 11 to 1 will astound you!)

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abby arms the last of us part ii
Naughty Dog / Thumbsticks

Warning: this article contains spoilers for The Last of Us Part II. (And will hopefully also spoil things for men who are weirdly threatened by Abby’s arms.)

When angry little boys on the internet get upset it’s usually over something they perceive as a threat to what they consider a male pursuit.

What they say aloud is often very different from what they actually feel, however. Misogynistic gatekeeping (and homophobia and racism, but we’re just on the sexism bit today) get boiled down to so many straw man arguments, to try and legitimise the fact they don’t want girls playing in their treehouse.

Battlefield V featuring a female soldier in World War II is historically inaccurate!” They cry, when there was actually lots of evidence of female soldiers.

“But Vikings were all big beardy men, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is feminist propaganda!” They yell, but guess what? Female Vikings, or Shieldmaidens – we might’ve gone for Viqueens, but whatever – were also totally a thing.

“It’s about ethics in games journalism!” They wail, diapers brimming, and we all know that’s not true.

The latest source of ire for the toys-out-the-pram brigade is The Last of Us Part II. Well, several bits of it, actually. But the source of their ire appears to boil down to three things:

  • Gay female protagonist
  • Trans supporting character
  • Another female protagonist

And like all of the other instances above, they then look for debate-me-in-the-marketplace-of-ideas explanations, supposedly empirical proof for why the thing they don’t like is “wrong”. It sits more easily than just admitting you’re being a misogynistic baby, presumably.

For The Last of Us Part II? They settled on the other female protagonist, Abby – and, more specifically, the size of her arms – as something they could fixate on. Something they could debate you over. Something they could “prove” was “wrong”.

Yep. Her arms. Weird, right? (When really we know that they’re either threatened by strong women, or upset that she doesn’t look like Lara Croft, or both. It’s probably both.)

Anyway, without drawing any further attention to the specifics of their complaint, imagined or otherwise, let’s run down a list of reasons why Abby’s arms are realistic, actually, in The Last of Us Part II.

14. She’s literally a post-apocalyptic soldier

the last of us part ii abby hammer

Think about it for a moment. It’s the end of the world in The Last of Us Part II, and the end of the world happens to be filled with fast zombies you frequently have fistfights with. Often the best way to kill them is to either brain them with a bit of pipe or a wrench (or something of that ilk), or smash their head into something solid, like a wall or a table. If you can’t do that – and you don’t have any bullets or blades available – you literally have to punch them to death.

Now consider that Abby is a solider in these end times. Not only is she spending significant amounts of time punching these fast zombies to death, she’s also doing it while carrying around large amounts of military equipment. It stands to reason that she would be jacked, and that’s even before you consider how her grief and revenge motivation might have caused her to hit the gym.

13. She practically lives in a gym

the last of us part ii abby gym

When we visit Abby’s home in what we presume is the CenturyLink stadium – the real-world home of the Seattle Seahawks and Sounders – we see that her apartment, that she shares with Manny, is literally right next door to an incredibly well-stocked gym. If you move into the former home of two professional sports teams it makes sense that there’ll be free weights and cardiovascular equipment left behind and, if you want to keep your militia in top shape? You’ll make sure they use it.

It just happens that Abby is a bit keener on the gym than some of her colleagues and friends, that’s all. There’s nothing wrong with that.

12. She eats like a horse

the last of us part ii abby manny burritos

There’s no way Abby can maintain a physique like that, and under constant exertion, without taking in three, four, maybe even five-thousand calories a day. You can tell she chows down like a competitive eater by the way she annihilates a burrito on the move.

But perhaps more telling is how much muscle mass Abby loses after two-to-three months in the company of the Rattlers, forced to work on their plantation on minimal rations. She looks like a different person by the end of the game, a shadow of her former self, because she needs those calories to maintain that physique.

That’s just like performance athletes in real life. Speaking of which.

11. Just look at Tia-Clair Toomey

tia-clair toomey

Source: @tiaclair1 on Instagram

This is Tia-Clair Toomey. She is a real-life woman, not a CGI construct. She’s also the reigning CrossFit Games champion and in 2019’s event, cleaned 120 kg / 265 lb on the competition floor. Her deadlift PB is 188 kg / 415 lb. She has defended her title for three years in a row. In the two years before that, she placed second, even in her rookie year in 2015.

She is frequently referred to as the fittest woman in the world. She is not just strong; she is athletic and agile with enormous stamina, in addition to being immensely powerful. Oh, and did we forget to mention she’s also an Olympian, and won Gold in the 58 kg women’s weightlifting at the 2018 Commonwealth games?

Look at her arms. Then look at Abby’s. In fact, compare their physiques in general. Pretty similar, no?

10. And Katrin Davíðsdóttir

katrin davidsdottir

Source: @katrintanja on Instagram

Katrin Tanja Davíðsdóttir, a CrossFit athlete from Iceland where they build them big, has won the CrossFit Games twice, in 2015 and 2016. In both those years, she finished ahead of Toomey, which is no mean feat. Her arms also look like Abby’s arms in The Last of Us Part II.

9. And Laura Horvath

laura horvath

Source: @laurahorvaht on Instagram

Horvath finished second to Toomey in her debut CrossFit Games in 2018. Another Abby lookalike. Can you see where this is going yet?

8. And Kara Saunders

kara saunders

Source: @karasaundo on Instagram

Saunders has placed 2nd, 4th, 5th and 7th at the CrossFit Games between 2014 and 2018. She too has shoulders like Abby from The Last of Us Part II.

7. This is Annie Thorisdottir

annie thorisdottir

Source: @anniethorisdottir on Instagram

Another Icelander, Thorisdottir won the CrossFit Games in 2012, and in the years since, has achieved 2nd, 3rd and 5th-place finishes. Another woman who has a build like Abby.

6. And Kristin Holte

kristin holte

Source: @holtekristin on Instagram

Holte, from Norway – they do like their CrossFit in Viking country – placed second behind Toomey at the CrossFit Games in 2019. She’s one of the older athletes on the circuit now, but has been improving year on year. She also looks quite a lot like Abby.

5. And Ragnheiður Sara Sigmundsdottir

sara sigmundsdottir

Source: @sarasigmunds on Instagram

Ragnheiður Sara Sigmundsdottir – or simply “Sara” to the American commentators who trip over her first name – boasts two 3rd and a 4th-place finish at the CrossFit Games. She’s another Icelandic athlete who looks rather like Abby.

4. Here’s Jamie Simmonds (née Greene)

jamie simmonds

Source: @jgreenewod on Instagram

Simmonds has placed third at the CrossFit games, both in the individual and team events. Though not in the same year; that would be ridiculous. Another Abby body double, mind you.

3. And Samantha Briggs

samantha briggs

Source: @bicepslikebriggs on Instagram

Samantha Briggs won the CrossFit Games back in 2013 and, in spite of being one of the older competitors in the field, is still able to compete at the highest level. That’s presumably because she’s built like Abby from The Last of Us Part II.

2. And Amanda Barnhart

amanda barnhart

Source: @amandajbarnhart on instagram

Barnhart’s best-placed finish in the CrossFit games is 7th so far – she has only entered twice since switching to the sport – but has the notable distinction of a deadlift PB only 10 kg / 22 lb behind Tia-Clair Toomey, which is terrifying. And she looks like Abby too, doesn’t she?

1. And finally, meet Colleen Fotsch

colleen fotsch abby the last of us part II

Source: @colleenfotsch on Instagram

Colleen Fotsch might not be as highly-ranked on the CrossFit circuit as some of the other athletes mentioned above – she suffered a shoulder injury in 2017 that required major surgery and derailed her career somewhat – but she is the athlete on this list that looks the most like Abby in The Last of Us Part II.

Why? Because Abby’s powerful physique is literally modelled on Fotsch.

All those people saying that real women can’t be as muscular as Abby – assuming that it was some error in CG measurements, some over-zealous 3D modeller who’s not seen a woman before – don’t realise that Abby was modelled after the physique of a real-life athlete. The process involved voice actor Laura Bailey performing in the old ping-pong-ball suit in the motion capture studio, then 3D models of Fotsch’s impressive physique were layered onto Bailey’s animated skeleton.

So I’m sorry to break it to you, but Abby’s arms are realistic because they’re actually a real person’s arms. This is literally what a woman looks like when she dedicates her life to strength and physical fitness, and if that scares you, or makes you feel uncomfortable, or inadequate? That’s your problem, not hers.


Forgotten what happened in the original The Last of Us? You’ll want to read our comprehensive story recap.

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19 last-gen video games we completely forgot existed

Is your mind failing, or are these 19 last-generation video games just completely forgettable? We dig deep and try to remember.

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Forgotten video games - Fuse on PS3
Insomniac Games

Is your mind failing, or are these 19 video games just completely forgettable? We dig deep and try to remember.

During the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 console generation, publishers were happy to put time and money behind mid-tier AA video games, giving them a marketing push and a decent physical print run. Some of these games were good, and some were bad. We expect most were scored seven out of ten. Some were also pretty popular, but, for a variety of reasons, they have been forgotten over time.

Here’s an entirely arbitrary list of 19 games from the last console generation that have been deleted from our brains with magic mind erasers.

It’s interesting to note how many of the gameplay concepts and themes in these titles continue to thrive in some of today’s most popular titles. These video games may be forgotten, by us at least, but in some small way, their influence lives on. It also proves that sci-fi shooters never go out of fashion.

This is an entirely subjective list, of course, and you’ll likely have your own choices. Let us know on Facebook and Twitter which video games you still remember that no one else ever seems to mention.

Darwinia (2005)

Darwinia had already made a name for itself on Mac and PC before coming to Xbox Live Arcade as Darwinia+. It’s a real-time strategy game of the highest calibre with a crisp visual design that remains impressive fifteen years on. For a period, the game was the go-to tactical experience on Xbox 360, before gradually fading from consciousness. Someone really needs to port it to Nintendo Switch.

TimeShift (2007)

Saber Interactive’s TimeShift is a forgotten gem. The FPS gameplay is solid, but it’s the ability to stop and rewind time that makes it stand out. Pausing time to avoid incoming projectiles never gets boring, and the mechanic adds a welcome element of puzzling to proceedings. It’s a little simplistic by modern standards – and it’s chockfull of bland sci-fi soldiers – but at least it tried.

Afrika PS3

Afrika (2008)

For a brief moment, following its appearance at E3 2006, Afrika was a flag-bearer for the graphical capabilities of the PlayStation 3. Rhino Studios’ game was considered almost photorealistic, and its non-violent photojournalism gameplay was also appealing. Afrika eventually made it into the wild in 2008, by which time no one cared. A missed opportunity.

Wet (2009)

Wet had a troubled development – and was briefly on Activision’s books – before being released on a wave of hype by Bethesda. The game’s rough edges and Tarantino-esque grindhouse design make it a grubby experience to play. Eliza Dushku throws herself into the role of Rubi with considerable gumption, but it cant save the game.

Wet sold reasonably well, but no one who played it remembers they did until they look back over their Xbox 360 achievement history. Developer Artificial Mind and Movement morphed into Behaviour Interactive and is now best known for Dead by Daylight.

Create (2010)

EA’s puzzle sandbox is part-game, part-game creation tool-kit. It’s an ambitious product, but a myriad of usability issues and a limited toolset rather hobble it. Create does receive props for using the PlayStation Move controller as a game creation interface nearly a decade before Media Molecule released Dreams.

Dante’s Inferno (2010)

Visceral Games – aka EA Redwood Shores – was one of EA’s most productive studios during the 00s, working on acclaimed titles like Dead Space, The Godfather, and, erm, MySims Agents. In 2010 the studio adapted the first canticle of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (as you do) to create a hack-and-slash game designed to compete with God of War. The result was a good looking game with some thrilling moments.

Unfortunately, and like its inspiration, it’s a bit of a slog to get through. The mooted sequel – based on Purgatorio – never arrived. Gutted.

Dark Void video games

Dark Void (2010)

Bear McCreary. What a composer. He came to the attention of geeks like me with his fabulous music for Battlestar Galactica. Since then, he has provided scores for everything from Outlander and The Walking Dead, to Black Sails and the PS4’s God of War. In 2010 he created a majestic soundtrack for Capcom’s jet-pack action game, Dark Void. It’s a wonderful score, but the game is a mess.

The much-hyped ‘vertical cover system’ causes all sorts of bother in combat, and, despite its intriguing premise, the story goes nowhere. Dark Void received lots of buzz at E3 2009, but it stalled on take-off and was another of Capcom’s late-00s failures. That soundtrack though. Swoon.

Ni no Kuni: Dominion of the Dark Djinn (2010)

This Ni no Kuni adventure on Nintendo DS is a slightly cheeky inclusion. The game never made it to the West, instead evolving into Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for the PlayStation 3. The fact it never received a Western release is surprising, considering the acclaim it received in Japan and the popularity of the Nintendo DS at the time.

Syndicate (2010)

Syndicate commits the biggest crime of all by reviving a much-loved franchise without paying dues to its history. The classic real-time tactical shooter was reborn as an FPS by Starbreeze Studios. It’s a fundamentally solid game with interesting traversal and fresh take on cooperative multiplayer. It was also well-reviewed, but the game failed to find an audience among newcomers or long-term Syndicate fans.

Brink (2011)

Brink has all the right ingredients. It has a super-cool, futuristic look, and an inventive first-person traversal system called SMART (That’s Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain, acronym fans). Even the narrative backdrop – humanity lives on a weird floating ark – is a cut above most other mid-00s sci-fi games.

Unfortunately, the team-based FPS gameplay never coheres into a consistently enjoyable experience. Add in some rough edges, and you have a game that is literally on the brink of greatness.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron (2011)

Despite lots of pre-release buzz, making El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron a mainstream hit was always going to be a difficult task. Notable for being based on apocryphal Book of Enoch, El Shaddai also gained attention for its striking Studio Ghibli-inspired graphics. Visuals of this nature were not common in 2011, and the way the game blends storytelling and combat with the aesthetics is delightful.

Although the game received a sequel of sorts – 2017’s The Lost Child – it’s a shame that El Shaddai isn’t recognised for its achievements.

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Shadows of the Damned (2011)

You could rustle up a list like this purely based on games developed by Grasshopper Manufacture. Another EA published title, this collaboration between Goichi Suda and Shinji Mikami is as weird as you would hope.  Ultimately, Shadows of the Damned was just too weird to find an audience. If nothing else, lead protagonist Garcia Hotspur deserves some recognition for his amazing name.

Bodycount (2011)

Bodycount is the perfect example of the era’s mid-tier shooters. Codemasters’ game is a sequel of sorts to 2006’s Black. It’s thoroughly competent, runs at a clip, and is completely forgettable. The game’s big selling point was its destructible environments, but in the event, even that can’t freshen up an uninspired sci-fi FPS.

Binary Domain Screenshot

Binary Domain (2012)

Binary Domain was another game to receive decent reviews but bomb commercially. Directed by Yakuza creator Toshihiro Nagoshi, it attempts to blend third-person gunplay with a narrative consequence system. Whether it was the genre, or the sense of antipathy surrounding Japanese games at the time, Binary Domain sunk without a trace. In recent years, its reputation has grown, and it’s now considered to be a something of a minor classic.

Book of Spells (Wonderbook) (2012)

Wonderbook is another of Sony’s overlooked innovations (take a bow, Eye Toy). Using a combination of the PlayStation Move controller, the PlayStation Eye, and the Wonderbook peripheral, this augmented reality game brings the Wizarding World to life. The tech works surprisingly well, but, like many Harry Potter spin-offs, it’s crushingly dull. Three more Wonderbook games followed, including a sequel, Book of Potions, and a game based on Walking With Dinosaurs. Thrilling.

Lollipop Chainsaw (2012)

Here’s Grasshopper Manufacture again with another messy hack-and-slash adventure. Colourful, hedonistic, puerile, stupid, trashy, sexy, and offensive, it’s all a bit much. Nonetheless, the game was successful, comfortably shifting over a million copies.

Despite impressive sales, it feels like Lollipop Chainsaw has disappeared from the gaming hive mind without a trace. No one even wants a Switch port. We’re kinda happy about that.

Fuse

Fuse (2013)

Not everything Insomniac Games develops turns to gold, as this 2013 third-person shooter proves. The influences of Ratchet & Clank and Resistance are evident in a four-player co-op shooter that has some cool weapons but little else to commend it. It’s a bland game of bland sci-fi blandness complete with bland evil corporations, bland secret government organisations, and band superweapons. The cover art – also bland – is noteworthy for succinctly summing up an entire sub-genre of video games.

Fantasia: Music Evolved (2014)

Well, we had to include at least one Kinect game, didn’t we? Fantasia: Music Evolved is pitched as the official follow up to the Disney film series, which is quite the burden. However, Harmonix rose to the challenge with this beautiful and immersive game. The soundtrack is glorious, and even the Kinect functions work well. Despite the game’s evident quality, the technological barrier to entry means it’s little more than a footnote in Mickey Mouse’s rich history.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (2014)

The much loved Ninja Gaiden series smacks itself in the face with this misguided spin-off. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is best forgotten for its difficult, buggy, and repetitive gameplay. Its leering, crass humour is also distasteful and the game proved to be the final nail in the coffin for developer Spark Unlimited.

We’ll also hand out honourable mentions to The Saboteur, Brutal Legend, Too Human, Puppeteer, and Devil’s Third. Tell us how wrong, or right, we are on Facebook and Twitter.


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An idiot’s guide to Final Fantasy VII, learned entirely through the Remake

I decided it was time I experienced Final Fantasy 7 how it was intended: by playing a 35-hour reimagining of the first 6 hours of the original game

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an idiots guide to the final fantasy vii remake
Square Enix / Thumbsticks

I’ve seen Final Fantasy 7 be called several things over the years.

“The greatest JRPG of all time.”

“The most influential role-playing experience ever made.”

“The Citizen Kane of gaming.” [Who said that? Give us their names! They need a stern talking to – Ed.]

Yet, for all this acclaim, I, Callum Williams, have never played Final Fantasy 7. In truth, I’ve never even played a Final Fantasy game before. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the dated art style, the strange battle system; maybe it was the fact that every character looked like assorted shapes of playdough held together by toothpicks. I just never found myself drawn to Final Fantasy 7’s world.

Luckily, however, Square Enix is aware of the lazy souls out there unwilling to look past a 22-year-old game’s geriatric shortcomings, and they gifted us a full, from-the-ground-up remake. So, I put my thorough criticism cap on and decided it was time I experienced Final Fantasy 7 how it was intended: by playing a 35-hour reimagining of the first 6 hours of the original game, except in glorious 4K.

Cloud ‘Where’s My Money’ Strife

Now, for those who are new like me, the first thing worth noting is that Final Fantasy 7’s world is a bizarre melting pot of RPG genres. You’ve got your glowing sci-fi powerplants with mechanical death robots, your fantasy sword and spell combinations, your spiky-haired anime protagonists and, perhaps more jarringly, your eerie horror laboratories full of terrifying monsters.

It in all culminates in what can only be described as an RPG all-you-can-eat buffet, with characters jumping between discussing the ethics of environmental pollution and how dragons are trying to eat their children like it’s the weather and the football.

The story itself takes place in the city of Midgar, which, all things considered, doesn’t seem too bad. Sure, it’s ruled by a corrupt corporation who are slowly but surely destroying the planet by leeching its energy force dry while thousands live in deplorable slums and are drip-fed heavily censored information, but it doesn’t sound too far off current world events, does it? At least they can still go down the pub with a few mates without fear of catching a debilitating illness, so that’s something.

The aforementioned evil empire – or Shinra Corporation, to use its Sunday name – has the genius idea to siphon magical blue glowing liquid out of the ground to power their badass futuristic lighting aesthetic. Shinra also has a strange fetish for murdering thousands of innocent people for no reason. Why? Because they’re evil and that’s what evil people do.

final fantasy vii remake avalanche graffiti

We play as Cloud ‘Where’s My Money’ Strife: a hard-hitting, few-word-speaking, woman-ignoring mercenary who only deals in cold hard cash, rude retorts and poorly placed grunts. Luckily, he’s not afraid of reminding people that he’s a sword for hire, as he hounds every friend that merely wants to spend some quality time with him for the spare change from their pockets. It’s also worth noting he has beautiful eyes, because damn, will you be hearing about them a lot when talking to anyone in this game.

When we catch up with Cloud he’s aiding a renegade plan to blow up Shinra’s “Mako” reactors. (Because surely exploding a powerplant in the middle of a densely-populated city won’t have any negative repercussions.) He’s joined by a ragtag bunch of outlaws – all of which look like members of a 90s cartoon about fun-loving pirates – as well as Barret, who has a literal Gatling gun for an arm but no one seems to think it’s all that weird.

It’s here that we establish a strong precedent going forward for Final Fantasy 7, which is that no matter how friendly and likeable the characters Cloud meets are, he will proceed to crush their love into tiny balls and throw it back in their faces.

Protecting the environment is preferable, but money is even better

Regardless, every character for some reason wants to either date Cloud or have a beer with him, no matter how much he sighs, grunts or literally tells them to shut up. Case in point, Cloud’s bizarre love life, which sees countless kind-natured girls hint that they’re actually into his cold, emotionless heart before he rejects each and every one of their advances.

final fantasy vii remake tifa cloud aerith linking arms

But, I digress. For the most part, Cloud’s early adventures are a straightforward ride. Shinra’s bad, Avalanche is good, protecting the environment is preferable, but money is even better. Gotcha, sorted. That’s what I thought at least, but then Cloud starts having intense migraines and before we know it, he starts seeing plot-heavy flashbacks that, 36 hours later, still make no sense.

Better yet, big bad Sephiroth – who many friends who’ve played the original game told me was barely even in the Midgar section of Final Fantasy 7 – decides he’s going to use this time to pop in for a good chinwag. This man is like your mum’s neighbourhood friend, who turns up three times a week to “borrow” some butter then winds up slowly drinking three coffees and recounting their hatred of Karen from number 16.

For a maniacal, all-powerful soldier Sephiroth seemingly has nothing to do except hang around and talk about cryptic nonsense which, by the end, even Cloud seems to be bored by. Alongside the strange diversion that is Sephiroth, Final Fantasy 7 also introduces a legion of creepy ghosts who love to pop up without any warning and leave without anyone ever stopping to say, “well, that was weird.”

Both these antagonists rear their heads several times throughout the campaign, yet, Final Fantasy 7 just seems to nonchalantly instruct you to forget they were there. It’s not important. just some ghostly spectres and a rambling, omnipresent stalker with a massive samurai sword and the most beautiful hair you’ve ever seen.

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Fighting a house and tandem skydiving with Badger from Breaking Bad

From here, a lot happens. We meet Tifa and Aerith: Cloud’s two biggest admirers and the pair he savagely insults most frequently. We are introduced to several evil people who we can tell are evil because they wear suits (or a red cocktail dress), have thick facial hair (or gravity-defying cleavage), and laugh heartily whenever someone mentions murder. We even take a few brief stints to transform the game into a freelance simulator, with Cloud and a pal teaming up to take the independent contractor scene by storm.

My personal favourite example is when Cloud is “hired” by a little girl to find three stray cats, for which he’s paid nothing, but Tifa gives him the classic “it’s all about building connections” speech. She’s right. Having a lonely eight-year-old who can speak to cats as part of your network is essential after all. Let me add her on LinkedIn right now.

Before long, I’d seen Cloud rack up quite the list of accomplishments for a dude who communicates solely in grunts and vocal invoices. He’d defeated a morbidly obese chicken, become a drag queen that Ru Paul would be proud of, fought the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in their home turf of the sewers, battled the Hell House – which is, as the name suggests, an evil house from Hell – and even gone tandem skydiving with Badger from Breaking Bad. The world was well and truly his oyster and, despite the fact I am a complete Final Fantasy rookie, I was actually keeping up.

final fantasy vii remake hell house

That was until the game’s later chapters. Now, I understand that Final Fantasy 7 is an eccentric story with a lot going on, but the remake has some of the strangest editorial choices I think I’ve ever witnessed. For example, let me set a scene for you.

Fire and destructions rage in the city below, as Tifa, Cloud and Barret stare in horror at a devastating event unfolding at the hands of the evil Shinra Corporation. Emotionally devastated, the group make a desperate escape, flying towards the ground as fire surrounds them. The screams of the innocent reach their ears and tragic music swells. Looking on from his ivory tower, the maniacal president of Shinra smiles, watching thousands die…

Then, we cut to a child-sized anime cat – with a tiny cape and a crown on his head – running into the shot, falling to his knees and hitting the ground solemnly. Oh, you have questions? Don’t worry – that will never be explained again. We just thought Felix could use a quick cameo.

The world’s most significant crisp packet

Don’t even get me started on the final few chapters. We went from comprehensive, understandable plot to people having sword fights with the gods of fate and discussing the laws of parallel universes very fast and, as Tom can attest, I had a lot of questions. Was that really Sephiroth? Were those flashbacks or premonitions? Who is the palette-swapped Cloud with dark hair? Why are we in space now? Hell, I even had to ask what the significance of a crisp packet is.

But – and trust me, I know what I’m about to say is far from ground-breaking – Final Fantasy 7 is actually arresting and investing and, despite the fact this makes me sound like a cringey Dad, so damn cool. Sure, it’s a tonal nightmare, shifting between a fun summer blockbuster, hammy romcom and on the nose societal critique on a whim, but when you’re facing down a giant robot with an electric-powered sword, it’s hard not get a few goosebumps running down your spine.

final fantasy vii remake cloud aerith flower picking

So, would I recommend jumping into the remake? Sure. It may be like reading the first 50 pages of a book and then re-reading each sentence six times to make sure you fully got it, but the characters don’t look like they’re melted waxworks anymore, so that’s a start.

As for what’s next from the franchise? I guess lazy fans like me will get to know what the full story is actually about when part 8 releases in 2047. Until then, I’m just going to assume that the anime cat is finally the character Cloud pursues a romantic future with.


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Prepare for Part II with our comprehensive The Last of Us story recap

The Last of Us Part II is upon us. Forgotten what happened in the original, or just need a refresher? Then you need our comprehensive The Last of Us story recap.

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extensive The Last of Us story recap Ellie Joel

The Last of Us Part II is upon us. Forgotten what happened in the original, or just need a refresher? Then you need our comprehensive The Last of Us story recap.

The Last of Us, first released on the PlayStation 3 in 2013, is widely regarded as one of the finest AAA video games ever made. In a space filled with bombast and overwrought plot, The Last of Us is a game crafted from subtlety and beautiful characterisation.

Its sequel picks up years later from the original, following the story of Ellie into an even more dangerous, post-apocalyptic US. But it’s been a while, and if you’re patiently waiting for The Last of Us Part II to launch on June 19, 2020, then you might want a refresher on the events of the original game. We’ve got you covered, friend.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Last of Us. There won’t be any spoilers for The Last of Us Part II, but you know, implicit things like who survived the original will be included.

The Last Of Us Sarah sleeping

PROLOGUE

Joel comes in from work and finds his daughter, Sarah, asleep on the sofa. It’s his birthday and she’s been waiting up to give him his gift: a new watch. She jokes that she saved up money from selling drugs to buy the watch, then falls asleep on Joel, who carries her upstairs to bed.

Sarah wakes up in her bed a few hours later. There are sirens outside and she is afraid. She gets out of bed and calls for her father but he doesn’t respond, so she goes to look for him.

In his bedroom, she sees a news report on television of people attacking each other, of national guard on the streets, then an explosion cuts the broadcast short. Looking out the window, Sarah can see the explosion, fire and smoke in the distance, in downtown Houston. More sirens pass by on the road outside the house.

Sarah continues downstairs looking for Joel, calling out for him. He’s nowhere to be found. When she looks in the study at the back of the house, Joel comes in through the patio doors. He looks visibly frightened and tells Sarah to get away from the windows, while he grabs a revolver from the desk drawer in the study.

Suddenly, a man bursts through the patio doors. He’s visibly distressed, almost snarling, and charges at Joel. While Sarah screams, Joel fights off the man, their neighbour, and shoots him, dead. They rush out the front of the house to leave the city, when Joel’s brother, Tommy, pulls up. He’s seen similar attacks by infected and the brothers vow to get out of town, hitting the gas onto the highway while Sarah, wide-eyed in the back seat, watches emergency service vehicles and chaos unfold around them.

As they reach the highway – where everyone else has the same idea – they find it gridlocked, and try to find another route. With a deafening crunch, the car is t-boned and rolls over into the road. Sarah loses consciousness.

Joel wakes up. He rescues Sarah from the back seat of the car, her leg broken and unable to run, carrying her away from the wreck. Tommy leads as they make their way through crowds of panicked people, as more people, infected like their neighbour, rush into the crowd, a mass of arms and teeth and fury unbidden.

Chaos reigns, with terrified people and terrifying infected scattering around them, and Tommy is separated from Joel and Sarah. They make their way to the highway, where they’re accosted by a national guard trooper. The trooper calls in that he’s found a man and a little girl, then receives an order over the radio: nobody is allowed to leave the city, in order to contain the infection. As Joel tries to reason with him, he opens fire, and Joel and Sarah tumble down a slope.

The trooper stands over them and raises his weapon, ready to fire. His head erupts in a flash of brains and skull as Tommy runs in with revolver in hand to his brother’s aid. But Sarah has been hit, in the chest. Kneeling in the dirt Joel applies pressure to her wound, but she slips away.

The Last of Us Joel and Tess

SUMMER

Twenty years have passed, and Joel is waiting in a grungy apartment in the Boston quarantine zone, visibly agitated. Tess, his business partner – their business, smuggling – enters the apartment, visibly aggravated. She was jumped by a couple of goons representing a criminal named Robert; they won’t be hassling her again.

But before dispatching them, Tess learned that Robert has their merchandise, a cache of weapons. They decide to pay him a visit and retrieve their property.

As they progress through the quarantine zone they see members of the Fireflies, a resistance movement, caught by the violent military police who guard the quarantine zone and enforce the lockdown. An explosion rocks the checkpoint, which brings curfew early; Joel and Tess will need to take the less trodden path to leave the quarantine zone.

Tess leads Joel to a smuggler’s tunnel where they’ve stashed some equipment – rucksacks, torches, gas masks, pistols and a handful of rounds – and they make their way under the cordon around the quarantine zone. Stumbling upon an area filled with spores of the Cordyceps fungus that has devastated much of humanity, they find a number of clickers – humans who have so much fungus growth that they can no longer see, but hunt using a sort of echolocation – and a man, trapped under falling debris, with a crack in his gas mask.

Exposed to the spores, the man knows he will soon turn; nobody lasts longer than two or three days once bitten by the infected or exposed to the Cordyceps spores. He pleads with Joel and Tess to put him out of his misery and prevent him from turning into one of the infected. Joel has to decide whether to spare the man his horrific fate or spare the rounds.

Arriving at a complex of warehouses at the docks, Tess and Joel sneak in – taking out a number of Robert’s guards – before flushing out the man himself. Robert runs, while Joel and Tess give chase through the alleys between the warehouses. Cornered by a locked gate, Robert tries to sprint past Tess, but she brings him down with the crunch of a swinging pipe to the knee.

Joel and Tess interrogate Robert rather violently and, with the help of a broken arm, learn that Robert sold their guns to Marlene, the local leader of the Fireflies. Tess shoots a pleading Robert, and the pair resolve to retrieve their weapons from the Fireflies. They don’t have far to go, as Marlene, with a gunshot wound to the abdomen, stumbles around the corner.

Marlene tells them they can have their guns back if they do something for her: smuggle something out of the city. Before Joel and Tess agree, they’re interrupted by the military police, searching for Marlene and other members of the Fireflies. On the spot, they agree to help Marlene escape and – if she shows them the merchandise – they’ll consider smuggling her package out of the Boston quarantine zone to get them back.

Fleeing the docks and travelling across the rooftops, Joel and Tess help Marlene escape the military and make their way to an office where a teenage girl is waiting. She pulls a flick knife on Joel, thinking he’s a threat, before Tess wrestles the knife under control and Marlene defuses the situation.

Ellie, the young girl of 14 years, is the “package” that Marlene needs smuggling out of the city. She needs to be taken safely to the Fireflies outside the quarantine zone, but Marlene – seriously wounded – is unable to travel with them. Tess agrees to help Marlene back to her base of operations to get medical assistance, but mostly to check on their merchandise, while Joel smuggles Ellie out of the quarantine zone.

Joel and Ellie make their way to an apartment building near a spot to cross the barricades, then hole up, bickering, waiting for the cover of darkness. Waiting for Tess to return.

Tess arrives after nightfall and the trio make their way to a section of sewer tunnels to escape the quarantine zone. As they climb through the wreck of an articulated wagon, Joel is accosted by two soldiers. All three are forced down to their knees for a search and an infection check. The soldiers scan Tess and Joel, but before they can see the results of Ellie’s scan, she pulls out her flick knife and stabs the soldier in the thigh. Acting quickly, Joel tackles the soldier to the ground, while Tess shoots the other solider. He executes the soldier with the scanner.

Tess sees the results on the scanner and hands it to Joel, but the result is plain: Ellie is infected. While Tess and Joel argue over why Marlene would set them up, make them smuggle an infected girl through a checkpoint, Ellie reveals that she was bitten three weeks ago, that she is infected but did not turn. That’s thought to be impossible. Everyone who gets bitten turns within a couple of days. Before they can decide what to do next a heavy military presence arrives, and the trio has to sneak and fight their way to the crossing.

The soldiers are recalled and they’re clear of danger, so Ellie reveals Marlene’s plan: she believes Ellie’s immunity to be the key to stopping the Cordyceps infection. The plan was to smuggle her out of Boston and to a Fireflies laboratory “out West somewhere,” where they can hopefully develop a cure.

The smugglers are split: Joel doesn’t believe in a cure and wants to abandon it as a misadventure; Tess, meanwhile, thinks that if there’s even a possibility of a cure, they are duty-bound to at least try. She also understands Joel’s reluctance to spend time with a teenage girl and reconcile his paternal instincts after losing Sarah. Nevertheless, they head off towards the Capitol building to meet up with agents of the Fireflies, fighting through the subway system, office buildings, and a museum – each filled with spores, the infected, and danger.

Arriving at the Capitol building they find the Fireflies dead, killed by gunshots rather than the infected. Joel is even more keen to abandon the endeavour, write it off as a failure, and return to the Boston quarantine zone. Tess blows up at Joel and insists that they press on and deliver Ellie to the Fireflies so that everything they have done is not in vain. It’s then that she reveals she was bitten. Tess is infected, destined to turn, and doesn’t want her sacrifice to be a waste of life.

Before they have time to debate it further, more soldiers arrive, outside the steps of the Capitol building. Tess pleads with Joel to take Ellie and escape, to follow through with what they started together, while she stays behind to hold off the soldiers and buy them time to escape.

It is, as Tess hoped, a fatal stand. As they escape via the balcony of the Capitol building, Joel and Ellie see her body, bloody and lifeless in the entrance hall. At least she won’t turn, become one of the infected. But it is down to Joel to deliver her other dying wish.

The Last of Us Joel Ellie Bills town

Some time later, Joel and Ellie arrive on the outskirts of a small town. The town is the home of Bill, a supplier of merchandise to the smuggling operation, and someone who owes Joel and Tess a favour. The immediate plan is to visit Bill, call in those favours, and hopefully get a vehicle to make their cross-country easier. In the longer term, Joel plans to visit his now-estranged brother, Tommy – who used to be a member of the Fireflies – and use his contacts to hand Ellie over to the resistance movement.

But before then there’s the small matter of reaching Bill; navigating through his labyrinth of defences, explosives, traps, and, of course, the ever-present infected.

As they make their way through the town, Joel trips one of Bill’s traps: a leg snare strung over a ceiling rafter, using a refrigerator as a counterweight. He’s suspended in the air, like a carcass on a butcher’s hook, while the infected run towards the source of the commotion. Upsidedown and disoriented, Joel fights off the infected with his revolver while Ellie works to cut him down from the counterweight. She drops the fridge and Joel to the ground with an unceremonial thump, before they are overrun by infected. As Joel fires desperately to keep the infected back, a masked man bursts through the door, slicing the infected with a machete. It’s Bill, coming to check why so many of his traps had been sprung. He leads Joel and Ellie to safety in a nearby building.

Bill and Ellie take an immediate dislike to one another. Bill is wary of strangers and wants to know why Joel isn’t travelling with Tess. Ellie, meanwhile, is a sarcastic, headstrong teenager, intent on pushing boundaries. In exchange for permanently clearing his debt of favours, Bill reluctantly agrees to help them find a working car. But first, they need to retrieve a working battery from a crashed military vehicle, as none of the cars in the town currently run.

Arriving at the crashed vehicle, they find the battery already taken. Somebody else had the same idea. After being overrun by infected, they escape into a nearby residential area and, when searching the area for supplies, they find a truck with the missing battery already installed. Bill’s former partner, who had upped and left Bill, had planned on using the truck to escape. He didn’t make it.

With Joel and Bill pushing the truck and Ellie in the driver’s seat, they have to fight off more infected as they try to get the vehicle started. As the truck reaches a steep hill, Ellie is able to get the engine turned over. It gratefully sputters, back from the dead. They leave Bill to his town, his fortress of solitude, and head off to Wyoming in search of Tommy and the Fireflies.

The Last of Us Joel Ellie car

After driving over 500 miles, and Joel nearly letting his guard down with Ellie once or twice, the pair find themselves on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. The freeway is completely blocked with wrecked vehicles. They have little choice but to pick their way through town.

Suddenly, a man, appearing wounded, jumps out in front of the truck, pleading with them to stop. Joel recognises the danger, the charade, and accelerates towards the man. The trap is sprung, and a group of men jump up from behind barricades and open fire on the truck. Joel loses control and crashes into a store.

After fighting off the group of men, Joel and Ellie make their way through a garage door and find themselves staring at a makeshift butcher’s slab. The group of men are hunters, flagging down travellers, killing them, collecting their possessions, carving them up for food. Ellie asks Joel how he recognised the trap; he tells her that he’s done similar things in the past, things that he’s not proud of.

They need to get back out of town, and with a large iron bridge the only landmark to work with, they make their way towards it, dodging the hunters at every turn. They own this town. Everyone Joel and Ellie meet is a threat.

The pair are separated in a hotel building. Joel falls down an elevator shaft into the hotel’s basement, his fall broken by six feet of stagnant water, the basement filled with infected. As they work their way back towards one another, Joel fights a group of the hunters in the hotel’s kitchen and restaurant. With the men dispatched, he climbs up a ladder to resume the search for Ellie, when he’s jumped by a hunter and disarmed. The hunter is holding Joel’s head underwater. He’s panicking, gasping for breath, reaching for a weapon with which to defend himself.

A gunshot echoes through the hotel restaurant. Ellie stands over the dead man with a smoking pistol, as Joel lies on the ground, fighting to get his breath back.

As Ellie is visibly shocked and sickened by what she has just done – this is the first time she has killed someone – Joel snaps at her, berates her for picking up the gun, says that he was lucky his head wasn’t blown off.

“You know what? No.” Ellie says. “How about, ‘hey Ellie, I know that wasn’t easy, but it was either him or me, thanks for saving my ass’. You got anything like that for me, Joel?”

“We gotta get going,” is all Joel can offer in return.

Moments later, Joel and Ellie find themselves on a scaffold, looking out over a group of hunters standing between them and the way forward. Joel plans to drop down and pick them off, but Ellie protests: they’d stand more of a chance if he let her help. And, this time, he does. After an impromptu lesson on how to handle a rifle, Ellie prepares to give overwatch to Joel, a teenage sniper, the beginnings of a life of death and responsibility.

“And just so we’re clear about back there,” Joel says, turning to Ellie as he climbs down from the scaffold. “It was either him or me.”

“You’re welcome,” Ellie responds, but Joel’s already gone.

After clearing the area of hunters, with Ellie’s support, they continue on towards the bridge. But before long they run into the hunters’ secret weapon: a stolen military vehicle, armour-plated and with a rotating .50-calibre turret on top.

Darting through buildings and down alleyways to evade the turret, they run into Henry and Sam, two brothers who were separated from a larger group. They’re also trying to get out of Pittsburgh to regroup with their friends, at an old radio tower to try and contact the Fireflies, but they’ve been penned in by the hunters.

Joel and Henry reluctantly agree to work together, but it’s the change in Sam and Ellie that is most marked. They so rarely see kids around their own age. It’s cheering to see them bonding over shared experiences, asking questions about what life was like before the Cordyceps pandemic struck. On their way through a comic book store, Sam picks up a toy robot to take with him. Henry chastises Sam for bringing along something childish and with no value towards survival. Sam, protesting that he has plenty of room in his pack, drops the toy on the floor and the group presses on.

Waiting for the cover of night, Joel and Henry find an area of the hunters’ defences that are lightly defended, killing the guards and making their way over the wall and wire. However, before they can escape, the armoured car appears, separating Joel from Ellie, Henry and Sam. Henry apologises to Joel, saying that he has to put Sam first, and leaves him behind. Ellie, rather than escaping with Sam and Henry, decides to stay with Joel. They flee the armoured car and head towards the bridge.

Arriving at the bridge they find it destroyed, leaving Joel and Ellie penned in between the armoured car and a jump into the icy waters of the Allegheny River. And Ellie can’t swim. Before Joel has a moment to think Ellie instinctively jumps into the river, forcing him in after to save her from drowning.

The pair are dashed against a rock and Joel falls unconscious.

The Last of Us Joel Ellie broken bridge

He wakes moments later, on the banks of the Allegheny, with Sam, Henry and Ellie standing over him. Joel grabs his pistol and threatens to shoot Henry for abandoning them back in Pittsburgh, but quickly learns it was Henry who fished them from the river.

Bridges mended, the group head towards the radio tower through an underground pumping station, a location that was once the home of families with children. It seems almost normal, aside from the subterranean setting. Ellie and Sam play a game of football in front of a goal, painted on the wall. Venturing deeper they realise the station houses only the infected, and the corpses of those who took their own lives before being overrun. In a room filled with the bodies of children, and one adult, a message spray-painted on the floor reads:

“THEY DIDN’T SUFFER”

Further into the pumping station, the group are separated, leaving Joel with Sam, and Ellie with Henry. The two groups fight their way through and meet up again near the entrance, with Ellie proudly telling Joel she took out some infected on her own. They find themselves trapped against a door that’s barred shut from the outside; Joel and Henry fight to keep the infected back while Ellie and Sam crawl outside to open the door from the other side.

The door opens, and Joel and Henry gratefully spill out into the fresh air beyond. As they re-barricade the door, Sam notices a deterrent, spraypainted on the outside wall:

“Warning
Infected inside
Do NOT open”

The group set off on foot towards the radio tower and find themselves in a small town at the foot of the structure. Passing through the town, it’s another opportunity for Ellie and Sam to bond and learn things about the world before. They play darts, discuss music, and react in disbelief at the notion of the ice cream truck. It seems so alien and frivolous to them, in a world driven only by survival.

As the group passes between a group of houses a rifle round cracks through the air and over their heads, forcing them into cover behind a ruined car. The hunters have a sniper positioned in a house at the end of the street, so Joel sets out to flank them, to clear the way for Henry and the kids. Arriving in the upstairs bedroom, Joel stabs the sniper to death, then heads to the window to signal to the group that it’s safe to proceed. From his vantage point, however, he sees a group of hunters pouring into the street. Joel takes up the rifle and begins picking off the hunters from a distance, while Henry, Ellie and Sam defend themselves down at street-level.

Before long, the armoured car arrives, pinning Ellie, Sam and Henry down in the street below. Someone appears from the top of the turret and starts throwing Molotov cocktails. Joel seizes the opportunity and shoots the gunner while he has a flaming bottle in hand. The Molotov drops inside the armoured car and, after burning for a moment, the vehicle explodes.

The group is far from safe, however, as the commotion has brought dozens of infected down on them. With Joel picking off as many as he can, they fight their way up the street to the sniper’s nest, then they escape through the back fence towards the radio tower.

Holed up at the radio tower, the group takes a moment to grab some respite, to eat, chat, relax, and get some sleep. Sam takes himself off into a room alone, so Ellie takes an opportunity: she presents Sam with the robot from the comic book store, the one Henry had made him leave behind. Nobody saw her pick it up, and as long as Henry never sees it, he won’t know it’s there.

Ellie shuts the door behind herself and leaves Sam to sleep. After she leaves, he throws away the robot, dismissing it as childish, before looking down at an infected bite on his shin.

In the morning, Joel and Henry are cooking breakfast when Ellie wakes up. Henry says he’s letting Sam sleep in for once, so she goes to wake him up. Overnight, Sam has turned and, now a snarling mess, attacks Ellie. Joel goes to rescue Ellie but Henry pulls a gun on him, trying to defend his brother, before ultimately mustering the courage to shoot Sam himself. Broken, as Joel tries to talk him down, Henry takes his own life.

The Last of Us Joel Ellie jackson county

FALL

Months later, Joel and Ellie have travelled almost 2000 miles from Pittsburgh to Wyoming. They’re still searching for Joel’s brother, Tommy, and an introduction to the Fireflies. The last Joel heard, Tommy was living in Jackson County, Wyoming, but in order to get there, they need to cross a river. They find a set of sluice gates at a hydroelectric dam and use them to cross. In a rare moment, a softening of his grizzled exterior, Joel rewards Ellie’s teamwork with a high five.

Nearby, over on the other bank, they stumble on the grave of a child. Ellie retrieves the robot doll from her rucksack and expresses her regret, that she forgot to leave it on Sam’s grave. Joel, typically, doesn’t want to talk about it, insisting that things happen and they move on.

Returning to the matter at hand, they have no way around the compound for the hydroelectric dam and look for a way inside. As they approach the gates, a set of rifles appear from the high wall, enquiring as to whether they’re lost. Joel explains that they didn’t realise the dam was occupied, and they’re just passing through. Before the lady on the wall asks where to, Joel’s brother, Tommy, appears at the gate, to vouch for them and to embrace his brother.

Tommy and his new wife, Maria, are trying to get the hydroelectric plant operational again to provide power for the nearby settlement in Jackson. They’ve had it working a few times, but keep suffering turbine failure. Maria takes Ellie off to get something to eat, affording Joel and his brother some time to catch up. After offering a photo of Joel and Sarah together, which Joel refuses, Tommy insists they talk while they work, as he needs to go and oversee the turbine repair and startup.

After a few nervous minutes, the turbine starts up and the plant is generating power again. With that pressure alleviated, Tommy takes Joel aside to talk about what brought him all the way from Boston to Wyoming. He explains that he’s looking for the Fireflies, about Ellie’s immunity, and the possibility for a cure for mankind. Then Joel lets slip his true motive for visiting Tommy: not just to ask him to locate the Fireflies, but to ask him to take Ellie there in his stead. His brother understands how difficult it must be for Joel to travel with a girl about Sarah’s age, but he has his own responsibilities now; to his wife, and to the people of Jackson.

Before the issue can be resolved, a group of local bandit raiders attack the plant, forcing Joel, Tommy, and the plant’s workers to defend themselves. As they race back across the plant they find Maria and Ellie pinned down, trapped inside a small office, with raiders approaching on all sides. Between them, with Maria and Ellie holding their own, they manage to fight off the attackers. With the danger cleared, Tommy talks it through with his wife and gets her blessing to take Ellie to the Fireflies. But as they’re preparing horses for the trip, Ellie overhears Joel talk about leaving her with Tommy and takes off on one of the horses.

When Joel and Tommy realise Ellie has left they mount up and give chase, tracking her through the forest, fighting their way beyond a bandit camp and to an old farmhouse, where they find Ellie’s stolen horse tied up outside. Fearing the worst, Joel calls into the house; Ellie replies that she is upstairs. He finds her in the bedroom of a teenage girl, reading a diary she’s found in the house, untouched and preserved like a time capsule, a monument to middle America.

“Is this really all they had to worry about?” Ellie asks, with intense scorn. “Boys. Movies. Deciding which shirt goes with which skirt. It’s bizarre.”

Joel doesn’t have any intention of indulging Ellie and – after scalding her, reminding her how important her life is – ushers for them to leave. She tells Joel that she overheard him talking with Tommy, that she knows he couldn’t wait to get rid of her. Joel attempts to deflect Ellie’s questioning and tells her that she’s better off with Tommy than him, that they’ve been lucky so far, but they’ve had too many close calls. Joel turns to leave, considering the discussion closed, when Ellie says something that stops him in his tracks.

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“I’m not her, you know. Maria told me about Sarah, And I–”

“Ellie,” Joel replies, sternly. “You are treading on some mighty thin ice here.”

“I’m sorry about your daughter, Joel, but I have lost people too.”

“You have no idea what loss is,” he says.

“Everyone I have cared about has either died or left me. Everyone – fucking except for you.” She shoves Joel in the chest. “So don’t tell me that I would be safer with someone else, because the truth is I would be more scared.”

“You’re right,” Joel responds. “You’re not my daughter, and I sure as hell ain’t your dad. And we are going our separate ways.”

Before they can continue the discussion any further, Tommy rushes upstairs, rifle in hand. They are not alone. A group of bandits have followed their tracks to the ranch, seeking revenge on Joel and Tommy for killing their man at the plant, and at the camp. Joel clears the house while Tommy hangs back to guard Ellie.

With the bandits dispatched, the group step carefully outside the house and back to their horses. Joel offers Ellie, sullen and visibly upset, a hand up onto her horse. She declines and, as the sun sets, they make the uneventful ride back towards Jackson. On a couple of occasions, Joel looks like breaking the silence but chooses not to. As they arrive in the hills overlooking the town of Jackson, well-fortified and with the electricity on, Tommy brings the horses to a stop. He tells them the kids will be watching movies tonight. Joel asks Tommy where the lab is; at the University of Eastern Colorado is the response.

He tells Ellie to give her horse back to Tommy and asks if he can keep his. He signals for Ellie to get on the back of his horse before he changes his mind. Joel tells Tommy that he’s afraid of Maria and doesn’t want to upset her, but his face tells a different story: he doesn’t want to let Ellie go.

Tommy tells them there’s always a place for them at Jackson, then Joel and Ellie set off for the university.

The Last of Us Joel Ellie university monkeys

Arriving at the entrance to the University of Eastern Colorado by horseback, we find Joel explaining the rules of American Football to Ellie. The pair have evidently cleared the air since the breakdown in communications near Jackson. Perhaps getting everything out in the open was the best way to move forward.

Unfortunately, there’s no sign of the Fireflies at the university. Or at least, as Joel explores the campus on foot while Ellie stays on the horse, there’s nobody to be found today. There is plenty of evidence that the Fireflies were here, and not that long ago. On a balcony near the entrance, he finds the remains of a lookout post; gates and shutters have been left locked, with generators rigged up to open them.

Joel presses on through a student accommodation block to find the path to a generator on the other side of a locked shutter. Inside he finds a collage of life, of the students who lived there two decades prior, and of the survivors who holed up there more recently. Climbing through the basement of the halls of residence, he finds the air thick with spores and the area filled with infected, a Terracotta Army of clickers, statues in the fog of fungal spores and, near the exit, a bloater – a person whose infection has progressed so far they’re covered in dense armour plating.

He sneaks through the basement and shuts a stairwell door behind himself as the bloater gnashes at his heels. Ellie, hearing the commotion from outside, calls out to Joel, to see if he’s OK. He appears above ground, much to Ellie’s relief, and connects the generator to open the shutters. Reunited, he climbs back on the horse and they press farther into the campus. Moments later, they are surprised in a more pleasant way than usual: they startle a troop of monkeys, who scatter across the quad. Ellie shrieks in delight. That’s quickly followed by a second positive, a series of Firefly logos spraypainted on the side of a building en route to the science building.

Finding no obvious way into the science block, which has clearly been heavily fortified by the Fireflies, Joel inadvertently smashes through some gates with a runaway dumpster, then he and Ellie use it as a platform to climb into the building. Inside, they find plenty of evidence of activity, including kitted-out laboratories, generators and rigged-up work lights, but again, no sign of the Fireflies.

As Ellie strolls through the lab, calling out for the Fireflies and musing on whether extracting the cure will hurt, Joel urges her to be quiet. It seems they’re not alone. Perhaps not all the Fireflies have packed up and left. As they climb up to the next floor the noise in the distance grows closer, then as the pair turn quickly, a work light is knocked over. They proceed quietly, weapons drawn, only to find the troop of monkeys scavenging through the bins in the lab.

Pressing through the lab, they find evidence that suggests the scientists have moved on to a new location, as the university has become more prone to attacks and difficult to defend. A voice recording reveals one scientist elected to set the monkey test subjects free. They rewarded him with a bite and infection with Cordyceps. In the next room, they find the result: a corpse with a gunshot wound to the head, self-inflicted.

But before he took his own life to prevent turning, the scientist left another voice recording – a lengthy, maudlin, self-indulgent voice recording – which indicates the location of the new lab: Saint Mary’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, around 500 miles away. As they discuss their next destination, Joel spots a flashlight across the courtyard, then he drags Ellie to the floor to dodge a gunshot.

A group of men are making their way into the science building, which is Joel and Ellie’s cue to leave. Armed men pour onto their floor and block the exit, leaving Joel with no choice but to pick them off, one at a time. He creeps through the laboratory, using the counters and consoles for cover until they make their way back to the stairwell.

Turning for the exit, one of the men rushes at Joel and they both tumble over the railing to the floor below. The assailant’s head is dashed on the floor, while Joel lands on his back with a piece of rebar puncturing his abdomen. He’s unable to get up as Ellie climbs down to help, and together, they pull, hard, to free Joel from the rubble. He rises with a scream, losing blood fast, and they move to escape.

Ellie helps Joel into a room for respite and, after a graceless tumble through a window, they cover behind a counter as one of the men comes in at the far end of the room. Joel tries to stop her, but Ellie sneaks around the counter to flank on their attacker. Already faint from loss of blood, Joel leans out from behind the counter and opens fire as Ellie attacks from behind.

They need to move, and quickly, but Joel is staggering from counter to wall, barely able to stand. In the entrance foyer, Joel stops for a breather against a desk.

“Behind you!” He shouts to Ellie.

She turns around to face Joel, thinking that he’s calling for her to turn and face him, but two men are running down the stairs behind her. Joel raises his gun to open fire but blacks out momentarily and slips to the ground. Ellie opens fire on the assailants, dropping one immediately, before the telltale click: her clip is empty. She fumbles to reload a magazine as the second attacker bears down on her, striking her across the face with a metal pipe and knocking her to the floor. Staggered, Ellie wheels around and shoots at point-blank range, then turns her attention back to Joel.

Ellie helps Joel back to his feet, but his vision is fading in and out and he’s struggling to make any progress under his own steam. She helps him to another counter near the door, then holds it open and calls for Joel to walk through. He spills through the door and tumbles down the stairs outside, surprising one of the bandits who is stealing their horse. Thinking fast, Ellie shoots the man, then leads the horse over to where Joel lies on the ground. Helping him up onto the horse, they flee the university campus.

Moments later, Joel loses consciousness and falls from the horse.

“Get up, get up, get up,” she pleads, panicked, shaking Joel by the lapels.

“You gotta tell me what to do…

“Come on…

“You gotta get up…

“Joel?”

The Last of Us Joel Ellie winter deer

WINTER

The winters are harsh in Colorado. Snow lies thick on the ground as a rabbit emerges from its warren. A single arrow strikes the rabbit and it dies instantly. Ellie picks up the animal, retrieves the arrow, and hands the rabbit from her horse’s saddle.

“Oh, this won’t last long,” she says, to nobody in particular. Joel is nowhere to be seen.

Ellie spots a buck in the distance and ties up the horse so she can give chase without startling the animal. She steps on a fallen twig, however, and the large deer runs off into the forest. Ellie draws her bow, softens her step, and tracks the animal through the snow.

After creeping through the snow for a few minutes, Ellie finds the deer in a clearing and knocks an arrow. She draws the bow, feels the tension for a moment while she sights the shot, then lets the arrow fly. The deer is struck, startled, and darts off, farther into the forest. She finds it again soon after and lodges a second arrow in the buck. The buck is bleeding now, painting a crimson trail on the crisp, white snow. This is no longer tracking: it’s join the dots.

After a long walk through the forest – the deer travelling a surprising distance with two arrows in its hide – Ellie traces the trail of blood to a logging camp. The deer has stumbled into a clearing between the tumbledown shacks, its body giving way on the hard, cold, snow-covered floor.

She goes to finish the deer off, an arrow drawn, but finds it already dead. But before she can even begin to contemplate how to get the massive buck back to her horse, she hears something. Wheeling around, bowstring still taught, two men step out from behind a tree, palms aloft. A softly spoken, bearded man indicates that he just wants to talk. Ellie, moulded by this world, defaults to threats of violence if they come any closer.

The softly-spoken man introduces himself as David. His companion is James. He tells Ellie that they’re from a group nearby, with families, women and children, who are all very hungry. Ellie replies that her group is all women and children too, which is not entirely untrue, being a party of one.

David suggests a trade for some of the deer meat, and begins listing potential bartering chips: weapons, ammunition, clothes–

“Medicine!” Ellie jumps in. “Do you have any antibiotics?”

David says that they do, and suggests Ellie follow them back to the camp to make a trade. Ellie digs in her heels and refuses. She’s not following a couple of strange men anywhere. She makes a counter-proposal: James can go to their camp and retrieve the antibiotics, while Ellie keeps David hostage at the end of an arrow. David a agrees, and sends James off with a simple shopping list, of two bottles of penicillin and a syringe.

With James gone, Ellie relieves David of his hunting rifle. She slings her bow on her back and reverts to the rifle, a much easier way to hold a hostage without testing your triceps. David suggests that they move inside, out of the cold, and Ellie agrees. She insists David bring the buck inside so they don’t lose it to other wild animals or the infected. David builds a small fire and tries to engage Ellie in small talk, but she won’t give him anything; not even her name.

Before David can press the issue further, they’re disturbed by a clicker that rushes into the shack. Before Ellie can act, David shoots the screeching monster with a pistol. He had a second weapon all along, deceit that’s not lost on Ellie. He asks for his rifle back but Ellie refuses. He has his pistol, after all. One of the infected comes through the window and Ellie saves David. He remarks that she’s a better shot with the rifle than he is.

They cover up the buck and barricade the doors before waves of infected break against the walls, crashing through the windows, reminiscent of so many zombie movies. With the infected continuing to come, drawn by the gunfire and screaming, they abandon the buck and head further into the complex.

Ellie holds off a group of clickers while David pushes a dresser in front of the doors, then they head up onto a catwalk, looking for a way out. Ellie falls through the rickety floor and finds herself separated from David and surrounded by infected. Following lessons she has learned from Joel over the past half-year, she moves stealthily through the infected, throwing bottles to distract, sneaking by quietly, taking down with her switchblade if there’s no other choice.

She climbs back up to David and, working together to boost to high places and reach ladders, just as she would with Joel, they make their way to the back of the maze of buildings. They find themselves boxed in once more, defending their position against more waves of the infected, including an enormous bloater. David has never seen one before, but Ellie knows what to do. In many respects, she’s the better fighter; smarter and tougher, if not as physically strong due only to her size.

Arriving back at the buck, thankfully untouched by the infected who were more interested in moving targets, David tells Ellie he thinks they made a good team. Ellie, echoing her conversation with Joel in the teenage girl’s room, says they got lucky.

David, however, believes there’s no such thing as luck, that everything happens for a reason.

“Now, this winter has been especially cruel,” he begins. “A few weeks back I sent a group of men out to a nearby town to look for food. Only a few came back. They said the others had been slaughtered by a crazy man and, get this, he’s a crazy man travelling with a little girl.

“You see?” He says, casually pointing a knife at Ellie. “Everything happens for a reason.”

Ellie trains her rifle on David and, at that moment, James arrives back with the penicillin, pointing his gun at Ellie. David defuses the situation and tells James to throw Ellie the medicine. James says that the others won’t be happy, but David seemingly isn’t concerned.

She picks up the medicine and runs back to her horse, leaving the buck to David and James.

A short time later, as dusk falls, Ellie arrives in a small village. She leads the horse into a garage and pulls the roller door shut behind them, then heads down into the basement. There she finds Joel, pale and shivering, on a bedroll on the floor. She pulls back his blanket to check the stitches on his abdomen – not bad for a first attempt – and injects Joel with the penicillin. Covering him back up under the blanket, she curls up beside him on the floor, her backpack as a pillow, and rests a hand on Joel’s shoulder as she drifts off to sleep.

The Last of Us Joel Ellie Joel sick

Waking with a start the following morning, Ellie hears David’s men outside. She realises that he let her leave with the penicillin so they could track her back to Joel by daylight. Rather than let them find Joel, she plans to draw them away, mounts her horse, and sets off from the house.

One of the men grabs her and she stabs him in the throat. The commotion grabs the attention of the rest of the men, who debate what to do; they need to stop her, but David doesn’t want Ellie harmed. In the end, they decide the former outweighs the latter and open fire on Ellie as she rides off down the street.

Ellie’s plan is working, but as she rounds a corner they shoot her mount. Horse and rider tumble down a steep incline to the path below, leading to a group of cabins by a lake. She creeps through the houses, taking out the men with her bow and knife if she can’t find a way through, and winds up in a hotel, the Bear Creek Lodge. As she pushes open the front door to escape, David grabs her from behind. He wraps his arm around her neck, choking her to sleep while telling her that he’s trying to keep her alive.

She wakes up sometime later, in a cage in a darkened room where David’s friend, James, is performing some butchery on human corpses. As Ellie rattles the cage door, trying to find a way out, James leaves the room and is replaced by David, carrying a tray of food. She refuses to eat, but he assures her that it’s just the deer meat. She calls him a fucking animal, then tears into the plate of food nonetheless.

David asks what that makes her and Joel, killing dozens of his men. Are they animals, monsters? Ellie replies that they gave them no choice, but David sees it the same way: that they have no choice but to kill and eat people to survive.

Ellie asks what’s next for her; if she’s going to end up on the butcher’s block, on the menu, cut up into tiny pieces. David says he’d rather not and if she would only give him something, some information to give to the others, he might be able to persuade them to spare her life. He tells Ellie that she’s special, and places his hand on hers, on the bar of the cage.

“Oh,” Ellie says, understanding at that moment his predilection, before gently placing her other hand on top of David’s. His face softens and she seizes her chance: she grabs his fingers and bends them backwards, then pulls David towards the bars to reach for the keys on his belt. As she fumbles around for the keys, he grabs her arm outstretched and bashes Ellie’s head against the cage door until she relents.

“You stupid little girl,” David spits, holding his mangled hand. “You are making it very difficult to keep you alive. What am I supposed to tell the others now?”

“Ellie,” she replies. “Tell them that Ellie is the little girl that broke your fucking finger.”

Joel wakes up, groggy and sore, in the basement where Ellie left him. He calls out for her but she doesn’t respond, so he stumbles to his feet and gathers his things; his backpack and weapons, some ammunition, assorted other supplies. Finding no sign of Ellie as he staggers through the house, he heads outside, calling her name as he lumbers down the street where she made her daring escape.

He happens across a group of men and kills several before two of them grab him. Joel knocks one unconscious and overpowers the other, dragging them both into a nearby house.

One of them wakes, tied to a chair, to find Joel mercilessly beating the other on the floor. He turns his attention to the man in the chair and demands to know where Ellie is, whether she’s alive. When the cannibal plays dumb, Joel drives a knife into his knee, threatening to pop the kneecap clean off if he doesn’t answer his questions. He gets the man to mark the location of David’s town on the map, saying that his friend had better agree. He marks the map and Joel breaks his neck.

Joel turns to the second man, tied up and beaten on the floor, who is crying out in panic. Why did he kill him when he co-operated? Why should he tell Joel anything after seeing that?

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“That’s alright, I believe him,” Joel says, before smashing his skull with a metal bar.

Ellie is woken in her cage by James and David, dragging her to her feet towards the butcher’s slab. She kicks and struggles, biting David on the wrist before they pick her up and slam her down onto the table. They hold her still and David raises a cleaver. He tells Ellie that he warned her, that he tried to help but she left them little choice. Ellie is unclear whether this is a scare tactic or if they really plan to chop her up into little pieces, so she rolls the dice, on the secret she’s been keeping from the world.

“I’m infected! I’m infected!” She shouts. “…and so are you.”

David doesn’t believe her, but Ellie insists he rolls up her sleeve and checks the bite for himself. He drives the knife down into the butcher’s block near her head and she flinches. Rolling up her sleeve he finds the bite, scarring over and starting to heal.

“Everything happens for a reason, right?” She says, with a smirk.

As David and James are arguing, over whether the bitemark is real, how she should’ve turned by now, whether it’s some kind of trick, David steps away from the table to look at the bite on his wrist. Ellie may not have turned, but can she still transmit the Cordyceps brain infection that she carries?

She seizes the opportunity amidst the confusion, grabbing the cleaver and driving the blade into James’ neck. He staggers, blood pulsing from the separation. She rolls off the table and David opens fire with her pistol, but Ellie is a small target and too fast for him.

She grabs her switchblade from a nearby shelf and vaults out of the window, into a snow-covered alley below. A snowstorm is swirling and, as David snarls at the window above. He can’t see Ellie through the veil of white as she sneaks away down the alley.

The Last of Us Joel Ellie David

As Ellie skulks through the alleyways and between buildings she overhears David talking to his group, telling them that Ellie is infected. Someone volunteers to take the children to a safe place; he wasn’t lying about that after all. He instructs the others to find Ellie and they fan out through the town.

Agitated and alone, Ellie winds her way through the down, dodging David’s patrolmen where she can, killing them when she must. A knife in the neck works best if you can sneak up from behind; a revolver round to the face if you get trapped. Ellie will do either, will do whatever it takes to escape. She has no idea which way to go, however, with only the light of burning barrels lighting the way through the gloom and the snowstorm.

Heaving her cold, tired bones up onto a dumpster and through an open window, Ellie finds herself in the back of a deserted restaurant. Nobody is in sight so she takes a moment to catch her breath, to collect supplies and herself, before pressing on into the snow. As she opens the front door of the restaurant to leave, David bursts through, bundling Ellie onto the ground. He knocks an oil lantern over in the fracas, setting the doorway alight, then locks the door for good measure. Ellie seizes the chance and runs back into the restaurant, but with the back window too high to climb through, there’s no way to escape without David’s keys.

As Ellie crouches, flitting between the tables and booths, David stalks her through the dining area. She steps on a mess of broken crockery, the telltale crunch of porcelain underfoot is as loud as an explosion, and David rushes towards the sound. Ellie manages to scamper away, but it gives her an idea.

She picks up a bottle from the floor and throws it down one of the rows of booths. As David heads towards it, she sneaks up behind him, jumps on his back, and stabs him in the chest. He throws Ellie aside and wheels around, opening fire with his pistol as the girl disappears behind another booth.

“That was good, kid,” he says, holstering his pistol and pulling out a machete.

Things have become very personal for David and he plans to end things face-to-face. Ellie sneaks up behind him again and stabs him in the back, then runs back into the heart of the restaurant, now rapidly filling with smoke. David decides to change tack, moving from the archetypal horror movie monster – I’ll just slowly, menacingly walk after you and I’ll eventually catch you – to something more akin to Ellie’s own movements. He’s hustling, low and quiet behind the tables and benches, skirting rapidly around the restaurant floor, hoping to catch the girl off guard.

But Ellie has learned from Joel and, with a lot of patience and caution, manages to tiptoe up behind David once more. She throws herself at his back and pulls her switchblade towards herself, plunging it into his chest. He staggers, grabbing Ellie by the neck and throwing her, hard, into the ground, then collapses, banging his head against a counter.

They both lie dazed, on the floor of the restaurant, as the flames creep towards them.

Outside, a visibly-struggling Joel has found his way to David’s town, to Silver Lake, searching for Ellie. Furious and fearful of what has become of her he fights his way into town, killing several of the town’s guards before finding Ellie’s backpack in a storeroom, alongside boxes filled with clothes and personal effects. He pushes his way through a perspex curtain and finds what he feared: human bodies, hanging from butchers hooks in the ceiling.

He leaves the butcher’s shop and spots the burning restaurant. That can mean only one thing: Ellie. Only Ellie could cause that kind of chaos. He rushes towards the burning building and looks for a way inside.

Ellie wakes up, dazed and winded, on the floor of the restaurant. David is stirring too, but she can see his machete, glinting in the firelight, just out of reach under one of the benches. She sets off at a crawl to retrieve it, still disoriented, but David is upon her. He kicks her in the stomach and she spills from all fours and onto the floor. He tells Ellie that it’s OK to give up, that there’s no shame in it, but she hauls herself back up onto her forearms, at a crawl now, striking out for the machete once more.

He kicks her again, then drops on top of her, astride her, with his hands around her throat, squeezing the life from her. She reaches up, fumbling with her outstretched hand in the direction she hopes to find the machete when her fingers touch something, solid. She grasps it tight and swings with everything she has, striking David in the forearm.

He recoils in pain and rolls onto his back, affording Ellie the opportunity she needs. Without a moment’s hesitation, she jumps up, kneeling over David, raining machete blows down on him with terrifying ferocity.

She strikes him, over and over, hacking away at his lifeless body, when Joel runs in behind her. He wraps his arms around her, to drag her away, to let her know it’s safe, but she kicks and screams and fights back. Then she realises who it is and sinks her head into his chest, sobbing, as he tries his best to comfort her. She zones out as Joel tells her everything is going to be OK, lost in the noise and violence and fear, then he helps her to their feet and they turn to leave.

The handle of the machete, dripping in blood, stands proud, its blade embedded in the ground where David’s head used to be.

The Last of Us Joel Ellie Salt Lake City

SPRING

It’s a very different Ellie who approaches Salt Lake City with Joel a couple of months later. She’s quiet, distracted, distant. Meanwhile, Joel has become chatty and effusive – at least, by his gruff standards – trying to engage Ellie and bring her back out of her shell. Even the promise of guitar lessons goes unanswered, when she was so interested in Joel’s musical ambitions back at the University of Eastern Colorado, how he skipped college hoping to become a famous singer.

“Huh? Oh yeah, sure, that sounds great,” she replies. It’s hard to tell whether it’s just that her heart’s not in it, or if she even hears the question.

As they proceed on foot along the ruined freeway, past the campervan of a family that didn’t make it, Ellie spots an advert for an airline on the side of a bus. She had a dream about flying the other night, that she was on a plane full of people with no pilot in the cockpit, trying to prevent the plane from crashing. It’s not a cheery dream, but Joel is just pleased she’s talking to him. With St Mary’s Hospital glistening in the springtime sun, almost within spitting distance, they clamber off the freeway and into a bus depot.

The depot, fashioned into something of a quarantine zone checkpoint with steel fences, is littered with the remains of humanity. Not death and corpses, or the infected, but suitcases, clothes, and all the other once-useful detritus that has been rendered useless by the near-total removal of mankind. Ellie sits on a bench, shoulders slumped. Joel asks if she’s doing OK, says that she seems quiet; all she can do is apologise, even though that’s not what he meant.

There’s no way through at ground level, but Joel spies a ladder up on the level above. It’s a typical puzzle the pair have solved together: he boosts Ellie up, she drops the ladder down for him to follow. He crouches under the ledge, hands clasped together, but there’s no Ellie. He looks back to find her still sitting, on the bench, staring into the middle distance.

He calls her name, twice, before Ellie responds. She trudges over to fulfil her role, as she has done so many times before, but with much less gusto. Clambering up to the balcony, she grabs the ladder and prepares to drop it down to Joel, then something catches her eye. She drops the ladder, almost hitting Joel, then heads off at a sprint, leaving him behind. He calls after, concerned, but she’s gone. He hurries up the ladder and heads off after her, calling for her to wait.

“Oh… you gotta see this!” She shouts, disappearing around a corner.

Joel gives chase, always two steps behind Ellie but seeing glimpses of something, shadows and movement outside the windows, before she dashes off again. Several corridors and flights of stairs later, he catches up with Ellie slowing to a careful, deliberate walk as she enters a room with the wall missing and nature spilling in from the outside. Quite literally, in fact: an enormous giraffe is craning its extensive neck into the side of the building to eat the trees and vines that are growing from it. The best leaves are always the hardest to reach, after all.

“Shhh, don’t scare it,” Ellie pleads.

“I won’t, I won’t,” Joel replies, padding quietly over to the magnificent animal.

The giraffe, clearly with memories still of its human keepers at Salt Lake City’s Hogle Zoo, is more than happy for Joel to pet it on the neck. Joel, for his part, doesn’t seem to think it’s any stranger than stroking a horse, albeit two stories up. He gestures for Ellie to come over and she walks gingerly over to the unusual pair.

“Hey there,” Ellie says, reaching up to pet the giraffe on its cheek.

“So fucking cool,” she says to Joel, as the giraffe turns its head to leave, in that dramatic, aloof way they do.

She gives chase as the giraffe wanders off and climbs another flight of stairs, with Joel once more scrambling to keep up with her sudden exuberance. Bursting out into the sunlight on the roof of the building, Ellie finds an even more magnificent sight: a whole herd of giraffes, with adults and babies together, grazing through the nature-reclaimed ruins of Salt Lake City. She leans on the short wall around the edge of the roof to watch the herd, as Joel sidles up behind her.

“So,” Joel begins, “This everything you were hoping for?”

“It’s got its ups and its downs,” she replies. “But you can’t deny the view though.”

Time ceases to matter. Burdens are lifted. Ellie’s PTSD flutters away, at least for a moment, on that rooftop, looking out at those giraffes. They stay there for some time – it could be minutes, it could be hours – watching the herd of animals in their element, plucking every leaf from the trees and the bushes and the vines in what was once a baseball field.

After a time, the giraffes move on, and it’s time for Joel and Ellie to do the same; they have a hospital appointment to attend.

The Last of Us Joel Ellie giraffes

Climbing down from the roof and out of the bus depot, the pair find themselves in a makeshift triage camp, a huddle of tents and equipment long-abandoned. Joel opens up to Ellie for the first time, talking about his history and the time he spent in one of those camps. Ellie asks if that was after he lost Sarah, which it was, and she expresses how sorry she is for Joel’s loss. It’s the first time they’ve been able to talk about it without descending into a fight, a sign of how the two have grown in each other’s company.

As they make to leave the camp, Ellie stops Joel. She has something to give him: the photo of him and Sarah, the one that Tommy tried to give him back in Jackson, Wyoming. They’re both smiling. Sarah’s wearing a football strip and holding a trophy aloft. She stole it from Maria, another case of Ellie’s sticky fingers trying to do the right thing.

“Well, no matter how hard you try, I guess you can’t escape your past,” he says. “Thank you.”

From there, the path to the hospital takes them into a tunnel. What at first seems like easy-going soon takes a turn, with the tunnel filled with all manner of infected, including a plethora of clickers and several bloaters, a terrifying brute that, thus far, they’ve only faced singularly. It’s a challenging route through the horrors of the tunnel, and near-impossible to sneak through with getting their hands dirty, but Joel and Ellie make it past the infected relatively unscathed, only to be faced with yet another barred door, a chain-link gate fastened shut from the other side.

There’s a gap above the fence, so Joel boosts Ellie up and over, but as she goes to open the door, one of the infected inside – that looked like a corpse, in amongst the trash – wakes up and attacks her. Joel shoots the infected through the fence and Ellie barely even bats an eyelid, just pressing on and opening the door so Joel can come through. The restorative power of the giraffes is quickly forgotten when one returns to the horrors of the real world, it seems.

After one more puzzle, involving ferrying the non-swimming Ellie across a stagnant pool so she can retrieve a ladder for Joel, they find themselves on the other side of the tunnel and facing a torrential current, a powerful underground river coursing in their way. It’s unclear whether this was originally a river or canal of some sort, or whether over 20 years the flow and erosion have caused a dramatic shift in the environment, but the presence of buses and trucks floating in the torrid waters is unsettling. But it also presents an opportunity, a way for Ellie to cross without having to get wet. Even if there was a pallet around, it’s doubtful Joel could safely guide her across a current so forceful.

They pick their way across the flotsam of vehicles and tumbledown structures and, with the lighter Ellie now at the lead, she jumps deftly from a ventilation duct to the side of a bus, wedged in the channel. As Joel follows the bus begins to groan, the extra weight and movement shaking it loose from whatever had beached it on the bottom of the concrete rapids. Ellie jumps from the bus to the platform on the other side, but Joel is heavier, slower, and a couple of steps behind. As he grasps for the edge of the platform the railing gives way and Joel tumbles back onto the bus. Its movement inexorable, the grind of steel frame against concrete wall agonising, the bus slides away from the platform, and Joel with it.

He jumps for Ellie’s outstretched hand but falls backwards onto the doors of the bus, which buckle, swallowing him whole into the belly of the vehicle. With the bus filling with water and bouncing in the deluge Joel tries to clamber back to the front along the railings and seats, but it lurches, knocking him off balance and washing him away in the onrushing water.

He hits the back of the bus, hard, then notices something above him: Ellie is trying to pry open the rear doors of the bus. She came back to try and save him, even though her life is the one that really matters. With an enormous joint effort and energy rapidly sapping, the doors crumple open, but before Joel can climb out, the bus rolls and Ellie is thrown into the icy torrent. Joel loses sight of her as the doors snap shut and the bus fills under the weight of the water.

The change in pressure causes the doors to open and Joel is able to escape his steel cage. He swims out of the bus, already out of breath and hurting, looking for a way to surface, when he spots a shape in the distance. Swimming towards it, his fears are realised: it’s Ellie, bobbing lifelessly underwater.

With one final effort Joel darts toward Ellie, wrapping his arm around her and dragging them both to the surface. He hauls Ellie out onto a slab of concrete but she’s not breathing. Panicked, Joel begins CPR, pushing hard on Ellie’s chest.

“C’mon,” he pleads, over and over. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon–”

“Hands in the air!”

“She’s not breathing,” Joel responds, looking up to see two Fireflies advancing on him, weapons drawn.

“Hands in the fucking air!” Repeats the guard.

“C’mon, Ellie,” Joel pleads, before one of the Fireflies hits him in the head with the butt of his weapon. He blacks out.

The Last of Us Joel Marlene hospital

Joel wakes in a hospital bed, flanked by an armed Fireflies guard to his left, and Marlene on his right.

“Welcome to the Fireflies,” Marlene says. “Sorry about the… they didn’t know who you were.”

“And Ellie?” He asks, urgently.

“She’s alright,” Marlene responds. “They brought her back.”

Joel sinks his head back onto the mattress in relief, barely listening to a word Marlene says. She asks how they made it all that way, just the two of them, when Marlene barely made it there unscathed with a whole troop of Fireflies.

“It was her,” Joel says, a trace of a smile on his lips. “She fought like hell to get here. Maybe it was meant to be.”

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He heaves himself up from the bed and asks them to take him to Ellie. Marlene shakes her head and says she’s not Joel’s problem anymore. When Joel insists, Marlene shoots a glance at the armed guard, then tells Joel the truth: Ellie is being prepped for surgery.

Joel and Ellie always assumed that the cure would come from her blood, but the reality is much more severe. The Cordyceps infection has mutated on her brain and failed to spread as it normally does, the source of her immunity, but in order to extract a potential cure from it, they’ll need to remove the Cordyceps infection from her brain. The guard silently steps closer to Joel.

“But it grows all over the brain.”

“It does,” Marlene says, solemnly.

“Find someone else,” Joel demands.

“There is no one else,” she replies.

Joel lunges towards her and the guard kicks him in the back of his knee, wrestling him into submission. Marlene tells Joel that whatever he thinks he’s going through, it’s far worse for her. She’s known Ellie since she was a baby, she promised her mother that she would take care of her. But it’s not about Marlene, or Joel, or even Ellie. It’s about a potential cure for all of humanity. She says there is no other choice.

“Yeah,” Joel responds. “You keep telling yourself that bullshit.”

Marlene instructs the guard to escort Joel from the hospital and tells him to shoot if the smuggler tries anything, then leaves them to it. As the guard forces Joel out of the room and down the corridor, he spots his bag, of equipment and weapons, sitting on a counter. His mind made up in that moment he turns on the guard, disarming him, slamming him into the wall and striking him across the temple with his pistol.

Joel lowers the pistol to the guard’s stomach, beneath his bulletproof vest, and demands to know where the operating theatre is. The guard declines to respond, so Joel shoots him once, in the belly. He repeats the question and, in the face of stony silence, repeats the response. Growing impatient, Joel presses the muzzle of the pistol into the wounds. The guard caves and tells Joel what he wants to hear: the operating theatre is on the top floor, at the far end of the hospital. He slumps to his knees and Joel shoots him in the head, before grabbing his bag and running off into the hospital.

The Fireflies respond in force to the sound of gunshots, with guards fanning out across the ward, making Joel’s usually stealthy approach much more difficult. These are highly trained soldiers with body armour, helmets and assault rifles. They’re far more difficult to sneak up on or subdue than a disorganised mob or shambling infected.

He wends through the maze of interconnected rooms, picking off guards quietly where possible, but before long he’s spotted and a firefight breaks out. All bets are off at this stage. Joel grabs an assault rifle from a fallen guard and sprays anything that moves with automatic fire. With stealth out the window and time of the essence, he uses improvised explosives – Molotov cocktails and nail bombs – to disperse the Fireflies and makes his way to the staircase, barricading the door behind to prevent pursuit.

Another floor, another flight of stairs, another pile of dead Fireflies. Joel’s sense of self-preservation has escaped him, replaced instead by the paternal instinct to protect Ellie and his incandescent rage towards Marlene and the Fireflies.

Joel finds the operating theatre at the end of the paediatrics department, on the top floor, as the guard promised. Unsure of what he’s going to find, he pushes the door open, revolver in hand. Behind the door, he finds a group of doctors and nurses huddling around an unconscious Ellie, just about to commence the fatal surgery. One of the surgeons wheels around to face Joel, scalpel in hand, and he opens fire. The other medical staff scatter, cowering around the walls of the operating theatre. He disconnects Ellie from the anaesthetic and monitoring equipment, scoops her up in his arms, and turns for the door.

Back out into the corridors and looking for an escape route, Joel flees the scene. Behind him, the Fireflies are massing, discovering what happened in the operating theatre and realising their one chance, their one hope slipping through their fingers. Finding flashlights and boots and muzzle flashes at every turn Joel fumbles around in the darkness, with the net closing around him with every second that passes.

Then suddenly he sees a light at the end of the tunnel, literally: an open elevator at the end of the corridor. He sprints through the door as fast as he can, hammering the button to close the doors as a group of Fireflies arrive in the corridor, a moment too late to stop him.

The doors ping open in the parking basement revealing Marlene, blocking Joel’s path, pointing a pistol at him.

“You can’t save her,” she says, calmly. “Even if you get her out of here, then what? How long before she’s torn to pieces by a pack of clickers? That’s if she hasn’t been raped and murdered first.”

“That ain’t for you to decide.”

“It’s what she’d want. And you know it. Look,” Marlene says, opening her palms and pointing the pistol away from Joel, trying to defuse the situation. “You can still do the right thing here. She won’t feel anything.”

The Last of Us Joel car

Time skips to Joel, behind the wheel of a car on a highway, with the buildings of Salt Lake City disappearing in his rearview mirror. He looks pensive, closing his eyes as he recalls the encounter with Marlene back at the hospital.

Looking behind him he sees Ellie, still dressed in her hospital gown, coming around from the anaesthetic on the back seat of the car. Joel tells her to take it easy, that the drugs are still wearing off.

“What happened?” She asks.

Joel takes a moment, then draws a deep breath, speaking slowly.

“We found the Fireflies.”

He casts his mind back to Marlene again. She steps towards him, palms open, inviting a dialogue; then we’re back to the car.

“Turns out there’s a whole lot more like you, Ellie. People that are immune. It’s dozens, actually. Ain’t done a damn bit of good, neither.”

Back in the parking garage. Marlene steps closer then, suddenly, a gunshot. She recoils, stunned; then we’re back in the present.

“They’ve actually st–” He pauses, to collect himself. “They’ve actually stopped looking for a cure. I’m taking us home,” Joel says, as Ellie rolls over and falls straight back to sleep.

“I’m sorry.”

Joel flashes back to the parking garage one final time. He stands in the elevator, holding Ellie, with a smoking pistol in one hand. He loads Ellie into the back seat of a car, then, before jumping into the driver’s seat, turns back towards the elevator. Marlene is crawling toward him on the cold concrete floor, bleeding heavily.

“Wait!” She pleads, panting heavily. “Let me go. Please.”

“You’d just come after her,” Joel replies.

They both know it’s true: she would just come after Ellie, try again for a cure. He shoots Marlene in the head.

The Last of Us Joel Ellie jackson county 2

EPILOGUE

The car has given out not far from Jackson, Wyoming. Ellie is sitting in the front seat, idly tracing her fingers over her scar – the source of so much optimism – as Joel works under the hood, trying to get the car going. It’s no use. They’re walking from here. They climb through a barbed-wire fence into a wooded clearing, with a sprawling mat of purple flowers blooming all over the ground and underfoot.

“Don’t think I ever told you,” Joel says, “but Sarah and I used to take hikes like this. I think the two of you would’ve been good friends. Think you really woulda liked her. I know she woulda liked you.”

It’s a simple thing, but it represents a remarkable piece of honesty and vulnerability, and a testament to the changes Ellie has wrought on Joel.

“Yeah,” Ellie replies. It seems curt, especially when Joel is finally opening up to her, but she’s still suffering from PTSD and other things are playing on her mind.

They walk along the banks of a small river, that turns into a beautiful waterfall. Joel climbs up onto the opposite bank, but the tree trunk he used falls down; time for one final moment of teamwork before they can call it a day. Before they can rest. He pulls Ellie up onto the bank, but she calls for him to wait.

“Back in Boston,” she begins. “Back when I was bitten. I wasn’t alone. My best friend was there. And she got bit too. We didn’t know what to do, so, she says ‘let’s just wait it out, y’know, we can be all poetic and just lose our minds together’. I’m still waiting for my turn.”

“Ellie–”

“Her name was Riley and she was the first to die. And then it was Tess. And then Sam.”

“None of that is on you,” Joel says.

“No, you don’t understand.”

“I struggled for a long time with survivin’. And you, no matter what, you keep finding something to fight for. Now I know that’s not what you want to hear right now but it’s–”

“Swear to me. Swear to me that everything that you said about the Fireflies is true.”

He takes a beat to collect himself.

“I swear.”

Ellie ponders Joel’s answer for a moment, before responding.

“OK.”

The Last of Us recap Ellie


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Features

Is The Last of Us Part II worth playing?

The Last of Us Part II is the sequel fans said we didn’t need. Has developer Naughty Dog managed to create a worthy follow up? Here’s what the reviews say.

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The Last of Us Part II - Ellie
Naughty Dog

The Last of Us Part II is the sequel fans said we didn’t need. Has developer Naughty Dog managed to create a worthy follow up to the acclaimed 2013 original? Here’s what the reviews say.

Many players – including us – thought that The Last of Us told the perfect story. Although we were excited by the prospect of a sequel, we were also worried that it might sully that experience and the characters we grew to love.

With The Last of Us Part II, Naughty Dog has not taken the easy path. The game’s narrative and structure are challenging, and the actions required on the part of the player are sometimes uncomfortable to perform. For some reviewers, The Last of Us Part II is just too brutal, too bleak. For others, the game has something genuine to say about violence, survival, and friendship.

One thing all critics can agree on is the level of artistry and technical accomplishment delivered by Naughty Dog. The Last of Us Part II is one of the most impressive console games released this generation, and yet another first-party jewel for the PlayStation 4.

Here are some highlights from our favourite The Last of Us Part II reviews.

The Last of Us Part II review round-up

Eurogamer

“The violence is extremely graphic, uncomfortably so. It’s full of ugly flourishes, like the splattering sound of shotgun pellets ripping apart flesh, or the vicious flick that Ellie uses to slice open a neck as she performs a stealth kill. It can be sickening. Intentionally so? Surely. But I still can’t help but detect a sour, grubby note of gratification to it, particularly in the repetitive context of the combat.”

Essential – Review by Oli Welsh

GamesRadar

The Last of Us Part 2 not only justifies its existence as a sequel most didn’t think was necessary, supplementing and elevating the timeless qualities of its predecessor, but stands confidently apart as an entirely different beast, one bearing its own fangs that bite with just as much force.”

5/5 – Review by Alex Avard

Videogamer

“Where the game succeeds, though, isn’t in how close it scrapes to the level of prestige TV, or to films. Its coup is not, “Look how closely we can make games resemble highbrow art.” It’s more, “Look what previously fenced-off realms we can get interactivity into.” If the drama has quiddity, it isn’t only because of immaculate facial animation, fine acting, or writing that’s been gritted with freshly ground experience; it’s because you are anchored to it in action.”

9/10 – Review by Josh Wise

The Guardian

“This isn’t a straightforward violence-is-bad story. As in most zombie fiction, violence is baked into this world and our interactions with it. Instead, it’s about the motivations for that violence, the endless cycles of retribution that pull individuals or whole populations down into destructive spirals, and what it takes to break those cycles. There were parts of it that I had to endure rather than enjoy, furious or disgusted by what characters were doing – and, by extension, by what I was doing. There will be many players who don’t like where this story takes them, but by God, it’s emotionally effective.”

5/5 – Review by Kez McDonald

IGN

The Last of Us Part 2 is a masterpiece worthy of its predecessor. Taking strides forward in nearly every way, Ellie steps into the spotlight and carries the sequel in a manner that feels like the culmination of everything that’s made Naughty Dog’s blockbuster storytelling so memorable since the original Uncharted on the PlayStation 3.”

10/10 – Review by Jonathon Dornbush

USGamer

“What keeps it from surpassing the original and becoming an instant classic is the way that it starts to spin its wheels in the second half, introducing characters who simply don’t command the same level of investment as Ellie and Dina. It starts to hit the same beats as the first game, including at least three full museum trips. It does the heavy lifting necessary to make the finale feel impactful—including some rather brilliant twists on the conventional boss battle—but there was a point where I just wanted The Last of Us Part 2 to get on with it.”

4.5/5 – Review by Kat Bailey

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The Verge

“When TLOU2 does succeed, which is often, it’s incredible. The moment-to-moment action is tense and brutal. Even though it made me uneasy, I kept pushing ahead to see what would happen next, hoping to find one of those scarce moments of peace. One of the best parts of the game is the boss fights. There are a handful of pivotal conflicts throughout the story, but they don’t play out the way typical video game boss battles do.”

Not scored – Review by Andrew Webster

Gamespot

“… as a character study, The Last of Us Part II is beautiful and haunting, and I found myself completely overwhelmed by the emotional weight of it. In some ways, I mean that literally. The game gave me stress nightmares, not because you kill a lot of people per se, but because playing as Ellie felt more like being dragged by my hair than being immersed in her mission.”

8/10 – Review by Kallie Plagge

Ars Technica

“Trying to extend the story of The Last of Us in a meaningful way was always going to be an uphill battle. What’s so frustrating about Part 2 is that the game seems to have all the pieces necessary to do just that. But those pieces end up getting lost as the game also tries to tell an entirely new story, one that tries to expand the Last of Us world into a generalized setting for an anthology of loosely connected stories. The end result never comes together in a satisfying way.”

Not scored – Review by Kyle Orland

Kotaku

“My playthrough of The Last of Us 2 felt terrible to experience. Over the course of my 27 hours with the game, it grew to the point of feeling nearly unbearable. This wasn’t because it asked me hard questions about my own capacity for harm or revenge, or pulled some Spec Ops: The Line-style moralizing about video game violence. Despite Druckmann’s promised “philosophical questions,” I never felt like the game asked me anything. Instead, it told me “brutality,” repeatedly and louder, until by the end I couldn’t hear what it was trying to say at all.”

Not scored – Review by Riley Macleod


Title: The Last of Us Part II
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release date: June 19, 2020
Platform: PlayStation 4


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Enjoyed this article?

Found it interesting, entertaining, useful, or informative? Maybe it even saved you some money. That's great to hear! Sadly, independent publishing is struggling worse than ever, and Thumbsticks is no exception. So please, if you can afford to, consider supporting us via Patreon or buying us a coffee.


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