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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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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.

“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?

“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.”

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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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.

Tom is an itinerant freelance technology writer who found a home as an Editor with Thumbsticks. Powered by coffee, RPGs, and local co-op.

Features

An idiot’s guide to Crusader Kings 3

Crusader Kings 3 might be good, but it’s the astonishing stories the game produces that have been the real hit. So, naturally intrigued, we sent an idiot to do a king’s job.

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Idiots Guide to Crusader Kings 3
Paradox / Thumbsticks

Crusader Kings 3 might be good, but it’s the astonishing stories the game produces that have been the real hit. So, naturally intrigued, we sent an idiot to do a king’s job.

About two years ago, I decided it was high time I got myself a shiny new gaming PC. While I’d brushed shoulders with the console riffraff for years, I figured – now I was an esteemed video game journalist – it was time to join the ranks of the PC enthusiasts. (Who would, no doubt, be very welcoming and not at all snobbish.) Along with my newfound way of life, I decided to try some acclaimed PC classics, which led me to Crusader Kings 2.

The only problem? Crusader Kings 2 was essentially like sitting through simultaneous rocket science and brain surgery seminars. Who knew medieval nobility were such avid fans of spreadsheets? And why do I have to micromanage my bid to disinherit my son because he’s ugly? In the end, I managed to last a respectable 20 minutes with the Crusader Kings franchise – a feat I was, understandably, immensely proud of.

That was until two weeks ago, when a third Crusader Kings was unleashed unto the world and strategy fans everywhere started posting impassioned threads about the logistics of their absurdist, nudist dynasties.

“Say no more,” I heartily announced. “I shall return to Crusader Kings with my two years of PC gaming credentials.” I can reveal that I did just that, and the experiences I have brought home will be sung about by tavern bards for centuries to come.

It is with this revelation that I can introduce thee to an Idiot’s Guide to Crusader Kings 3!

“Wales was unfortunately captured by nudist Spaniards within a matter of months”

Embarking on my first conquest, I did what all rational lieges do when challenged by a densely packed, comprehensive strategy experience. I pressed the big “skip tutorial” button the first chance I got and, armed with my enhanced political and tactical knowledge, founded a new dynasty. As many might not know, I was actually born and raised in the beautiful lands of Wales. Who better to lead the proud nation of Cymru than its greatest creation?

One tiny problem did emerge, though. Back in the good ole days of 867 AD, three men ruled Wales: Lord Rhodri, Lord Gwgan, and my eventual in-game surrogate, Lord Hywel Ap Rhys. I quickly learned that I’d have to get busy if I ever wanted to take my true place as the Welsh king, and that meant knocking off some of the competition.

It didn’t take me long to realise that Lord Gwgan was the weakest link of our little trio. He held the smallest land, had the ugliest son and, frankly, his unironic bowl cut offended me. So, I decided to declare war on him and see where it went. I can’t say it was the most tactical affair – I literally just sent 1,000 men to oust him from his castle – but somehow I triumphed over the mighty Gwgan and his bowl cut, gaining myself a tasty morsel of land.

crusader kings 3 screenshot 1

With this victory under my belt, I decided next I’d get myself into bed with Lord Rhodri, marrying my heir to his oldest daughter. For some ungodly reason he accepted, and our houses were unified under one beautiful banner. I also figured I’d seduce his wife, thus forming the mother of all pincer movements as I got closer to wiping poor Rhodri off the map. Bafflingly, this also worked, but that’s not to say it went off without a hitch. My second-born son Owain uncovered my genius political plays after I’d drunkenly blabbed them at a feast, and boy, he was not happy.

One year later and, while fighting a brutal war with one of the Irish lords, he’s blackmailing me into replacing my battle-hardened field marshal with him. I buckled and Owain – a boy with about as much military knowledge as Dora the Explorer and a face that looked like a cherry tomato – was commanding my forces. We lost that war, and things only got worse when an army of Spanish nudists decided to dominate England before turning their attention to the west. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but Wales was unfortunately captured by nudist Spaniards within a matter of months.

Not to worry though, I decided my talents were truly wasted on Owain and the now-indecent countryside of Wales. Instead, I’d venture to the wide lands of Africa and stake my claim there.

“Toro eventually became a Ugandan province, but Jim got a nice trip to the beach”

This time, I took up the role of Farbas Bannu of Toro. You see, when Bannu and I met, he was depicted as an honest, wise, and just liege. He openly cared more about family than conflict. Unfortunately, Owain had taught me that nice guys finish last, and I soon turned sweet Bannu into a feared warlord whose name inspired dread.

There was just one catch: Bannu’s kind nature didn’t exactly agree with my cold-blooded need to amass new lands. You see, in Crusader Kings 3, your avatar is overwhelmed by stress when you push the boundaries of their moral code, and I had long since leapt over that boundary and was frolicking in the dark recesses of Bannu’s mind. In turn, he succumbed to drink and then to food; he eventually started lashing out at his family and locking himself away in his tower. By the time he was 55, poor Bannu kicked the bucket due to obesity, splitting the vast lands of Toro between his nine children.

I took over as the heir to the Toro dynasty, Koba, who to my joy, was a much dastardlier protagonist than his deceased father. Not only was he evil at heart, but he also held the “sadistic” trait, meaning our goals were almost perfectly aligned. Problem number one was that Bannu’s decision to share his kingdom between all his kids meant Koba’s bratty younger sister, Hawa, had decided to go independent. She’d created her own kingdom to the east – and at 12 years old too, she’s definitely getting on the Forbes under 30 list – leaving Koba to forcibly remove her from the map.

With that done, Koba set about continuing his father’s mission. He married three women, had 10 children, and soon became the mighty Faama of Toro. The only problem was the colossal nation of Uganda that sat above him, and I soon realised that he’d have to ally with this great foe to succeed. Thus began Koba’s new mission to marry into the Ugandan bloodline, which, with a lot of murder and bribery, he managed to accomplish.

crusader kings 3 screenshot 2

The communion of Koba and the Ugandan princess Malika was a storied one, and soon they conceived two children. But all was secretly not well within this fragile alliance. It didn’t take long to discover that Malika had been cheating on Koba – pipe in the Corrie theme in your heads guys – with his own brother! Scandalous, I know. There was nothing for it. The pair had to be executed for their heinous, soap-opera cliff-hanger of a crime, and Koba was happy to oblige.

All things considered, I probably should’ve thought about how the whole “dead daughter” thing might look to the Ugandan king. With no alliance in place, war broke out. Now, while I’d love to tell you Koba died heroically on the battlefield, bravely defending the honour he lost when Malika lay with his own brother, he actually just died of gout… which, uh, was anti-climactic, I’ll say that much.

He was then succeeded by his son and the next great Faamu of Toro: Jim. I’ll admit, I’d just gotten back from the pub when I granted such a lofty name to the rightful heir to the Toro throne, but after you hear his story, such an uninspiring name feels appropriate. Essentially, Jim was in a bit of a pickle. Uganda’s invading, Koba’s vassals hate him, and he’s deemed a sinner by the church for conceiving a child out of wedlock. So, his solution? Go on a 3-year pilgrimage and let fate do the rest. Needless to say, Toro eventually became a Ugandan province, but Jim got a nice trip to the beach, so it wasn’t all bad…

Through these two epic tales, I hope I have imparted some worthy knowledge. Firstly, that Crusader Kings 3 is an exceptional strategy sim that strips away the soulless conquests of the genre and puts engaging, naturally evolving character interactions at the forefront. It’s involving for all the same reasons Game of Thrones became such a cultural landmark – it shows that politics, people and the subtle underhanded warfare of diplomacy can be so much more engaging than the clashing of steel.

But, more importantly, I hope it revealed that I’m perhaps the most skilled general and politician this side of Toro. When Geoff Keighley and his army of weaponised World Premieres rise up and overthrow our governments, forcing us to rebuild – and trust me, they will – you’ll know where to find me.


Enjoyed this long read? Support Thumbsticks on Patreon to enable more of it. (With more freelance budget, we can commission our resident idiot to write more idiot’s guides!)

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It’s frankly obnoxious how big the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are

Have you ever stopped and thought about just how bloody big the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are? It’s obnoxious. That’s what it is.

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PlayStation 5 Xbox Series X obnoxious size
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Have you ever stopped and thought about just how bloody big the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are? It’s obnoxious. That’s what it is.

Over the weekend, a bunch of scale mockups appeared of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X on Twitter. They’re cute and fun pictures, but what they show is not comfortable to look at.

The first batch – all of these are by Twitter user and character artist Kei Sawada – shows how the PlayStation 5 will stack up against a Nintendo Switch, a small figure of a pumpkin and a ghost, and a 30″ television (including feet/stand).

The beauty of making these 3D models is that they can be moved, manipulated and adjusted as required. So the next logical stage was to add a PlayStation 4 into the mix, to see just how much bigger the PS5 is than its older sibling.

Pretty big, I think you’ll agree. But what about when you lie the PlayStation 5 on its side? Is it any less ridiculous?

No. If anything, it’s more ridiculous laid on its side, sitting on that little circular foot. It looks like it’s on a tiny Lazy Susan, a futuristic white train on a too-small turntable.

But this all feels like we’re bashing the design of the PS5 specifically, doesn’t it? Does it make the PlayStation 5 look any less massive when it’s compared to the Xbox Series X?

Slightly. But at least the Xbox Series X is a somewhat regular shape, if a bit square. (And of course, the Xbox Series S is the only one of the bunch that you could comfortably fit under your telly. It’s a diminutive hero in a rogue’s gallery of titans.)

And finally, for good measure, here are all the next-gen consoles placed near various sizes of television, from the original 30″ screen – which is basically the same height as the PS5 – right the way through to a 50″ panel. And another pumpkin figurine. And a handful of PS4 game boxes. And a cartoon cat, obviously.

The scale of the problem

What does all this mean? Well, it means I’m not sad for missing out on the pre-orders for the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, for one thing. (When I say “missing out” I mean to say that I didn’t even try. We have a baby on the way a week before the release of the new consoles, so I will have neither the time nor the finances, but I’m sure the FOMO will hit soon enough.)

The jokes about the big, square Xbox Series X, that it looked like a fridge freezer – it all seemed ridiculous. That Microsoft would bring out a console that big, that you’d struggle to fit under your living room TV, it felt daft. It’s basically a mass-market custom gaming PC in a mid-sized tower case, which is a brilliant value proposition but still, tough to live with on a daily basis.

Then Sony said, “hold my beer,” and unveiled the PlayStation 5.

It’s almost as wide as the Xbox Series X. It is almost twice as deep. It is about a quarter taller. And the PlayStation fanboys mocked the Xbox for looking like (and being as big as) a fridge! The PS5 looks like the world’s biggest internet router, but instead of hiding it in a cupboard, Sony thinks you’ll put it under your television. Well, if you have an entertainment stand that the damn thing could fit into, which I certainly don’t.

Let me tell you: I struggled with the Nintendo Switch, and that’s tiny. The fact that you can’t lie the Switch dock down on its side, that I can’t put it under my TV where consoles are supposed to go, is so inconvenient to me. The Switch dock sits behind my 55″ TV because there’s nowhere else I could put it – save for collecting dust and cat hairs on the floor – where the Switch wouldn’t be obscuring the screen. Occasionally there are issues with the JoyCons pairing because of the interference (caused by all the other devices) between the Switch and the sofa. I have to reach over the top of my telly to dock and undock the Switch; my wife’s arms aren’t even long enough to do it! It’s such a pain for an otherwise incredibly convenient console.

The answer seems obvious, doesn’t it? The Xbox Series S, the Series X’s diminutive little brother, seems like the right choice. You get the benefit of Xbox’s backwards compatibility and Game Pass stance, its next-generation power, and it’s actually smaller than the previous generation’s Xbox One S. You certainly can’t argue with the value of the Xbox Series S. It offers an entry into gaming, with a brand new console in a new generation, at a price not seen since the PlayStation and N64 era. (And that’s not adjusted for inflation, by the way.)

Xbox Series S horizontal

But there are a couple of compromises with the Xbox Series S that are causes of concern.

There’s that 512GB hard drive, for one thing. It isn’t tiny by any stretch, but as the size of games grows forever larger – and with no disc drive meaning everything needs to be downloaded and installed – it could quickly become a pinch point.

And then there’s the lack of native 4K output. Again, that might not be an issue for some on an entry-level console, but I’ve already got a 4K telly. It seems daft, almost wasteful, to be buying a next-generation games console that won’t make the most of it.

So where does that leave me?

I’m not really sure, to be honest. If I throw away all the other consoles under my telly, I can probably just fit an Xbox Series X in there. (While an Xbox Series S would be an easy, straight replacement for the Xbox One S, but those slight niggles are holding me back.)

The PlayStation 5, on the other hand, is never going to fit, and with the all-digital version practically the same size (just without a disc drive) that isn’t going to help, either. And before anyone says it, getting a new entertainment unit isn’t an option as it matches the rest of the living room set.

So where does that leave me?

Let’s be honest: it’s never ideal to be an early adopter of any new technology and games consoles are rarely any different. There are almost always teething problems and false starts and a lack of compelling software, so maybe it’s better waiting. But how long do you wait? Microsoft promises its games will be cross-generational for years to come, but the fate of PlayStation and third-party titles is less clear cut.

I think what I’m really asking for is the mid-generation, “slim” refreshes of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, that offer all the same power and features but in a more sensible chassis. But given both console makers are already offering “lighter” versions of their consoles, right at the start of the generation? I might be waiting a while.

Waiting. Looking at those obnoxiously big consoles. Wishing I could have one, but knowing they won’t fit in my living room. Resenting them.

Stupid, Brobdingnagian monstrosities.


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The 3D Super Mario games ranked, from worst to best

As Super Mario 3D All-Stars comes to the Nintendo Switch, we take a look back at the long and varied history of Mario’s adventures in three dimensions.

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Super Mario 3D games ranked

As Super Mario 3D All-Stars comes to the Nintendo Switch, we take a look back at the long and varied history of Mario’s adventures in three dimensions.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars might not be the celebration of Mario that many fans wanted, but there’s no denying the quality of the games it includes. Each one has its fans – even Super Mario Sunshine – but how to do they rank among Mario’s other 3D exploits?

Here is our official ranking, ordered from worst to best.

7. Super Mario Sunshine

Well, this is a rare pleasure, a ranked list of video games in which there are no absolute stinkers. That said, it’s probably no surprise to see Super Mario Sunshine as the first entry.

Despite its flaws, Super Mario Sunshine only sits seventh place because of the high quality of the titles that surround it. Its problems are well documented: the camera can be a nightmare, some of the character design is dreadful, and the fiddly blue coin quests overstay their welcome.

But, there is so much to like. Delfino Isle is a wonderful, secret-filled playground. The swoonsome music and balmy holiday tone is a delight. And consider the flawed but fun FLUDD mechanics, which have subsequently influenced Splatoon, the Zelda series, and Super Mario Odyssey. Sunshine is the weakest 3D Mario game, sure, but it’s still full to bursting with wild ideas and concepts. And, of course, it has that adorable rideable Yoshi.

6. Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario 3D Land

Although positioned in the lower reaches of this list, Super Mario 3D Land can comfortably lay claim to being the best handheld Mario game ever made. Alongside Mario Kart 7, it helped to revive the fortunes of the stumbling Nintendo 3DS, proving that the device was capable of delivering immersive and fresh experiences.

On release, 3D Land felt like a slimline version of Super Mario Galaxy, but in retrospect, it’s clearly the first title in a third tier of 3D Mario games. In contrast to the open sandboxes of Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, or the kaleidoscopic planet-hopping of the Galaxy series, the game takes a more controlled approach. With a wealth of levels to explore, 3D Land’s bite-sized structure is closest to NES classic, Super Mario Bros 3. The result is a joyous game that will forever remain the franchise’s best portable-only excursion.

5. Super Mario Galaxy

One of Super Mario Galaxy‘s greatest achievements is how effortlessly it surpasses the constraints under which it was made. Developed for Nintendo’s breakout – but relatively low-powered – Wii console, the game had to both improve on its flawed predecessor, and make complex three-dimensional gaming accessible to the console’s casual audience. It also had to do it using an idiosyncratic control scheme that swapped sticks and buttons for motion and pointer controls.

Super Mario Galaxy achieves all of these things with ease. The game’s emphasis on spherical worlds removes the reliance on a user-controlled camera and keeps the moustachioed plumber centre-stage at all times. The sandbox structure of Mario 64 and Sunshine is replaced by a series of increasingly elaborate and carefully constructed miniature worlds to negotiate.

An abundance of gameplay ideas display a refreshed enthusiasm from Nintendo, with Yoshiaki Koizumi’s team flexing their creative muscles with new power-ups, enemies, and gravity-bending platforming. Combined with sumptuous visuals and a triumphant, orchestral score, Super Mario Galaxy is a giddying adventure from start to finish.

4. Super Mario 3D World

Ranking Super Mario 3D World above Super Mario Galaxy may prove contentious. The game may not be as recklessly inventive as Mario’s Wii adventure, but it’s a masterclass in the art of 3D platforming. 3D World is a more measured outing, but this allows for every block, platform, and jump to be crafted and polished with scientific precision.

The game is equally enjoyable played solo, or in multiplayer with up to three friends. And Cat Mario is an elegant – and often hilarious – way for younger or less skilled players to keep pace. Super Mario 3D World also looks glorious, with a chunky, toys-to-life consistency that is lacking from the next game in this list. And let’s not forget that one of its finest achievements was spun off into its own game with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

3. Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey is the toughest game to place on this list. Its biggest achievement is not the level design, or its cap-based transformations – although they are all quite wonderful – but its generosity. Every corner of the game rewards experimentation, risk, exploration, and curiosity.

Super Mario Odyssey charts an expansive – and often overwhelming – new direction for the series, but it also doffs its cap to those that came before it. On at least two occasions, a nod to the past brought a tear to my eye. At all other times, I was grinning from ear to ear. It’s an amazing experience and capped (pardon the pun) a wonderful launch year for the Nintendo Switch.

2. Super Mario 64

If you wanted to put Super Mario 64 at the top of this list, it would be hard to argue. Much of what we take for granted in the series – and 3D game design in general – debuted here. Like many titles of the era, it can feel rough around the edges, but its ideas still feel fresh, playful and creative.

Having refined the art of 2D platforming with Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island, fans might have expected Super Mario 64 to be a cautious first step into three dimensions. But no, its a supremely confident long jump, followed by a ground pound to mark the game’s place in history.

1. Super Mario Galaxy 2

On paper Super Mario Galaxy 2 has the simplest brief of all the games on this list: make more of the same. Using the core concepts introduced Super Mario Galaxy, Koizumi and his team expand upon that template, and then some.

Gameplay mechanics and ideas that could easily be the foundation of entire games are introduced, chewed up, and disposed of with abandon. The variety is astonishing. Each course is a memorable test of mental mettle and physical athleticism. Each power-up is a delight. Each boss is a thrilling, fast-paced puzzle to solve.

In its post-credits end game, Galaxy 2 is also one of the most demanding, and fulfilling, platformers Nintendo has ever created. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is where Nintendo’s talents in design, artistic expression, and desire to entertain all come together. It’s Mario’s best ever game, and its omission from Super Mario 3D All-Stars is baffling.


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Tabula Rasa: In defence of the amnesiac video game protagonist

It’s a trope so overused it borders on cliché, but perhaps the amnesiac protagonist route is so well-trodden precisely because it is so effective?

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Breath of the Wild silent princess
NIntendo / Zelda.fandom.com

It’s a trope so overused it borders on cliché, but perhaps the amnesiac protagonist route is so well-trodden precisely because it is so effective?

Plato theorised that we are all born with all the knowledge in the world – we simply need to remember it. Marie Antionette once said, “There is nothing new except what has been forgotten.”

Playing with memory and memory loss is a staple of media, and always has been. In The Madness of Hercules by the ancient Greek poet, Euripides, the hero is gripped with madness and can’t remember his own family. In this crazed state, he murders them all and must make amends by undertaking his famous 12 labours. In film it’s been used in every genre – from action movies like Total Recall to romcoms like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Amnesia is also an absolute staple of soap operas – the Australian mainstay of Neighbours uses it frequently. One famous example was in 2002 when fan-favourite Susan slipped on some spilt milk (queue obvious jokes) and lost 3 decades worth of memories. That other beloved form of soap opera, wrestling, also uses amnesia. In 1993 Cactus Jack was powerbombed by Big Van Vader into the concrete floor of the stadium. The character was institutionalised, eventually escaping his mental hospital and developing amnesia before eventually returning to the ring.

Video games are no exception to this ancient trend – and though amnesia plotlines have a reputation for being lazy and schlocky, I am here to defend them. So from Hercules to Cactus Jack to Link – what makes memory loss and retrieval so appealing?

Let’s start with Monument Valley. This British app-game won a Bafta in 2015 for Best British Game. It’s deceptively simple – you must twist and turn the Escher-inspired architecture to navigate the beautiful and geometric landscapes. But as we progress through the first level we are told that Princess Ida must return all the Sacred Geometry that she’s stolen. Just like Hercules, Ida must undertake her own series of labour. We follow Ida on her emotional journey – the shame of discovering her crime, the loneliness of the empty cities, the fear of the antagonistic crows and eventually the joy of redemption and release.

Monument Valley

In 1922 Proust wrote In Search of Lost Time, which includes his famous “madeleine moment”:

“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me […] And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings […] my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”

This hugely evocative moment has been referenced and resurrected many times – most famously in the Pixar movie, Ratatouille, where the food critic Anton Ego is instantly transported back to his rural childhood with just one bite of the eponymous dish.

Old Man’s Journey, like Monument Valley, is another literal voyage into memory and emotion. Like Proust with his madeleines, the player character of this game has memories periodically triggered as you traverse the dreamy landscape. We all know this feeling – a long-forgotten memory that floods our minds, transporting us into a past moment. (As Proust said: “And suddenly the memory revealed itself”.)

This game perfectly represents that feeling. The memory washes over the screen, the sounds and colours so evocative of the past moment. But it is also fixed and nearly static, a fragment we can recall but can’t interact with. As Proust was in search of lost time, so is the main character in Old Man’s Journey. We already know where he has ended up – old and alone on the sea shore – but as we walk with him we uncover that lost time and what has come before.

The Legend of Zelda is one of the most well-recognised legacy properties in the games world. But significantly we know it as Zelda, and it’s her name we remember, even as we take up another game to play as Link. Link is left deliberately blank so that we can project ourselves into him. Scott McCloud, in his excellent book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, he writes: “When you look at a photo or realistic drawing of a face, you see it as the face of another. But when you enter the world of the cartoon , you see yourself.”

The blankness of Link, the simplicity of the sketched out person, leaves room for projection. Enter: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Breath of the Wild wake up link

This is Link at his most blank, most characterless. As the game begins he is stripped of even his iconic outfit – as well as all of his memories. Even the marketing of the game plays into this, the website stating: “Forget everything you know about The Legend of Zelda games”. Forget what came before, just as Link has.

Gradually he recovers his identity, his memories, even the landscape opens up and unfolds before him as he recovers memories. Critically we, the player, build our skills, knowledge and identity alongside Link. This mirroring leverages an enormous emotional payout at the game’s conclusion – good friends of mine wept at the close of Breath of the Wild.

Amnesia used in clumsy hands can be silly and schlocky. But when the rediscovery of memory is used with skill, it builds the closest of relationships between the player and the player character. The Tabula Rasa – or blank tablet – of the character allows us to project ourselves onto them. We discover the past and personality, abilities and history of the PC at the exact moment as the character themselves. We might be separated by the screen, but in that moment our minds are as one, the feelings evoked are perfectly in sync.

Roger Ebert once called cinema an “empathy machine” and games have the potential to create just as much, or even more, empathy for our main characters. Through amnesia plots, alongside the device of having us work to discover memories in tandem with the player character, video games are engineering a significant amount of empathy.


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The Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack, as told by the bands who made it

The soundtrack of a generation: We spoke to Bad Religion, Consumed, Fu Manchu, Lagwagon, The Suicide Machines, Swingin’ Utters and The Vandals about the impact of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.

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Tony Hawk's Pro Skater soundtrack the hawk mix
Activision

The soundtrack of a generation: We spoke to Bad Religion, Consumed, Fu Manchu, Lagwagon, The Suicide Machines, Swingin’ Utters and The Vandals about the impact of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.

There had been licensed music on video game soundtracks before Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. With the advent of Sony’s PlayStation, a disc-based system that allowed for full reproductions of songs rather than chiptune melodies, came the inclusion of licensed music.

Gran Turismo, released in late 1997, was one of the first. It featured a somewhat disjointed mix of British rock album fillers, including Ash’s Lose Control, Garbage’s As Heaven is Wide. Not that they’re bad tracks, of course, but why not Kung Fu or Girl From Mars from Ash? Or Stupid Girl or Only When it Rains from Garbage?

The only arguably “big” songs on the Gran Turismo soundtrack are Feeder’s Tangerine (the game also features a bunch of B-sides from the band) and Everything Must Go by Manic Street Preachers. But this rocky iteration of the soundtrack wasn’t even universal; in other countries, like Sony’s native Japan, the game featured a completely different list of tunes.

Meanwhile, the Grand Theft Auto series – most people’s go-to for “good” licensed video game music – didn’t really get its act together on licensed soundtracks until it hit its retro stride, with the 80s disco mix of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in 2002, and the heady blend of early 90s grunge and hip-hop in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in 2004.

And then, slap bang in the middle of those two frames of reference for licensed video game soundtracks, is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It’s the perfect storm of gameplay, music, attitude and style. It’s crammed full of absolute bangers and, on its release in September 1999, fast became the soundtrack of a generation.

Tony Hawks Pro Skater screenshot 1

POSTER BOYS

I recall seeing Goldfinger at Leeds Festival in 2002. It wasn’t on the main stage, even though other US punk bands – including The Offspring, Weezer, Less Than Jake, and even Sum 41 – got the nod. No, Goldfinger were playing in a tent. It was also two in the afternoon on the first day, while the hungover (or still-drunk, or still-high) masses fought their way from the campsite to the stage area through a literal festival quagmire.

Third on the bill, in a tent, at two in the afternoon, on the first day of the fourth- or fifth-best musical festival in the UK. It was not what you would call an auspicious start.

But Goldfinger had a secret weapon. They still do, 20 years on. It’s a song with enduring popularity and reach that most any band would be jealous of. A song that brings with it a legion of fans and, even better, acts as a conveyor belt to bring in new ones. That song? Superman, the de facto anthem of classic PlayStation game, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, released worldwide three years earlier.

I think it was early – maybe I was hungover, or drunk, or high? – but I don’t remember at what point in their set Goldfinger hit the staccato, ska-punk intro to Superman, but the effect was instantaneous and inspiring. A half-empty tent began to fill. The dribble of crowd meandering outside became a torrent. It was as though they had flipped the switch on an enormous electromagnet, attracting every punk, geek, and skater for miles around.

There were, of course, a few gatekeeping grumbles in the crowd, people complaining that the PlayStation generation weren’t “real” fans of Goldfinger. But those dissenting voices were soon crushed under a throbbing mass of jubilation, of far too many people crammed into far too small a space, united in a singular goal: to dance their asses off to the song from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.

I really don’t recall much else of that Goldfinger show. It was a delirious blur. I had come dressed for the occasion, in a Superman “costume” cobbled together from a vintage DC Comics t-shirt and some things I had begged, borrowed, or stolen then the night before, and spent pretty much the entire set crowd surfing. At one point, I came together with an inflatable – I think it might have been a rubber dinghy? I have no idea where that came from, or how I collided with it – and was dumped into a crashing heap in front of the stage.

Winded and a little groggy, possibly sporting a concussion, a very kind security guard got me a bottle of water and allowed me to sit on steps on the edge of the stage. I recall singing along to 99 Red Balloons, looking out at the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen crammed into a festival tent.

I’m not saying that Goldfinger owes their success to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, of course. They’re a brilliant band with an incredible catalogue and a killer live show. But the positive impact of featuring on that soundtrack is obvious.

And they’re not the only band who saw a shift following the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater screenshot 2

SIDE A: TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER

The Vandals, formed in 1980 in California, were part of a burgeoning punk rock scene with the likes of Bad Religion, Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies and Social Distortion. They signed for Epitaph Records, the Los Angeles label run by Bad Religion’s Brett Gurewitz, in 1982, and the band’s popularity grew.

In 1999, when Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater launched on the PS1 – featuring Euro Barge, from their 1998 album Hitler Bad, Vandals Good – The Vandals had been established for almost two decades. But the impact, even to a group of punk rock veterans, was noticeable.

“We were in our 20s and 30s when the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game was released,” Joe Escalante, founder member and bassist of The Vandals, tells me. “Soon we started seeing 8-year-olds at our shows. It took a while, but we finally started asking their parents from stage what they were doing there and they said it was [because of] Tony Hawk.”

The Vandals, along with Primus and punk veterans Dead Kennedys, were the big-name artists on the roster. For a band like The Suicide Machines, however, who had a much smaller fanbase and were by their own admission struggling to make an impact via traditional channels, being on the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack was enormous.

“We were already pretty deep into DIY touring before Tony Hawk Pro Skater and would have a few hundred people at most shows,” vocalist Jason ‘Jay’ Navarro recalls. “We signed to Hollywood Records and they tried pushing our songs No Face and SOS at MTV and radio and it really didn’t work. I swear after the game our shows were packed up to 1000 people a night. It did more for our band then our label did for our band.”

Rumour has it that Tony Hawk himself had a hand in the selection of the bands and tracks. With such a positive impact on the bands involved, it’s yet another story of the good the skating legend has had on the community and the scene as a whole.

“I’m not sure how [it happened], honestly? We were on Warp [the Warped Tour] out West when Tony was on it a few days skating. Maybe he saw us? No clue how that song was chosen. We didn’t pick it,” Navarro tells me, but he is very glad someone did.

“The lyrics [to Euro Barge] are an homage to the pains of touring Europe, that’s why Tony latched on to it,” Escalante says, confirming Hawk’s part in selecting the soundtrack. “He’s paid his dues over there and there are deep cultural differences that all Americans struggle with. The “Euro-Barge” was our term for how Europeans have no problem cutting in lines anywhere. But the song goes on from there, calling them out for all their sins. All in fun, of course!”

The funny thing is, in spite of its popularity among their fans (in no small part due to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater), The Vandals rarely play Euro Barge live, if at all.

“We hardly ever played the song Euro Barge, maybe because we played the game so much in the tour bus we were sick of hearing it,” Escalante says. “But over the years, even though we seldom play it, it remains the #1, 2, or 3 top-performing song on any list ranking our songs, in sales or streams, etc.”

“The truth is it’s actually hard to play,” he confesses, “because Josh wrote it in this f’d up 7/8 time signature, so we never thought we were getting it exactly right, even though we love the song.”

Not all of the bands we spoke to for this feature played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater – more on that later – but like Escalante, Navarro remembers it fondly.

“It was a fun game to play,” he says. “Played tons of hours on it. I have been skating since 1985? Or 86. I felt it represented skating well. As far as all spectrums of our culture.”

That’s the crux of it, isn’t it? Neversoft’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was, of course, a very good video game. It plays brilliantly and it captured the sense of freedom that comes with creative skateboarding. But that in itself is not enough. Games don’t get remade, 20 years down the line, unless they’re something truly special.

And Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was something incredibly special, probably because it fell at the intersection of so many different subcultures, a Venn diagram of things that are so close to overlapping, of punks and skaters and nerds. The soundtrack was a core element of that, stitching together skateboarders and gamers with a fabric of punk rock, with hints of ska, metal and hip-hop.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater screenshot 3

SIDE B: TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER 2

With the success of the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, it was inevitable that there would be a sequel. It was also inevitable that the stakes of the soundtrack would be upped. If people thought it was surprising to see anti-establishment punk pioneers Dead Kennedys on the first game’s tracklist, it was a real shock to see Rage Against the Machine’s Guerilla Radio and Bring the Noise by Anthrax & Public Enemy on the sequel.

But at the heart of the sequel’s California skate scene, punk rock roots, was You by Bad Religion, from their 1989 album, No Control. I asked Jay Bentley, bassist and founding member of Bad Religion, about the impact of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 on the band and the wider punk scene.

“The game went hand in hand with a burgeoning lifestyle that was taking hold, with the advent of the X Games and the Warped Tour,” Bentley tells me. “Bands like us were the soundtrack to this Southern California lifestyle. The impact of Pro Skater 2 just blew the roof off skate culture. We met a lot of people whose introduction to Bad Religion was from that game.”

For a massive band like Bad Religion, a younger generation of fans is a bonus. But Bentley found one young skater in particular, a lot closer to home, who he connected with over Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.

“My oldest son was 9 when it came out. He loved it. Played it religiously. I thought the game was fantastic. I wasn’t any good at it,” Bentley admits, “but it was still cool. It led to us building a half pipe in the backyard for him to skate, and that’s all that matters.”

“Get out and skate!” He adds.

As with the first game, all of the bands I spoke to weren’t entirely sure how their track came to be chosen, but the underlying theme was that the skaters involved – and, of course, Tony Hawk – had a hand in selecting the tunes.

“It is my understanding that the individual skaters that Tony asked to be in the game came in with songs they wanted,” Bentley recalls. “It may have been Eric Koston (but I really can’t remember) that wanted You. Anyway, Tony reached out to Brett [Gurewitz, guitarist with Bad Religion] and that was that.”

Joey Cape, vocalist of Lagwagon, also credits Hawk himself with their place on the soundtrack. He also recognises the power of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 in pushing the band to a wider audience, far beyond the traditional reach of radio and MTV.

“I think a friend at our record label said Tony had reached out and asked for the song specifically,” Cape says. “I remember being offered the chance to be a part of a skateboarding video game backed by Tony Hawk and saying, ‘Hell Yeah!’. I do think the song choice was the right one for the game. I’m so happy they picked May 16th because, whatever song they had chosen, it would inevitably be on every setlist from then on. Lucky for Lagwagon, we still enjoy playing the song, and now we have our own day.”

“I have said it many times before, “Cape continues, “it’s almost like May 16th is our only single. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 soundtrack made the song a hit in our world and beyond. Somewhat miraculous for a band that did little in radio and video. Other bands involved seem to feel the same way. The soundtrack is kind of legendary now.”

When asked if he enjoyed the game, Cape is one of the musicians that remembers it fondly.

“Oh yeah, I played it,” he says. “It’s a great game regardless of your background in skateboarding and even cooler if you grew up in board sports. I remember not being all that skilled at the game, but thinking it was so well-done and it was a rush to hear our song while playing it.”

But as I said earlier; not every band on this list played the game on their tour bus, jamming out tricks between shows. Scott Hill, guitarist and vocalist of Fu Manchu, is very quick to admit that he’s not a big gamer. But he does recognise the value of a new generation of fans brought in by Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.

“I’m not the biggest video game player,” he admits, “but I have younger nephews who played it a lot and I did play it. It was fun,”

“We did notice a lot of younger fans getting into the band,” he continues. “A lot of people that would have never heard Fu Manchu heard us because of that game. We get fans all the time telling us that they first heard of us from the game. Not sure about increased record sales, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt!”

“I’m embarrassed to say that I have never played it,” Johnny Bonnel, lead vocalist of Swingin’ Utters, also confesses. “I’ve watched it a few times and it looks fun, but I’m just not that dude. I had a few dreams playing it but my reaction time was underwater. Everyone that has played it says it’s siiiiiiick! I guess I’m missing out on the sickness.”

But like so many of the bands I spoke to, Bonnel doesn’t underestimate the importance of getting their shot on the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 soundtrack. (Even if he doesn’t know how they ended up there.)

“I wish I had a cool story about getting on the soundtrack. Maybe there actually is a cool story but I don’t know it. I remember Erin and Mike being happy about it, so that made me happy. Max was the one who told me and I couldn’t believe it!”

“It seemed so huge at the time that it made me nervous,” he recalls. “Five Lessons Learned was the song choice and it is one of my favourite songs. Jennifer Koski wrote most of it which makes it that much better! I dedicate Five Lessons Learned to all women skaters when we play it at our shows.”

“The game is globally popular so we were seeing an influx of new, younger followers on our tours,” Bonnel says. “It was the height of our popularity and buzz. I heard our sales increased – makes sense. I, often, mingle with the people who come to our shows and there is always a few people that offer unsolicited information about how they found out about Swingin’ Utters and most of the time it is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. All over the world, I am known as the dude who sings on a song on the soundtrack of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2.”

“Pretty sweet,” he adds. “Thank you, Tony!”

But for all of the big bands on the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 soundtrack, it was again the opportunity afforded to lesser-known bands that was most exciting. Far from the skateparks and sunshine of Southern California were Consumed, a punk rock band from Nottingham, right here in the UK.

“Consumed was never destined for huge success,” Chris Billam, the band’s drummer, tells me. “We were happy with being reasonably well known within the UK punk scene back in the day, but we lacked any real ambition to push the band to where it perhaps could have got to. After being picked up by Fat Wreck Chords in the late 90s, we were lucky enough to travel that bit further and reach a wider audience. These were good times for the band and we were very lucky to have the opportunities and experiences we had. One of the biggest opportunities for further exposure came when we were told by the label that Activision wanted Heavy Metal Winner to feature on the soundtrack to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.”

Like Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, Rage Against the Machine, and other bands with an anti-establishment bent, however, Consumed faced some flak from parts of the punk rock world, who felt it was “corporate” and “selling out” to appear on a video game soundtrack.

“Inevitably, there were a few grumbles from the punk rock elite who believed Consumed had sold out,” Billam recalls, “and that we’d let the scene down terribly by agreeing to be involved. I also remember hearing rumours that we’d been paid enough money to set us all up for life. In reality, we did get a small one-off payment which went towards the band’s debt and a copy of the game each.”

I’d argue that if people are giving you the same grief as they’re giving Dead Kennedys and Bad Religion, you’re at least in some very good company. Like all of the bands I’ve spoken to, though, Billam was keen to reiterate how positive the experience was for the band.

“We were aware of the success of the first game,” he continues, “and that one of its biggest draws was the soundtrack, so we felt honoured to be asked to be on the soundtrack of the sequel. For a virtually unknown band to be sitting alongside huge names from the world of punk, metal and hip hop will always be something for us to be extremely proud of.”

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater screenshot 4

BONUS TRACK: TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER 1 + 2

When the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 remake was announced on May 12, 2020 – and the initial excitement over playing them again (without having to dig my PS1 out from the attic) subsided – my thoughts immediately turned to the soundtrack. Which songs would be on it? Would Activision be able to reacquire all the licenses? Would the bands involved the first time around even still be interested?

So began this feature and, over the intervening four months, I reached out to (pretty much) every band on the soundtrack from the original games. Some of the bands involved no longer exist, while others haven’t made it back onto the remake’s soundtrack for unknown reasons. But every band I spoke to, without exception, is thrilled to be back on the soundtrack for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2.

“I’m honoured and grateful to be part of the remix,” says Jay Bentley of Bad Religion. “I hope it spawns a whole new generation of skaters. That’s how I grew up and look at me!”

Like Bentley two decades earlier, building a halfpipe in the garden with his son, Lagwagon’s Joey Cape sees his band’s presence on the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 soundtrack as a link to his teenage daughter’s love of skating, in addition to a great opportunity for the band.

“When Pro Skater was first released, many of Lagwagon’s fans were already skaters. I do think the new version could bring some younger fans to the soundtrack and in turn, the bands,” he says. “My daughter, for example, is 16 and she and her friends are skaters now. It’s really cool to witness the relationship between skateboarding and punk rock resurface. It always made sense. The sound and sport reunite over and over again.”

“It’s great. It did turn a lot of people onto our band and if people like the song on the soundtrack, I think they will do some digging around to find more by our band,” Fu Manchu’s Scott Hill tells me.”

“Always looking to gain new fans!” He adds, acknowledging the function of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater as an on-ramp for fans, turning them on to a band’s whole back catalogue through hearing one song while playing the game.

Johnny Bonnel of Swingin’ Utters, meanwhile, promises to make the most of being on the soundtrack for a second time.

“I’m really pleased with being on the remastered soundtrack! Looking back, I was not in a good frame of mind at the height of our popularity,” he recalls. “We were touring with Social D [Social Distortion] and NUFAN [No Use For A Name] and Lunachicks! I should have been ecstatic at the direction we were headed. Instead, I was a grump. I want to make a promise to the new generation of fans: I will love you unconditionally.”

“I played the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 a year or so ago and it still feels great when our song pops up,” Chris Billam says, of Consumed’s return to the soundtrack. “To be included in the remake feels just as exciting as it did 20 years ago. As well as a welcome nostalgia trip for us older folk, it’s a chance for a whole new generation of gamers to hear the original soundtrack and discover musical avenues they may not have explored without playing games from the THPS series.”

“Yes, I’m pretty excited,” Jason ‘Jay’ Navarro of The Suicide Machines tells me. “We are also on the documentary about the game with a new song. I just hope it’s as fun as the first game and or better. We were insanely lucky to be on this game it changed the path of our band I believe. I just hope it interests gamers of all walks of life to go out and get on a board for real.”

Only time will tell if Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 has the same impact as the original games. The critical reception to the game has been incredible (our review is coming soon) and if the game’s popularity follows the same trajectory as the originals, then the experience should again be positive for everyone I’ve spoken to.

But for a new generation of bands, they’re also getting their shot. For every song that didn’t come back for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, another three have taken their place. There are over three dozen new tunes on the remake’s soundtrack, including punk luminaries like The Ataris, Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish. But there are also bands you might not know, bands you may never have heard of if they weren’t featured on the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack.

And that’s the most exciting thing, isn’t it? The idea that any scrappy little band can be given a meteoric boost, just because they got the nod from Tony Hawk and his crew.

The soundtrack of a generation is back, then. It’s still the soundtrack of my generation, but now, it’s the soundtrack of the next generation of skaters, punks and geeks, too.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater screenshot 5

LINER NOTES

I’d like to say a big thank you to all of the bands who took part in this feature, and to all the representatives who made it happen. You’ve all been excellent sports and this article literally wouldn’t have worked without you.

(And if you’re reading this, John Feldmann, I’d still like to talk to you and hear your thoughts on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Goldfinger quickly turned into my white whale for this feature!)


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