Day 14 (May 18, 2015)
After farewelling Tommy, The Last of Us begins to gather momentum towards its climax. It’s unfortunate this game has to end at all, but there’s only so much travelling a middle-aged man and a teenage girl can do across a post-apocalyptic USA.
I should also note that we are now also entering my favourite part of the game, for reasons I will discuss later.The mission to track down the Fireflies next takes Joel and Ellie to the University of Eastern Colorado, as instructed by Tommy. They enter through the front gate in style, on a horse, of course, and soon you’ll be able to wander around the campus with a certain level of freedom. There’s a little bit of scavenging at this point, some zombies to kill, but for the most part it’s more of the same.
The highlight of this entire chapter of the game is, needless to say, the monkeys. I know what you’re thinking, and I’m sure you know what I’m thinking.Nothing would have pleased me more to discover that the game had a secret major twist — that the whole world has in fact been overtaken by super intelligent apes. Alas, it turned out they were just normal test monkeys, but it was still cool to see them wandering around the labs and on campus. A very nice touch, Naughty Dog.
Anyway, a little while later, the game does offer a huge twist, one that the developers actually lied to protect before the game was released.
During an ensuing cut-scene tussle with Hunters, Joel topples off a second-floor railing and pierces his torso on a protruding screw.You have to try and make it out staggering around like Lindsay Lohan on a Friday night, while Ellie saves your ass time after time against oncoming baddies. Eventually, Joel collapses and the screen fades to black.
Now what?! Is that it? Joel’s dead and the game’s over?
Then this screen pops up:A cute little bunny bounces out of a burrow in the snow. Hi bunny!
And then…That’s Ellie’s doing. She’s still around, shooting rabbits in the snow. But where’s Joel?
We don’t find that out for now because Ellie is distracted by a deer and the next part of the game is about hunting it down.
It’s nice to see that Ellie has chosen the bow and arrow as her weapon of choice, joining a short list of strong female characters who have made the same decision.
And her too.Her as well.
And of course her!Nevertheless, the deer hunting leads Ellie to a couple of creepy dudes, led by this guy, David, a seemingly normal dude just out looking for food for his people. It is at this point that we find out that Joel is actually still alive somehow and Ellie is in need of medicine to help him stave off an infection. David is the kinda guy that immediately reminds you of an actor, and in this case it’s John Hawkes, specifically from his performance in Winter’s Bone. I dunno if it’s the hair or the creepiness or just the snow, but he would be perfect for the movie version, no? Ellie reaches a tentative agreement for David’s nervous companion, James, to go back to their camp to get some antibiotics in exchange for the deer she shot down. Of course, as they wait for James to return, zombies — including a bloater — come attacking, and together Ellie and David have to fend them off.
As I noted earlier, the segment where you play as Ellie is probably the best of the entire game. It’s a small fraction of the story in the grand scheme of things, but it’s also the most tense in terms of gameplay and emotionally involving in terms of the storyline. Having gotten used to Joel and built him up into quite a formidable dude, it was great to have to go back to basics with Ellie, who starts off with just a bow and a knife. She can’t punch people out like Joel, so you have to use your smarts a little more, and the way she flings her entire body at enemies to take them down is more visually spectacular than what Joel does.
It’s also interesting from a plot perspective, because up to that point the player controls Joel to protect Ellie. Now it’s the other way around, and Ellie gets the opportunity to show you what she’s capable of. She’s more vulnerable than Joel, and that sense of anxiety is really transferred to the player as you control her.Eventually, James returns with the medicine and Ellie returns with it to Joel. It would have been funny if she had found him dead, or if the medicine kills him, but as required by the plot he recovers, though not before their hideout is discovered by David and his men and Ellie is forced to try and lead them away.
The Ellie action is unfortunately short-lived, as she is captured by David and taken back to his camp. The scene cuts to Ellie in a cage, and this is when we discover David’s poorly kept secret. Yes, in yet another Walking Dead parallel, David and his followers are cannibals! But instead of wanting to eat Ellie, David recognises her awesomeness and tries to recruit her.I found this revelation to be extremely well done. There’s nothing particularly visceral about it; in fact, it’s kind of unveiled in a matter-of-fact manner. It’s not staged as something extra shocking, almost as though the gamemakers excepted you to have guessed it already.
Meanwhile, Joel awakens and becomes generally the same as before, albeit a little pale. Now the game shifts back to Joel, and he’s going on an exciting rampage of violence to rescue Ellie. If you’ve ever wondered how Liam Neeson feels as he goes about his business in Taken, here’s your chance to experience it first hand.Interestingly, my playing style naturally evolved along with Joel’s emotions. I’m usually quite conservative and careful, but with Ellie’s life on the line, I’m going all out and busting caps up people’s asses left and right, taking no prisoners and beating the shit out of everything in sight.
There’s one particular scene where Joel gets his hands on a couple of David’s henchmen and must force them to spill the beans on Ellie’s whereabouts. If you’ve ever wondered how Jack Bauer feels as he goes about his business in 24, here’s your chance to experience it first hand.If I were to guess what would happen next, I would say that Joel would find Ellie and rescue her after killing everyone in David’s camp. That’s the typical male hero fantasy gamers are used to. Thankfully, The Last of Us is no typical game, and I was ecstatic to discover that Ellie will get to finish out this chapter of the game as its protagonist. The perspective shifts back to her and she kills stupid James, setting up an epic showdown with David in a burning restaurant/inn.
Without her weapons, however, this climatic battle plays out differently. All Ellie has is a knife, and she must evade the gun-wielding David on the one hand while finding ways to sneak up behind him on the other so she can stab him. Being the tough dude David is, one stab won’t do the trick, and you’ll have to repeat the difficult task three times to trigger the next cut scene. Trust me, it’s well worth it.In many ways, this is the true climax of the game. It’s essentially the last time you get to use Ellie (OK, there’s one more time, but you don’t get to do anything), and the next and final chapter of the game is surprisingly tame compared to this one because it focuses more on the emotional journey of the characters. I’ll get to that in my next post, where I will also deliver my overall verdict on the game.