I want to say this up front: SPOILERS! If there’s any chance you could experience this story for yourself, whether by playing it or watching someone else, don’t read this article. The ending will be discussed in detail, don’t ruin it for yourself.
A.I. partners in games have typically been a detractor, especially when forced upon players. For years the best was Tails in Sonic 2, as his actions (or lack there of) did not effect gameplay. With the last generation coming to a close (PS3/X360/Wii), A.I. partners have started to appear more. Thankfully, they’re coming from smart developers like Irrational (Bioshock Infinite) or here with Naughty Dog, who completely nail the concept.
Many times during combat, if not for Ellie, I would have died. Whether it was her stabbing an attacker in the back with her switch blade while I was being overwhelmed, or calling out unseen enemies flanking me, I needed her. The first time she called out “Joel! On the left!”, pointing out someone I didn’t see who would have ended me, I realized how valuable she was. Adding to this was the constant conversations between her and Joel throughout the game. I fell in love with this girl, like Joel eventually did.
Inventory systems have always been a funny thing in games. From the omnipresent teleporting box of holding in Resident Evil to the pouches capable of holding hundreds of oversized swords in RPGs, they’ve always come with a suspension of disbelief. I loved the inventory system here. The real time backpack brought a much needed sense of reality to the grounded portrait the game was painting. As a life long gamer, I would have accepted the typical pause to select item methods I’m accustomed to. Now, I expect a higher standard from games like this (I’m looking at you Rockstar).
Again, SPOILERS. An interesting story archetype that’s become popular lately (mostly thanks to Breaking Bad), is the deconstruction of the protagonist. It’s made apparent earlier on that Walt will eventually become the villain. What makes Last of Us so gut-wrenching is Joel’s evolution coming as a complete surprise. Joel is the bad guy. In retrospect, there were clues to this beforehand, particularly against David’s cannibalistic group. Though, considering the antagonist, Joel was easily reconcilable. It wasn’t until the last scene where Joel was cemented as a selfish liar.
They were going to kill Ellie, hoping to reverse engineer a cure. What made it worse was Joel wasn’t allowed to talk to her or see her on last time. After everything he did to save her, and all the times she saved him, there was no way he could simply let her go. As I battled my way through the Fireflies to rescue her, all I could think of was the many or the few. Who was more important? In typical video game fashion, I expected a choice, to let her live or die. In my mind, I had already made up my mind, save her. The choice was completely taken out of my hands. Joel was meant to save her.
Again, this was the choice I would have made if one was presented. Seeing how Joel handled it after, I think I would have made the wrong choice. Ellie awoke from her drug induced slumber, asking what happened. He lied, saying there were dozens who were immune, but they were still unable to manufacture a cure. Despondent, she doesn’t reply. She knew he was lying. Adding to the dark scene, seeing Joel shoot Marlene in the head as she begged for her life, saying “You’d just come after her” turned my stomach.
I think it was very telling that for the final scene you controlled Ellie. Ellie knew Joel was lying though, and didn’t know what to do, solemnly dragging her feet as they walked. Eventually she broached the subject, asking Joel to swear that everything he said was true. He swore, and the game ends with her saying, “Okay.” The look in her eyes sold the moment, she didn’t believe him. I could write paragraphs on everything from the technology to the acting that sold that look . She had been waiting to die since she was bite.
Who’s to say the Fireflies didn’t give her a choice, or discuss it with her beforehand? She likely was willingly sacrificing herself, and Joel took that away from her. He took her choice away. I sympathized with Joel completely. He doomed the world for selfish reasons, which in itself was bad enough. His choice to save her would have been different if Ellie asked him to save her, but she didn’t (nor was she given the chance to really). He took it upon himself to save her, damning the world. He destroyed the only thing he had worth living for while trying to save it. He now has nothing, and doesn’t realize it.
I couldn’t believe that I had been playing as the villain the entire time. Joel was outright the bad guy. I would have done exactly what he did, killed whoever I had to to save her. But the lying…
What did you think the ending? What was your favorite subtlety? Comment below!