Retro Review: The Last of Us Part 1
A true Retro Review should be a look back at something that was important in the past — to all or just to us — through the lens of today. On The Spinchoon, it might be a movie, a video game, a TV show, or something else. To see the rest of our series, look here at the Retro Review Feature Page.
The Last of Us was the highlight of my year in 2013. When it came out, to me, it was the perfect game. I got it day one and played it until I had to hold my eyes open to stop from falling asleep. It was a rare game for me: one of those games that, when it's over, you want nothing more than to start it over and jump back in.
The next year, the remastered version came out for PS4, and my love affair got even deeper this time. Not only did I replay the story, but I also fell hard into the multiplayer mode. At the time of writing this, The Last of Us Part II has a new release date of June 19th, and I couldn’t be more excited. With all this extra time, this meant I had no excuse not to jump back into the first one, and refresh my memory about what I call my favorite game of all time.
What I wanted to do here was to review the game, while recapping the story to this point, getting myself and all of you up to speed and ready for The Last of Us Part II. This goes without saying but there will be spoilers here.
The combat was my favorite part of The Last of Us. Every action felt like it had weight behind it. Every swing of a melee weapon, every shot fired, and every punch thrown all felt amazing. The hand to hand combat is extremely brutal and can change pending on where you are fighting. Out in the open, you may just throw a few haymakers, but if you're fighting by a wall, you will grab your enemy and smash them into the wall; it's oddly satisfying.
I found myself trying to get into fist fights rather than pulling the trigger. Partly because ammo was scarce, but mainly because of how great it felt to throw some punches. Some fights would not go your way, and you would have to run away, to gain your footing and try again. In other instances, your enemy can really get the upper hand, and you have to mash a button to get yourself out of the predicament.
Walking around the extremely detailed maps really transports you out of your home and into their world.
The map design, to me, is perfect.
It's a linear game, but the maps are still pretty open. There are plenty of areas to explore that are off the beaten path, and easily missed, if you don’t want to explore. Even when the maps were at their biggest and most open, the game still does a great job at getting you in the right direction, and I never felt lost for long. The world is in shambles, and while you walk around, I could smell the grass, and feel the water; it was done in such a way that I felt like I was in the game. Not many developers can make this magic happen the way Naughty Dog can.
Major spoilers begin here
No matter how many times I play this game, the prologue always gets me teary eyed. It’s amazing how the game can achieve such emotions before you have time to get to know the characters.
The game opens, and you are playing as a young girl named Sarah.
While walking around your house, you hear on the news about a virus spreading, but you do not know to what extent yet. You are looking for your father, Joel. Joel comes into the house frantically and is trying to get a grip on what’s going on. Joel, Sarah, and Joel’s brother, Tommy, are going to drive out of the city and try to escape the infection.
This is when the madness really begins. While driving away you come across a family that needs help. Both Sarah and Tommy want to stop and help but Joel makes them drive past them. After some arguing, they go past them. People are in an absolute panic, running through the streets, traffic backed up for miles, and just chaos everywhere. While trying to navigate around people you are blindsided by another vehicle. This is when the game shifts your control to Joel.
Sarah’s leg is hurt in the crash so you carry her while you continue to get out of danger. Joel and Tommy split up and this is when Joel is confronted by a soldier. Joel is pleading with the soldier that they are not infected but the soldier is given the order to open fire. After the soldier open fires, Tommy comes back to take out the solider, but it was too late, and Sarah is fatally wounded. Joel picks up Sarah and she lets out a cry—that cry is what always gets me.
It feels so real.
Sarah dies in Joel’s arms, and then we snap to twenty years later.
We resume play as Joel, twenty years later, in Boston. The state of the world is just a wreck.
People are struggling to survive. Food and supplies are tough to come across.
The U.S. is in a state of military take over. We meet Tess, who seems to have a history with Joel, and the two of them sneak out to go on a supply raid. They were screwed over by an arms dealer who sold their supplies to the Fireflies. The Fireflies are the "good guys" of the story, They are survivors looters and killers but they are fighting to find a cure to try to save humanity. When Joel and Tess decide they are going to go looking for the Fireflies, they run into their leader, Marlene.
Marlene promises them guns and supplies if they smuggle something out of the city for them. You soon find out what you are smuggling is a young girl named Ellie. She is believed to be the key to ending the pandemic; Ellie was infected but she never turned. You need to bring her to the Capitol building to meet up with the other Fireflies.
You have some encounters along the way, with both infected and soldiers, but you finally make it there with Ellie. Once there, you see that the Fireflies you were supposed to meet up with have been slaughtered. While trying to think of what to do next, Tess tells you that she was bitten. Soldiers are approaching, and Tess wants to buy Joel time, so he can escape with Ellie.
Reluctantly Joel agrees and he and Ellie escape.
Joel has an idea to meet up with his brother Tommy. It’s going to be a long journey, so Joel first stops by a friend of his named Bill, to ask for a favor and get a car. When you are near Bill's, he has traps set up everywhere.
One traps Joel and leads to an amazing gameplay sequence.
Joel is caught and hanging upside down with infected approaching. While hanging upside down you have to take out all the approaching infected.
When you meet up with Bill, you go out looking for supplies needed to get a car running. During this time, there is great dialogue between all of them, with a lot of humor coming from Ellie. There are a lot of hard gameplay segments here that are leading up to a big encounter in a school.
It's the first time you face off against a bloater.
Bloaters are infected that have been infected for a long time and throw harmful gas your way. They take a lot more damage to kill than the other infected. While running around the gym of the school you have to manage your resources to take out the infected and the bloater.
After making it out, and getting a car fixed, you start heading to Tommy’s. The road is blocked, and you are forced to try to cut through Pittsburgh, where you are ambushed by hunters. There is a lot of stealth and action sequences as you battle it out with these hunters and try to make it through the city.
You eventually run into two brothers, Sam and Henry. Sam is around Ellie’s age, and there are some very human interactions where you see he just wants to be a normal kid, which seems it can never be possible in the world they live in. Sam and Henry join you on your quest to escape the city, which ends up leading to one of my favorite gameplay moments. You find yourself pinned down by a sniper and Joel decides he is going to separate from the group to try to flank the sniper. You battle your way across the open area to finally flank the sniper. This leads to you picking up the sniper and providing some cover for Ellie, Sam, and Henry to make it across to you.
After this encounter, the four of you are laying low getting ready to escape the next morning, Sam is acting a little strange and then it’s revealed only to the player that he was bitten. The next morning Ellie goes to wake up Sam and we see that he has turned. Henry stops Joel from killing Sam and then Henry does it himself. He points his gun to Joel and blames Joel. Henry then put the gun to himself and fires.
When we start back up in fall Joel and Ellie are close to Tommy’s. Joel is nervous about seeing Tommy since they have not spoken in years. The time that has passed didn’t matter and Tommy is happy to see Joel. Tommy introduces him to his wife and shows him the life that they have built. They are turning a plant into a self sustaining area for people to live.
Joel explains to Tommy what is going on and Tommy agrees to bring Ellie to the Fireflies lab at the University of Colorado. Ellie feels betrayed by Joel that he is just going to leave her so she steals one of Tommy’s horses and runs away. Joel and Tommy saddle up and go chasing after her. When they finally get to her Ellie has an emotional moment with Joel where she calls him out on leaving. Joel tells her that he is leaving and she is going with Tommy. On the ride back to town Joel has a change of heart and decides to take her to the lab himself, telling Tommy to stay with his family.
When you finally make it to the lab something feels off. There are infected in the area and everything looks rundown. When you make it into the lab it’s empty and destroyed. A pack of hunters comes into the area and then the fight begins. You’re trying to fight your way out but something goes wrong. Joel is surprised by an enemy and the two of them wrestle and fall off a balcony. When Joel lands a piece of rebar goes right through him leaving him critically wounded.
The lights are fading as you try to fight through the pain and blood loss. Ellie is taking control and keeping you safe as she helps to get you out. You end up escaping on horseback when Joel loses consciousness and falls off the horse.
Winter opens in a snowy landscape and we are playing as Ellie. At this point, as the player, you start to wonder if Joel made it out of the lab. You are hunting for food as Ellie when you run into David and James. You barter with them and trade them food for medicine. At this point, you feel a little relief. If she wants medicine Joel must be alive.
James leaves to go get medicine and David stays with you. While he is gone you are attacked by a horde which leads to a very difficult combat section but it seems Ellie may be starting to trust David. After the challenging combat section, you and David sit by a fire where David starts to tell a story. He tells Ellie that a group of his men went out looking for supplies and was murdered by a man with a little girl. James comes back and puts a gun to Ellie. David lets her go with the medicine and then we find out Joel is alive but he is in rough shape.
The next morning David and all his men come looking for Joel and Ellie. Ellie wakes up and tries to lead them away from Joel. Ellie takes her horse and rides out of town leading them on a chase. The end up shooting and killing your horse to stop you and then the foot race begins.
Playing as Ellie you are battling it out with a lot of enemies. Combat with Ellie has a different feel from Joel.
When you try to fight someone, she swings a knife instead of punching, and will always take damage during a hand to hand combat encounter. Ellie’s stealth attack is also much different from Joel’s; Ellie jumps onto their back, brutally stabbing them. This also seems to make a lot of noise, breaking stealth if anyone else is around.
After killing a bunch of people, Ellie is grabbed and choked unconscious by David. When Ellie wakes up she is locked up and sees a human body being butchered.
The game then cuts back to Joel who is struggling to get up. He realizes Ellie is missing and somehow gets the strength to get up and go out and look for her. He is moving slower and clearly in pain but he fights his way through a ton of people and then kidnaps two of them to interrogate them. Joel gets the info out of them by brutally attacking them and then killing them. With this information, he then goes out to find Ellie.
The game then cuts back to Ellie where she is in some trouble. David is about to kill Ellie when she yells she's infected. This bought her enough time to grab their weapon to kill one of them and escape from David. You escape into a storm and have to run, hide, and fight to try to get back to Joel.
When you finally find some shelter you are confronted by David. You fight David by outsmarting him, but after you stab him, you both go down.
After you go down, you start playing as Joel. You are making your way towards the building that Ellie is in. When you get to the building Ellie is in, your control shifts back to Ellie. Ellie and David start to get up and David has the upper hand. As Ellie, you are trying to crawl to a knife, but David is stopping you. This entire time I was expecting Joel to burst in and save the day but that’s not what happens. Ellie is able to reach the knife and she just unloads on David killing him. That’s when Joel enters. Joel just comforts Ellie and holds her.
When we make it to Spring we are close to the hospital. Joel sounds hopeful and Ellie distracted and barely paying attention to Joel. At one point Joel tells Ellie when this is all over he wants to teach her how to play guitar, a subtle line you could easily miss, but as we see in the part two trailer Ellie has learned guitar. Guess Joel followed through on that.
As you're making your way to the hospital Ellie takes off running at something. When you catch up to her you see a tower. I don’t mean a building, I mean a group of giraffes— apparently that’s called a tower, fun fact . Ellie is excited and happy, maybe the happiest we have ever seen her. Joel takes this time to talk to her and let her know they don’t have to go through with it. Ellie doesn’t want to give up after coming this far; she wants to finish what they started.
You come to a tunnel, and once you enter it, the difficulty spikes harder. There are multiple infected, clickers, and even bloaters in this very narrow space. You fight your way through them all and then need to navigate across some water by jumping on cars. This was when my brain remembered Naughty Dog made this game. Joel falls into a bus and gets thrown to the back of the bus and is fighting through rushing water trying to get back out. It was very reminiscent of the train scene that opens up Uncharted 2.
Ellie, who can’t swim, jumps onto the bus to try to help Joel. With her help, Joel is able to get out, but the rushing water takes both of you with it. Joel grabs Ellie and gets her to the surface. Ellie is unconscious and Joel starts CPR. This hit on an emotional level, tying back to the prologue—Joel can not lose someone else. Fireflies come and end up knocking you out before you know Ellie’s fate.
The next scene is Joel waking up in the hospital with the Fireflies. This is when the game really starts to tug on your heartstrings yet again. Marlene tells Joel that Ellie is in surgery. They have to reverse engineer a vaccine from her. In doing this, Ellie will not make it. Joel is against this and just wants to save Ellie. They won’t let him see her so they have him escorted out of the hospital.
As Joel is being walked out you can tell he is weighing his options. One armed guard is escorting him. Joel decides he is going to save Ellie and easily disarms the one guard. He starts to interrogate him, but things take a brutal turn, as he just starts shooting him asking where they took her. After this brutal murder, Joel is on a mission to make his way up to the top floor to surgery, to get Ellie. A lot of killing later, you make it there, and just burst right into the operating room. There are three doctors present while Ellie is lying on the table unconscious. The doctors are unarmed but the only way to be able to pick Ellie up is to kill the doctors.
After killing the doctors you pick up Ellie and start your escape. You escape down the elevator and when you get out you are confronted by Marlene. Marlene is trying hard to talk you out of what you’re doing. Joel looks over at Ellie and then it cuts to him driving a car. The camera pans out and you see Ellie in the backseat.
Ellie soon wakes up and asked Joel what happened. Joel lies and tells Ellie that there are more just like her that are immune and they stopped looking for a cure. While this story is being told to Ellie, we see what went down with Marlene. Joel shoots her in the stomach and when he is walking away Marlene pleas with him. Joel tells her you will just come after her and shoots her in the head point blank.
We then go back to Joel and Ellie and the game ends on an awkward note. Ellie asks Joel to swear to her that everything he said is true. Joel says “I swear” then there is a long pause as we see Ellie’s face and she simply replies “okay”. Fade to black.
As soon as this ended I couldn’t help but think, was Joel the real bad guy? Did Ellie know the truth? I wanted answers but at the same time, I was satisfied with the ending.
This game to me was a masterpiece. I put my life on hold to play it and had no regrets. This was definitely a -10/10-
If this game were to release today, to me it would still be a masterpiece. This game grabs me and remains my favorite game of all time. I would definitely still score this a — 10/10 — . This game is a masterpiece from all angles and I respect everything the writers and creators did to tell this story.
For now, what happens next is a mystery but soon enough we will get our answers. Until then, I’m just going to watch this part two trailer again.
For a deeper dive into The Last of Us check out our first episode of Game Bites. For more Reviews take a look at my Review of Yoku's Island Express and Darwin Project. For everything else follow me over on twitter I'm @Big_Broons.