The Last of Us: The Game

Discover the history of the multi-award-winning Naughty Dog game, as the new HBO adaptation lands on Sky Atlantic and NOW.

Find out why The Last of Us was such a landmark video game

For those who haven’t yet experienced the 40hours+ of gameplay of all three The Last of Us titles, here is a brief history of the games to explain why they have made such an impact, and remain so beloved by fans.

2013 was a big year in video gaming. Xbox and PlayStation rivalry was at its height, and multiple titles vied for the top spot. In that year, Tomb Raider was rebooted for a new generation, BioShock Infinite came out to (very) divided reviews, and Final Fantasy XIV went online as A Realm Reborn. The year’s most anticipated title was Grand Theft Auto V, which won over critics and fans for its ridiculously enjoyable gameplay and satire of contemporary America.

In the same year, games developer Naughty Dog, released The Last of Us. Previously the studio had been known for the PlayStation classic Crash Bandicoot games, and subsequently for the wildly fun Uncharted series, an Indiana Jones-style adventure featuring the smart-mouthed, Nathan Drake (perfectly voiced by Nolan North). When The Last of Us debuted on the PlayStation 3 in 2013 it was met with rave reviews and became a landmark moment in the history of video games.

2013 was also seen as a year of progress (however small) for gaming and women. Rhianna Pratchett’s Tomb Raider removed the hyper-sexualisation of Lara Croft and transformed her into an empowered female survivor. Then there was Gone Home, a mystery game that tackled sexuality from a female perspective in the real-world setting of the Greenbriar household. Slowly it seemed video games were no longer dictated by the wants of men but were interested in female-driven stories.

The Last of Us also centred on a female character, Ellie - a teenage girl at the end of the world, coming to understand who she is, whilst trying to survive the apocalypse. Unlike the other games of 2013, The Last of Us has remained a consistent landmark in videogaming, with many fans arguing it remains one of the best games of all time.

For those unaware of the story, you might be forgiven for thinking it resembles a typical zombie apocalypse yarn. In a near-future world, humans have been infected by a deadly disease that turns them into monstrous creatures. Two survivors, a cynical smuggler, Joel, and a teenage girl seemingly immune to the disease, Ellie, must cross the barren landscapes populated by monsters both human and otherwise, in hopes of curing the disease.

The Last of Us turned out to be anything but another run-of-the-mill zombie apocalypse game. The Last of Us wasn’t just about surviving ravenous creatures, it was about the emotional connection of the characters, beautifully portrayed in motion-capture by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson. The performances were rich, and the narrative plumbed emotional depths that few gamers had experienced before. The result was shock and awe. Players hadn’t just completed a game, they had experienced the trials and triumphs of the central characters’ relationships, watching their bond grow, not passively, but actively through the well-structured narrative and performances.

A year later, Naughty Dog released an expansion story, Last of Us: Left Behind. Only offering 4-5 hours of gameplay, fans were still eager to play. The story dived into Ellie’s past through her friendship with her schoolmate, Riley, and took place in an abandoned shopping mall. This was the first time that players could experience the story through Ellie before she is hardened by the brutalities of life on the road with Joel.

It would be another six years before fans would return to the world of The Last of Us. In 2020, Naughty Dog released the next chapter in Ellie’s journey. Now 19, she is recovering from the events depicted in the first game, trying to make a normal life for herself in a world turned upside down. Driven from her home, she heads to Seattle on a revenge mission. Like the first game, Part II shook things up with its powerful narrative and moral complexity, asking players to consider the violence they are committing on screen. Unsurprisingly, technology had advanced in the years since the first game, and the most recent instalment looked more beautiful than ever, with reviewers citing the game’s aesthetic appeal and Ashley Johnson’s performance as Ellie. The sequel wasn’t as universally acclaimed as the first, but critique of new plot narratives in the reviews reflected how much players (even critics), had come to love the characters.

The original has now been remastered (twice!), and a third chapter is on the way. A generation has grown up with the central characters Joel and Ellie and the game’s tireless dedication to visceral storytelling. It’s no wonder that a decade on, people are still returning to the original game - arguably one of the most heart-rending and beautiful stories told through a videogame.

Watch The Last of Us on Sky Atlantic and NOW from January 16.

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