10 years in the past, The Final of Us’ sudden and morally divisive ending made historical past. Selecting to land in a spot of uncertainty, the conclusion bucked what many different video games selected to do, and infrequently nonetheless do: current a simple, neat, conventionally satisfying finish the place the great guys are the great guys and the dangerous guys have been vanquished. Traces between protagonist and antagonist blur over the course of its 15-hour marketing campaign, and the ending refuses to provide us a neat takeaway, to sharpen the focus on a transparent assertion or consequence, however as an alternative has its fundamental character arguably doom the world after which lie about it. Once I first reached that ending 10 years in the past, it left me pacing anxiously forwards and backwards, determined for somebody to speak to about its startling ambiguities and contradictions, and I used to be hardly the one one. To this present day, it stays maybe essentially the most provocative, talked-about, hotly debated ending in sport historical past.
It ought to go with out saying, however this piece will dive into some spoilery territory, masking the conclusion of the unique sport and the premise of its sequel.
The Final of Us first arrived on the PlayStation 3 in 2013 as a gritty trial of perseverance in a doomed world, albeit one the place maybe there’s a sliver of hope on the horizon: Possibly Ellie’s immunity can be utilized to create a treatment for a world-ending plague. The sport was notable for a lot of issues: the traumatic deaths of assorted characters; a sluggish grind of gameplay targeted on stealth, determined crafting, and brutal violence; however maybe most of all for its strikingly ambiguous and difficult ending. Quite than doing the plain and wrapping the whole lot up with a neat bow, the conclusion throws the participant headfirst right into a liminal house. The world isn’t restored, but the heroes dwell; however at what value? Instructed that Ellie will probably be killed in pursuit of the attainable vaccine, Joel intervenes, stopping the surgical procedure and killing everybody who stands in his manner, leaving the world to persist in its state of wreck. He then lies to her about what he did with an unconvincing story. Ellie, clearly in a spot of uncertainty about what she’s listening to, presses him to guarantee her that the whole lot he simply mentioned is true. “I swear,” Joel lies. Roll credit.
It’s not a clear decision. Within the final 10 years, the selection to finish the sport with one character mendacity to a different has left many to reach at cynical conclusions about Joel as a personality or the sport’s narrative solely, with some critics feeling that The Final of Us is finally a vacuous show of gore or a story with out a lot of redeeming worth to say.
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A traditional story unconventionally instructed
For all that The Final of Us did in another way, nevertheless, observations on the time highlighted simply how a lot the sport shared in frequent with others. Reviewing the sport for Polygon on the time, Philip Kollar famous that it was constructed on “the identical post-apocalyptic situation as dozens of different video games.” Kollar provides, nevertheless, that “its strategy is starkly its personal.” That’s possible why the conclusion hits so laborious. A lot feels just like what we all know from different video games, and even works in different mediums. However TLoU took a distinct strategy, one intimately targeted on its central relationship, with a reasonably standard, linear narrative construction that may’ve given the impression that it might additionally resolve itself in a traditional manner.
Narrative selection in 2013 was one thing many got here to worth in video video games, however as Adam Sessler famous in his overview of the sport, TLoU has a selected story to inform, with out your enter save for a number of moments of selection over simply how brutal you could be within the sport’s ending. A scarcity of selection was one thing Sessler characterised, on the time, as “old style.” (Certainly, a lot dialog on the time of launch was rooted in how uncomfortable some gamers have been with Joel killing sure characters he arguably didn’t must kill, the stress between the participant eager to do one factor and the character demanding to do one thing else. Whether or not it is a flaw or a part of the sport’s energy is only one extra fascinating factor to think about.) And maybe that “old style” strategy was what led many to anticipate a extra conventional conclusion. There’s loads that’s standard and old style in TLoU, however its strategy betrays a dependable belief you’d ordinarily place in such a rigidly constructed narrative.
That “strategy” Kollar highlighted is felt, maybe, most saliently on the sport’s conclusion, which is particularly the place it principally clearly pulls away from “the identical post-apocalyptic situation” as different video games. Examples of extra standard endings on this style would come with these in video games like Gears of Struggle 3 or the Resistance collection of shooters on PlayStation 3, each of which finish with close to deus-ex-machina options to the world’s issues.
In different video games with related excessive stakes and fallen world situations, there may be usually some present of sci-fi mumbo jumbo utilized, usually proper on the finish, to set the whole lot proper; and if not, like within the more moderen zombie drama Days Gone, there’s just about zero ambiguity as to who did the correct factor. iIf the great guys don’t get their manner, it’s an unlucky act of god, however you continue to have the great man protagonist to nonetheless place your belief in.
The Final of Us wasn’t having any of that. And it additionally wasn’t involved with “a number of plot twists and the bending of all of the legal guidelines of physics,” as Paul Tassi famous for Forbes compared to the conclusion of 2013’s BioShock Infinite. Tassi continues, “the ending of The Final of Us isn’t fairly so mind-boggling.” It’s a tragic ending to a tragic sport, one which takes place at a decidedly human scale, not a grand cosmic one.
The ending of The Final of Us didn’t want to dazzle you with its spectacular world-building or wow you with intelligent fantasy epidemiology. You don’t get the “lore dive” that many video games try to do, and also you don’t get a transparent indication that the correct issues have been carried out. Quite, the sport says the alternative. The world isn’t saved, and the great guys have been stopped not by the antagonist, however by you, the “protagonist.”
As Tassi notes, that’s not essentially a shock revelation on the finish. It’s not a sudden plot twist. However, slightly, it’s the tip level of a sport that’s slowly telling you that you simply’re doubtlessly on the mistaken aspect, and that’s considerably sudden, even for video games that do flip the script on you on the finish by revealing the protagonist’s needs to be suspect. To its miserable finish, TLoU’s grind challenges you to consider who you’ve been the entire time. “Simply since you’re enjoying as somebody in a sport,” Tassi writes, “that doesn’t make you the great man. In actual fact, the clues are scattered throughout [The Last of Us] that you simply’re actually not man in any respect.”
Returning to Kollar’s evaluation of the sport, the sentiment that you simply’re the dangerous man all alongside was and nonetheless is a well-liked one; and the ending doesn’t change that, it simply reinforces it. “By the tip,” Kollar writes, “I used to be pausing as a result of I felt like a foul particular person doing dangerous issues. It’s a seemingly intentional selection, however the sport struggles to justify it with the identical ease that Joel justifies homicide […] I couldn’t discover any deeper that means within the horrible occasions in The Final of Us.”
However the place others have since criticized Joel, and even the sport, for the brutality on show, others have taken completely different stances. For Kotaku, author Tina Amini expressed as a lot in terms of placing your self within the sneakers of an individual who stands to lose the closest factor it’s a must to household in a world that’s already taken it from you:
“Had Ellie been my daughter, or somebody who had grown to turn out to be my daughter determine, I might by no means sacrifice her life even to save lots of the lives of thousands and thousands of others. Sorry, guys. Nothing is available in the best way of household.”
Many could be fast to treat that as egocentric. However as Amini mentioned, there are some important particulars within the conclusion that shouldn’t simply be swept apart as a result of Joel maybe acted too swiftly and out of the blue. Amini writes:
Let’s recap. The Fireflies hit Joel over the pinnacle whereas he makes an attempt to save lots of Ellie’s life. Then, he wakes up in a hospital and is instructed that no, you may’t see Ellie and sorry, she’s going to die whether or not you want that or not. No discussions. No questions. Simply shut up and take it. After you went above and past the deal you made with Marlene, after you virtually get your self killed spending a 12 months monitoring these bastards down, and after they nonetheless don’t provide the provide of weapons promised in trade for Ellie’s supply, the least they might have carried out was provide the courtesy of a dialog. With Ellie current within the room, ready to make her personal resolution. That looks as if the truthful factor to do. Nevertheless it’s nowhere close to what occurred.
With an absence of clear certainty as to what may occur with Ellie’s surgical procedure, and a fast dissolution of conventional methods of wrapping up a story, like Amini, I too appeared on the finish of TLoU and requested, “what if this have been my daughter?” Or in my case, “what if this have been me?”
The sentiment of “no discussions. No questions. Simply shut up and take it,” jogs my memory of my very own expertise having been hospitalized below a misdiagnosis at roughly the identical age that Ellie was within the first sport. Forcibly given medication by individuals who claimed they knew what they have been doing by swiftly locking me up in a collection of white halls and holding me sedated, with out dialog or concern for my consent to such a factor, I keep in mind the phobia of sitting with the thought that possibly I’d by no means see dwelling once more. And in contrast to Joel, although I wouldn’t have wished them to bloodbath a hospital of individuals (we’re additionally not residing in a zombie apocalypse), these near me selected to only let it occur. It could take per week earlier than the medical doctors realized “whoops, you don’t have what we thought you had, sorry for the childhood trauma, however good on you all for listening to the specialists.”
The morally ambiguous nature of The Final of Us’ ending meant that when Marlene tried to guarantee Joel that the whole lot could be nice, I used to be free to not purchase it—as a result of I keep in mind what it’s like when individuals accountable for your autonomy and life take daring, restrictive actions and others simply stand by and settle for it. Joel’s aggression, in some ways, was my very own catharsis for a way I used to be wronged in a hospital some 20-plus years in the past.
A troublesome act to comply with
However even for many who weren’t as cynical or pessimistic about TLoU’s ending or larger narrative, the affect of the ambiguous ending was so harrowing and had defied a lot of what many had anticipated, that some felt it didn’t warrant a return journey by means of a sequel. Those that discovered displeasure in TLoU’s story may stop listening to it, however even for many who did take pleasure in the place the sport went, there was a transparent need for it to not go anyplace else. Lightning not often strikes twice; and a sequel could be too standard. Chatting with that very sentiment in 2013, former Kotaku author Kirk Hamilton mentioned:
I don’t really feel like I must return to this explicit post-apocalyptic world. I don’t want to listen to any extra tales from it. I don’t must see what Joel and Ellie rise up to now that they’re protected at Joel’s brother’s wilderness retreat. I actually don’t must combat off one other clicker, or make my manner by one other hunter camp.
Expressing an absence of need for a sequel to TLoU wasn’t nearly this singular sport, but in addition stems from a paranoia over media, notably video video games, to franchise issues to loss of life. What even would a sequel do? Wouldn’t it simply be vignettes of fan service? I assume we’ll see Ellie be taught to play guitar? Possibly Joel will lastly get his espresso? Or would it not simply be extra of an industrial need to mine a preferred property below the guise of “extra tales,” efforts which generally diminish what magic stays of the preliminary sport that caught everybody’s consideration?
Those that beloved the ending and the sport actually wouldn’t need that; this world deserved higher. And people who have been turned off by it undoubtedly wouldn’t need that; they’d had sufficient of this place. To perpetuate this story felt like it might reduce in opposition to what made it so distinctive, as Hamilton wrote in 2013, there’s “an excessive amount of decision in video video games today, and [we] may do with a bit much less surety.”
However The Final of Us marched on with an expanded story DLC that explores the loss of life of Ellie’s childhood good friend, after which a sequel with much more loss of life. Half II meditates solely on Joel’s actions, with justice (or baseless revenge, relying in your standpoint) served for his reckless damnation of the world by the daughter of a person he killed years in the past.
Half II is an extremely lengthy sport. In actual fact, given that you simply play half the sport as a wholly new character, it’s virtually two video games in a single. Dialog about it upon launch was additionally muddied by infantile, aggressive reactions and harassment campaigns from these upset by the presence of queer individuals, trans individuals, and girls whose our bodies have been deemed by some insufficiently female and fascinating; it’s a firestorm that also burns to this present day. Exterior of conversations concerning the sport with different critics, I usually really feel like I nonetheless must wade by such nonsense.
Discussing whether or not or not TLoU Half II makes essentially the most of its alternative as a sequel to do one thing worthwhile with the paradox of the unique’s ending would require an extended dialog a few very lengthy sport. However I believe the truth that the sequel makes use of Joel’s actions to set the stage for one more exploration of how and when violence perpetuates itself makes the case for it as a worthy comply with up—even when I, very similar to others, would’ve been more than pleased with a one-and-done journey into this world.