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Reflecting on “The Last of Us” as developers work on sequel

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Only a month away, 2018 marks the five-year anniversary of the most award-winning game in history and the planned PS4 release of its much anticipated sequel. “The Last of Us,” developed by Naughty Dog, has won over 240 awards with many additional nominations.

These awards include multiple Game of the Year awards, performance awards for both Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson (the main characters), as well as awards for its original soundtrack. With this much acclaim, it’s no wonder almost eight million copies were sold within a year of the game’s release.

“The Last of Us” follows Joel and Ellie, played by Baker and Johnson respectively, through a war-ravaged Massachusetts slowly being overtaken by fungal-infected humans that want nothing more than to chow down on the next person they see. Joel, in his late 40s, is tasked with escorting 14-year-old Ellie out of the Boston quarantine zone, which gives them plenty of time to form an endearing father-daughter relationship.

At first look, this game’s success comes from the incredibly emotional story, the beautifully devastated environments, and the tense, sneak-focused gameplay, but what truly brought “The Last of Us” together was the talent and collaboration of the directors, writers and actors.

Naughty Dog is known for their intricate storytelling throughout the Uncharted series, which began in 2007 and continues with the fifth game releasing this year. During the creation of “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception,” Naughty Dog split their development team into two divisions: one focused on Uncharted, while the other focused on “The Last of Us.”

Bruce Straley was appointed game director, with Neil Druckmann as creative director. Their combined talents brought together the storyline, gameplay and visuals. Baker and Johnson worked with the directors to develop the most life-like characters possible. Their motives, their reactions to the horrors they endure, and even how their character traits develop were planned out in such a way that the characters, including secondary characters, seem like real people.

Relatively early in the story, players briefly meet Bill, an old friend of Joel’s, who only pertains to the story for a short period of time. Most games would have Bill as a flat character with a short backstory and players would never think about him again after they finish that mission. “The Last of Us” breaks that norm by giving every side character deep, emotional histories with goals, loved ones, and sometimes a tragic demise.

Bill has a mysterious history with Joel, in which he owes Joel a favor, giving him rational to help the player out, and throughout their entire interaction Bill is skeptical of Ellie’s usefulness. This leads to an exchange of rude accusations by Bill and sassy, teenage comebacks from Ellie, which starts to settle down as Joel and Ellie learn the origins of Bill’s seclusive, untrusting behavior. “The Last of Us” is rich with intricate, tragic side stories that brings more life to the game than the one-track main story seen in most games.

To fully convey the tense and emotional scenes, a stunning soundtrack was composed by Gustavo Santaolalla with input from Andrew Buresh, Anthony Caruso, and Jonathan Mayer. Santaolalla has returned to work with Naughty Dog on the composition of the original soundtrack for “The Last of Us Part II” continuing his award-winning work.

Druckmann has also returned as director and writer for the sequel, but this comes without input from Straley due to his departure from the company. At Playstation Experience last December Druckmann shared that “The Last of Us Part II” will stray from the hopeful, life-will-go-on attitude of the first game and show a much more brutal, hate-filled world torn apart not only by the infected, but also the heinous actions of humans.

“The Last of Us” portrays a decaying city where 60 percent of the population has been infected by a fungal parasite and the remains of society has fallen into chaos, but Ellie and Joel always found hope. In “The Last of Us Part II” debut trailer, Ellie is now 19, covered in blood, playing guitar in a house full of corpses, and her hopeful innocence from the first game seems lost as Joel asks her, “What are you doing kiddo? Are you really going to go through with this?” and Ellie slowly responds, “I’m going to find and kill every last one of them.”

Naughty Dog recently released their second trailer for “The Last of Us Part II,” which received many negative reactions due to showing “excessive” violence. Although the first game was filled with brutal acts, new graphic advances and the use of motion capture technology has made more than a few people disgusted by the trailer. Joel and Ellie aren’t feature in this trailer; instead an unknown woman, played by Laura Bailey, is being executed by a cult-like group and is saved in the nick of time by a brother/sister duo who happened to be caught in the same predicament.

Both trailers leave more questions than they give answers, the most prominent being, is Joel still alive? And is the unknown woman Ellie’s mother? Across the internet, fans have been making speculation about who the new characters are and why Joel’s face was never shown, but Naughty Dog has yet to pull down the mysterious curtain surrounding this game. “The Last of Us Part II” has become one of the most anticipated games of 2018 and is very likely to be a contender for Game of the Year 2018.

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Reflecting on “The Last of Us” as developers work on sequel