The Last of Us is a third-person action-adventure game, set in a post-apocalyptic world where a deadly parasitic fungus (Cordyceps unilateralis) that infects the brains of ants suddenly adapts to humans. A large portion of the human race turns into monster, called the infected or clickers. The remaining survivors turn to whatever assets they can find to survive a world now overrun by anarchy and desolation.
The player takes the role of Joel (voiced by Troy Baker) and, with the help of 14-year-old orphan girl Ellie (voiced by Ashley Johnson), must try to survive at all costs, fending off both the infected and other desperate human survivors. Supplies and ammunition are scarce and the player will have to constantly evaluate the risk of searching for these supplies in the environment and risking unwanted and taxing confrontations.
There is speculation that the game takes place in the same universe as the Uncharted series, due to a hidden newspaper headline in Uncharted 3's first level that vaguely refers to a deadly fungus that scientists are still "struggling to understand".
The Last of Us' combat primarily revolves around melee and crafting. The weapons in the game are degradable, and the projectiles are mostly crude instruments such as bricks. While firearms can be procured, ammunition is incredibly scarce, making every bullet count. Health doesn't regenerate, forcing the player to play very conservatively. The emphasis on player fragility helps accentuate the pressure of trying to survive in such a harsh world.
The player takes up the role of Joel, while their partner Ellie (computer-controlled) stays at Joel’s side for a large portion of the game. While cooperative play is absent from the game, Naughty Dog has stated that The Last of Us is not "one big escort mission". Instead, Ellie acts as a supportive ally rather than a frail victim: she can call out enemies for Joel and help from afar by throwing objects at enemies. Ellie can die, but she will protect herself to some degree by using weapons and cunning to escape danger. In addition, she will assist the player in solving certain puzzles and helping in situations which require two people.
The player is forced to contend against both the infected and other humans, although not every NPC they meet will be instantaneously hostile towards them. Each enemy type has distinct AI patterns. The humans are particularly competent: they can work together by relaying critical information to one another, fleeing, dynamically changing their tactics based upon whether Joel has a gun or a melee weapon, and surrendering. Overall, the enemy AI is meant to be highly adaptable, reacting dynamically to how the player chooses to act. Naughty Dog has coined their specific AI programming the ''Balance of Power'.
The game also contains an inventory management and item combination system. At any time, Joel can access his backpack to combine or use items, such as a Molotov cocktail or med-kit. Items are crafted from a pool of limited materials, forcing the player to decide which items are necessary.
Players can interact with objects in the environment for the sake of background story rather than mere progression. For instance, if a player interacts with a movie poster, the protagonists will share a conversation about the history of how the world used to be. Items the player can interact with become highlighted and the player receives a button prompt.
The Last of Us stars Joel, a 50-something man who is one of the few remaining people left in the world after a parasitic fungus began infecting the population. During the very early stages of the outbreak, 20 years before the main game begins, Joel's daughter Sarah is killed amidst the chaos.
Now, Joel is a smuggler, and his latest job is to help escort Ellie, a 14 year old girl, out of his city. The city is under martial law and combat with a rebel group known as the Fireflies is frequent. He is to take her to a Firefly base at the request of the Firefly leader Marlene. Ellie is immune to the disease and her blood is believed to be the key for creating a cure.
The two encounter many allies along their travels, all of whom will either die or stay behind once they've done all they can do. Initially Joel is working alongside his smuggling partner Tess, though she is bitten by an infected and then sacrifices herself to stall the pursuing Government authorities. Next is Bill, an old friend of Tess and Joel's who lives alone in a small deserted town. He aids the two, but then retreats back to his safe haven.
Finally Joel and Ellie reach is Henry and Sam, two brothers who were initially apart of a larger group, but broke apart and were attempting to reunite with whoever is left at a nearby radio station. They travel alongside Joel and Ellie, as the four fight their way through infected, and Hunters – bandits who kill and steal from whoever enters their territory.
The four finally manage to reach the radio station, however the younger brother Sam was bitten earlier and turns overnight. He attacks Ellie and forces Joel to react, but not before he is held at gunpoint by Henry. After much pleading from Joel, Henry kills his little brother and quickly pulls the gun on himself and commits suicide.
Joel and Ellie continue their travels until reaching a dam. Inside is a small settlement, lead by Joel's own brother and ex-Firefly Tommy. While there, Joel plans to hand Ellie over to Tommy, whom he believes will have a better chance getting her to safety because of his prior connections.
Ellie, distraught at the idea of being abandoned after the two have begun to establish a strong father-daughter bond, takes off from the base by horse. Joel and Tommy are eventually able to catch her, and Joel then decides to carry on the duty of escorting Ellie.
The two finally reach the Firefly base, an abandoned hospital, only they find it deserted. There are audio logs explaining that the Fireflies had to move on from the area. With a new location set, the two begin to carry on their journey. However, they are ambushed by Hunters on their way out. The two fight their way to the exit, and Joel punctures his stomach after falling from the first floor and landing on a pipe. Ellie is then forced to tend to his wounds, after setting up base in an abandoned house, and look for medicine.
Ellie hunts deer for food, but her hunting is soon cut short as she encounters two men. They appear friendly at first, as the older man David sends the other to collect the medicine Ellie requires. She still expresses distrust of David, though the two are inevitably forced to work together to defend against a horde of infected. Ellie sets aside her suspicions and the two are able to ward the infected off.
However, as the two make camp, David reveals that he is the leader of the pack of Hunters that attacked them at the hospital earlier. David still hands her the medicine, and Ellie quickly escapes and returns back to Joel.
David sends his men to follow her, forcing Ellie to ride away on horseback in an attempt to keep them away from Joel. After riding a fair distance Ellie silently kills her way through the pack of Hunters, and is eventually caught by David.
Now trapped within a butcher's shop, David inadvertently reveals that his group has resorted to cannibalism. However, his intended use for Ellie is not food, but is instead sexual. After Ellie rejects David's attempts to court her into his group, he instead decides to kill her for food. While lying on a butcher's table, she bites David and quickly exclaims that she's infected. Amidst the confusion, she is able to escape.
Elsewhere, Joel has recovered, and upon realizing Ellie has gone missing, he kills his way through the remaining Hunters at the house. He is forced to torture and kill two of them in order to gain information of her whereabouts.
David sets fire to a restaurant exit to stop Ellie from escaping. She is able to use her cunning and her honed skills in stealth to stab David with his own machete. Joel, noticing the fire, arrives just after and tries to calm her down.
Once again the two advance upon their destination. Along the way they encounter a tower of giraffes, and they both share a serene moment while watching the gentle creatures walk by amidst the sunny backdrop. Further along their travels, Joel and Ellie are thrown underwater by a crumbling underground bridge. Joel is able to quickly reach Ellie, who cannot swim, and begins to resuscitate her. She doesn't appear to be waking up, and armed men arrive and knock Joel out.
He awakes inside a hospital, greeted by Marlene, and realizes he made it to the Firefly base. Though alive, Ellie is not with him. Marlene explains that in order for them to extract the necessary samples to create a cure, Ellie must die.
Joel refuses to let them kill Ellie, and fights his way through a swath of Firefly soldiers until he reaches the surgery room. He kills the head surgeon and takes Ellie in his arms, rushing through the corridors until he reaches the elevator. He heads down to the car park to find himself held at gun point by Marlene, who begs Joel to give Ellie back. Joel is able to fire a round into Marlene before she can react. Marlene begs for her life while bleeding on the floor. Joel refuses mercy claiming that she would still come after Ellie, and shoots Marlene point-blank in the head.
Ellie soon wakes up in Joel's car and asks what happened. Joel lies to her, stating that no cure exists, and that the Fireflies had already tried with other individuals who were immune and it didn't work. Ellie, clearly confused and disappointed, appears to accepts this for the truth.
Joel and Ellie arrive on the outskirts of Tommy's outpost. Ellie stops Joel and expresses survivor's guilt over the deaths of Riley, Tess, and Sam, asking Joel to swear to her that what he said about the Fireflies is true. Joel does, and Ellie replies with a quiet, "Okay."
The Last of Us' was lauded for its intentionally ambiguous and mature ending, leaving it open to interpretation as to how Ellie would carry on from there regarding her relationship with Joel. The Last of Us co-director Neil Druckmann's own interpretation was:
It's Ellie waking up for the first time and realizing that she can't rely on him anymore. She knows that she has to leave him, and make her own decisions and her own mistakes.
The game features a multiplayer mode called Factions, where the players pick either the Fireflies or Hunters to play as. Much of the weapons and gameplay from the single player campaign is carried into the multiplayer, such as crafting, listening, limited resources, etc. Loot boxes are scattered around each level which contain crafting items and ammunition for the players. The gameplay is designed to be slow and methodical, emphasizing teamwork and communication. Games consist of 4v4 rounds in one of three game modes:
Each team is given 20 respawns with the goal of collecting as many supplies as possible while eliminating the other team.
This is a no respawn mode where each team tries to eliminate the other team to win a round. A match consists of the best of seven rounds.
This mode has unlimited respawns, with the goal being to down players and interrogate them, rather than kill them right away. Once enough interrogations are made, the location of the opposing team's lockbox is revealed. The first team to successfully open the other team's lockbox wins the round.
The Last of Us was first teased to the public some time before the 2011 Spike Video Game Awards, when Sony posted a live-action teaser trailer made up of a montage of riots and panic spreading across the world, solemnly narrated by the voice of a man (now acknowledged as Joel) recalling subtle appreciation for mundane, day-to-day activities, only to end with stating that they were now "all gone". It also contained a short segment from a BBC Planet documentary about ants becoming infected with a type of fungus called the Cordyceps unilateralis. It was during the 2011 Spike Video Game Awards that Sony then officially announced The Last of Us via an 'in-engine' trailer. The trailer introduced the main protagonists, Joel and Ellie, and announced that Naughty Dog was developing it.
Originally The Last of Us was conceived by Neil Druckmann for a University project starring a police officer, based partly on the Hartigan character – even including the heart condition – from Frank Miller's Sin City franchise. This character would also have to defend a little girl amidst a zombie crisis. Players were to switch control between the police officer and the little girl whenever the officer's heart condition would act up, not entirely unlike how it was in The Last of Us.
The idea was ultimately scrapped, but Druckmann still wanted to carry on with the themes and concepts established with his original idea, but planned to express it via a comic book title 'The Turning' instead. This time, however, the police officer character was now a criminal. He pitched his idea for a six-issue story arc, though it was turned down by the publishers.
Now working at Naughty Dog, Druckmann still very much wanted to tell a story involving the same character relationships – most importantly involving a protector that must inevitably be protected by the younger character – and themes, and upon finishing work on Uncharted 2, he would brainstorm with fellow Naughty Dog developer and The Last of Us co-director Bruce Straley.
Their first draft was called 'Mankind', and differed from The Last of Us in that the infection, while still the same Cordyceps unilateralis fungus, would only infect females. Furthermore, Ellie was to be a mute, though the story itself was still largely the same. Nonetheless, the idea of only females getting infected was scrapped due to disagreements with female Naughty Dog employees; Druckmann himself stated that it was a ''misogynistic idea''.
Come 2010, the game's title was settled as The Last of Us, though the story was noticeably different. Tess, recognized in the main game as a supporting character, was to be the primary antagonist. The ending especially differed greatly, as it featured Joel being beaten and tortured by Tess, while she is ultimately killed by Ellie – which was to be her first ever kill. Druckmann thought that this draft lacked the character development they were trying to achieve, and that Joel in particular settled into the father-figure role too quickly.
The general relationship between Joel and Ellie was inspired, in part, by Ico. The reliance Ico and Yorda show towards each other in particular is what originated the idea of having a game featuring two simultaneous protagonists; two characters who cannot overcome the many perils they are to face on their own. Naughty Dog has also cited inspiration from a set of sequences in their own Uncharted 2, in which Nathan Drake and his Tibetan guide Tenzin attempt to explore a large ice-encrusted cave. Initially, they wanted to develop this concept with a new Jak & Daxter game. Instead of carrying the same, original tone as the series' PS2 iterations, however, Naughty Dog planned on moving it out of its cartoon-ish origins and into a more realistic aesthetic; Jak was intended to be an actual human being, and Daxter was intended to function much like an ordinary weasel – most notably lacking the ability to talk. This idea was put on the drawing board for the time being, and instead The Last of Us came to fruition.
The Last of Us was developed by a second team of Naughty Dog employees, as a result of the co-presidents deciding that each person's individual potential would be fully realized if they weren't as compressed just for the sake of developing a single game, Evan Wells particularly crediting the talent that they each respectively hold. Christophe Balestra tweeted that the game had been in development for at least two years as of the announcement alongside Uncharted 3, which marked the first time that Naughty Dog had split into multiple teams and had worked on more than one project at a time.
Ending the Sony Press Conference for the Electronic Entertainment Expo was the first publicly released gameplay demo for The Last of Us. It introduced a combat scenario to the audience, showing firsthand the tools of the trade Joel and Ellie must use to attempt to defend themselves from a small group of bandits, known as the 'hunters'. It was particularly adamant in showing the viewer the brutality and impulsive nature of the melee fights, as well as how the bandits would coordinate and respond based on Joel's current situation and amount of bullets he had.
It ended on an especially grim note, just after Joel executes a Hunter close-range with a shotgun while he begs for mercy.
Ellen Page controversy
After the game was released, Canadian actress Ellen Page expressed irritation after finding out that the character of Ellie, while voiced and mo-caped by Ashley Johnson, was inspired by her – and accused Naughty Dog of ''ripping off'' her likeness. Though initially it was much more noticeable, Ellie's design was changed across development to temper the comparisons. It wasn't long after before Ellen Page considered the matter dropped.
Ellen Page herself stars in another PlayStation 3 exclusive game called Beyond: Two Souls.
The Last of Us' DLC story, Left Behind, revealed that the character of Ellie is possibly gay, or at least bisexual. On the very same day of the DLC's release – Valentines Day – Ellen Page announced to the world that she is in fact gay.
Exclusive to US regions, the Survival Edition includes:
- The Art of The Last of Us: A full-sized 170-page hardcover art book from Dark Horse.
- The Last of Us: American Dreams #1: The first issue in a series of comic books that dives deeper into Ellie's backstory, by Dark Horse.
- The Steelbook edition of the game: Showcasing artwork of Ellie on one side and Joel on the other side of the cover.
- The 'Sights & Sounds DLC pack': Includes the Official Game Soundtrack, a PS3 Dynamic Theme and PSN Avatars Winter Joel & Ellie.
Post-Pandemic Edition (Exclusive to GameStop)
Also exclusive to US regions, the Post-Pandemic edition is a higher tier version that includes all of the aforementioned additions, along with:
- A 12" Premium Statue of Joel and Ellie by Project Triforce
- 'Survival DLC Pack'. The Survival DLC Pack includes Multiplayer Bonuses including bonus XP, a Melee Booster, in-game currency and customisable character items, and bonus Joel and Ellie skins unlocked by completing the single-player campaign.
Exclusive to European regions, there exist two varying editions that offer up the same amount of content as the US editions, but each has its own theme specifically centered on one of the two protagonists of the game.
The Last of Us Video Game Soundtrack
Composer: Gustavo Santaolalla
The Quarantine Zone (20 Years Later)
The Last of Us
Vanishing Grace (Innocence)
By Any Means
The Last of Us (Never Again)
The Last of Us (Goodnight)
I Know What You Are
All Gone (Aftermath)
The Last of Us (A New Dawn)
All Gone (No Escape)
Vanishing Grace (Childhood)
All Gone (Alone)
The Way It Was
The Last of Us (You and Me)
All Gone (The Outside)
The Path (A New Beginning)
The Last of Us Soundtrack Volume 2
Composer: Gustavo Santaolalla, Jd Mayer, Anthony Caruso, and Andrew Buresh.
All Gone (Seasons)
All Gone (Partners)
Cause and Effect
All Gone (Reunion)
Left Behind (Together)
All Gone (Overcome)
The Last of Us (Astray)
The Path (Vacant)