When I heard that Naughty Dog is working on TLOU2 I couldn't be happier. I don't give a rat's ass about Nathan Drake or Crash Bandicoot, ND's other IPs, but TLOU...
Yeah, you shouldn't get me started. I've become somewhat of an amateur-expert on Cordyceps even. The level of nerdism runs that deep when it comes TLOU and what surrounds it. The only thing I possibly take further than that is Firefly.
The whole premise of TLOU isn't even that awesome when you look at it from a respectable distance. Guy gets trusted upon him an adolescent girl and has to schlep her through NA's post-pandemic wasteland because reasons. Cue everything and the kitchensink, thus. Further more the game is as repetitive as groundhog day is. Shoot infected, ferry girl on a water-puzzle, hide behind convenient waist-high cover and die because the AI's counter to the cover-shooter mechanic is the bumrush. Now that I think about it, TLOU is a bogstandard cover-shooter that has bolted on crafting because fuck you and lacks character-evolving through stats or perks. It's linear and many times you're fooled into believing that you hurry forward because of enemies that are supposed to hunt you down. But they never do. It's just soundfiles playing.
Another thing that kept playing through my mind was that the girl, Ellie, was and remains unharmed in the rape-department. Cynical maybe, but are we really sitting here showing a realistic post-pandemic lawless society where girls and women are left alone? Who are we kidding here?
But TLOU is easily the best game I've played in a long time if you're discarding the Sims 3. Because I live and breathe the Sims3, really. I can explain why that is for TLOU quite simply, atmosphere and likable characters. The main protagonist, Joel, is perfectly set up as a father, provider and a homemaker to his daughter Sara at the start of the game. One the eve of the Cordyceps outbreak, Sara perishes and the game has sunken it's claws into you, leaving you unable to judge Joel for his later actions. I found and still find myself excusing Joel for doing deplorable things in horrible situations. But Joel isn't the good guy. He's a gangster who has a kill on sight list longer than my arm is, he's in it purely for himself, alienates everyone he meets almost straight away (Even his closest friends.) and is in general not a savory individual. His comrade in crime is comparably even more ruthless than Joel is and there's some allusion to the two having a romantic interest in eachother, but it's clearer that the relationship is practical. Two piranhas eat a body faster than one does, naturally. Yet, Joel is still grounded enough to form friendships. And that's a good thing because...
..,Ellie. A fifteen years old orphan that was originally in the care of the military to be groomed as a soldier, which is something the military likes to do with all orphans they come across, it seems. However, Ellie discovers that her sexuality pushes her into a budding romance with another girl in the care of the military, Riley, and together they try to elope. That doesn't work out well and they get overwhelmed by the infected. Riley turns and Ellie gives her girlfriend mercy. Also bitten, Ellie then waits for her end to come, but it never does. By some power no one understands, Ellie is immune to the Cordyceps infection.
She falls in the hands of freedom-fighters who call themselves Fireflies (Which still gives me weird associations with spaceships.). The Fireflies get their asses handed to them by the military left and right, but still they have the fortitude to do important research to beat the Cordyceps in a super-secret Firefly facility way up north. What they can't do is bringing Ellie up there themselves because... well, the military, you see. The Fireflies are getting beat up badly, have no resources and no man-power to bring Ellie to their super-secret facility where they do all that research themselves. Yeah, the Fireflies are all but wiped out. They still do resource-eating research though. Way up north. That explains everything.
Joel doesn't want to take the job. He knows what's out there and how bad it can get. But outgunned by sheer girlpower, he grudgingly conforms to the needs of the many and the game seriously picks up past that. Naughty Dog succeeded in delivering a game with characters that have far more depth to them than a game-character deserves to have. Ellie captures the heart and mind from the start. She's ornery and snarky, but sees in Joel a treasure-trove of information on how the world used to be before the pandemic. She has a fine sense of humor that ranges from off-center observations to basic pun-jokes and she possesses a sharp perspective on the world she finds herself in. Ellie is born after the pandemic and knows not any better. Her ideas about how the world used to be make me smile a lot, especially when she asks after the meaning of advertizements. They're a world of wonder to her. And mannequins. She really don't understand mannequins.
The start of the journey is awkward. Joel still carries with him the loss of Sara and Ellie reminds him of his lost daughter a bit more than he cares to admit. To compensate, he treats Ellie as a thing instead of a person and that works, initially. Ellie's youthful exhuberance, endless wonder, weird interests and her pinpoint accuracy when pushing Joel's buttons insidiously work to soften Joel up towards his charge. Throughout the journey Joel recovers the feeling of how it was being a father and a mentor and Ellie learns to put her trust into a person other than herself. They form a friendship that evolves in a true father/daughter relationship on a level where Joel sits Ellie down and asks her for her opinion on her being the possible savior of mankind.
About being the savior of mankind, Ellie shrugs. Like Joel, she's isn't really interested in what she can do for others but in what's in it for herself. She steals, maims and kills without losing a night's sleep over it grounded on a moral compass that doesn't go further than 'better you than me'. It would be a little far fetched to expect altruism from a young person shaped in a world like hers and thus Ellie excerts that she wants to see it through because, "...of all the things we did. I did... I want it to mean something." That's it. Ellie wants to push on so that all the things that passed stay passed. She's running away and wants to stay running even if that kills her in the name of something that might not even work. Is it because of Riley? Does she want to be reunited with Riley in death? Sadly, Riley is redshirt and so we don't talk about Riley. Like ever.
So, the pair more or less reach the super-secret facility where the battered, almost wiped out Fireflies yet command a veritable fortress with seemingly limitless resources. Here, on the moment that the Fireflies want to crack Ellie's skull to device a cure for the Cordyceps that's at the heart of humanity's extinction cycle, Joel decides that it is all wrong. Was the journey more important than the destination to Joel? Does he think that dying for a cure isn't worth it? The first time I played through that section I agreed with Joel. They live in a bleak world where dog eats dog, sure. Why would anyone, especially one who's born into it, redeem it? For what? To have lawyers and taxes back? To slave away to keep the 'economy' going, which in itself is an abstract more than it is a given? Joel murders his way to the OR where surgeons are about to sacrifice Ellie on the altar of possibilities and murders a bit more there for good measure. There falls the veil for Joel too, as his intentions with saving Ellie from certain death aren't rooted in principles and filosophics. 'I got you, babygirl!', he exclaims as he finishes his daring rescue with a cold-blooded murder on the leader of the Fireflies. Joel wanted nothing more than his daughter back.
Joel goes as far as to swear on a lie when Ellie questions him on what happened in the Firefly facility and why she's still alive with nothing to show for it. Ellie looks at Joel, who unwaveringly stares back at her. Ellie says simply...
The story ends there, but that 'Okay' leans heavy on the story. Ellie, born, raised and educated in a dystopian world isn't at all stupid, vapid or shallow. That 'Okay' has locked within it all the knowledge of what really happened and a deep disappointment about not having enough trust from Joel for him to tell his surrogate daughter the truth. Sequel-bait, a cynic would say.
I just want more. Ellie's story isn't finished yet and Joel has deviced an anvil over his head the size of the state of New York that has to drop at some point. Are the Fireflies really done? Will the Cordyceps infection escalate even further? Will the military strengthen her grip on society even more? Will Ellie get the truth confirmed to her? How will that affect her relationship with Joel? Will Joel lose his surrogate daughter over it, or will Ellie forgive him? Will they go another road-trip to chase possibilities and unclear what ifs?
I have to admit that I can't wait for TLOU2. I want this story to go on. I want to immerse myself in the post-pandemic world of Ellie and Joel again. And I want Ellie to find peace in her life. Heck, may she even fall in love with a fresh-faced girl and let them beat the Cordyceps together, with enough cheese on the plotholes to go around. It's all good. I just want more of the same by the spoonful.
As a sidenote, The Last of Us is a singular experience that you must have played. You can literally plaster all the gamer-negativity on the title that you can think of and TLOU will fit them all perfectly. But cheese done right is cheese done right. And cheese... cheese never changes. ^^