Log: The Last of Us – Left Behind

This article contains spoilers for The Last of Us and its expansion, Left Behind.

The Last of Us leaves us with a full circle in terms of plot, character development, and universe. Of course, this all pertains to Joel, our rough and gruff lumberjack of a protagonist. He has his weaknesses and those weaknesses are what shape the entire game, subverting expectations while Naughty Dog plies every trope of the zombie aesthetic into the story. It’s only when he’s impaled and stuck in limbo that the focus shifts to Ellie, and her needs in their father-daughter relationship.

Luckily for us, the game advances the plot and drops us of at a stage where Ellie is somewhat experienced with surviving on her own. Left Behind shows us a space in between when she’s hunting for supplies in a dilapidated shopping mall. Joel is still cut open from his tumble and sutures are what he needs to stop the bleeding. But one open wound gives way to another, and Ellie’s need for intimacy is fully exposed. The story cuts back and forth between two points in her life: a present and past where she came face to face with the fear of losing a loved one.

It’s strange, to think there’s a calm before the storm, even in post-apocalyptia. When we played as Joel he brought our world into his, the main story showing his life both before and after the pandemic. This was an easy way to channel our expectations and understandings of contemporary life while funnelling it into the dystopian future of The Last of Us. Ellie was born in a world infected and dissolute. What works so well about this gaiden is that we get to see life as she understands it. There was a time when she was living a comfortable life, albeit comfortable by her standards. She was a regular kid making the best of her efforts in the only world she knows. She went to school, joked around, and shared this carefree style with her best friend, Riley.

Riley and Ellie in Left Behind.

“Childlike wonder lies around every corner of Ellie’s flashbacks, using her despair to rediscover the breathing space she used to have.”

Riley was an outlet, a way for her to express whatever jovial antics she was forced to repress. Childlike wonder lies around every corner of Ellie’s flashbacks, using her despair to rediscover the breathing space she used to have. She was quite the dreamer: planning trips, thinking about space travel, and at the same time staying grounded in the fact that her life was confined to whatever the military instructed. While the majority of the story involves walking from one joke or mini-game to another, this structure’s never felt so engaging. These small bursts of unique interactions elicit meaning in how they’re used. Most games string a chain of mini-games as filler, but this account let’s you see the fun Ellie abandoned before she went on her road trip with Joel.

The story intercuts between past and present to contrast these two worlds Ellie’s lived in. Her past is rose-coloured, showing a carefree life of jumping from one escapade to the next. The majority of these sections take place in the golden hum of a resurrected mall where Riley and Ellie fool around in the world of yesterday, when electricity was prevalent. They ride a carousel, use a photo booth, and try to figure our what “Facebook” means. There are no infected, no hunters — just walking and playing, in the most literal sense of the word. Though in the end, her adventure is cut short with an abrupt collision with the realities of her world. Clickers give chase, both of them get bitten. But where one girl meets her demise, the other is revealed her gift.

In the present Ellie scours a snowed in mall, pallid and littered with threats. She faces danger, alone, and struggles to survive and reach Joel in order to avoid another loss in her life. The plot hinges on this attachment she has to her adopted father, and the refusal to let death take him. While she was full developed by the end of The Last of Us we never got to see what her life entailed — what “normal” means in this post-pandemic future. Left Behind gives us a window into the past, through the open wound Ellie still harbours.

An Ascending Breath of Fresh Air

The God of War series has been one of Playstation’s strongest franchises since its debut in 2005. The titles have been known for their graphics, scores and the accessible combat that carries its gameplay. Early in 2012, SCE Santa Monica revealed that their next project in the series, God of War Ascension, is a prequel exploring the events “before Kratos became known as the Ghost of Sparta.”

Kratos’ journeys aren’t known for riveting stories or innovative gameplay, but rather how its epic scores and visuals come into balance with accessible fighting mechanics. This creates a presentation difficult to rival. The concept of a God of War prequel is quite intriguing. The first instalment had an interesting story of Kratos willing to go through anything to exact revenge on Ares and put an end to his tyranny by  retelling the story of a hero selling his soul to the devil. However as the series went on, Kratos became more of bloodthirsty barbarian than a tragic hero.

This is a dive into the uncharted waters of the God of War universe and no doubt there’s a lot of work going into the project. I found the first game to have the best plot and it’ll be interesting to see how Kratos came to the suicidal state he was in at the beginning of the series. Though I believe most people desire a new story. One that’s a genuine Greek tragedy and hopefully stays clear of the usual theme of futile journeys and ironclad fates. It’s also difficult to relate to Kratos when all the previous games had him constantly yelling and murdering gods for no greater purpose beyond power. To see Kratos as a general with emotions and realistic ambitions will be a welcome addition to this Spartan’s story and I’m excited to find out how Sony Santa Monica will tackle this.

It's safe to assume gorgons will return.

Historical events like the Battle of Marathon or the Battle of Thermopylae would be interesting to partake in. These battles could be even more fascinating if Kratos fought alongside historical figures like King Cleomenes or King Leonidas. In addition, it would be nice to see Kratos simply expressing some actual affection for someone or even meeting new characters that don’t end up dead soon after their introductions.

Though this untouched narrative shows a lot of potential, I have my concerns about the gameplay. As simple as it’s always has been, the main hook in the gameplay was the sheer brutality of Kratos’ actions, the scope of his fights and the feeling of empowerment the player gains. I’m sure Kratos will find someone or something that gives him some form of superhuman abilities, but the total scope and feeling of empowerment is worrying. Kratos having fought every interesting mythological creature and god I can think of, I’m curious as to what may be considered enough of a threat for him to go out of his way to kill this time and still maintain a sense of vigor. Both the titans and gods have already been defeated in past entries and having to fight mere mortals in God of War Ascension would far from enough because of the precedents set within the series. When I first saw Kratos climbing about the Colossus of Rhodes my jaw dropped. The scope of his goal is something that is rarely shown in video games and is never well executed when replicated in titles outside the series.

As fun as the games may be, Kratos’ story is being dragged out quite the bit and this prequel is a result of Sony Santa Monica painting themselves into a corner. I’m hoping the studio soon moves away from Kratos and tries a new idea with a fresh approach. But I’ll be the first to admit that I love everything the series has to offer and wouldn’t mind them just starting anew with a different setting. For instance, it would really interest me to see a God of War style game set in Egypt fighting the creatures and gods of ancient Egyptian mythos. An intricate story and well written characters would be welcome also as that’s been a weakness of the series in its recent entries. That being said, Sony Santa Monica hasn’t made a second-rate God of War title so there’s no fair reason to doubt them. The series needs a breath of fresh air and I’m hoping that God of War Ascension is the title to do so.