By the end of The Last of Us I had no idea how to feel. Hell—I started writing this in September, but I couldn’t bring myself to finish it. I was frustrated and wanted to vent, but I also wanted to express myself with a clear, calm mind. So I’m back and ready to say why I can’t stand the ending to this wonderful game.
I had my own thoughts on the game before playing it. I thought it looked fun, had solid graphics, and—like a lot of games that everyone seems to love—I thought it didn’t deserve the hype it had generated. You’re not supposed to do that, but I did. I still do that. Hi, I’m Patrick, and I am a human.
I’m not a cynic—maybe overly critical at worst—but I like to keep my expectations low. When I see something get hyped up, I have to make a decision:
“Hype Train has arrived! Next stop, that thing everybody likes right now! All aboard!”
- I either jump on the Hype Train and start shoveling coal, or...
- I adjust my tie and say, “No thanks. I’ve got better things to do.”
It’s the same reason I never saw a frame of Breaking Bad until the series was already over, and it’s exactly why Bioshock Infinite is in my Steam library with zero hours played. It’s a defensive measure, I suppose. If I blow something off with the assumption that it’s “just okay,” when I finally play—or watch—the thing, I’m either right on the money or wrong in the best way possible.
And I sure do love to be wrong.
After about an hour of The Last of Us, I knew I was. I was completely sucked in, and by the time Ellie was involved I didn’t want to do anything else but play to see what happens. At first, a game about a middle-aged man guarding a 14 year old that’s not his daughter sounds weird. Or it did. In my mind now, Joel and Ellie are one of gaming’s greatest duos. The father-daughter chemistry is delightful, and it’s hard not to care about the two. I was in love.
Then the end came...
I hate to be that guy, but seriously, if you haven’t finished the game and plan to: stop reading.
I don’t want to harp on the ending too much. Everyone has covered both sides of how people feel about it pretty well for the most part. Kirk Hamilton wrote a great piece about the game’s ending and why it doesn’t need a sequel. I’m inclined to agree with him, but still, something about the ending doesn’t sit well with me...
First off, Ambiguity is a beautiful thing. It gets the mind reeling and it can make a powerful statement. If it were a film, I’d say the ambiguous ending in the The Last of Us should be celebrated.
But this isn’t a film. This isn’t a book, or an episode of a TV show. This was a long, engaging experience that sent me to hell and I’m not sure I ever got to come back.
Games are different than other mediums—they’re interactive. I didn’t just watch or imagine these things happen. These things happened and I did them. I killed countless men, I ended an endless number of infected people’s suffering, and I crossed the country to get that damn girl to where she was supposed to be. Me.
I am Joel and I am Ellie. I did not watch them or read them, I acted through them.
I did all of those things... and I have to live with it. Hours and hours of enduring the fall of humanity, and I don’t even get to choose. I don’t even get to see some sort of light at the end of the dark tunnel. Tess was the lucky one.
By the end, I’d brutally killed a fuckton of people, watched people’s lives fall apart in notes and photos, and survived the near impossible. This is what I get? The things I’ve done, the things I bared witness to... this is my reward? I wonder if I would have even tried to finish the game knowing what I know now...
Yet, I want to start it again. I miss Joel, and I miss Ellie. When it comes to games, I’ve never encountered such a good example of the old saying, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.”
But I’m tired. I can’t bring myself to shiv another man’s throat, and I can’t imagine having to sneak through a room of clickers again. I can’t watch Joel struggle with his daughter’s death, and I can’t watch Ellie get hurt again. It’s too much. The experience was incredible for me and—even with what I consider one of the most unsatisfying endings in anything—I’m glad Joel and Ellie’s struggles are over now. I hope they finally got to where they wanted to go.
I came in with intentionally low expectations and was blown away. Then when everything came crashing down, I remember setting the controller down to go for a walk and clear my head. I don’t want to complain, but to tell the truth, I’ve never felt so short-changed. I’ve never loved and hated something so much at the same time! I suppose I can take solace in this alternate ending. It seems everyone owes Vin a 10-second car these days.
I could be alone in feeling this way, and that’s okay, but I definitely took something away from my experience. I’ve always believed that games can transcend normal storytelling and do something no other medium can. The Last of Us might be the best proof of that I’ve come across so far. Here’s hoping I get my heart twisted, torn, and broken even more in the future. I’ll keep playing until the last of me is gone.