Why The Last of Us Prologue is a masterpiece of video game storytelling

Before we get too caught up in how the prologue foreshadows what’s to come, it’s important to recognize the power of the many small details that make these intro scenes so immersive. Consider, for example, the design of Joel and Sarah’s house. From the broken leather couch to the tiled kitchen floor and the clutter around the office, their home looks like a lived-in, oddly unremarkable house you might find in any suburb across the country. It’s so mundane, in fact, that you kind of have to take a step back to appreciate the role it plays.

This seemingly simple house gives the game world a palpable sense of scale. When Sarah watches an explosion occur during a live newscast and then sees the same explosion light up the night sky when she turns to look out the window upstairs, it brings us into the game world and we gives the feeling of being in a real place as opposed to a series of designed environments. We don’t yet know exactly what the threat is, but we know it’s real and we know it’s too close to that place of comfort and love that is quickly becoming compromised.

Travel is important too. We start in Sarah’s bedroom, explore the house, and drive around town, through Sarah’s eyes and with no cuts or loading screens. It was an impressive technical feat at the time (it’s a PS3 game we’re talking about), but again, what’s really significant here is that we’re spending this time as Sarah. We get to really get to know her, or, at the very least, that idea of ​​who she was that Joel clearly clings to for the rest of the game.

What would compel a man to condemn the world to himself alone? This is the question that The last of us‘ incredible ending forces us to grapple, and that’s the question the prologue is meant to help answer. As part of the larger story, Joel losing Sarah informs everything he (and, by extension, us as a player) is about to do. As Joel grows closer to Ellie, his desperation not to lose her like he lost Sarah ultimately drives him to sell the world out to save Ellie’s life (or rather, keep her in his life). His sacrifice was the key to stopping the fungal outbreak, but he just couldn’t let it go, even if it meant sacrificing the lives of others.

Joel is a man, not a monster. He is clearly capable of love and is a devoted father, to say the least. But he makes so many unethical and selfish decisions throughout the story that it becomes difficult to defend him as a good person. It’s easy to understand or even sympathize with his actions, but much harder to justify them. The revelation that slowly emerges from his journey with Ellie is that he is, for lack of a better term, one of the villains in the story. It’s a hard pill to swallow for anyone who lived through the game’s intro and carries the pain of losing Joel like him.

But remember at the start of the game when he, Tommy and Sarah drove past that pleading family on the side of the road even though they had room in the car? Maybe this is when the game was trying to tell us that, on some level, Joel was always that man. Maybe that’s not all he is, and maybe that’s not the best part of him, but it’s a part of him that would end up making a crucial decision. It’s those haunting little touches that make The last of usThe prologue is an outstanding piece of self-contained storytelling, a perfect example of foreshadowing, and one of the best video game intros of all time.