Joel Is The Last Of Us

Joel Is The Last Of Us

You creep behind cover, you place the cursor on the head of the faceless enemy, you hold L1 and pull the trigger. The body ragdolls and falls dead. You’ve seen this animation before — more times than you dare to count. You are comfortable here. But this may be the last time you pull the trigger like that. The last time you kill a man. It might be.

Joel is the protagonist of The Last Of Us and he is old. His hair is ragged and greasy, flecked with gray; his skin pallid and wrinkled. Joel doesn’t kill with the youthful exuberance of a half-tucked Nathan Drake, or the lumbering ultra violence of Marcus Fenix. Joel must stand still or he won’t make his shots. Joel needs time to heal himself. Joel must hide and creep. Joel says little but bears the weight of those he has killed, the terrible things he has seen and done.

Decades ago; you imagine a sprightlier Joel. He carries a lighter conscience. Killing comes easy. Joel might have been Nathan Drake or Marcus Fenix in a past life. He might have been Master Chief, a silent killing machine with zero empathy or remorse. He might have been. But now, today, as the PS3 and the Xbox 360 trundles towards its last hurrah, Joel is the last of us, The Last of Them. He is the ragged, reluctant killer. Bone tired of shooting at enemies from cover; world weary — literally he no longer wants to engage with the universe he inhabits. Joel is the last man standing in a shootout we’ve endured and participated in for an entire generation.

Joel is the last of us.

Joel is a permanent fixture in the ruin of the world we once built; a testament to the technology that transformed our lives. Now it is our tomb. Skyscrapers that once soared effortlessly into a vertical vanishing point lean precariously on one another for support, crumbling beneath the weight of their own history. We are part of that history: a generation of gamers repeating the precise same mechanic, across multiple different games a terrifying amount of times.

In The Last Of Us you are guided by rubble. The linear paths we’re accustomed to in games of this ilk are illumined by flickering lights, decaying brick work, collapsed ceilings. The broken way we play video games is sustained in a broken world, by a broken world. In The Last Of Us the zombie equivalent is a terrifying foe, but Joel is afraid of human beings — because they will shoot on sight. They are a brutal, hardened version of humanity: a horde of murderous Nathan Drakes who shoot first and ask questions later. As players our best option is to cower in fear, to sneak past a hundred versions of the players we once were: cold hearted killers that will put a bullet in your brain because we literally had no other choice.

Video games are a product of their time, and the technology of their time. In that sense all video games are allegories. But The Last Of Us is the ultimate game of its type: a video game that renders its own tropes dead or in the slow process of dying. Naughty Dog didn’t invent the idea of the jovial confident killer in Nathan Drake, but they perfected it: a virtual Dorian Gray pursuing a life of murderous violence without consequence. Joel is the portrait in the attic, wearing the weight of our debauchery in every wrinkle and scar.

Joel, like the video game he inhabits, is a crumbling relic in the process of dying. It is visible in every step he takes, every shot he fires. Ellie is young, she was born into the crumbling world and takes it for granted, but Joel is a product of a once functioning world that is now torn apart and useless.

The Last Of Us is the last of them. And Joel is The Last Of Us.


  • Wow. Well written. Now it got me thinking about his watch again. Everything in life is so darn temporary…

  • I don’t want to read this in case there’s spoilers, could someone confirm this?

      • I’ll be buying it when I get some money put aside … but at the moment I’m kind of on avoiding anything after I accidentally got shown the thing that happens before meeting Tess

        • Oh. Dang. If it’s any consolation, someone spoiled who the killer in Heavy Rain was for me. And I was looking forward to that game for ages.

          • That sucks, man. Someone ruined the ending of Red Dead Redemption for me – after I specifically asked then not to – purely out of spite. It always sucks.

    • I know that feels on affording it. At the moment I’m not buying ANYTHING unnecessary, hoarding all my cash for a trip to Melbourne and PAX. Just in case I need to spend frivolously. I’m not certain that I will, but it remains a constant, terrifying (to my wallet) possibility.

      • I’m kind of in the same boat, although I’ve got some money set aside for ozcomiccon, a meet and greet with edgar wright, PAX and then paying off my housemates rent until he starts his new job.

  • Caved in and bought it last night, it’s yet arrive. I literally have not seen or heard a single bad thing about this game so I’m really looking forward to this.

    • I’m on my second play-through now, and the hype around this game may seem un-warranted during the first couple of hours. But, the last 2 thirds of the game is some of the best fun i’ve had with a game in so long. Especially with having to alternate between stealth and Rambo style. Man, freaking amazing.

  • Its so good, multiplayer is a nice change too, like steal gears of war with crafting on the go

  • I’d also like to point out that Joel is one of the few protagonists with a beard! In fact I struggle to think of any other…

      • Yeah in hindsight I should have thought about that harder. But few are proper beards like that. Or the protagonist doesn’t always have a beard. But you’re right, there’s actually quite a few.

        • If there’s even one clean-shaven ‘man’ pretending to be a badass on the screen, that’s one too few proper beards.

      • Off the top of my head, looking at the games on my shelf. Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne, Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Golden Axe, Dues Ex, Medal of Honor, Ghosts and Goblins, Metal Gear Solid. Also games that allow you to play as characters that have beards: Gears of War, Street Fighter, Skyrim, Oblivion, Mass Effect, Borderlands, Fable. That’s with minimal thought. I’m sure there’s loads of other examples if you have a think about it. Bearded video game protagonists have long been a staple of the industry.

          • Splinter Cell – Sam Fisher, Ethan Thomas – Condemned, Kyle Katarn (Jedi video games), The agent – Crackdown, Aragorn – LOTR, Kane and Lynch,

            That’s all I got right now from the games I own but I know there’s many, many more. I’m just too sleepy right now.

        • Yeah good list there. Though Max only for a bit. Ezio does in Revelations. Jensen’s beard is more of a goatee-beard hybrid. And Snake not in all of them.

          But yeah, I was pretty wrong. I played all of those but couldn’t think of them.

          • There’s a lot more clean chins than hairy ones but in the late half of the 2010s up until now, beards have come back on. In lots of media. Perhaps it was the lord of the rings movies or the metal scene. Who knows. But bearded dudes are more common.

          • Haha. Well I’m currently sporting a beard. Trimmed though, so only being a semi-badass. 😛

          • Well. Yeah. We can’t all join the Brotherhood of Big and be mistaken for bikies or wisdom-imparting hermits. …OR WIZARDS AND VIKINGS.

            I may have to rethink my trimming.

          • Did you know that culturally (in western culture at least), facial hair is most associated with being a villain? I saw a really interesting exercise with Allan Pease. During a seminar he picks half a dozen people from the audience to play out a mock western scene. He asks the audience to pick who’ll play the various roles and the audience chose the exact people he predicted. He man with the glasses was chosen as the banker because glasses are associated with intelligence and success. The man with the goatee was chosen as the villain because facial hair represents being evil. According to him, we all have specific set of visual criteria on which we judge people based on the culture in which we’ve been raised.

            He then went on to explain that people form an almost complete opinion of you within the first seconds of meeting you and that people with beards ought to begin meeting anyone new with a polite or friendly gesture to combat that subconscious prejudice towards bearded people.

          • Wow, that’s fascinating. Now I’m thinking I should drop the beard. I like beards though. :/

          • Even worse, I buzz my head, so now even my Mum complains that I look like a criminal and she keeps waiting to see when the neck tattoos are going to turn up. 😛

            It’s not about being a skinhead, it’s about having a receding hairline and the dignity and self-respect to avoid a bloody comb-over. Or worse, ‘the island’. You know what I’m talking about… When you have a widow’s peak that curves so hard it loops back in on itself and isolates a little patch.
            NOT ON MY WATCH. That day that particular recession completes itself is the day I start shaving my head with a razor.

          • Shaving a receding hairline is the smart thing to do. When you see someone going bald it looks like the hair is leaving them, but if they shave their head it’s like they’re saying “pffft, hair? Good riddance. Who needs it anyway, it just sits around being annoying and needing to be styled.” When you see someone with a receding hairline it’s like they’re saying “please hair, don’t leave me, I don’t want you to go yet”. Having a shaved head like Bruce Willis is like breaking up with your hair before it breaks up with you.

          • Totally agree. Anyone with a receding hairline and or bald patch (I have both) that tries to keep their hair just looks terrible.

            Been shaving my head for about 15 years now and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Started growing a beard too about 12 months ago, I like it (but my wife doesn’t).

          • He gives bald men hope. In fact, shaved Bruce Willis is 5 times more badass than stupid, hair possessing Bruce Willis.

          • If you pit every version of John McClane against each other, it’s pretty apparent that the later two versions could take on and beat the first three.

  • I’ve been putting off buying this because I still havent bought Bioshock Infinite… I think I’m buying it after work

    • Skip Bioshock and go straight to tLoU. The story is AWESOME in BS:I, but gameplay doesn’t feel like any great leap forward from BS2. Wait for the inevitable $20 EB sale to get it – I regret the purchase.

      Haven’t regretted tLoU for a second. Multiplayer feels like a real team effort, and the story is Naughty Dog strong. Worth every 10/10 rating it’s been given.

  • Finished this game last night. Was awesome. And I didn’t even get proper stuck on any combat bits, even though it usually took me a few goes.

    • Same here – run through on hard was pleasantly challenging, but not prohibitively so. Been working through a Survival play before moving to New Game +.

      • I’m not sure my nerves could take playing on Survival. I think I’ll stick to a nice relaxing NG+.

        • I just finished Survivor after finishing it on Normal on my first play through. It’s brutal. There aren’t really any more enemies than on normal (although I think there may be a greater clicker-to-runner ratio, although I may be imagining that), and they’re not really any tougher than on normal. But there’s just absolutely no ammo or resources available… you have to make absolutely everything count. Most of the time I didn’t even have a damn shiv. It even affected the weapon upgrades I chose. On normal I upgraded the ammo capacity of certain weapons that I used a lot (like the semi auto pistol and the shotgun) as far as I could. Didn’t really bother upgrading more than once or twice on Survivor because there’s so little ammo around that I never had a full clip anyway, so no point increasing capacity further. The bow is a godsend because, in addition to being silent, you can sometimes get several uses out of a single arrow.

          And those locked rooms that cost a shiv to open but are full of goodies? I stopped bothering after a while. On Normal I’d unlock it because there’d usually be just about enough stuff in there to craft a new shiv to replace the one I spent unlocking it. On Survivor you might get 50 weapon parts or something, but that’s it.

          Also, you don’t have the R2 “listen” ability – I didn’t realize how much of a crutch that was until it was taken away from me.

          But for all that, I think Survivor actually makes it a better game in many ways… it really drives home that sense of desperation to survive, or having to make every single resource count.

  • Even though I haven’t played TLOU, captivating writing dude. Thanks.

  • I bought it on release, and it lives up to the hype. But I’m trying to play it on Survivor, and I just have 2 words:
    F–KING BLOATERS!!!!! If you don’t know what I mean, you soon will

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!