In every top 100 video games of all time list, The Last Of Us scores very high. I bought this game for PlayStation 3 the day it came out. But in 2013, I was way busier with partying than sitting at home, and I never really got into it. I played the first hour or so, not long enough to realize what kind of masterpiece I was missing out on.
My PlayStation 3 was succeeded by an Xbox One. Because of this, I was missing out on all those sublime PlayStation exclusives that the Sony studios kept releasing.
Recently, I've bought a Playstation 5. A big reason was the PS Plus Collection: a collection of 20 of those previous generation PS Exclusive games you get for free. Gems like Detroit: Become Human, God Of War, The Last Guardian, and The Last Of Remastered.
Before we get to the giraffes, a bit of back-story. The Last Of Us is a game about a pandemic. A pandemic that's slightly worse than the one we're in right now: infected become zombies, and once bitten, you become one yourself.
** Mild spoilers ahead **
You play The Last Of Us as Joel, a man in his 40s. Joel loses his daughter at the beginning of the pandemic (in a powerful opening scene). Fast-forward 20 years, and you are asked to bring Ellie, a teenage girl who turns out to be immune to the virus, to a rebel group (the Fireflies).
A fairly well-known post-apocalyptic story, as seen before in Children of Men of The Road.
On the way to those Fireflies, you come across a lot of horrors. Hordes of infected, but also other people, all of whom are engaged in surviving in their own way. But even in the absence of life, the game is dark. You explore houses, offices, and shops and discover lives lost and the effect 20 years of vacancy does to buildings.
The game is divided into seasons, and each season ends with a bang and a fade to black. And every single time, I wanted to turn off my PlayStation and just stare into the void for half an hour.
Especially after "Winter" ended. You play this part as Ellie, and you'll be in a snow-covered winter village somewhere in Colorado. The hours before, the character of the "bad guy" David is deeply refined. He has evolved from the charismatic man you happen to meet at the beginning of winter to the monster you discover he really is.
The finale is horrible. Fade to black.
This here giraffe
Luckily, the game designers knew you can't put in any more ugliness after such a scene. Spring begins with bright colors and Ellie, clearly quieter and more retracted.
You're in Salt Lake City, and the hospital you have to take Ellie to is literally within reach. You just need to go through a bus terminal.
The ideal place to put hundreds of infected in, the designers must have thought. But they didn't, and instead, they created one of the most beautiful scenes I've ever seen in a video game.
At some point in that bus terminal, you give Ellie a little push so she can reach a ladder. This ladder almost falls on your head because Ellie is suddenly very excited about something she sees. What follows is five minutes of pure magic.
Near the bus terminal must have been a zoo. The herd of giraffes is now walking around on what was once the sports field.
Between all the horrors of The Last Of Us, there's a sudden burst of humanity. A resting point. It may seem like a little moment, but it's so beautiful. It's a moment of much-needed safety, so you can recharge your batteries before you start the last (incredibly) heavy part of the game.
While you're on the roof with Ellie enjoying the view of the giraffes, you can clearly see the door where you need to go through to continue. You realize that you go back to the harsh reality once you go through there and that this beautiful moment is over forever.
But forward is the only way. Or as Ellie himself says right before you go in the door, "After all we've been through. Everything that I've done. It can't be for nothing."
Words that will hit you like a boomerang at the end of the game. What an outstanding achievement from developer Naughty Dog. I'll start immediately on the DLC and part 2.
By the way, while playing, I could not help but see similarities with the current pandemic. Okay, we're not going to be zombies, but in the past year, it has also looked bleak and hopeless sometimes. We also lost some humanity along the way. Hope and despair still alternate. But remember, there will always be giraffes. Literally, but mostly figuratively. Cherish those moments.