An opening sequence is designed to introduce people to the world they will be experiencing for the next however many hours, whether it may be a movie, book, or video game. This is evident from the very beginning of The Last of Us, where you start 20 years prior to the events of the rest of the game. Naughty Dog could have just gone with a simple introduction that explained why the world is like it is at the start, but they went a step further with one of the most heartbreaking video game moments of all time that we wanted to revisit just ahead of the release of The Last of Us Part 2.
While focused on the opening section of The Last of Us, this will feature some major spoilers for the entire that you will not want to know if you already don’t going in on your first playthrough. Experiencing this introduction for the first time with no context is very important, so be forewarned.
All of the marketing for The Last of Us obviously focused on both Joel and Ellie, so it was a bit of a surprise starting up The Last of Us and being in control of another character, which ends up being Joel’s daughter Sarah. Everything seems pretty normal at first, but it starts to ramp up by first showing a news report on the television that you can focus on watching or just keep walking around while it airs. During this broadcast, there is an explosion, which you also can hear and see in the distance of your house as well, which is where things really start to get real.
After Joel arrives and the first “sick” person arrives, everything starts to get really tense and sets the tone of what is to come. From here, you get to experience what is happening around the area while riding in the car, once again controlling Sarah. The fact you are able to move around in the car to see the different directions of what is happening worked well when it released and still works well now.
Where you really get a sense of what is to come in the game ahead of you though is after the truck they’re driving in gets t-boned and everyone is running wild in the streets. There are plenty of regular people along with those who have been infected, with it being a free for all to try and save yourself. This is where you finally get to play as Joel, where he has to carry Sarah after hurting her leg in the accident.
This is one of my personal favorite scenes as you are running down the street as madness ensues all around you. You really don’t have to worry about getting attacked here while running, as it’s easy to dodge everything around you. Instead, this serves as a way to introduce you to this new world that Joel will be living in. At the same time, you know something bad has to happen since Sarah is clearly not going to be part of the story moving forward.
This is the part that is truly one of the most heartbreaking, yet effective moments in all of gaming history, where Joel and Sarah manage to escape the city and it seems like everything is going to be okay. This is when they come across a military person who gets instructed to fire and shoots them. Joel tries to avoid the gunshots while holding Sarah, with Tommy coming in just at the right time to kill the military guy. However, the camera then pans over to the mortally wounded Sarah on the ground as she cries out in agony and pain while we have to see Joel watch his daughter die in front of him.
It usually takes really knowing a character to care this much about losing them, but to watch an innocent child at the beginning of something like this be straight up murdered is still hard to watch multiple playthroughs later. At the same time, it also perfectly sets the tone for what The Last of Us is and why Joel is how he is during the game. The cliche follow-up would have been Joel going crazy and trying to get revenge on the people responsible for her death, but instead the game goes an entirely different route.
Joel loses his only daughter and really the only thing he cares about in the world at the onset of this zombie apocalypse. When the game picks up 20 years later, we see a more hardened Joel that you can’t even imagine caring for anybody again. But that is what makes the relationship with Ellie all the more special during the game and also how it serves as a parallel to the ending of the game where he realizes he can’t lose another daughter like he did with Sarah. The introduction is fantastic all on its own, but it’s made even better with the final portions of the game that really tie back together everything.
There are very few introductory sections in a game that are as effective as The Last of Us. Not only is it absolutely gut-wrenching to watch that helps set the tone, but the payoff of Sarah and later Ellie makes it truly the perfect opening.