There are bad games, there are good games, and there are great games. Sometimes though, a game comes along that surpasses everything that’s come before. A game that smashes expectations, raises the bar, and redefines what the pastime can, and should be.
Naughty Dog’s stellar post-apocalyptic thriller The Last of Us is one of those titles. Critically adored, it was the culmination of a generation’s worth of lessons, and was the perfect end to Sony’s third era.
Creating a modern classic doesn’t happen by accident though, and any truly great game is the sum of equally great parts. Engaging characters, brought to life by terrific voice actors, meticulous animations, jaw-dropping graphics, and a compelling, absorbing story all ensure The Last of Us is a once in a generation experience.
The perfect companion
Helping cement The Last of Us’ place in the annals of video game history is Gustavo Santaolalla’s superb score, which, to put it lightly, is a triumph in every way imaginable.
Naughty Dog’s tale of sorrow, lost humanity, and lingering hope is brought to life through Santaolalla’s acoustic 30 track vision, with the Academy Award winning composer’s slow burning tones echoing the game’s every heartbeat.
As most of you will already know, The Last of Us isn’t a charming fable that uses a backdrop of despair to highlight the soft, resilient glow of the human spirt.
In this world humanity has already lost the fight, succumbing to a contagious fungus that has eradicated life as we know it. Those unfortunate enough to be infected must either find an easy way out, or face turning into a grotesque, feral husk. Those ‘lucky’ enough to survive must do whatever’s necessary in order to cling to life for another day.
It’s a reality that’s painfully familiar: a twisted, eerie realm where nature has started to take back what’s rightfully hers, brushing aside any remnants of civilisation and human resilience.
Infected lurk around every corner, keeping players on their toes in even the most disarming circumstances. It is a dangerous world, a dark world, and, above all else, a beautiful world: a fact that Santaolalla can’t wait to hammer home at every available opportunity.
The soundtrack is, at times, an understated affair, purposefully offering a quiet contrast to the horrors players are exposed to. It’s in those subtle moments, when Santaolalla’s work breaks the gaming mould by actively encouraging reflection, pushing players to wrangle with the moral dilemma’s laid out in front of them, that the composer’s mastery of his craft becomes irrefutably clear.
Every single emotion that The Last of Us hurls at players is accentuated by Santaolalla’s score. Tracks such as The Last of Us, Vanishing Grace, and The Path expertly frame show-stopping moments, taking an already breathtaking experience to even greater heights.
It’s a driving force, a musically engineered co-star, and, amid all of the game’s chaos and despair, Santaolalla’s OST will make you believe that there’s still something worth fighting for.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t get dark when it needs to, with the sinister tones of I know What You Are, Blackout, and Infected proving exactly why The Last of Us is considered one of the most unnervingly atmospheric games in recent memory.
Ultimately, The Last of Us is a game about real, visceral emotions. It’s a title that lives or dies on its narrative, and, as players, it’s essential that we engross ourselves in the unnervingly real world Naughty Dog has created. Thankfully, Santaolalla makes that easy, inviting us in by offering us exactly what we need at exactly the right moment.
Poignant, moving, and overflowing with desolate hope, Santaolalla’s score will surely become just as iconic as the game itself. It is unmissable.