The Last of Us has what many regard as one of the best intro sequences in games, as Joel and his daughter Sarah rush to safety in an attempt to survive Outbreak Day. Rather than the main protagonist Joel, the sequence has you play as Sarah, who wakes up in an empty house with no idea as to her father's whereabouts.
It's one of the more memorable parts of The Last of Us, but it turns out the intro was a whole lot different up until the final moments of planning. Naughty Dog recently uploaded the first episode in a series of YouTube videos taking a deep dive into the making of The Last of Us, in which co-president Neil Druckmann explains that the intro originally had you playing as Joel rather than Sarah.
Instead of searching the house looking for Joel as Sarah, you would instead play as Joel himself who hears a ruckus at his neighbor's house and goes over to investigate. After seeing they're infected, Joel would run back to his house to grab Sarah and flee to safety. Druckmann apparently scrapped the idea because it felt too familiar, deciding instead to have you view the day of the outbreak from the perspective of a child to make things seem a little scarier.
"The beginning of the game was one of the last things we got finalized when we were making The Last of Us," says Druckmann. "For a long time, the plan was to play as Joel, not to play as Sarah, and you as Joel would hear commotion over at your neighbor’s house, you would walk over there, you’d see they’re infected. Then you’d head back and grab your daughter and then run and it felt like "I've seen this." The aha moment when we were having a brainstorm in one of the design pods was what if you played as Sarah."
The rest of the video goes into great length describing how the intro we all know and love plays out, and how animators, designers, and many others worked tirelessly to create the emotionally devastating scene that anyone who's played The Last of Us will have been left a sobbing wreck over.
There's also some merit to the argument that this scene may not have hit as hard had you not played as Sarah for the first few minutes. Sarah's bedroom is full to the brim with items that show off her interests as well as the close relationship between her and Joel, and we get a better sense of her character as a result. The intro cutscene of Sarah gifting Joel his watch obviously does this as well, but putting players in the shoes of Sarah to begin with really ratchets up the tension and was ultimately why we're still talking about the impact of the game's intro today.
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