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The Last of Us game’s chilling opening was originally very different

Naughty Dog's The Last of Us has one of the most memorable intros in gaming, but studio head Neil Druckmann has revealed things could have been very different.

The Last of Us opening changes joel: an image of the two characters from TLOU survival horror game

One episode down, and it’s safe to say that HBO’s live-action adaptation of Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us game is a hit – and one major reason for that is the changes HBO has made to the story’s opening sequences. Did you know, though, that Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us originally had a very different set of opening scenes too? In a retrospective PS Blog post on the start of The Last Of Us – both the game and the show – Naughty Dog president and series co-director Neil Druckmann has revealed that TLOU’s original opening was solely focused on Joel and his experience, not Sarah.

“The beginning of the game was one of the last things we got finalised when we were making [it]”, Druckmann starts. “For a long time, the plan was to play as Joel, not to play as Sarah… [you] would hear commotion over at your neighbour’s house… walk over there.. see they’re infected.. then, you’d head back and grab your daughter”.

Druckmann adds that everything we see in The Last of Us beyond this point is how it was planned out, but explains that it felt too “familiar” to start the game from Joel’s perspective. The development team wanted to “differentiate the story from others in its genre”.

So, in an effort to do this, they decided on starting the game off as Sarah. We know Episode one of HBO’s The Last Of Us has a sneaky TLOU 2 easter egg hidden away in it, but we weren’t expecting to learn this about the now-iconic video game opening.

If you’re wondering why this decision was made, and why it’s actually very important to the game as a whole, it’s because of what it evokes in the player and how it sets the tone for the narrative as a whole.

“The fact that you’re seeing everything through a very innocent child made everything creepier [and] scarier”, Druckmann says. “That feeling of disconnection and worry [towards the situation] had to be portrayed”, adds SIE sound director and The Last of Us’ lead audio engineer Phil Kovats.

Art director Erick Pangilinan adds that “in the beginning of that game, it was very important to build the relationship of Joel and Sarah” – something the HBO series does so much better, thanks to extended scenes with Sarah and several more interactions with Joel before the outbreak.

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We know an exploratory opening with Joel does sound quite interesting, but it’s hard to argue with the opening that Naughty Dog decided on. Sarah’s confusion and terror perfectly encapsulates the general state of chaos unfolding in the opening scenes of TLOU and we can’t imagine we would have half as much of an emotional connection to the young child if we didn’t experience those brief moments of tension through her eyes.

If you haven’t played this game yet, PS Plus users can now try The Last of Us Part 1 remake for free. So, it’s worth doing that before the HBO series’ second episode drops. This is one of the best PS5 games of all time and it’s clear to see that Naughty Dog is at the top of its’ game when it comes to creating engaging and emotive narratives.