The first time you play through The Last of Us you spend every moment jumping at shadows and running terrified from crazed bandits and fungus-based murder mutants and did anyone else just realize this game is a gritty Super Mario Bros. remake! All joking aside, it's probably going to be the atmospherically horrifying high-water mark on Playstation until The Evil Within is released in October.
I'm on my third playthrough now, and once you're at that level you stop screaming and get down to the business of play with a bit more confidence. Rather than getting out of each stage as fast as you can, you learn how to eliminate threats and leave you more room to explore.
And when you do that you discover the game is actually even worse off-screen than on-screen. You just have to keep an eye out for...
The Hotel Suicide For my money the game doesn't really pick up the horror ball and run with it until Pittsburgh. Before that it's scary, sure, but not anything you're not used to from a typical Resident Evil title. Once you're ambushed in Pittsburgh by bandits then dropped into a flooded hotel basement full of infected, though, that's when the heat gets turned up.
Up on the more habitable floors you'll find the typical debris and abandoned rooms you see in the game... except for one bathroom. This bathroom contains a couple that decided that they simply couldn't face the coming threat of the infection and committed double suicide, possibly by throwing a hairdryer in the tub with them. They've been dead so long that all their bodily fluids have congealed around them. There's a chance for an optional conversation here with Ellie where Joel will tell her that suicide may seem like the easy way out, but that it ain't easy.
Considering the depth of Joel's survivor's guilt, that one scene tells us Joel has come close to suicide many times, and maybe even hates himself for not going through with it to be with his dead daughter.
The Eastern Colorado University Memorial After Ellie and Joel leave his brother Tommy and decide to find the Fireflies on their own they end up at the last know hideout still looking for a cure to the infection. All over the University is evidence of the Fireflies that eventually abandoned the area, but there are also artifacts left over from the students who came before them.
You'll find plenty of journal entries as the kids tried their best to hole up and await a rescue that never came, but the real kick in the stomach is on the wall of the hidden area that contains the sterilization manual. There, the pictures of fallen student defenders are hung with graduation tassels under graffiti that reads "In Loving Memory". When viewed in context with the manual, it's clear that this area served as an infirmary for people injured in attacks... and probably where they were euthanized. Bullets are also found here.
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"We Take Good Care of Her" After Ellie kills the hunter trying to drown Joel they climb up further through the hotel. If you look immediately to your right in the first room you'll see a white board with a message scrawled on it. It reads, "Sara, take Dexter and Neville to your moms. It's not safe here." It's signed by someone that looks like Jon, but all the male names are scribbled out of the message. In another hand someone wrote, "Don't worry we take good care of her."
Now, that's creepy by itself, but if you go down to the ballroom you will see a forensic story play out if you really pay attention. From the door of the ballroom is a trail of blood that makes it clear that someone still alive and bleeding was dragged through the room. You'll pass where they grabbed and overturned a chair, right up to the wall where they were thrown against and shot multiple times according to the bullet holes.
Clearly, someone got taken care of is a pretty gruesome way.
Fate of the Protector Probably no character in the game who doesn't actually physically appear is Ish. Ish was a fisherman that staved off the initial outbreak at sea, but eventually came ashore at Pittsburgh and established a fort in the sewers. Through a series of notes we see him invite survivors of the local suburbs with kids to join him, and in doing so establish a thriving community.
Until it all goes to hell one day when a door is left open and the infected swarm in. Ish himself makes it out with a woman named Susan and a few kids, but the settlement is destroyed. If you check on of the first houses after the escape from the sewers you'll find Ish's final note about having to hold back Susan so she wouldn't re-enter the area to recover the bodies of her children.
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His ultimate fate is unknown, and that's probably the saddest thing of all. Hopefully Naughty Dog will tell us more one day.
"They Didn't Suffer" Ish was right to not let anyone go back into the settlement. Susan's husband Kyle and several small children managed to get behind a secure door, but were trapped there and were faced with either starvation or eventually discovery by the infected. If you explore the room you'll find three small bodies underneath blankets, and one adult slumped against the wall. That's Kyle.
According to a note found in the room, Kyle did hope for rescue, but it never came. He then killed each of the children before turning the gun on himself. Written on the ground is a final hopeful message to any that might discover them saying "They didn't suffer." Frankly, that's the sort of thing that stays with you long after the adrenaline rush of facing enemies wears off. I'm about to pick up the game for another round. Who knows what's left to find?