The Last of Us’s iconic intro was almost completely different – When Joel and his daughter Sarah escape to safety in an effort to survive Outbreak Day, it is widely regarded as one of the best game entrance sequences. Instead of the main character Joel, you play as Sarah in this scene, who awakens to find her house vacant and has no idea where her father is.
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It turns out that the introduction was very different up until the very last minute of planning, making it one of The Last of Us’s more memorable moments. In the first in a series of YouTube videos from Naughty Dog delving deeply into the production of The Last of Us, co-president Neil Druckmann explains that the intro was originally intended to have you playing as Joel rather than Sarah.
Sarah would search the house for Joel, but you would take on the role of Joel, who hears a commotion at his neighbor’s house and rushes there to investigate. Joel would sprint back to his house to fetch Sarah and flee to safety after realising they were infected. In order to make things seem a little scarier, Druckmann decided to have you witness the day of the outbreak from the perspective of a child. It appears that Druckmann abandoned the original plan since it felt too familiar.
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“The beginning of the game was one of the last things we got finalised 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 remainder of the film goes into great detail about how the iconic opening sequence unfolds and how animators, designers, and a host of other people toiled long and hard to produce the scenario that will have left anyone who has played The Last of Us inconsolable with emotion.
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There is some merit to the claim that if you hadn’t played as Sarah for the first few minutes, this scenario might not have hit as hard. We learn more about Sarah’s personality as a result of the abundance of stuff in her bedroom that showcase both her interests and her deep bond with Joel. This is also apparent in the beginning cutscene as Sarah gives Joel his watch, but placing players in Sarah’s shoes from the start dramatically heightens the tension, which is ultimately the reason why we’re still debating the game’s intro today.