Welcome to Art Examination! A video series that explores video games as an art form with MissBiankadonk, professional gameplay animator and part-time streamer.
In this instalment she will be looking at Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us and how, through art direction, it turned the end of the world into something beautiful.
“This game is not your run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic world with flesh eating zombies and danger at every turn. The Last Of Us transports the player into a realm of romantic artistry via its visual aesthetic. And there are two major points that really make the Last of Us stand out as a visually striking piece of art.
These two words go hand in hand and from an artistic standpoint, one cannot exist without the other. In the chapter where the game’s protagonists, Joel, Ellie and Tess, are escaping the outskirts of the city, there is sense of danger and foreboding due to the lack of light. Adding rain to the mix puts the player in a certain headspace – one of dread. Upon leaving the area though, the game introduces warm light on the horizon. This serves to paint an entirely different mood – one of survival!
Although mood and lighting are intertwined, the latter can be used intelligently to introduce additional emotion to a scene’s composition. The light streaming through into the church may seem like a blissful moment, even as the player is in the middle of attempting a dangerous mission. An underground passage might seem tranquil, despite the presence of infected humans just around the corner.
There is a lovely moment between Joel and Ellie which captures all of these elements in one scene. Ellie yells and runs off as she commands Joel to follow. The player advances, treated to hints of what it is, and what had been. The anticipation builds up to a gorgeous moment followed by a breathtaking skyline. A moment of beauty in amongst the post-apocalyptic doom and gloom.
There are numerous other breathtaking elements and scenes in the Last of Us but I’ve showcased the ones that really stuck with me as I played through. I could go on about how the various texture elements complement that which has already been mentioned. Or how the level design in itself communicates emotions and moods to the player. Or even how character gestures convey the nuance of certain moments. I could wax poetic about these things. Or I could just encourage you to go play this masterpiece and discover for yourself.”