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The Last Of Us by Gustavo Santaolalla (Review)

posted Jul 14, 2013, 9:12 PM by Koray Savas   [ updated Jul 15, 2013, 4:44 PM ]

It has been a month since Sony unleashed Naughty Dog's latest PS3 exclusive, yet the hype and discussion revolving around it has yet to die. Hailed as a masterpiece of not just video games but of artistic storytelling, The Last Of Us is a very unique and visceral emotional experience. Much maligned Academy Award winner Gustavo Santaolalla penned the score, which helps draw you in and swirl you around this gritty and desolate post-apocalyptic drama.

The music for The Last Of Us is very much context dependent. Santaolalla does a superb job of giving the player the least amount of dramatic cues needed to keep you within the game's world, whether it is during a heartbreaking cut scene or heart-racing action combat. Depending on which situation you find yourself in, he will utilize hollow guitar chords and strings and light rhythmic percussion to keep the decaying world in the game grasping for air. "The Last Of Us" features the main theme in full form, beautiful and yearning in its tone, the theme echoes the loss of Joel and the dull pain he still feels for the death of his daughter. "The Hunters," "By Any Means," and "Smugglers" feature the style of drum-driven percussion that fuels the conflict with the human enemies, with just enough melody to keep it involving as entertainment. When it comes to facing off the the infected, the game typically goes silent, but Santaolalla represents them in all their twitchy and frightening horror with industrial percussion, dull noises, and skin-crawling strings with the brief cue, "Infected." It is a small gesture that goes a long way, symbolizing the lifeless cold terror these enemies instill in their foes. Moreover, "The Path" and "The Path (A New Beginning)" equate to the light at the end of the tunnel in the musical journey, instilling a sense of optimism that comes and goes too quickly. "Returning" follows the latter cue to complete the album, in which the music finally finds some semblance of emotional balance. Acceptance feels most apt, neither hopeful nor mournful, willing to take what you are dealt. It ties in perfectly to the game's denouement and makes for a strong finish.

The tone of The Last Of Us is always devoid and sunken. Despite the rare moments of light and color and false sense of security hope brings to the characters on their journey, the cruel world Naughty Dog created never lifts up. The sparse use of Santaolalla's theme and score creates an immersion that's hard to find. The music comes in only when it absolutely needs to, never intruding and never overbearing. The moods and feelings it injects into the player, combined with the haunting visuals and art direction of the game, create a rare storytelling experience that assaults your psyche while ultimately leaving you satisfied.