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The Last Of Us: Volume 2 by Gustavo Santaolalla (Review)

posted Mar 11, 2014, 9:46 PM by Kaya Savas

The Last Of Us was one of the most defining gaming experiences of the last generation of consoles. It took the familiar story of an infection outbreak that we’ve seen in films like 28 Days Later and merged it with the desolate post apocalyptic setting inspired by works like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. What was unique though was the story was never about the infected, it was about the main characters Joel & Ellie. The story was engaging, emotional and you supremely cared about these characters, this in turn made for some thrilling gameplay that kept your heart pounding and you on the edge of the seat. A huge part of this success was due to Gustavo Santaolalla’s brilliant score. The first album gave us a good chunk of score from the main storyline. Volume 2 gives us some more from the game as well as from the add-on storyline Left Behind. While the first album was all of Santaolalla’s work, here we get some additional music from JD Mayer, Anthony Caruso and Andrew Buresh. 

What made The Last Of Us' score so brilliant was that Santaolalla’s style worked so well. He didn’t have to change his sound, he just made it part of this world. Minimal instrumentation, brooding drones and themes that spoke to the characters all made the final product riveting. Isolation, loneliness and despair are the big themes of the game. However the music still manages to paint that idea of hope, no matter how tragic that hope is. If you’ve played the game then you know how devastatingly brilliant the ending is, and with Left Behind you know what’s going to happen because Ellie’s character tells the story in the main storyline. The music doesn’t treat Left Behind as a separate story, but more so an extending branch of the story we never saw. The additional composers here fill in with gameplay music meant to add atmosphere and tension. They match the style and tone that Gustavo set up seamlessly. What I love though is that Gustavo truly made this score a western score as well. There are plenty of western touches that make this an unexpected genre score. It’s very evident in his main theme from track 3 of the first album, and again here with the final track titled “Left Behind”. The score acknowledges the characters most importantly and their journey, but also the setting. The game's story doesn’t hide its western tendencies either by taking a similar feel to True Grit with bandit ambushes and horseback escapes. Volume 2 is more of Gustavo Santaolalla’s brilliant score and it’s a necessary companion of you own the first soundtrack release. 

The Last Of Us is a tremendous narrative experience, and musically we have a score that never feels like part of a video game. It is a dark, bleak, atmospheric, thematic and emotional narrative. Gustavo Santaolalla has accomplished something tremendous with this score that is worth constant revisiting. Volume 2 is the perfect collection of additional music from the game and from Left Behind. Each character is fleshed out so elegantly, and the music works so well with the performances and the action that when you hear that heartbreaking “All Gone” motif you just feel that heavy weight of emotion dump on you. Especially with the ending of the main storyline in mind. It’s an ending I still think about; that still haunts me. Left Behind also left me an emotionally shaken. When I close my eyes to the music I can feel the coldness, the aloneness, the dying flame struggling to stay burning. The score as a whole body of work takes us on the journey in the best way possible, and it's a masterpiece of game scoring.