I’ve written a lot about Naughty Dog’s magnum opus The Last of Us here on The Arcade. Like, a lot. So even though Gustavo Santaolalla’s incredible score has been on my hit list for a while, I’ve put it off for as long as I could. Truth be told, this week’s High Score could have been last week’s, or the week before that, or even the very first one but with the recent announcement that TLOU is headed to the silver screen (the gold screen being your gaming screen, obviously), and its absolute domination at the BAFTA’s, the time is finally right to explore this positively stellar soundtrack. Without further ado, let’s dive headfirst in Gustavo Santaolalla’s score for The Last of Us.
The Last of Us
Chances are, the first time you saw TLOU in action, it was alongside this title track from the OST. The score to TLOU, while based very heavily on classical guitar, is so thick and rich with layers upon layers of musical intricacies, you’d be forgiven for not even noticing half of them as they all work their magic on your senses. The guitars – classical, acoustic and electric – lead the charge on the title track, but they would be nothing without that texture; filled out with ambient atmos noises, murmuring synth basses and percussion that steadily intensifies but never oversteps it’s mark.
All Gone (No Escape)
All Gone is a recurring theme in TLOU, appearing in 5 different arrangements throughout the score. Every one of them is as stunning as the one that came before it but the No Escape variation still somehow manages to stand out. The three note All Gone motif develops into a morose, emotive lament for not just the world that has been lost to the past, but the futures that have been taken from those left alive. A dense mixture of strings and subtle winds work together to create a texture that’s simultaneously spacious and stifling. Oppressive, but optimistic. Bleak, but undeniably beautiful.
For a game as linear as TLOU, it might seem odd to say that the concept of ‘choice’, the freedom to choose for oneself, is a huge part of the experience, but anyone who’s played it knows exactly what I’m getting at and this short refrain has probably haunted your survivor-guilt-ridden dreams since the second you put the controller down.
Like I said, guitar is the star of the show in TLOU and it’s on tracks like Home that we get to hear Santaolalla taking it far beyond the classical plucking he uses to set the tone early on. Multiple electric guitars chime in and over each other throughout this piece while feedback collects and hums ominously in the background to fill out the texture. If you listen closely enough, you can even hear echoes of strings and winds haunting the audio.
There’s so much to love about the score to The Last of Us that it’s difficult to know where to begin explaining it. Personally, I am consistently blown away by how restrained it all is. For a game with such intense action sequences, so many dazzling highs and crippling lows, Santaolalla never resorts to emotional manipulation the way Williams or Zimmer might have. The score never tells you how to feel. It delicately reacts to the events it’s paired with and invites you to decide for yourself and If you’ve finished The Last of Us, you’ll understand just how important our freedom to choose really is.