The Post-Apocalyptic Art in The Last of Us II
I don’t think there’s any need to present The Last of Us anymore as this little gem became almost instantly cult when it was released. This story centered on Joel and Ellie in an America ravaged by a virus is an example of storytelling, as much for a video game as for any other medium. We were scared at times, laughed at others, clearly cried as well. This is a game that leaves no one indifferent, and its successor is clearly part of the same.
With an even more visceral story, the new Naughty Dogs title has clearly left its mark. But we won’t talk about a test here, others do it much better than us. I prefer to focus my thoughts here on the theme of Post-Apocalypse in art, and what it tells us here in The Last of Us II.
The Post Apocalyptic in the Visual Arts
It is interesting first to look at what post-apocalypse is in culture. Personally, every time I hear that word, I’m going to see images of Mad Max appear in my mind because it’s probably the first encounter I’ve had with the subject. And at the same time, George Miller‘s cult saga offers us a perfect doorway to approach and understand what post-apo is: life after an apocalypse.
This end of everything can be due to many factors depending on the fictional universe: a nuclear war (Mad Max), an economic crisis, a pandemic (Children of Men, where the whole population is sterile), epidemics (The Last of Us) or reasons left deliberately obscure (The Road). What all these stories have in common, however, is that they depict the world after its end, the relationship between humans, the relationship with nature. We often witness the spectacle of a new civilization without landmarks in the face of a new and growing chaos.
But the post-apocalypse is above all recognizable by a very marked aesthetic, where the protagonists find themselves in the ruins of cities of the past, acting here as remnants of a time that is now past. The characters have to venture into places where nature has regained their rights, where vegetation completely transforms the buildings of the cities. The Last of Us II is no exception to the rule and magnifies these visual codes to deliver breathtaking landscapes and environments.
Under the artistic direction of the American artist John Sweeney, the Naughty Dogs studio will create a very special atmosphere for the continuation of the adventures of Joel and Elijah, this time in Wyoming. Nature is very present, through the passages directly in the forest for example, but mainly in the cities where it almost merges with them. This gives melancholic impressions, in front of the vestiges of our civilization, now swallowed up by nature.
Melancholy and loneliness
But the post-apocalypse is not only a mass of visual references and codes to be respected. This sub-genre of science fiction is often there to tell a deeper story than it seems. And clearly, with The Last of Us first of the name, we could witness a race forward to meet the Fireflies through a world populated by infected people and especially groups of humans with their own needs. And his successor will go even further in these relationships to others, exacerbating his genre.
Going beyond the theme of survival, the choice to take a post-apocalyptic framework as the framework for the story is not insignificant. It is a question here of the new relationships between humans, relationships with others. Without any laws, The Last of Us II offers a laboratory for social experimentation. There will be moments of calm and self-help, but also quickly the coexistence of solitary, selfish, anarchic behaviors, ready to do anything to survive. And this is where the artists behind all the concept arts of the game intervene, it is up to them to transcribe this burdensome atmosphere, this after-civilization.
And the least we can say is that the work here is monumental and we understand simply through these images where we will put our feet once the controller is in hand. It is therefore more than important to underline the work of these artists such as Aaron Limonick, Adrian Castro, Andres Rodriguez, Anthony Vaccaro, Brian Beppu, Danar Worya, or Kristian Llana to name a few.
And in spite of the violence that this universe can unleash in spite of itself, we can’t help but feel the melancholy and loneliness that must inhabit its protagonists. These empty human environments, these abandoned high-rise buildings, this omnipresent nature, everything is there to remind us that we are no longer in our place. The concept arts transcribe to perfection these different feelings that the player will go through during his adventure.
The Last of Us II is a masterpiece in terms of graphics, scenery, and overall atmosphere. Feel free to have a look at the different portfolios of the artists who worked on this incredible project.