The Last of Us: Gustavo Santoalalla Drops a Stellar Soundtrack

Many close friends and acquaintances would tell you that I could not shut up about The Last of Us (TLOU) when it first came out. I fell in love with the game as soon as I started it up, let alone after the stellar introduction sequence that captured my heart and begged me to investigate what had become of protagonist Joel and the world around him. With the remastered version coming out for PS4 soon, I figured now would be a great time to get back on my soapbox and write about all the reasons why I think everyone who loves videogames and who even has a slight curiosity—or grating criticism—of the entertainment medium. Today, I’d love to talk about the engrossing soundtrack.

Gustavo Santaolalla, the composer responsible for the equally awesome soundtracks to August: Osage County (2013) and Biutiful (2010), uses a distinct lonely acoustic or electric guitar sound in many of his pieces, and supplements that with violin, viola, and synth in TLOU. The effect is a chilling minimalistic background for an adventure that highlights the sparseness, depravity, and hopelessness of a postapocalyptic America. Right from the opening credits we hear a dramatic yet beautiful melody full of space over driving hand drum percussion in the title tune “The Last of Us.” This is the most musically dense portion of the game, as players can expect to hear many synthetic and electric drones amidst low strings while they hide in detritus and discover plant-covered buildings and dusty, ruined rooms. The lonely guitar is ever present, sometimes aided by chimes and synthetic effects to give effect to the sense of emptiness in the game, with Joel and Ellie’s growing, complex relationship at its center. Combat and stealth “hunting” sections feature equally lonely hand-percussion, oftentimes only one drum as in the case of “The Hunters,” adding energy to the action while still emphasizing loneliness through minimalistic means. Hearing a hand and bass drum emphasize odd beats by themselves whilst sneaking around deadly infected Clickers is enough to make players hold their breath.

Santaolalla successfully engenders continuity by using several themes, or leitmotifs, most noticeably the melody of “The Last of Us” and several other tracks, to highlight dramatic events in the story. This is particularly effective as events come to a close, and the contentious ending feels all the more shocking. If you ever get a chance to play, the music will move you as your eyes are glued to that twitching Clicker in the corner. What’s more, so much of the gameplay is in silence (which is equally chilling) that when Santaolalla’s music creeps in, it will pique your imagination, tighten your gut, and pull your heartstrings.