A new Bloomberg report leaked The Last of Us remake amid a broader story about Sony’s shifting business models, and even aside from the 2014 remaster, it’s an odd choice for a remake on the surface.
The Last of Us is called a modern classic for a reason.
It’s gripping, with the kind of narrative-driven storytelling not often found in blockbuster action games.
It’s also impossible not to care about Joel or Ellie in the 15 or so hours it takes to reach the credits.
Eight years out from its original release, though, and it’s easier to see where this classic falls short.
The original Last of Us is game-y, painfully so.
Most of its environments are obviously designed for function.
Whether it’s the school parking lot with cars that got wrecked in convenient locations or Tommy’s power plant he just so happened to build like a shootout arena, nothing ruins immersion like seeing where the pieces slot in.
The game’s pallet puzzles are the perfect embodiment of this, the most blatantly gamified and groan-inducing element Naughty Dog could have imagined.
The Last of Us makes every environment, even the pallet puzzles, a funnel pushing you toward the next setpiece.
Some of the best sequences in The Last of Us 2 are when it lets you take your time, though.
Exploring Seattle’s devastated ruins, whether there’s anything of value there or not, ramps up the horror more than any Clicker maze from the original could, and that shift in design focus is key.
The original Last of Us’ nonstop action is what you’d expect from an Uncharted game, and it distracts both from the story and the tension Naughty Dog wants us to feel.
There’s nothing like the St Mary’s Hospital sequence from The Last of Us 2, with its nerve-grinding silence that ensures the action is all the more meaningful when it does happen.
And if this were just another remaster, it’d be a different story.
You could say all this for any game whose younger siblings put them to shame with their shinier, more considered designs, and being murdered by David the 4K cannibal with improved AI and haptic feedback knives doesn’t warrant yet another re-release.
The main reason The Last of Us remake is a good idea deals with a much deeper problem
The relationship between Joel and Ellie has lost its edge.
Much of Joel and Ellie’s bonding hinges on a few key moments loaded into the game’s back quarter: his injury at the university, Ellie’s struggle with the cannibals, and the moment Joel finally grapples with his emotions.
It’s poignant — in fact, it’s harder to imagine a more touching scene than Joel and Ellie viewing the giraffes.
But it also creates a problem.
Their sudden bonding works in the context of The Last of Us’ ending.
It’s abrupt, almost cut short, and leaves the feeling of momentum interrupted and turned into a tantalizing mystery. We can only speculate how Ellie felt about Joel or even what could happen next .
However, The Last of Us 2 wants us to be as invested in Ellie’s quest for vengeance as she is, which is hard to do when you have hardly any insight into their relationship or even a good reason for why she feels so attached.
Joel is clearly the original game’s focus, but his emotional journey consists of being sad, then grumpy, then thinking maybe he should be nice to the lonely orphan girl after all.
Dealing with trauma can create a strong bond, but there are precious few interactions between them.
Joel has little chance for significant development between the stories either, since his choice drove a wedge between them.
There’s also no sign Naughty Dog intended Ellie as the real main character at this point.
Even with the brief playable segment as her, the game offers very little about Ellie’s emotions or even her past.
She’s just that plucky, likeable girl until Naughty Dog settled on her as the story’s emotional foundation in Left Behind and The Last of Us 2 and developed her from there.
That’s not even taking the game’s other characters into consideration.
Having Henry and Marlene, the game’s only people of color, either shoot themselves or get shot by you isn’t the best idea, and Bill deserves more than the usual tragic same-sex relationship story.
Yet there’s room to expand in The Last of Us remake, even just with broader context.
Boston’s FEDRA issues curfews and shoots infected people.
It’s brutal, true. It’s hardly the kind of situation warranting a group of freedom fighters such as the Fireflies.
So when we hear Marlene’s impassioned speeches or see through Ellie’s flashbacks the impact Fireflies had on society, it asks us to suspend our belief a bit more than we should.
On the other hand, the Last of Us 2 shows us a regional FEDRA team that ignited a civil war in Seattle.
These Fireflies opposing tyranny are what Marlene was fighting for.
That’s what Joel destroys, only we don’t get a tangible sense of it until much later.
Looking back from The Last of Us 2 reveals a disjointed narrative, as if Neil Druckmann and the writing team only grasped the story they wanted to tell after the fact.
The Last of Us just isn’t enough anymore.