‘The Last of Us’ Isn't Very Old, But It's Already Worth Revisiting

Warning: What follows are light spoilers for The Last of Us, and explicit spoilers for story beats in The Last of Us Part II. If you’re visiting the series for the first time, tread lightly.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/wxnx9b/the-last-of-us-isnt-very-old-but-its-already-worth-revisiting
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I’ve said this before. Typically, I’d love to go back to Last of Us and enjoy that experience again, but Last of Us 2 burnt those bridges so horribly that I think this whole franchise is mud to me. It isn’t often that a sequel can retroactively destroy the original, but after seeing what the devs intended with Part 1’s ending, I think I’d rather just not. At all.

I don’t want to fight for 12 hours against all the odds just to create a world where Part 2 happens. It would be an utterly hopeless and miserable experience, like The Road: The Game, only worse because I can remember the times I did have hope with what was coming next, and can then remember that hope being choked out of me by a viscous secretarian violence Vietnam-esque story.

No.

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I think I’m with you on that one for different reasons. I have no objection to Naughty Dog doing this project as a technology loss leader so they can tool up for their PS5 projects but I have zero interest in going back to anything The Last Of Us-related. TLOUPII was a technological tour-de-force as a delivery medium for a borderline Prince of Persia: Warrior Within level of edginess.

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Can’t say I’ll ever look forward to a ND game again, but that’s been quietly true for a while now. For people looking for amature, linear, story based action/stealth game I highly recommend you just play A Plague Tale. If you already have well that sequel is coming up!

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I recognize the craft put into The Last of Us, and understand that it’s a Good Game. But like, it’s just so bleak. It kills off basically any female, POC, or LGBTQ character so that the straight white dude and his virginal charge can survive. And it’s about the most overdone of video game themes, zombies, that I just can’t muster any enjoyment out of it.

And I’m not just saying this as a stereotypical Waypointer, “cancelling” a game that doesn’t fit my politics. I play plenty of problematic shit, including Naughty Dog’s more joyful franchise, Uncharted. But like, if Uncharted is the MCU, full of colonialist politics and quips, I’d take that 100% of the time over whatever grim art house pretentiousness that The Last of Us is now, and was in 2013.

And $90 CAD for a remaster that doesn’t ship with the multiplayer that came on the original disc? Get fucked Sony.

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And building off this point, it’s not that I’m tired of Sony’s Prestige House Style yet either. They very often tell stories I’m interested in hearing and they generally tell them well. I’m looking forward to God of War: Ragnarok (the most-predicted sequel title in history), which isn’t exactly a bright and happy game. It’s just The Last Of Us (particularly Part 2) which has the disposition of being thrown into a lake of beef stew with an anchor around your neck.

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I have such a weird relationship with this franchise

TLoU1 vexed and bored me all at the same time. I legit fell asleep in the middle of playing an early mission (it was 11 a.m. on a Saturday and I was fully rested going in) and promptly ejected it from my PS3 and wrote-off every post Jax & Daxter Naughty Dog franchise. My partner, however, couldn’t get the game out of their head and was intrigued enough to watch their first let’s play to see what happened next and would fill me in on the places the story went (their play preferences lean more toward resource management so playing it themselves was not on the table). While I enjoyed the fact they were able to get a level of closure I would not and could not contribute to, there was nothing in the description of the story that led me to believe I missed out on anything.

Fast forward a few years and I become close with a co-worker who CANNOT GET ENOUGH of this game. They’ve played it numerous times on all difficulties and are even more into the story than my partner. It became a running gag between the two of us where I would proclaim the only joy I had involving anything with that franchise is when they used the character models in the Playstation release of Diablo 3 and I got to interact with them in a game I could stay awake for while they would tell me about starting another playthrough instead of giving whatever new hotness I found from listening to Waypoint or any of the other video game outlets we both perused. When they announced the TLoU2, I dreaded having to go through another news cycle praising Naughty Dog and this series, especially as reporting in the interim period revealed the level of crunch and employee abuse that seemed to be fostered at Naughty Dog. My co-worker was nice enough to commit to filing the role of Let’s Player for my partner and I thought that would be the level of my relationship with that game

Yet I could not stop myself from reading and listening to so much of the coverage of this game. Whether it was one of the many Waypoint podcasts, Bullet Points Monthly, Triple Click, Fanbyte, or Doc Burford (more about the first game but I just was drowning myself in discourse) I was voraciously taking in information partially out of interest and partially to be able to fully discuss it with my co-worker who got it day one. And while they read/listened to much of the same content, they only finished the game this year. They said 2020 was depressing enough without playing through something like TLoU2. They offered to do the Let’s Play on another playthrough but neither my partner or I have pushed for it. We eventually stopped working together and I would rather enjoy my time with them in just about any other way. But I’ll keep reading things like this and listening to people talk about this game because enough people feel differently that avoiding the discourse altogether would avoid five star content.

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I’m also in the ‘more interested in reading/listening to the discourse than actually replaying this game’ camp. I played the original when it came out and kind of hated it - I don’t like Joel at all, I don’t like that Riley is essentially fridged for her white girlfriend’s tragic backstory, and I don’t particularly like the gameplay.

It exists in an odd space between ‘why on Earth would I spend $90 CAD on a game with less to say than any three indie games I could buy for the same price? just buy Disco Elysium + Citizen Sleeper + Umurangi Generation or NORCO’ and ‘bigger games just get more deep dives because more people play them/games sites are more willing to pay for those articles, and TLOU has always managed to generate interesting discussions’. Including this one between Pat and Rob. I’ll probably read or watch at least one review of this remaster. But I doubt I’d even bother to download it if Sony gave it away for free.

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I dislike how this game has been changed aesthetically in a lot of ways. I think the steps towards hyperrealism in Part 2 actually work for me, but having them backfilled into the original looks weird. TLoU1 - especially the Remastered version for PS4 - sits squarely in between generations in a way that is still recognisably 7th gen but with the feedback loops and pacing that would define action games forward.

If you strip all that old paint off and render it anew with modern aesthetic sensibilities, you’re actually devaluing and smoothing over what was so impressive about the original game. This is fundamentally why I despise visual remakes. If you’re going to release it again, give it the Criterion treatment. If you’re going to remake it, take from the horror genre that TLoU is so embarrassed to be associated with and do something new with it. Capcom - publishers of the lowest effort re-releases in history - made REmake 2. A GAME I DO NOT LIKE. But at least they had some creative integrity.

EDIT: saw this on twitter. In addition to making a bunch of aesthetic changes I think suck, Part 1 appears to have messed up a bunch of the blocking and compositional elements of TLoU in the name of visual interest and fidelity:

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All I’m gonna say about that pretty ridiculous looking Twitter thread is that noclip’s Danny O’Dwyer shared this response thread:

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I honestly find a lot of arguments in the original thread pretty compelling. This what I play Naughty Dog games for. I actually recognise the section from the final screenshot where the contrast has been removed from the remastered version, that’s how memorable the original’s use of colour and framing is.

If I’m true to myself though, this is primarily because I dislike how every character looks like a fleshy Uncharted 4 meat-puppet in this rework. I’m ready to believe other sins have been committed.

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OK, the character models? There’s something weird about them. They kinda pop out of the rest of the visual design in a way that is unappealing, though I may get used to it.

Having played a little of the re-release though (uh, remake seems strong, the work done on accessibility and supposedly done with enemy AI notwithstanding) I’m more convinced that thread is not just wrong but absurd. To preface: no one is under any obligation to like the original game, its sequel, or either the remaster or remake versions of the original. It’s entirely valid to either subjectively dislike the aesthetic changes therein, or to have further thoughts about how they impact things like in-game pathfinding, readability, how different aspects of the level design and world narrative are affected. It may be that by the end of the game I’m turned around on it and find things that I remember the original did better or think the experience was worse because of some of these visual changes.

But the specifics of that thread? A joke. Maybe the person writing it really hates the way a lot of the remake looks and that’s fine, but the marked up complaints don’t hold up to any scrutiny. The first image, with the bridge? That bridge is a visual focal point throughout that opening section. It would be weird if a newly embellished tree obscured it. Except the bridge is perfectly visible one or two in-game strides back along that very linear path. There is zero chance of losing one’s way, and the narrative the visuals are telling - of getting slowly closer to the bridge - are entirely unaffected.

The last image, the “guess I’ll follow Tess”? Yeah, exactly. The game gives you control in a sequence where you’re restricted to walk after Tess at a slow pace listening to a conversation. Of course you’ll follow Tess. There’s literally nowhere else to go.

I don’t really have any thoughts on the middle two shots, I haven’t reached them yet. Frankly, neither the original nor remade shots look particularly different to me, but based on my short experience with it I strongly imagine the remake in actual gameplay is far more obvious about how it’s signposting the way ahead than it appears in a low resolution screenshot. A more obvious dirt path being replaced with a more subtle - but still easy to follow - path of trampled grass is not a dealbreaker to me.

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I think there’s interesting points in the thread, and grievances with the aesthetic changes are more than valid, but I just can’t think about modern games in terms of “blocking and cinematic framing.” I think conflating that with level design and guiding eyelines is bad. Games that relinquish control of the camera to players just cannot be evaluated in this way, you can’t push cinematic language onto video games when you’re breaking the fundamental aspect of cinema which is a deliberate camera.

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