Your First Time With The Last Of Us Doesn’t Need To Be The Remake

The Last of Us Remake is here and critical reception seems universally positive. Its visual improvements are more impressive than initially expected, small gameplay improvements are subtle yet welcome, and a new selection of accessibility options make it so much easier for more people to experience this masterpiece. We didn’t score our review, but our thoughts align with the majority of critics out there – this is an ultimately unnecessary but undeniably excellent remake of an already beloved game. Still too expensive though.

But do you need to play the remake to really experience The Last of Us? Putting aside the additional bells and whistles, at its core this is the same story of love, tragedy, and hope all of us fell head over heels back in 2013. Naughty Dog has simply developed a lofty hubris surrounding its accomplishments, believing it must be continually modernised and adapted because it fears moving onto something new, or that this legendary benchmark doesn’t stand a chance of ever being met again. This is the best version of a masterpiece, but don’t beat yourself up if your first time is with older hardware or without a fancy new coat of paint.

The tale of the apocalypse told throughout this classic is evergreen, and could be adapted into any medium – it’s getting there anyway let’s be honest – and still have a similar impact on its captive audience. Joel and Ellie are two wayward souls who come together on a journey that puts them through hell, but despite everything they still manage to mine happiness from unimaginable circumstances. The world in which they call home arguably isn’t worth saving, littered with the very worst examples of human suffering and how when it all went wrong we decided to take care of ourselves instead of banding together in search of a solution.

You don’t need a super fancy and super expensive remake to appreciate that emotional honesty, if anything I believe it’s worthwhile to experience the original vision alongside it if you have the chance. The blorange tones and subtle departure from cinematic realism found in the first game is a visual hallmark that Naughty Dog has since abandoned, but it still holds up and presents a worthwhile adventure that, even on original hardware, enraptured us in spite of its shortcomings. To write off that achievement and deem it irrelevant because a supposedly superior remake remedies all its flaws and pushes it further than ever feels disrespectful to not only Naughty Dog, but the medium itself. Talk about a weird self-own.

On the basic level, all the cutscenes, dialogue, animation, and moment-to-moment action remains unchanged. Pedantics aside this is the same game, but remade to a supposedly superior standard. Everything has been done to keep the narrative and characters intact, both in fear of fan backlash and to facilitate perfection even though the very definition of a remake suggests that there are shortcomings to address. It’s a weird situation, but I’m still glad this vanity project exists, if only so it can reach a more diverse audience and align itself more intimately with a sequel whose dramatic ambitions are infinitely more nuanced. It’s complicated, although the timeliness of its apocalyptic tale will forever shine through it all.

The world is pretty fucked up right now. The climate crisis is worsening, the cost of living is skyrocketing, politics are in shambles, and societal division is more apparent than ever as battle lines are drawn in the sand. It would be lazy of me to compare The Last of Us so directly to the Covid-19 pandemic, but having lived through such a global ordeal and then jumping into a game that hopes to explore the logical extreme of that event is more than a little chilling. Society falling apart in the wake of tragedy is no longer an anxiety formed in the deepest recesses of our minds, but an eventuality we have now seen the very beginnings of.

We’re never going to turn into zombies or resort to bloodshed as a result of coronavirus, but we have felt those fears as the streets emptied out and the majority of us were forced into lockdown. For the world to return to normal we must work together, and The Last of Us is a damning example of what happens when our only drive is mutually assured destruction. All humans we meet become untrustworthy as resources dwindle, and we struggle to live inside quarantine zones ruled by the fascist systems that before the apocalypse we tried so hard to overcome. The Last of Us is miserable, and while I don’t think it's prophetic, the act of playing it today is unusually uncomfortable. To watch everything we love fall apart as we’re left to salvage whatever hope remains amidst the wreckage. Turns out there isn’t much left out there.

Regardless of whether you play the original, remaster, or remake – The Last of Us is going to make you feel like garbage no matter what, and isn’t that the most important thing? If you’re eager to play for the first time and the remake is tickling your fancy then I’d take a plunge. But if you can’t afford it, dig up the original and you still won’t regret it.

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