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The Last of Us is the latest video game adaptation plagued by the same problem

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last of us Widely celebrated not only as “the best video game adaptation of all time”, but also as the simplest to make the jump from pixel to picture. And in many ways, HBO last of us He earned that reputation. Showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann have a keen sense of what to detail, and each version exerts impressive technical control over locale and lighting to make the post-apocalyptic vision real. There’s a strong cast led by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, giving two career-best performances that have the emotional stopping power of a shotgun. Yet, for all the Mazin and Druckmann (and it’s a lot), it’s ironic that HBO’s talk last of us What most struggled with wasn’t the visuals, story, or characters, it was what was most inherent in video games: the gameplay.

Naughty Dogs Magic is sometimes derisively accused of being an “interactive movie”. last of us the way it broke down the divide between cutscene and gameplay; This made the cinematic playable. This design ethos is felt throughout the game, starting with the dialogue. As Joel and Ellie traverse post-apocalyptic cities and landscapes, interactions occur systematically (with a little help from Triangle), creating inspiring illusions that are casual and real. Elsewhere, key moments of character development are regularly seen outside of cutscenes, whether it’s Ellie peeping into a tropical hotel photo session or Joel realizing he’s taken care of her as a father figure. , while you are fighting with goons to save her from the cannibals. In the show, Joel already reaches this emotional point, as evidenced when talking to Tommy in episode 6).

But in adapting his game with Mazin for HBO, Druckmann largely avoids adapting most of the “gameplay” sections. last of us, shrinking them down to slivers of screentime. I admire the drive for narrative economy, but HBO is only as good last of us Yes, it can feel like it was adapted from a YouTube compilation of the game’s incredible cutscenes, the game’s many stealthy crawls, shootouts, or what you do most: walk around. Perhaps unexpectedly, the Druckmann-directed Episode 2, “Infected,” is the notable exception, capturing the feel of the gameplay in a way most episodes haven’t. Ellie, Joel and Tess explore a grown-up Boston, sharing natural, character-building dialogue as they explore, eventually bumping into a series of riveting set pieces that recall the sensation of learning about these people. do when you played the game for the first time.

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Joel (Pedro Pascal), Tess (Anna Torv), and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) stand at the top of a small staircase in a hotel lobby that has been flooded.

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Photo: Lianne Hantscher/HBO

most of last of us doesn’t quite strike that balance, and comparing the early sections of the game reveals some absences in the adaptation. In the game, the prologue shifts from the heartbreaking loss of Joel’s daughter Sarah to a post-apocalyptic reality where Joel’s packing heat, firing off terrifying headshots, and taking out the thugs who ripped him off; The contrast from paternal figure to casual killer is visceral and provocative. Within minutes of game time, the player experiences Joel’s fall from a loving, hardworking father to a cold-blooded killing machine. It’s not only him pulling the trigger – you are too. In HBO’s series, this segment is omitted entirely. I understood; We need Joel to meet Ellie asap. But while you, the player, are guiding Joel to make precise kill shots and navigate the map like Solid Snake, you’re learning about Joel with your hands on the controller, moving between past and present are recounting the harrowing history that led Joel to this point. Place.

hbo series mostly Avoiding it handles the bloodshed of the gameplay. it not only blunts last of us As a story about violence and where it can come from, but it also turns on Joel. His jaded slowness is rarely glimpsed, often in a more “nerfed” and more subdued form, relying on dialogue to paint a picture of the man rather than create something we can see and feel for ourselves. their dynamic shifts, avoiding key moments of Ellie and Joel’s bond and trauma shown in gameplay; Instead of a nearly game-long thaw to warm Joel’s frozen heart, Joel abruptly changes from the self-interested mercenary in Episode 2 and 3 to laughing at Ellie’s poop jokes in Episode 4; Instead of seeing Joel repeatedly unleash carnage, enemies often fall on him and he is unable to defend himself. And crucially to where season 2 will take us, in softening Joel in spirit and action, the performers risked downplaying what legacy Joel might bequeath to Ellie.

Just like that, HBO’s last of us Highlights one of the classic problems of adapting games for film or television – game mechanics are very challenging to transform into cinema. Just look at death. Games are structurally designed to be built around endless cycles of reincarnation, living, dying and respawning over and over again at an obstacle and winning. So every time we die firing into a crowd of infected, although progress is resumed and nothing is really lost, we still feel the sting of failure and the thirst for victory. talent of last of us That the more we care that Joel and Ellie survive, the more each death affects us, emphasized by the brutal play on screen of Joel or Ellie being killed. What’s at stake was never meant to be engineered through ABC plot beats, but rather how we experience them through gameplay loops.

I was disappointed that Druckmann and Mazin are sometimes more interested in what they’ve already added to there—from the new cold opening or the two episodes that change focus, one acclaimed (“Long, Long Time”), and with a more muted reception (the DLC-inspired flashback “Left Behind”). These episodes could both work on their own strengths, especially “Long, Long Time.”, A great piece of television. But would a few more character-building episodes have been such a bad thing?

Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) eat strawberries at sunset in The Last of Us

Image: HBO Max

Ellie (Bella Ramsey) sitting on the carousel horse and talking to Riley (Storm Reid)

Photo: Lianne Hantscher/HBO

Joel lifts Ellie off the hospital operating table in a scene from HBO's The Last of Us.

Photo: Lianne Hantscher/HBO

And finally, the end. It’s one of the most famous and important games in games since 2013, bridging a gulf between the kind of games that thrive on player choice and the kind that force you into a character whose The choice may not be your own. Joel is not a moral person, and through that you are not either. in a Brechtian way, last of us Games thrive on the friction between “you” playing the character and the subjective “you” living in the character, closer to Cormac McCarthy VR than to role-playing games. And when Joel — when you — massacre a hospital of doctors and scientists to save a child who now feels like a daughter, you’re a entwined player agency in a moral knot for the video game medium. is both an innocent bystander and an accomplice.

All season long, I wondered if Mazin and Druckmann had found a silver bullet, a miracle cure for making the climax work as TV. At one point, he did. Pascal and Ramsey are sensational, and Ali Abbasi’s dexterity supports the high emotion. Particularly effective is the choice to score Joel’s rampage with notes of sadness and not anger, turning a hospital attack into a montage of tragic pathos. Yet, I still felt what could have been, an accumulation of absences and missed opportunities to expand. last of us In the form of a game rather than just a cute story. With season 2 confirmed, an adaptation of the last of us part 2 poses an even greater challenge. As a sequel it’s prickly, demanding, and brilliant with Druckmann and co. Further exploiting the tension between the player and the character, you do in a bid to do the worst of the characters you love to devastating ends. Despite these growing pains between the mediums, HBO last of us was still a great success. If they remember to adapt the gameplay and not just the plot, Season 2 and beyond could be a win.

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