TheGamer staff is divided over the upcoming remake of The Last of Us. While some are excited to see one of the best games ever made with a fresh coat of paint and updated gameplay, others see the ‘improvements’ as a lateral move at best, and at worst, an exploitation of TLOU fans and their wallets. As you can see, we talk about important things here.
I’m somewhere in the middle on this issue. An enlightened centrist, if you will; everyone’s favorite thing. On the one hand, the last thing this industry needs is hundreds of its best designers and artists telling the same story over and over for more than a decade. But on the other hand, it’s clear that The Last of Us did not live up to its potential when it first released in 2013. As much as I’d rather see Naughty Dog use its talented developers to make something new, there’s a part of me that still wants to see The Last of Us as it was originally envisioned – The Last of Us we were promised at E3 2012.
Between the reveal at Summer Game Fest and the promotional tweets on Naughty Dog’s Twitter page, all the marketing for The Last of Us Part 1 has focused on the graphical enhancements and changes to the characters’ faces. Just to be clear: I’m disgusted by this. The Last of Us was astonishing to look at in 2013 and it’s still a beautiful game, it was not in need of an update. We should not clap like trained seals over the prospect of buying a version of TLOU that looks like TLOU2, and there’s no artistic value to changing the faces of the characters. Would you like to see a shot-for-shot remake of your favorite movie with different actors? I doubt it.
On the other hand, we’ve yet to see any gameplay, and I think there could be some actual value in updating TLOU if Naughty Dog can make the game we first saw at E3 2012. When this gameplay trailer aired, I was obsessed with it. I watched it over and over all year leading up to the release of the game because I’d never seen anything like it – unfortunately, I still haven’t. The emergent gameplay on display in the reveal trailer is unbelievably natural and cinematic. In retrospect, it’s nothing more than a scripted sequence masterfully disguised as gameplay, but in 2012 I was convinced it was the next evolution of what video games could be. To this day it’s still the best gameplay trailer ever made, so watch it again if you need a reminder.
Of course, anyone who has played The Last of Us knows this trailer is a misrepresentation of the game. It’s not uncommon for trailers to make things look a bit better than they actually are, especially on stage at E3, but this gameplay demonstration is some next level deception. It doesn’t just show features that aren’t in the game, it represents The Last Of Us as something it’s not – an action immersive sim with a cinema-quality presentation. Let’s break down all the beats of the trailer that aren’t representative of the actual game.
As Joel and Ellie enter the building, Joel hears a man talking and reacts. He tenses up and slides into cover saying “oh shit” and telling Ellie to hide. She crouches down with him and, in a whisper, asks if they should go around. He takes out a bandit but is spotted by another down the hall. The second bandit is mid-sentence when he sees Joel, so he interrupts himself and shouts out to his friend, who then runs into the room to see what’s going on.
Joel advances and takes cover. He shoots at the first guy but catches a bullet from the friend who was called in. Ellie reacts to the wounds and asks if Joel is OK. He replies to her then runs into an adjacent bedroom just as a big guy with a pipe joins the fight. Ellie follows him in and puts her pack to the wall, asking “now what?” as she picks up a brick.
In the next room, Joel gets ambushed by the big guy who is hiding against the wall. The two fight until Joel gets the upper hand. He puts him in a headlock and walks out of the room where the last bandit is still waiting. Both the hostage and the other bandit try to negotiate with Joel, but when he points his gun at the other one, he dives behind cover. The other bandit aims at Joel but can’t get a clear shot, so Joel kills him then pistol whips his hostage.
Another bandit fires at Joel from the perpendicular hall as Joel takes cover. Joel takes a shot but he’s out of ammo. The bandit hears the dry fire and reacts, saying “I know what that sound means” as he slowly advances on Joel. To protect Joel, Ellie calls out to the bandit before throwing a brick at him, which gives Joel the opportunity to tackle him and smash his head on the corner of the desk. Ellie congratulates him for all the killing.
As they make their way down the hall, Ellie starts to say something but Joel shushes her. In the distance, Joel hears a bandit yelling to a friend that he just heard gunshots. Ellie reacts to that sound and hides in a bedroom. Joel crafts a Molotov and sets one of the bandits on fire as he approaches, to which Ellie reacts with horror. A second bandit nervously searches the adjacent bedroom for Joel, but Joel ambushes him, taking his shotgun from him. While they fight, the bandit shouts “he’s in here!” and a third bandit runs in and tackles Joel, knocking the gun out of his hand. Ellie jumps on his back and stabs him, allowing Joel to get up, grab the shotgun, and execute the final thug.
What’s remarkable about this entire sequence is that you would never have guessed that I was describing gameplay if you hadn’t seen it yourself. All of this action unfolds like a scripted cutscene, but the trailer gives every indication that this is pure, emergent gameplay. The first bandit at the end of the hall reacted because he saw Joel. The bandit with the pipe hid behind the wall to ambush Joel and Ellie after they tried to run away. The other guy advanced on Joel because he tried to fire an empty gun at him, but Ellie was able to respond because stumbled over a brick moments earlier. The trailer wants you to believe that all of these things happened because of the way the player controlled Joel and the choices they made. Of course, this is not how the actual game works at all.
Above is a video of a player who tried their best to recreate the E3 trailer, with disappointing results. Practically nothing we saw in the demonstration can actually happen in the game. Enemies don’t see Joel unless he’s almost on top of them, and they don’t shout out to their friends or dive for cover when you aim at them. No one hides behind the wall waiting to ambush Joel, and they don’t nervously search rooms if they think he’s hiding somewhere nearby. Joel can’t ambush someone himself and take their gun, and there’s no way to cinematically transition from a fist fight into picking up a gun and executing them like he does at the end of the trailer. Firing an empty gun doesn’t provoke enemies to rush you. I’ve seen people say it does, but if it happens it’s extraordinarily inconsistent because I’ve never seen it.
What you’ll actually see in recreation of the demo is a lot of bad AI and awkward glitches. Ellie likes to run out in the open or stand in Joel’s way, and a couple of times you’ll see her magically appear right behind him. Joel, Ellie, and the bandits don’t react to anything that happens around them either. The best you can get is a Resident Evil 4-style juke when you aim at enemies that are standing out in the open. There’s a few times when the player encounters bandits that are running back and forth in a little circle. And while everyone is trading dialogue as if tightly scripted in the demo, there’s barely any talking at all in the actual playthrough.
The Last of Us never felt alive like it did in that first gameplay trailer. It’s more than just the awkward AI and missing mechanics like the ability to steal someone’s gun and use it against them – it’s the total lack of the immersion and interactivity we saw in the trailer. The Last of Us was and still is an impressive game that’s worthy of every award it received, but it is not the game we were shown at E3 2012.
During last week’s Summer Game Fest presentation, Naughty Dog Co-President Neil Druckmann said The Last Of Us Part one will be the definitive version of the first game unencumbered by the limitation of technology. “We wanted to find a way to get even closer to our original vision, and we’re able to do it on the PS5 and PC.” This is why I’m willing to give the remake a chance. After all these years, I’m still waiting for the game we saw in that trailer. God help me, I have high hopes that Naughty Dog is finally making good on that promise – for another $69.99, of course.