The staff at TheGamer are at odds over the upcoming The Last of Us remake. While some are excited to see one of the best games of all time with a fresh coat of paint and updated gameplay, others see the “improvements” as a lateral step at best and an exploitation of TLOU fans and their wallets at worst. As you can see, we are talking about important things here.
I’m somewhere in the middle on this topic. 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 again for more than a decade. But on the other hand, it’s clear that The Last of Us didn’t live up to its potential when it was first released in 2013. As much as I’d rather see Naughty Dog use its talented developers to create something new, there’s a part of me that still wants to see The Last of Us the way it was originally planned – The Last of Us was promised to us at E3 2012.
Between the reveal at Summer Game Fest and the promotional tweets on Naughty Dog’s Twitter page, all marketing for The Last of Us Part 1 focused on the graphical improvements and changes to the characters’ faces. Just to be clear: I’m disgusted with it. The Last of Us was amazing to watch in 2013 and it’s still a beautiful game, it didn’t need an update. We shouldn’t gossip like trained seals at the prospect of buying a version of TLOU that looks like TLOU2, and there’s no artistic merit in changing the characters’ faces. Would you like to see a remake of your favorite movie with different actors? I doubt it.
On the other hand, we haven’t seen any gameplay yet, and I think there might be real 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 again for the whole year leading up to the game’s release because I’d never seen anything like it – sadly, I still haven’t. The emerging gameplay showcased in the reveal trailer is incredibly natural and cinematic. Looking back, it’s nothing more than a scripted sequence masterfully disguised as gameplay, but by 2012 I was convinced it was the next evolution of what video games could be. To date, it’s still the best gameplay trailer ever, so watch it again if you need a reminder.
Of course, anyone who has played The Last of Us knows that this trailer is a misrepresentation of the game. It’s not uncommon for trailers to make things look a little better than they actually are, especially on the E3 stage, but this gameplay demonstration is next-level deception. Not only does it show off features that aren’t in the game, it represents The Last Of Us as something it isn’t – an immersive action sim with a cinematic quality presentation. Let’s break down all of the trailer’s beats that aren’t representative of the actual game.
As Joel and Ellie enter the building, Joel hears a man speaking and reacts. He tenses and ducks for cover, saying “Oh shit” and telling Ellie to hide. She crouches with him and in a whisper asks if they should walk around him. 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 stops and yells at his friend, who then runs into the room to see what’s going on.
Joel advances and takes cover. He shoots the first guy but intercepts a bullet from the summoned friend. Ellie reacts to the wounds and asks if Joel is okay. He answers her and then runs into an adjoining bedroom just as a tall guy with a whistle joins the fight. Ellie follows him in and puts her backpack against the wall and asks, “Now what?” as she picks up a brick.
In the next room, Joel is ambushed by the big guy 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 attempt to negotiate with Joel, but when he points his gun at the other, he ducks behind cover. The other bandit aims at Joel but can’t get a clear shot, so Joel kills him and then pistol whips his hostage.
Another bandit shoots at Joel from the vertical hall as Joel ducks for cover. Joel shoots, but he’s out of ammo. The bandit hears the dry fire and responds by saying “I know what that sound means” while slowly walking towards Joel. To protect Joel, Ellie calls out for the bandit before throwing a brick at him, giving Joel an opportunity to attack him and bang his head against the corner of the desk. Ellie congratulates him on all the murder.
As they walk down the hall, Ellie starts to say something, but Joel shuts her up. In the distance, Joel hears a bandit shouting to a friend that he just heard gunshots. Ellie reacts to this 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 adjoining bedroom for Joel, but Joel ambushes him and takes his shotgun from him. As they fight, the bandit yells, “He’s in here!” and a third bandit runs in and attacks Joel, knocking the gun out of his hand. Ellie jumps onto his back and stabs him, allowing Joel to get up, grab the shotgun, and execute the last goon.
The remarkable thing about this whole sequence is that you would never have thought I was describing the gameplay if you hadn’t seen it for yourself. All of this action unfolds like a scripted cutscene, but the trailer gives every indication that this is pure, aspiring 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 approached Joel because he was trying to fire a blank gun at him, but Ellie was able to answer because she tripped over a brick moments before. The trailer wants you to believe that all of these things happened because of the way the player controls Joel and the choices he made. Of course, the actual game doesn’t work that way at all.
Above is a video of a player trying their best to recreate the E3 trailer, with disappointing results. Virtually nothing that we’ve seen in the demonstration can actually happen in-game. Enemies only see Joel when he’s almost overhead, and they don’t call out to their friends or seek cover when you aim at them. Nobody 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 his gun, and there’s no way to cinematically go from a fistfight to picking up a gun and executing it like he does at the end of the trailer. Firing an empty weapon doesn’t provoke enemies to rush you. I’ve seen people say it is, but when it happens it’s extremely contradictory because I’ve never seen it happen.
What you’ll actually see in the demo’s recreation is a bunch of bad AI and nasty glitches. Ellie likes to run outside or get in Joel’s way, and a few times you’ll see her magically appear right behind him. Joel, Ellie and the bandits also don’t react to everything that happens around them. The best you can get is a Resident Evil 4-style juke when targeting enemies standing in the open. Every now and then the player will encounter bandits running back and forth in a small circle. And while everyone in the demo exchanges dialogue as if it were strictly scripted, in the actual playthrough there is hardly any speaking.
The Last of Us has never felt more alive than in this first gameplay trailer. It’s more than just the cumbersome AI and lack of mechanics like the ability to steal someone’s gun and use it against them – it’s the complete lack of the immersion and interactivity we saw in the trailer. The Last of Us was and still is an impressive game worthy of every award, but it’s not the game we were shown at E3 2012.
During the presentation at last week’s Summer Game Fest, Naughty Dog Co-President Neil Druckmann said The Last Of Us Part One will be the definitive version of the first game not to be hampered by the limitations of technology. “We wanted to find a way to get even closer to our original vision, and we can do that on PS5 and PC.” So I’m happy to give the remake a shot. After all these years, I’m still waiting for the game we saw in this trailer. God help me, I have high hopes that Naughty Dog will finally deliver on that promise—for another $69.99, of course.
Next: The Last of Us Remake’s approach to realism is its biggest problem