The Last of Us has the same problem, so do many video game adaptations

Our last has been widely celebrated not only as “Adapted from the best game of all time,” but also the simplest way to go from pixel to image. And in many ways, HBO Our last earned that reputation. Hosts Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann have a keen sense of what to expand, and each version has impressive technical control over language and lighting that make post-apocalyptic visions so true. There is a strong cast, led by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, deliver two of the best performances of her career that have the emotion-stopping power of a sawed shotgun. Yet for all that Mazin and Druckmann nailed (and it was a lot), it’s ironic that HBO Our last fight with most are not picturesstory or character, that’s what’s most inherent in video games: gameplay.

Joking sometimes allegedly an “interactive film,” The magic of Naughty dog Our last is how it breaks the division between cutscenes and gameplay; it makes cinema playable. Starting with the dialogue, this design feature is shown throughout the game. As Joel and Ellie traverse post-apocalyptic cities and landscapes, conversations flow naturally (with a little help from the Triangle), creating a convincing illusion that appears and is real. Elsewhere, key moments in the character’s growth are often seen outside of the cutscenes, whether it’s Ellie surreptitiously taking pictures of the hotel tropics or Joel realizing he takes care of her like a father just while you’re fighting through goons to save her from cannibals (In the show, Joel got to this emotional point earlier, as he revealed when talking to Tommy in episode 6).

But when adapting his own game with Mazin for HBO, Druckmann largely avoided adapting most of the “gameplay” parts of the series. Our last, shrinking them to pieces of screen time. I admire the momentum for the storytelling economy, but as good as HBO’s Our last is, it can feel like it’s been adapted from a YouTube compilation of the game’s incredible cutscenes, skipping the many stealth crawls, gunfights, or things you do the most: walk around. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film was directed by Druckmann episode 2, “Infected,” is a notable exception, capturing the spirit of the gameplay in a way that most episodes don’t. Ellie, Joel, and Tess Explore Overgrown Bostonshares natural dialogue, builds characters as they explore, ultimately colliding with a series of gripping episodes that evoke the feeling of learning about these people when you first play the game.

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

Photo: Liane Hentscher/HBO

Most of Our last doesn’t quite strike that balance, and a comparison of the first installments of the game reveals certain shortcomings in the adaptation process. In the game, the opening sequence changes from The heartbreaking loss of Sarah, Joel’s daughter into a post-apocalyptic reality where Joel puts the heat, firing ghastly headshots and strangling the thugs who tore him to pieces; the contrast between the father figure and the ordinary killer is visceral and provocative. Within minutes of the game, players experience Joel’s downfall from a loving, hardworking father to a cold-blooded killing machine. Not only did he pull the trigger – so did you. In the HBO series, this part is completely omitted. I got it; We need Joel to meet Ellie as quickly as possible. But when you, the player, are guiding Joel through perfect kills and navigating a map like Solid Snake, you’re learning about Joel through your own hands on the controller, inferring history Suffering between the past and the present has brought Joel to this place.

HBO series mainly Handle the game’s bloodshed by avoiding it. This not only blunts Our last as a story about violence and its origins, but it also changes Joel. His lethal abilities are sometimes fleeting, often in the form of a “diminished” and more vulnerable, relying on dialogue to paint a picture of the man instead of creating something. that we can see and feel for ourselves. By avoiding the key moments of Ellie and Joel’s attachment and trauma that manifest in their play, their dynamic change; Instead of thawing almost the entire game to warm up Joel’s frozen heart, Joel suddenly switched from self-interested mercenary in episodes 2 and 3 to laugh. Ellie’s poop jokes in episode 4; Instead of Ellie witnessing Joel’s repeated carnage, enemies frequently attack him and he is defenseless. And importantly, where season 2 takes us, in softening Joel’s heart in spirit and action, the hosts risk undercutting the legacy Joel could pass on to Ellie.

Similarly, by HBO Our last exposes one of the classic problems with adapting games to film or television — the game mechanics are stubbornly challenging to make into a movie. Just look at death. The games are structured to generate stakes around endless cycles of rebirth, a pattern of life, death, and respawn to continuously overcome obstacles and win. So every time we die in a hail of bullets when infected, even though progress is reset and nothing is really lost, we still feel the sting of defeat and the desire to win. . Genius of Our last that’s more We care about Joel and Ellie’s survival, each of us’s deaths are affected more and more, punctuated by the brutal screenplay of Joel or Ellie being killed. What’s at stake was never meant to be designed solely through the beats of the ABC plot, but how we experience them through the game loop.

I’m disappointed that Druckmann and Mazin sometimes seem more interested in what they’ve added than in what’s already there — from a chilling new opening or two shifting focus episodes, one being applauded (“For a very long time) and one with more muted reception (DLC-inspired flashback “leave behind“). Both of these episodes can work their own, especially “Long, Long Time .”a beautiful piece of television. But will a few more character-building episodes be such a bad thing?

Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) eat strawberries as the sun goes down in The Last of Us

Image: HBO Max

Ellie (Bella Ramsey) sits on a swing and talks to Riley (Storm Reid)

Photo: Liane Hentscher/HBO

Joel lifts Ellie onto his shoulder from a hospital operating table during a scene from HBO's The Last of Us.

Photo: Liane Hentscher/HBO

And finally, the end. It is one of the most popular and important games since 2013, creating a gap between the genre of games that evolve based on player choice and the genre that forces you to play a character whose Their choices may not be your own. Joel is not a virtuous man, and through him, neither are you. In the Brechtian way, Our last developed based on the collision between the “you” playing the game and the subjective “you” living in a character, closer to Cormac McCarthy VR than a game that requires role-playing. And when Joel – when you – slaughter a hospital of doctors and scientists to save a child who now feels like a girl, you are both an innocent bystander and an accomplice. , leaving the player agency entangled in a moral knot unique to the video game medium.

Throughout the season, I wondered if Mazin and Druckmann had a silver bullet, a magic cure for making the climax TV. Up to a point, they did. Pascal and Ramsey are sensational, and Ali Abbasi’s deft directing supports the surge of emotion. Particularly effective is Joel’s choice to capture his rage with notes of grief rather than rage, turning a hospital attack into a tragic montage. However, I still feel nauseous about what should have happened, the growing absences and missed opportunities for further growth. Our last like a game, not just a good story. With season 2 confirmedan adaptation of Our Last Part 2 poses an even greater challenge. As a sequel it thorns, rigorous and excellent, with Druckmann et al. Exploit more player-character tension, requiring you to commit the ugliest acts of your favorite characters to devastating ends. Despite the growing difficulties between mediums, HBO Our last Still a great success. If they remember to tweak the gameplay and not just the plot, season 2 and beyond could just be a win.


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