After being leaked in a larger story about the state of Sony’s first-party output, a complete remake of The Last of Us is coming to PlayStation 5 on September 2 as The Last of Us Part I. During the Summer Game Fest showcase, it was announced Naughty Dog has recreated the original PlayStation 3 game for its newest home console, and it looks, well, like its sequel did when it launched on PlayStation 4 in 2020. As egregious as it might feel to be getting a nine-year-old game remade for full price, based on everything we know about modern-day PlayStation, there was no version of events where Sony didn’t find a new way to modernize and monetize the PS3 classic.
In the nine years since The Last of Us came to PlayStation 3, a lot has changed within Sony. There have been changes in leadership, the closure of studios and shuffling of their personnel, and a significant shift toward television and movie adaptations of its properties. The Last of Us is among them, as HBO is releasing a television adaptation of Joel and Ellie’s trip across an infected-worn United States. In 2013, the original game was widely praised for its bold ending, as it didn’t seem to be one leading into a sequel. But seven years later, the story continued, and The Last of Us became a franchise. One that would, despite its relative narrative integrity compared to most video games, require more.
In the context of the original leak, remaking The Last of Us felt troubling both because it was tied to larger, risk-averse problems within Sony. Rather than greenlighting new projects, or sequels to relatively unproven franchises like Days Gone, it was doubling down on a franchise that was months removed from a sequel, and was becoming a figurehead in Sony’s shift away from experimental and quirky games like Tearaway or Gravity Rush and doubling down on cinematic action games. Horizon: Zero Dawn, Infamous: Second Son, and God of War (2018) may play pretty differently from each other, but the cinematic influence of Naughty Dog’s narrative drive is apparent in all of them.
Over a year removed from the leak, the remake feels more sensible in Sony’s overarching business shifts. An HBO show is coming, and as other video game adaptations have demonstrated, it will bring in a swarm of new players to the video games. The Last of Us Part I is also in development for PC, which means it will be the first chance for a whole new audience to experience the game. And do you want prospective franchise fans to play a nine-year-old PlayStation 3 game remastered for PlayStation 4, or do you want them to spend $70 on the fancy remake, that is more visually and mechanically comparable to the very modern The Last of Us Part II? It’s a calculated business decision, and as Sony continues to lean into adaptations that can bring in new players, it’s probably not the last remake of this nature we’ll see in the coming years. It’s no coincidence that Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves brought old games to new hardware just as the Uncharted movie was coming out.
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So with all that context, how do I feel? Long-time Fanbyte readers will know The Last of Us is very precious to me, both on its own merits as a video game series and for the time in my life when I reviewed Part II. It makes me feel some joy to see Joel and Ellie’s first adventure looking as good as its sequel, and to just see the character designs catching up to the photorealistic art style of the game. I will play The Last of Us again.
But even despite my, not desire, per se, but willingness to replay The Last of Us, the remake is a reminder that for as much as Joel and Ellie’s story means to me personally, it is a product of hundreds of people working under a company that has a bottom line. The integrity of the original’s story was maintained in the sequel, which was so tied to its predecessor that it felt like a natural extension of everything it had to say. But any piece of art made for profit can’t be entirely uncoiled from that truth. The remake feels like a cash-in, because that’s exactly what it is. But it’s bigger than a singular remake. It’s a reminder that Sony can’t let an award-winning series lie, no matter how above it all the series in question appeared at one time.
The Last of Us Part II ended on a reflective note, one that brought its own themes full circle and could theoretically end the series. But Naughty Dog has notes about a third entry in its office somewhere. And revisiting the first game with a new coat of PlayStation 5 paint is just a reminder that nothing ever really stays gone in the video game industry. At least not if it’s part of a larger plan on a higher-up’s spreadsheet. Unless it’s Sly Cooper, apparently.