When video games first arrived, they either contained no story or, if they did, the limitations of the medium meant they hardly resembled movies. Once graphics engines began to develop (or, conversely, PC’s and consoles gained the ability to insert full motion video cutscenes in between gameplay), the industry immediately sought to present video games as a form of interactive movie, succeeding where filmmakers of the past like William Castle had failed.
As it currently stands, the video game industry is saturated with tropes and visual cues and compositions swiped from movies and television: virtually every game made today, be it anything from an open-world RPG to level-based shooter, contains cinematic cutscenes, complete with opening and closing credit rolls. Developer Naughty Dog, whose co-president is Neil Druckmann, have been a leader and pioneer in bringing character-based stories to video games, and “The Last of Us” is a shining example of such.
“The Last of Us” doesn’t use cutscenes and its script as mere glue between gameplay moments. Its cutscenes are the real star of the show, with actors like Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson (the original Joel and Ellie) having their performances captured in much the same manner as that of Andy Serkis in “The Lord of the Rings” or “Planet of the Apes” films. While playing “The Last of Us” is obviously an immersive experience, it’s not one tailored to the player, telling the same narrative despite skill level and other variations.
Given this, the “Last of Us” TV series, despite being well-made and featuring excellent performances from its cast (especially the new Joel and Ellie, Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey), feels disappointingly unsurprising and borderline redundant. While there’s potentially a case to be made for viewers of the show who’ve never played the games before, it’s still disheartening to see Tess (Anna Torv) die in episode two in the exact same circumstances and setting as she does in the game. Even the blocking and composition feels identical, as if the episode used the game as a storyboard. It robs the moment of its full potential impact, and is the most egregious example of the show being far too beholden to its source.