‘Last of Us’ preview: Why it might live up to the hype




CNN

By 2013, the zombie apocalypse genre was dead. “The Walking Dead” had concluded its third season, “World War Z” was to be a summer blockbuster, and “Resident Evil” was perhaps the most well-known zombie video game yet. Where else could the undead go from there?

Enter a small game called “The Last of Us”. The PlayStation 3 exclusive almost immediately became a hit among gamers and critics alike for its powerful storytelling and unique take on zombies – in the game, they are humans infected and disfigured by the Cordyceps fungus. This was no ordinary doomsday tale, as evidenced by the intense devotion fans developed for its protagonists, hardened Joel and rude young Ellie, as they fought for their lives.

“The Last of Us” is now widely recognized as one of the best video games of all time. Ten years after its release, the team behind the game is trying to make a TV version the best video game adaptation of all time too. The bar for video game adaptations is pretty low, given the abundance of disappointments and misfires in the past. But expectations for HBO’s version of “The Last of Us” are high – and the critical reception so far indicates the series could live up to those expectations.

Fans can’t wait to return to the post-apocalyptic American wasteland with their favorite, morally ambiguous duo. From its heartbreaking story to its famous cast, here’s why fans of the game and would-be new viewers can’t wait to watch “The Last of Us” when it debuts Sunday night. (HBO and CNN share parent company Warner Bros. Discovery.)

While there is often a divide between gamers and critics, “The Last of Us” was the rare game that satisfied both. The game, originally a PlayStation 3 exclusive, received near-unanimous acclaim when it debuted in 2013, with early reviews calling it the best game of the year and, potentially, one of the greatest ever. all the time.

Recent retrospective reviews of the game and its remake are even more adamant about the game’s accomplishments: Inverse said “The Last of Us” was as “close to perfect as it gets”, and Rolling Stone also called it a “one of the best games”. of its time and a “brutal masterpiece”.

Part of its appeal is what it shares with countless other games: it’s violent and horror-laden, set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But “The Last of Us” also always prioritized the relationship between Joel and Ellie. (In his original 2013 interview, IGN called their relationship “one of the great highlights” of the game.) He’s an often relentless passer with a deep-seated fatherly side; she’s a parentless teenager with a sailor’s mouth and a dangerous secret. Together they embark across what remains of the United States to possibly save the world, even if at least one of them thinks it’s a futile mission. Predictably, they become something like family.

What’s the matter UNpredictable about “The Last of Us” is the way it deftly balances engaging gameplay with engrossing and often heartbreaking storytelling. Even its monsters are likable: “The Last of Us does a phenomenal job of making every enemy feel human,” IGN wrote in 2013. “Every life taken carries weight and every target feels unique and alive.”

And so it’s lived and grown since its release in 2013 – it’s been remade for new consoles and remastered with updated visuals. Its sequel might even trump the original in terms of emotional devastation (no spoilers here – the HBO adaptation’s creators have said that if they get a second season, they’ll likely base it on “The Last of Us Part II”). And now it’s growing for TV again, with an expanded world and lore.

Diehard “Last of Us” fans will be relieved to hear that the game’s creator, Neil Druckmann of game production company Naughty Dog, is credited as co-creator of the series alongside Craig Mazin, who directed HBO’s dark “Chernobyl” miniseries. In nearly every interview they gave before the series premiered, they reiterated how determined they were to make “The Last of Us” the best video game adaptation of all time (apologies, “Sonic the Hedgehog”) avoiding the mistakes of predecessors like “Assassin’s Creed”, whose story was too dense for an audience unfamiliar with the game.

Bella Ramsey (left) as Ellie and Anna Torv as Tess share a rare moment of relative peace.

With such high expectations, the casting had to be perfect. At first glance, it looks like the series is getting pretty close, with acclaimed actor Pedro Pascal (the titular “Mandalorian,” “Narcos,” “Game of Thrones”) as Joel and groundbreaking performer Bella Ramsey ( also from “Game of Thrones,” Catherine Called Birdy as Ellie. The original voices of Joel and Ellie, Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, also appear on the show in various roles, and Merle Dandridge, who played Marlene in the game, reprising his role here. Gabriel Luna (“Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD”), Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”), Murray Bartlett (“The White Lotus”) and Anna Torv (“Fringe”) also play essential roles.

HBO must believe in the series as much as Mazin and Druckmann do, as it picks up the first 9 p.m. Sunday slot previously occupied by “Game of Thrones” and its prequel, “House of the Dragon,” as well as high-profile series like “ Succession” and “The White Lotus.” These series have all won accolades – most recently Golden Globes for “House of the Dragon” and “The White Lotus.”

“The Last of Us” doesn’t necessarily reinvent the post-apocalyptic genre, but “The Walking Dead” doesn’t. Compared to gaming, few series are devoted to grisly murder or relentless gore – the violence is mostly emotional. This might rattle “The Last of Us” players accustomed to destroying fungus-faced monsters between cutscenes, although there are still some scares.

Nico Parker (left) and Pedro Pascal in an intense scene from the pilot of

The pace is fast – there’s a whole game to cover – but the series still leaves time for the occasional digression from the central plot. Visually, “The Last of Us” resembles most well-known apocalypse stories: there’s the standard crumbling cityscapes and encroaching greenery we’re used to seeing in such shows. More than a few scenes will recall the savage beauty of “Station Eleven,” another post-apocalyptic series airing on HBO Max, though “The Last of Us” is less optimistic about the survival and basic goodness of humanity than the old series. .

Oh, and sensitive viewers, beware – “The Last of Us” can be deeply sad. It’s not a punishing watch, but as with any story set at the end of the world, expect a lot of casualties.

It’s not enough to please all fans of a beloved franchise, but HBO’s “The Last of Us” doesn’t necessarily deviate from the main story that players have played over and over again. Joel and Ellie are still our protagonists, and most of the series is devoted to their relationship (albeit with a few monster mushroom attacks interspersed). The game’s secondary characters – Tess, Marlene, Bill – come to life on screen, and viewers have more time than players to hang out with these survivors.

Bella Ramsey's Ellie is protected by Pedro Pascal's Joel in

But there’s at least one major deviation from the game’s plot in an early installment of the series, as a central character’s arc is taken in a radically different direction onscreen that we won’t spoil. here. There are a few original characters from the show, including a grizzled survivor played by Melanie Lynskey. Oh, and monsters in the series no longer infect victims with “spores,” a change that might bother some gaming purists.

Otherwise, much of the series looks and feels like a love letter to fans – some of the lines, camera angles, and set-ups are almost identical to famous scenes from the game. may not be those similarities, but they’re sure to delight fans who played those moments.

“The Last of Us” airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.


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