The Last of Us premieres tonight on HBO, and early reviews indicate it’s one of the strongest first seasons we’ve seen on the network, which is saying something, given the caliber of its other offerings.
Of course, The Last of Us is based on a video game, which may lead to a question many may ask themselves. Do I need to have played this game to appreciate or understand this show?
The result is an almost resounding “no,” because The Last of Us, and its HBO series, are a pretty unique case in the medium of video game adaptations.
I remember when it was first announced that The Last of Us would be made into a TV series, and the general response from the fanbase was “why?” The Last of Us is one of the most “cinematic” video game series of all time, between its hyper-realistic performance capture (an early thought was that no one could properly do the original Joel and Ellie performances justice) and action scenes and story moments that already made it feel like you were watching a long movie or extended miniseries. Adapting into one felt redundant.
But the end result is that it also means that because the adaptation is attempting to be so faithful to the original, that there is really nothing you need to “catch up on” by first playing the game, because it’s going to be a very, very close adaptation. While I have not really appreciated all this talk of the “video game curse” being broken by The Last of Us here, I will say that other recent examples are a lot different than what’s happening here.
The Last of Us on HBO is a direct adaptation of the game, the same storyline, the same sequences, even the same script, in many parts. That is not true of other video game projects that may be very good, Castlevania, Arcane, Cyberpunk Edgerunners, Detective Pikachu, the Sonic movies, but they are not direct adaptations of any specific game. They are simply using the game world and characters. That’s also true of bad video game adaptations we’ve seen like Doom, Assassin’s Creed, Netflix’s Resident Evil show, Paramount’s Halo show. They are not near-1:1 adaptations like what we’re seeing with The Last of Us. Most of them cannot be, and the only reason it’s working for The Last of Us here is because that game felt like it was already a movie or show in the first place. It’s a pretty unique situation.
This is not to say I don’t think you should play the games. I do, and both Last of Us games (yes, even the controversial Part 2) are some of the best single-player story-driven action games ever. I am very curious what the experience would be like if you watched The Last of Us on HBO first and then played the games for the first time, as that’s not something I can replicate for myself. One thing I would say is that I might wait on playing Part 2 until season 2 of the HBO show comes out, lest you run into a major spoiler for the show you may want to experience onscreen first, not in the game.
We’ll see how this goes tonight, but by all accounts, this is going to be something special.
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