Yo‘ve been playing The Last of Us Part 1 this week, a PlayStation 5 remake of Naughty Dog’s landmark horror classic, first released in 2013. (If you haven’t played it, or the 2020 sequel: I’ll be talking about them in some detail, so best to skip this section if you want to avoid spoilers.) There’s been a lot of justified grumbling about whether a nine-year-old game – which has already been remastered for the PlayStation 4 – can justifiably be sold again for £70; for most players, no graphics upgrade could ever be worth that a lot
People have praised Naughty Dog’s dedication and attention to detail on this remake. It really does look and feel like a modern game. Personally, playing it again has made me think about how the world (and my own life) have changed in the last decade. I wasn’t a parent when I first played those jaw-droppingly awful opening scenes, in which Joel’s young daughter dies in the first hours of the fungal zombie pandemic that devastates the world. Now, it is difficult to bear. And after having experienced a real pandemic, the whole setup hits differently.
First time around, I related powerfully to Ellie, the traumatized but openhearted and wryly hilarious teenager who shares this adventure with Joel. (I’d forgotten how funny this game can be, but Ashley Johnson plays Ellie so brilliantly and with such superb light sarcasm.) Back then, I thought Joel was a ty.pical gruff male video-game protagonist: he was a foil, and most of the time I wished that I could be playing Ellie instead. This time around, I related a little more to Joel, as the parental figure in this story. He’s not a good man; we know this long before the ending. But he cares, and he tries.
The Last of Us Part 2 was divisive. Released in 2020, its unpleasant storyline about cycles of retribution did not land with some players and critics, who thought it was a needlessly violent and disspiriting spectacle. I found it riveting – it’s far from subtle, but I’ve never played a game that went to such lengths to examine the violence that people do to each other, and to humanize the “enemy” and their motivations. In Part 2, Ellie and the rest of the cast grow harder, more callous, more deadened to each others’ humanity with every hour that passes. Playing Part 1 again – seeing Joel and Ellie find comfort in each other and grow closer throughout the horrors they witness – with the knowledge of what happens to these characters in the sequel is heartbreaking.
Part 1 is in many ways a simpler story, a more conventional zombie-movie setup about two people in search for a cure to restore humanity, but it’s still subversive – particularly the ending, which frustrated a lot of people at the time because it wasn’t ‘t the outcome that they wanted. When, at the end of their postapocalyptic road trip, Joel learns that Ellie will have to die in order to provide that cure, and goes on a murderous rampage through a hospital full of doctors to retrieve her and take her back out into a ravaged world. , it is an act of extreme but tragically relatable selfishness. Many of us like to think that we could sacrifice ourselves or someone we loved for the greater good, if it really came to it. But Joel cannot; his better nature of him died with his daughter of him, years before.
Ten years ago, putting players through a story without pandering to their expectations, or giving them agency to change it in some way, was fairly new. It is jarring to be in the shoes of a character whose actions we disagree with – more so than when we’re watching an antihero in a film or TV series, because we are performing these actions. There were moments in the final scenes of Part 1 – and many more times during Part 2 – when I could hardly bear to go through with what I was being asked to do. But I wanted to see what the game had to say at the end of it.
It was also unusual at the time for a game to feature a female character so prominently – indeed, in the Left Behind expansion, Ellie took on the lead role, and kept it for the sequel. It is unfortunate that this seemed quietly revolutionary in 2013, but it really did. It was the first time I had played as a teenaged girl, the first time a character’s life experiences mirrored some of my own. This game truly made a difference, and it raised the bar for the whole medium. Remaking it yet again – and charging this much for it – is an indulgence on the part of its developer, but it’s difficult to begrudge them it.
what to play
Out this Friday, Nintendo’s family friendly shooter Splatoon 3 is joyous. I felt as if I’d seen it all before, having developed a brief but intense obsession with Splatoon 2 on a summer holiday five years ago. But this iteration has a fulsome and interesting single-player puzzle-shooter experience to go along with the usual ink-splattering multiplayer, in which teams compete to cover levels in colorful ink using such inspired weapons as paint-rollers, umbrellas, and my favorite , just a bucket. I’m being cagey here because reviews aren’t out until tomorrow, but I’ve played enough to know that this is worth your time. Like the rest of this series, it is also irresistibly stylish.
Available on: switch
Average playtime: 10+ hours
what to read
As the Microsoft/Activision Blizzard merger makes it way through various regulatory authorities around the world, it has revealed interesting details. Legal filings in Brazil show that Microsoft has accused Sony of paying developers for “blocking rights” to keep games off Xbox’s Game Pass service. In the UK, regulators are asking big questions about the takeover: “We are concerned that Microsoft could use its control over popular games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft post-merger to harm rivals, including recent and future rivals in multi-game subscription services and cloud gaming.” One assumes that’s rather the point. For players, though, preserving the choices we have for how we play games seems increasingly important. Microsoft has committed to releasing Call of Duty on both Game Pass and PlayStation on the same day for several more years, but surely that arrangement won’t last for ever.
Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford is auctioning his famously loud used shirts for … well, it’s not quite clear. Purportedly for charity, but Gearbox does not say which charity. Still, if you want to own a shirt that a video game CEO once sweated into, this is your chance.
Sega’s Mega Drive Mini 2 miniature retro console is available to pre-order at £104.99, and the game list is packed with Sega treats both widely beloved and obscure, from the Mega Drive and the Sega CD. Outrun! Shining Force II! Ecco the Dolphin! I was deeply committed to Nintendo at this point in gaming history, but objectively this is a stellar lineup.
what to click
Goat Simulator 3: Making the stupidest game of the year is trickier than you’d think
Immortality review – a spellbinding cinephile puzzle about a vanished actor
Cult of the Lamb review – grow your own cult in darkly cute game
A timely question from Luc Pestille: Which other game that has already had a remaster could you justify remaking and selling for £70?
Spicy, Luc! The question of value in video games is highly subjective – I’ve bought some of the Zelda games at least three times at full price – but games are expensive as heck, and remakes have to work hard to justify their price tag. The ones that are actually worth the money are those whose technological constraints held them back at the time. Shadow of the Colossusfor instance, was remastered with average results and then remade with incredible results. Demon’s Souls is another good example – the PlayStation 5 remake is vastly better than the original PS3, given all the money and time that the original developer never had. Resident Evil remakes also rule. I would love to see a proper modern reimagining of Silent Hillor The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (Skyrim has been released enough). Or the Metroid Prime Trilogy – though hopefully we’d get all three of those for £70.