​'The Last of Us' Is One of the Best Video Game Adaptations

Created by Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin

Starring Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey, Anna Torv, Merle Dandridge, Nick Offerman, Gabriel Luna

Photo: Liane Hentscher / HBO

BY Andres GuzmanPublished Jan 10, 2023

For awhile, video game adaptations missed the mark. Either the movie was successful but wasn't a proper adaptation of the game (the Resident Evil franchise, for example), or the film attempted to take liberties and still didn't perform well enough.

The genre has seemed cursed — but it appears that the curse is finally setting the genre free. Mileage may vary, but some recent video game adaptations such as Uncharted, the Sonic the Hedgehog films and even Werewolves Within feel like they understand the source material well enough to get the concept or the characters and are well-made enough. 

Since the early 2000s, as technology and graphics improved, gameplay also changed and grew. As the games continued to push boundaries on a visual front, so to did the stories they told. While there will always be a place for a platformer or online multiplayer game, we've begun seeing games with complex storylines performed with motion capture actors that were on par with any film.

The Last of Us was one of those games. When it was released in 2013, it was a success, commercially and critically. The story follows Joel (Pedro Pascal) as he brings Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across a post-apocalyptic America, trying to survive a pandemic. It's a simple plot from afar, but the intricacies of Joel and Elle's relationship have brought fans back to the series for second, third and fourth replays. The game means a lot to many people, including myself. 

When it was announced that HBO was adapting The Last of Us with the game's writer and creative director Neil Druckmann and Chornobyl's Craig Mazin, fans were slightly more at ease, but expectations were high. Gaming fans are demanding, and considering the response to some decisions in the 2020 game The Last of Us Part II, Druckmann, Mazin and HBO had an uphill battle. Thankfully, they didn't fuck it up.

Druckmann's understanding of what works with the game is evident in the adaptation. He and Mazin agreed on moments that were important to keep and what had room for improvement. They had an incredible blueprint to base the series on, and sometimes while watching the show, it felt as if I was replaying the game. Some dialogue and scenes feel drawn out of the game while also given their own spin and additions. They rightfully blow past any of the "tutorial" scenes, and successfully use the behind-the-character, over-the-shoulder shot as we watch Joel and Ellie sneak past the infected.

Speaking of which, Joel and Ellie are perfectly cast. Pascal's Joel is as hardened as someone who has survived for 20 years in this apocalyptic landscape, but has a soft core that a very sarcastic teenager can reach. As for Ramsey, she is Ellie. When being a teenager means relying on sarcasm to protect yourself and somehow also attract friends, her extremely dry responses to Joel's straight-man approach are crucial to their relationship. Watching them together like this accurately represents Troy Baker's and Ashley Johnson's vocal and motion capture performances in the game.

The remaining cast members are also remarkable. Anna Torv, Merle Dandridge and Nick Offerman truly shine as Tess, Marlene and Bill, respectively, as they round out the show. They help paint a sometimes horrific picture of 2023 inside the show. Game composer Gustavo Santaolalla also returns for the adaptation and is the perfect accompaniment for the series.

Without spoiling much of HBO's likely next mega-hit, the show doesn't always stay entirely faithful to the source material, but it's better because of it. The parts that stay true to the game are already incredible, and the new additions elevate everything around it. The horror aspects feel even more unsettling, given the show's added "we're living in a pandemic" reality. It makes an already terrifying concept even scarier to witness.

The Last of Us will have a lot of judging eyes on it as it has to appeal to a devoted fan base, but between the creative team behind the show and the foundation it's building off of, the groundwork is strong. Fans anticipating the release can keep their expectations high. And for those unfamiliar with Joel and Ellie, HBO has allowed them to fall in love with these characters just like us gamers have for the last decade. If the game is regarded as one of the greatest ever made, it's only fair and proper that the television show will soon be considered one of the greatest adaptations.

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