Video games love photorealism. In the '90s and '00s, when realism wasn't possible, we had a lot more variety of art styles and a greater variety of artistic expression. That still exists in places today (The Artful Escape, Persona 5, Sayonara Wild Hearts, Borderlands, etc.), but we seem to be moving away from it, especially at a triple-A level. In the '10s, video games thought they had realism down, but into the '20s now we're convinced we really do have realism down, so it's time to remake all the games from the '10s. No prizes for guessing what will happen in the '30s. The Last of Us is the latest game to get this treatment, having already had a graphical update once, and it just feels hollow.
The Last of Us Part 1 certainly looks better in the upcoming remaster, if by 'better' you mean 'the characters look more like real people, but still look like video game characters, so will need to be remastered again in the future'. But 'better' as in 'I prefer it'? This is obviously subjective, but the answer is no. Given how beloved the original game is – frequently proclaimed as the greatest of all-time – I can't imagine I'm the only one. Were the rest of you really having to keep down your vomit at the horrendous visuals as you ploughed through the dated gameplay, yet still able to sing its praises?
I loved the original blorange tones, replaced in the latest offering by washed out grey. I know Joel and Ellie and Tess as they looked in 2013, and while Joel and Ellie's tweak somewhat works given my familiarity with them in Part 2, Tess just looks like a completely different person. It's more realistic, not just in a one-to-one graphical comparison but in that she looks more haggard and worn out, as we might expect, but it's not Tess. It's like the original actor went on a cocaine bender and needed to be recast. On an unrelated note, everybody's looking forward to The Flash next year, right?
I know, I know, it's going to have The Last of Us Part 2 gameplay. Except… is it? The game is out in three months and we've seen zero gameplay to indicate that, while any references to it have been cagey and vague. That's not to mention Joel throwing himself around like Ellie would be extremely unrealistic, or that TLOU's very clearly designed shootout zones with crates for cover, alleys to sprint down, and walls to hide behind don't lend themselves to the open creativity of TLOU2. Let's go ahead and forget all of that though, even though nobody has a retort for it. You know what game I can play on my PS5 if I want TLOU2 gameplay? TLOU2.
Naughty Dog has a bit of form here too. The company rose to prominence developing the Crash Bandicoot series, the initial trilogy of which was recently remastered by Vicarious Visions, with the mascot now under the care of Activision Blizzard. It is generally agreed that Crash 3 has the best gameplay, so that was used for all three games in the remaster. Unfortunately, that style did not mesh at all with the first Crash game, which became significantly harder and more janky as a result of having 'better' gameplay added to it.
But hey, just for fun, let's put that aside too. Let's pretend The Last of Us Part 1 is the game of your dreams, perfectly adding The Last of Us Part 2's gameplay to the formula, even though it clashes with the level design and character build. Why in this world of finite time and long, laborious development cycles do we need it to exist? This is arguably the most talented studio in the world, and a game that was heralded as a revolution to the medium when it launched. The game is widely available, has already been remastered, and is free on PS5. Why are the devs being put to work on it yet again when Naughty Dog could be making The Last of Us Part 3 or even an entirely new experience? And I don't want to hear that a smaller team might already be at work for it – 2,000 people were needed to make TLOU2, and whatever Naughty Dog does next will be even bigger because that's just the unsustainable direction gaming is moving in. Plus, Factions 2 (or whatever it's called) is still in development. Remember, that multiplayer portion that was supposed to launch in 2020 alongside TLOU2 but now won't even be discussed until 2023? Ain't video game development grand?
The Last of Us Part 1 is a huge technical improvement on the original version, but does that make it any better? Nothing has been gained, things have only changed.
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