If there’s one thing about adaptations that we’re swearing by of late, especially after the Rings Of Power shenanigans fresh in our mind, is to not have sky-high expectations of any adapted-to-cinema version of seminal books or video games we’ve especially enjoyed over the years and hold near and dear to our hearts. This was pretty much our state of mind when all The Last Of Us teasers started hitting online — don’t be too excited, watch it because it needs to be watched, and ultimately don’t be mad if the HBO show doesn’t hold a candle to the brilliance that was the original PS3 game, which deservedly ended up winning SKOAR!’s GotY circa 2013. Boy, were we wrong about our scepticism!
Let’s be clear, at the time of writing this, we’ve only seen the first three episodes of the televised HBO series (which has a total of 10 episodes), but it’s enough to form an early opinion on the show’s authenticity towards the source material – the original PS3 game, in this case. And we are just short of ecstatic about everything that we’ve seen, heard and felt so far on HBO’s adaptation of The Last Of Us.
When The Last Of Us was released on PS3 roughly a decade ago, the game’s top-notch art direction with a variety of breathtaking environments immediately caught every player’s attention. It’s great to see the showrunners capture the overall post-apocalyptic aesthetic and vibe of the game, staying as close to the source material and transporting viewers into the world effortlessly. The show’s art department deserves a lot of credit for bringing the game’s world alive in every single little detail – from the crumbling ruins of Boston city to infected clickers amidst death and destruction to FEDRA soldiers inside quarantine zones, and everything in between.
Apart from triggering just the right sound byte for any given moment, the game also has one of the most haunting soundtracks we have experienced in a video game, which complements the visuals and heightens the mood appropriately with the right soundscape. We’re happy to report that the HBO series stays true to this very important element of the game, reprising Gustavo Santaolalla’s sensational original game score most prominently during the opening credits of each episode. The subtle notes of the melancholic guitar score have a way of immersing you in the world and heightening your overall emotional experience like nothing else. It’s haunting, sad, contemplative and just right for Joel and Ellie’s saga.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by ‘clickers’, The Last of Us is unlike any other zombie survival game you’ll play, with cleverly interwoven elements of stealth and action – yes, it’s far from a hack-n-slash tour de force. Played in third-person, it gives you plenty of freedom to tackle situations the way you want and engage enemy hordes on your own terms – through stealth and cover mechanics, a variety of weapons, laying traps, creating distractions, melee combat, etc. Some of these gameplay elements – like Joel’s rifle, Ellie’s sidearm, and their shoulder-strapped torches – are all faithfully recreated and paid homage to in the HBO series adaptation.
The in-game AI isn’t the most clever or punishing we’ve faced in a post-apocalyptic survival horror game, but that’s hardly the point of it all. Despite originally releasing at a time when the Walking Dead was super popular and gamers were already exposed to Resident Evil, The Last Of Us succeeded because it focused on just two characters – not overloading the senses by a whole ensemble cast, nor digressing into monsters and horror-based gore. The Last Of Us remains memorable even after a decade after its original PS3 release because it slowly makes you fall in love with its two protagonists.
Spoiler alert and this is 100 per cent true whichever way you look at it, but the game’s just an excuse for players and audiences to lose themselves in Joel and Ellie’s journey. It may mean different things to different people, for some it may look like just two people going on a dangerous adventure, while others may think it’s a journey of self-discovery for both the protagonists of The Last Of Us. Just like in the game, the HBO series also gives you the same feeling, that you’re holding hands with Joel and Ellie, continuing a shared journey without knowing how it would end. The drama and suspense feel raw, real almost; where circumstances seem less sugar-coated and more believable to your pandemic-weary mind.
One of the things we felt very strongly after playing the original PS3 game was that if ever The Last Of Us was made into a TV series or movie, then the character of Joel has to be played by Matthew Fox – the guy who played Jack Shephard in LOST – because they look so spectacularly similar. However, Pedro Pascal quickly grows on you throughout the first episode, and by the second episode, he is indistinguishable from Joel’s rough appearance and gruff mannerisms in everything he does. The character of Ellie is faithfully reprised by Bella Ramsey, who looks and plays the part quite convincingly. Game of Thrones fans will obviously remember them from the hit HBO series, where both delivered memorable roles.
The tiny tinkering and tweaks done by the HBO showrunners to the original game’s storyline don’t feel disrespectful, which is what’s most surprising for all of us who’ve lost faith in adapted versions of anything these days. Everything from advancing a plot device to slowing it down, addressing holes in the original narrative to adding new layers that enhance the game’s story, each of these embellishments shows that the showrunners are fans just like the rest of us who played the game. Their creative liberties accentuate the story and make it even richer than we ever imagined.
The showrunners’ fingerprints are immediately observed in scenes related to the original patient zero of the mycelium infection that starts affecting humans all over the world and some of the hive mind behaviour of the ‘clickers’, but no flight of fancy comes even close to the epic storyline the showrunners devised for the characters of Bill and Frank, which make a brief appearance in episode two of the HBO series. Without spoiling the episode and saying too much, it makes you want to take a bow and celebrate the brilliant storytelling of the writers’ room, especially.
Yes, we’ve only watched the first three episodes of the series, but we’ve seen enough to have no hesitation in saying that HBO’s The Last Of Us is a wonderful adaptation of the decade-old game. Whether you’ve played the game or not, the story, and its characters played by two talented actors, are enough reason to tune into this unique saga on a weekly basis.