An otherwise quiet week for gaming was rocked by a Bloomberg report that reveals, among other things, that a shift in the PlayStation team’s creative direction may have left Naughty Dog working on a PS5 remake of The Last of Us.
I highly recommend reading that report if you haven’t already as it sheds some light on Sony’s long-term plans and has already triggered a heated debate over the changing nature of the Triple-A video game industry. For now, though, let’s focus on that rumored remake of The Last of Us and try to answer the question “Why would Naughty Dog be interested in remaking that game?”
As that report reveals, the most likely answer to that question is “money,” but what’s really interesting is that the report seems to strongly suggest that the project is being referred to as a remake rather than a remaster. That distinction could be significant, as modern video game remakes tend to be major investments on-par with a new Triple-A title. If pressed to guess, I’d suspect that Sony wouldn’t continue with this project if they weren’t sure this remake was going to inspire people to buy the game for the first time or, more importantly, yet again. It will certainly feature better graphics, it will certainly feature PS5 controller integration, but if we’re talking about a modern remake, then there’s a good chance the project may even alter the original game in other notable ways.
On the surface, it would seem that The Last of Us‘ story should be untouchable in any remake. The Last of Us is defined by its story which many consider one of the best in video game history. Even if there are some who don’t consider it to be so sacred, the fact that we just played The Last of Us Part 2, which obviously follows in the footsteps of that story, would seemingly eliminate any chance that Naughty Dog would ever drastically alter the original game’s plot.
The thing you have to consider, though, is that the remake may not have to significantly alter that story to fundamentally change it in ways that will at least be perceived as “major” by many fans. It’s when you start looking at it from that perspective that you start to see how tempting making minor changes might be.
First off, you’ve got to consider that this remake will almost certainly be released alongside (or close to) the debut of The Last of Us HBO series. We’ve already learned that the HBO series will deviate from the original game through new sequences, dialog differences, and all of the other changes you might expect when you’re taking a story from one medium to another.
While it’s unlikely a remake would change the original story in such a way that directly follows the events of the series, you certainly see where there’s room (and maybe even a bit of temptation) for the remake to feature a few new sequences, a couple of dialog changes, or even just a handful of little things designed to catch those familiar with the game off-guard.
It could all be relatively harmless, but when you’re talking about a story that many consider pitch-perfect, any change to any of those beats or any additional scenes that potentially interrupt the flow of the narrative could end up being significantly more impactful than they’d otherwise be. Even just a change in tone or delivery that affects how we perceive a character’s intentions could greatly impact how we read the events of the first game and how those events impact the second title (and any future installments).
That’s the other thing about this remake. To be blunt, the reactions to The Last of Us Part 2 show that there are some fans of the original game who have an interpretation of that game’s events that don’t necessarily gel with what happened in the sequel. Those differences fueled one of the most heated debates over a game’s plot in years. As those vocal (and sadly sometimes hostile) detractors point out, The Last of Us‘ ambiguous ending did suggest a few different paths forward and whichever one Naughty Dog committed to was almost always going to upset those who read the final moments of the game and the implications of what came next a bit differently.
On some level, Naughty Dog must be tempted to alter The Last of Us‘ most meaningful moments in perhaps minor ways that more clearly lead into what eventually happens. If that proves to be the case, there will always be questions regarding whether or not those changes were made as a kind of attempt to bring everyone “on board” and eliminate any confusion over what direction this story is going in and how the events of the first game should be interpreted. We already saw hints of that in the sequel, and those hints were not taken well by some fans.
There is certainly a section of The Last of Us‘ fanbase that makes unreasonable and simply hateful demands in regards to the game’s story and content, but as the Star Wars re-releases showed us, any differences can result in lasting blowback due to the general agreement that once a popular piece of entertainment has entered the public consciousness, it’s pretty hard to justify changing it in even well-meaning ways without doing some kind of damage.
We’ll see when (and if) we get a PS5 remake of The Last of Us and just how different it proves to be. One thing that’s becoming increasingly clear, though, is that The Last of Us is becoming a contentious series and that the implications of this remake and how it represents Sony’s apparent change in creative direction will make its very existence more contentious than it already would have been.
That leaves the team working on this remake in the unfortunate position of producing a pretty “by the books” remake of The Last of Us and needing to answer questions over why this project got funded over new properties or changing the game in more noticeable ways and having to deal with the fallout from those who feel that any changes to The Last of Us are inherently unjustified.
Games like Demon Souls‘ and even the upcoming Diablo 2: Resurrected show that you can remake great games and do justice to them while bringing them into a new era. However, the circumstances surrounding The Last of Us‘ reported PS5 remake remind us that the conversation over the cultural and industrial value of these remakes may never go away no matter how good remakes become.