There have been universally loved titles and controversial titles throughout the many decades of the games industry. But there have been few franchises which comfortably toe the line between beloved and controversial like The Last of Us. The first game is a masterpiece and despite some criticism of the controls, its narrative, visuals and gameplay still hold up extremely well to this day.
The Last of Us Part 2, on the other hand, became a progressively more controversial game in the years after its announcement. This culminated in a series of leaks (and more than a few falsehoods) that haunted it for a long time. It received universal acclaim from critics at launch with four million copies sold in the first three days. While many assumed it wouldn’t have a long tail, Naughty Dog confirmed over 10 million copies sold as of Spring 2022.
Considering the number of high-profile titles that fail to reach that figure, much less remain a topic of discussion to this very day, that’s a pretty big achievement. Now, once again, the series is the subject of some controversy, made all the weirder since it concerns the beloved first game.
At the Summer Game Fest showcase last June, Naughty Dog formally announced The Last of Us Part 1, a remake of the first game built – as per the official PlayStation page – “from the ground up using Naughty Dog’s latest PS5 engine technology with advanced visual fidelity, fully integrated DualSense wireless controller features and more.” It features the base game and the Left Behind DLC with significantly improved graphics and more detailed facial animations. But what got everyone’s attention was the other two paragraphs on its page.
“A total overhaul of the original experience faithfully reproduced but incorporating modernized gameplay mechanics, improved controls and expanded accessibility options. Feel immersed in improved environmental storytelling, effects, facial animations, and enhanced exploration and combat.” We’ll come back to this in a bit.
People were excited. The Firefly Edition sold out immediately and there is tons of hype, especially since it would also be coming to PC at a later date. However, before the official announcement, there had been rumblings and rumors of the remake for months. Some felt it “unnecessary,” especially since The Last of Us was released in 2013 on PS3 and received a remastered version in 2014. There were also reports of Naughty Dog’s other projects still being in pre-production and that it pursued a remake of the first game because a large number of its developers needed something to do. It also wanted to become more familiar with the PS5’s hardware.
Regardless, this wasn’t the worst idea. While it may sound easy to say “Just work on other projects,” you can’t have entire teams working on concepts and assets before the pre-production phase is even complete. A lot of work would end up being thrown out, which is an issue that Naughty Dog has already faced with some of its previous games like Uncharted 4. Not having the workforce do anything isn’t conducive either because like it or not, they’re owned by Sony. Over time, the project that first began at Visual Arts Service Group now had Naughty Dog involved and the rest is fairly recent history.
Following the announcement, people were reeling from the fact that it costs $70. Sure, it looks gorgeous but surely there was more, right? It wasn’t long before the dreaded leaks emerged again and The Last of Us Part 1 was reported to have no gameplay improvements (according to the initial leaker, at least). Xbox Era’s Nick Baker would share some leaks as well, indicating accessibility options – which indeed looked good – but no functions like dodging, crawling or going prone like in The Last of Us Part 2.
You could argue that Naughty Dog technically never promised such things but fans were told that there would be “modernized gameplay mechanics” and “improved controls.” When an official video showcasing the features and gameplay was released, it was apparent that the remake stuck very close to the original in both aspects. The jury is still out on how the remake feels to control. And I can see how seamless transitions and improved animations could enhance the gameplay experience. It’s just the vague wording of what exactly constitutes “modernized gameplay mechanics” that doesn’t help matters.
So there’s a fair amount of backlash and controversy. Regardless of all that, The Last of Us Part 1 will probably end up being one of the biggest games of the year. Not only in terms of critical reception but sales as well.
First, take a look at Sony’s release calendar. The Last of Us Part 1 releases in September, followed by God of War Ragnarok in November. You can factor in a bunch of Square Enix RPGs releasing in the coming months but in terms of major PS5 titles, these two are it. Their releases also coincide with the holiday season, allowing for even more lucrative sales.
In its Q1 fiscal year 2022 financial report, Sony pointed to the launch of major first-party titles, increased PS5 supplies and promotion of PlayStation Plus as its strategy for increasing user engagement in the second half of this fiscal year. Since The Last of Us Part 1 is based on one of the best games of all time, plenty of marketing will be dedicated to showcasing its new visuals and various improvements. There may not be any major ground-breaking changes but for the larger audience with PS5s, that won’t matter. Just like all of the controversies surrounding The Last of Us Part 2 didn’t matter when it came to sales.
Besides, there’s a key point that some have been missing – this remake wasn’t just willed into existence for fun. It’s an established IP, one that’s guaranteed to provide returns for Sony, but there have been plenty of fans craving for The Last of Us to be remade with the second game’s visuals. That may not be enough to justify the $70 price tag, whether one has played the original or not. For others who love the franchise and want to re-experience it with even better production values or accessibility options, it’s pretty ideal.
Let’s not forget that this is also the next step of Sony’s PC gaming strategy. Horizon Zero Dawn sold 2.398 million units on the platform, bringing in $60 million in revenue. Days Gone and God of War brought in $22.7 million and $26.2 million in revenue respectively. Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered is already looking like another hit. Can you imagine how a ground-up remake of The Last of Us will perform, especially for those on PC who have never played it? That’s a pretty sizable audience and revenue stream right there, which Sony wants. Everybody wins.
I can understand those annoyed with the lack of Factions multiplayer in The Last of Us Part 1 but that’s probably another part of the long-term strategy. Sony and Naughty Dog know there’s demand for the multiplayer gameplay that The Last of Us delivers. Hence the development of a multiplayer-centric title, one that Giant Bomb’s Jeff Grubb called “very, very live-service-y”, which more than likely means microtransactions and/or a battle pass. Whether both companies use these to milk their player base remains to be seen. Long story short though, they know fans want Factions but will release it on their terms.
As for The Last of Us Part 1, one could complain about how Sony is exploiting its players, how Naughty Dog isn’t putting much effort into the remake, and so on. I’ve seen people call this a remaster instead of a remake, which is hilarious when quote-unquote remasters like Saints Row 4: Re-Elected, Mafia 2 and 3 Definitive Edition, and Silent Hill HD Collection exist. As much as could be said about Naughty Dog getting familiar with the PS5 or having something to do, Sony wouldn’t have gone forward with the remake if it didn’t think it would sell. How much of that you want to attribute to the work put in or to name value is up to you.
As animator Robert Morrison said when responding to statements of the game being “just a cash grab,” “The price of the game is out of my control and worth is subjective to each individual. You can decide for yourself if you want it or not. All I’m saying is I am in awe of the work that an amazing group of people did on the project. A tremendous amount of passion was put into it.” So regardless of whether it’s “needed” or not, it ultimately comes down to whether you want to re-experience the journey of Joel and Ellie with better graphics now, further down the line or never. Nothing more, nothing less.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.