Upon its release in June 2013, genre icon John Carpenter -- director of The Thing, Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live and numerous other films that video games have blatantly stolen ideas from -- took to Twitter to announce his verdict on The Last of Us, the new horror game from Uncharted developer Naughty Dog, depicting a world overtaken by fungal zombies.
His eloquent 11-word statement spoke volumes:
"THE LAST OF US. Great characters, good graphics, sometimes frustrating gameplay."
It's hard to sum up The Last of Us any better than that. The characters were great, the graphics were good and the gameplay was sometimes frustrating. Carpenter had hit the nail on the head, which isn't surprising. This is the guy who filmed a six-minute fight scene between Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David. He knows what he's doing.
Cut to a little over a year later and The Last of Us hits shelves once again, this time as a PS4 port dubbed The Last of Us Remastered. Same game, new console. Or as Carpenter might now describe it: same great characters, better graphics, sometimes still frustrating gameplay.
The rarity of a game's defining feature being its characters is reason to celebrate; that may explain why we're seeing a gussied-up special edition so soon after its original release. This is a game that features vast city ruins reclaimed by nature, horrific zombies with mushrooms growing out of their heads and intense shootouts with heartless bandits. Yet the most memorable moments are the small bits of character-building in between the action. Addiction here doesn't come in the form of "I'll put the controller down after I kill one more horde of zombies!" but rather as "I'll put the controller down once I witness the next intimate moment that will further this character's arc."
That's progressive in the sense that most games do not even have characters whose names you can remember, but it also means that sometimes you enjoy the game for non-gaming reasons.
Narratives with fully realized characters have existed in some form or another for thousands of years, so the telling of a great story isn't exactly new hat. Telling that story as a game is, but The Last of Us is often frustrating (you called it, Carpenter) and even a little dull to play.
The game is essentially divided into two sections, which alternate between unforgiving one-loud-noise-and-you're-dead zombie stealth sequences and kill-all-of-the-bandits hunts in abandoned buildings. Both offer their own simple joys but rarely expand upon their initial ideas aside from simply adding more and more enemies each time out.
Without any changes to those Carpenter-certified moments of "frustrating gameplay," The Last of Us Remastered fails to improve in any significant way other than the visuals. Those character arcs really do look great in 60 FPS HD, though.
Mel Stefaniuk is a freelance writer whose love of both video games and writing have been intertwined since growing up with the text adventures of the '80s. He can be found on Twitter as @DisgracedCop.