“My cash-grab is NOT a cash-grab!” exclaims man who’s definitely working on a cash-grab

Since I covered the announcement of The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered last year, I’ve left the project alone. I’m flat-out not interested in a game that’s been remastered or reworked for the second time in just nine short years, especially when the PlayStation 4 version is perfectly playable. I don’t seek out projects that I don’t like with the intention of crapping all over them; there’s more than enough negativity in gaming communities online that I don’t want to add to it.

But a widely-reported remark from a developer/animator (whose name I won’t share to avoid piling on) really pushed me over the edge. The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered (or whatever it’s going to be called) is a cash-grab. It’s the second remake of a game that was released in 2013 at the tail end of the PlayStation 3’s life, and it’s being resurrected for the second time entirely as a cheap cash-grab by Sony.

The Last Of Us is being re-remade.

After sharing my initial thoughts back when the announcement was made, I was content to ignore this new remaster. I have no plans to buy it – especially not with a ridiculous £70 price tag (or close to £100 for the deluxe version) – so that was that. Comment made, time to move on. But for one of the senior developers to have the audacity to speak about the game in such a brazen and dishonest way… I just couldn’t let it lie.

The Last Of Us is a good game. It was a great way to close out the PlayStation 3 era for Sony, and it was the game that convinced me to buy my first ever PlayStation console. I consider it one of the best games of the 2010s, and even though its sequel struggled under the weight of a clumsy narrative that tried to be too smart for its own good, the original game hasn’t been sullied by that controversy and remains one of the best examples of narrative, linear, single-player adventures.

The Last Of Us is undeniably a great narrative experience.

But this second attempt to “update” The Last Of Us for a new console generation is motivated purely by profit. Sony is cheaping out; recycling a game that they already have rather than investing in something new. By reusing things like recorded dialogue and motion-capture performances, and by not having to pay a team of writers to come up with a new story, the project can cut costs compared to making a new game from scratch.

There are remasters and remakes that are absolutely worth your time. Resident Evil 2, for example, was remade a couple of years ago from the ground up, and updating a title from 1998 to bring it into the modern-day with a new engine, new voice acting, and so on was absolutely worth doing. It introduced the title to a crowd of new fans who didn’t play it the first time around – and for whom going back to a clunky PlayStation 1 title would be offputting.

The remake of Resident Evil 2 feels much more worthwhile.

The Last Of Us doesn’t have that excuse. Not only is the PlayStation 3 version still perfectly playable in its own right, the PlayStation 4 remaster is an iterative improvement, bringing sharper graphics and ensuring that the game can be played on both PlayStation 4 and new PlayStation 5 consoles. As I said when the project was announced last year, I can’t imagine it would be worthwhile to resurrect the game for a second time – not so soon after the first two versions were released.

New video game generations have offered diminishing returns over the years. There was a huge difference between games from 1980 to 1990, and from 1990 to 2000. But even by the turn of the millennium, things were slowing down. The difference in graphical fidelity between a game from 2000 and one from 2010 was less noticeable than it had been in previous decades, and the difference between a game from ten years ago compared to a brand-new game released today can be so small that it’s difficult to spot.

Is this image from the PlayStation 3, 4, or 5?

Grand Theft Auto V is the same game fundamentally as it was when it was released in 2013 – the same year as The Last Of Us – and it’s still going strong. There have been tweaks as the game was brought to new consoles, but those changes have been criticised for being incredibly minor. Skyrim, The Witcher 3, and many other games from the past decade likewise hold up incredibly well and are still a ton of fun to play.

The only reason for a project like The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered to exist is to be a cash-grab. That’s why it was dreamt up and that’s all it will ever be. It might be a good cash-grab – and with a game as good as The Last Of Us at its core it should be, provided the new team doesn’t screw it up – but it’s still a cash-grab. And I don’t want to claim that the people working on it aren’t working hard – I’m sure that they are. I’m sure a lot of energy and passion has gone into this cash-grab from the developers. As someone who worked in the games industry, I know how passionate developers can be, and even when a game isn’t great, good developers will still give it their all. That’s commendable.

Promotional image for The Last Of Us.

But that doesn’t excuse trying to present a project like this as something it’s not. The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered may end up being decent with pretty graphics and neat animation work that talented developers put a lot of time, effort, and passion into making. But that doesn’t make it any less of a cash-grab. I genuinely hope that it will be good – because I don’t want the reputation of The Last Of Us tainted by being associated with a sub-par remaster. But this isn’t a fundamentally new or even different experience; anyone who’s played the original game won’t need to play this version.

And that’s what makes it a cash-grab. It’s an attempt by Sony to, well, grab as much cash as possible for as little investment as possible. Without spending the big bucks that would be needed to create The Last Of Us Part 3, or any other brand-new game, Sony hopes to grind out a remaster that will save them some money but still rake in the cash from fans of the original game. And that strategy will probably succeed, if past experience is anything to go by.

For just $100, you can own the “Digital Deluxe Edition!”

Buy The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered if you want. Or don’t. If you haven’t played the game yet, it might even be worth waiting for the new remaster to get the most up-to-date and visually polished experience. It’s definitely a game worth playing… but I’m not convinced that this version will be, at least not for me – nor for most folks who’ve already played it.

But whether it’s good, bad, or mediocre, and regardless of how hard individual developers have worked on it, The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered is a cash-grab. Trying to pretend otherwise is either pure and selfish dishonesty or abject self-delusion.

The Last Of Us Part 1 will be released for PlayStation 5 on the 2nd of September 2022, and for PC at an unspecified later date. The Last Of Us is the copyright of Naughty Dog and Sony Interactive Entertainment. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Last Of Us is being remade… for the second time in less than seven years?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Last Of Us and The Last Of Us Part II.

What on earth is going on with these far-too-soon remakes? Not only are we getting the visually disappointing Mass Effect: Legendary Edition later this year, but now the 2013 PlayStation 3 title The Last Of Us is apparently being remade as well. What a stupid idea that is. Evidently Sony, a company celebrated across the PlayStation 4’s lifespan for its great crop of exclusive titles, is creatively bankrupt, running out of ideas and being forced to go back to previously-successful titles desperately looking for games to remake or to produce unnecessary sequels to.

The Last Of Us Part II was released last year, and whatever you may think of its merits there can be no denying it was a controversial title. Rather than expanding the franchise or taking it in a new direction, Sony and developer Naughty Dog opted to revisit the same characters – and tacked on a story that didn’t go down well with many fans. Given the sequel’s controversial reception, I wouldn’t have expected that a return to the world of The Last Of Us would have been on the agenda so soon, but there you go.

The Last Of Us Part II was poorly-received by many fans.

Forget about the sequel. The original The Last Of Us is one of the best narrative games I’ve played in a very long time, such that I was even able to see past its horror elements – a genre I don’t usually enjoy. The characters were wonderful, the story pitch-perfect, and the setting unique. Eight years on from its original release, it’s still a fantastic game.

Visually, the game looks great. Its levels are tense and atmospheric, and I once described the game’s world as “hauntingly beautiful,” a description I stand by. By 2013, Naughty Dog and other developers were truly able to take advantage of the PlayStation 3’s powerful hardware, and they created a game that looks just amazing.

This screenshot hardly does justice to the visual beauty present in The Last Of Us.

So why does it need to be remade?

The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t. As with the Mass Effect trilogy, The Last Of Us is just too recent to see any significant changes or improvements, either visually or in terms of gameplay. Remastering or remaking the game – which has already been done once, shortly after the PlayStation 4 launched – is simply a cheap way for Sony to make money.

Rather than investing time and money in developing a new game, Sony sees a remake of The Last Of Us as a cash cow; a cheap way to reuse and recycle content it already owns into a “new” package that fans will lap up to play on their new consoles. That is, if anyone has been lucky enough to find one of the approximately eight consoles Sony manufactured in time for last year’s launch.

The Last Of Us was remastered in 2014 for the PlayStation 4.

To be totally fair, this applies to Microsoft’s Xbox Series X as well. But the PlayStation 5 launched too soon with not enough stock available, and with no plan in place to keep consoles out of the hands of scalpers and touts. The result has been total unavailability of consoles except to players who are willing to pay double the official price – or more – on sites like eBay. This incredibly anti-consumer move was blamed on the pandemic – as everything is these days – but my response to that is simple: if you didn’t have enough supply to fulfil consumer demand in the run-up to launch, you could have simply delayed the damn launch.

I’m sick to the back teeth of companies across the entertainment industry using the pandemic as an excuse for everything. There’s a worldwide shortage of semiconductors, silicon, and other key components in computer chips and other electronics. This is having an effect on PC components, games consoles, phones, and even cars. The smart, consumer-friendly thing for Sony to have done last year would have been to institute a six-month delay, launching the console later this year when more units had been manufactured. As it is, PlayStation 5s are sold out everywhere, a situation unlikely to change any time soon. But we’ve drifted off-topic.

Good luck finding a PlayStation 5 for its recommended retail price!

With so few games on PlayStation 5 right now, and Microsoft’s Game Pass service seemingly coming from nowhere and catching them off-guard, Sony is scrounging around looking for anything to shove on the new console to make it appear to be a worthwhile purchase for players. PlayStation 5 isn’t close to being worthwhile yet, by the way, so if you haven’t been able to find one, don’t worry. You aren’t missing out on much!

PlayStation 5, like its predecessor console, has serious issues with backwards compatibility. “Most” PlayStation 4 games work on the new system, according to Sony, but older titles don’t. So perhaps they see that as an excuse to give a relatively recent, good-looking game like The Last Of Us a facelift? Except, of course, as I mentioned above there’s already a PlayStation 4 version of the game which should be compatible with the PlayStation 5, so even that excuse – poor though it was, as a lack of proper backwards compatibility is Sony’s own fault – doesn’t hold water.

The Last Of Us created a hauntingly beautiful post-apocalyptic world.

This is a naked attempt to squeeze more money out of a successful project, and to avoid taking the risks associated with creating something new. If it hadn’t already been done, making this the game’s second remake, I guess it would have slipped under the radar. But the absolutely ridiculous, kind of pathetic situation of remaking the same game twice in less than seven years just makes it laughably obvious.

Instead of selling a copy of The Last Of Us on PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4 for less than £10 (the PlayStation 4 version is £7.99 on the PlayStation Store at time of writing) Sony clearly plans to push this “remake” as a big deal and slap a hefty price tag on it – perhaps they’ll even try to get away with making it a full-price title. But what would fans get for that money? How can you make a decent-looking game from only eight years ago look substantially better? Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is trying to accomplish that same task, and when I look at that game’s own pre-release marketing material, I can’t even tell which screenshot is from which version. They look so similar it’s not even a joke.

Promo art for The Last Of Us. Remember that this game is barely eight years old.

The Last Of Us is in the same boat as the Mass Effect trilogy, and the fact that it had a PlayStation 4 remaster already actually makes it even worse. I thought this was a joke when I first saw the reports, but apparently this is true. Sony actually plans to remake an eight-year-old game for the second time and sell it as new. I’m glad I don’t own a PlayStation 5 if this is what we can expect from the company this generation.

No matter what they decide to officially title it, I hope we can all agree here and now to only ever refer to this abomination as The Last Of Us Remastered Remastered – so as to emphasise what a stupid idea this truly is.

The Last Of Us is out now for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, with the PlayStation 4 version able to be played on PlayStation 5. The Last Of Us and The Last Of Us Part II are the copyright of Naughty Dog and Sony Interactive Entertainment. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Fifteen games worthy of a second look in Spring 2021

Spoiler Warning: Though there are no major spoilers, minor spoilers may still be present for a few of the titles on this list.

Anthem is gone, Cyberpunk 2077 is still a stinking mess, and there are delays aplenty across the games industry as the pandemic rolls on. What’s a gamer to do? Well, I might have the answer for you! Tomorrow will be the first day of March, and to me March has always meant the beginning of Spring. There are small snowdrops beginning to bloom in my garden, and the nights are getting shorter. A few times this past week I’ve even managed without the heating on in my house – much to the dismay of the cats!

There are still plenty of great games that – all being well – will be released this year. If you missed it, I put together a list just after New Year of ten of the most interesting titles! But considering the delays and that this time of year is typically fairly quiet in terms of releases, I thought it would be a great moment to consider a few games that deserve a second look. I’ve limited the list to titles that are readily available to buy on current-gen platforms and PC, so no out-of-print games this time.

Without any further ado, let’s jump into the list, which is in no particular order.

Number 1: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo Switch, 2017)

Nintendo’s most recent karting game is a ton of fun. It’s the kind of arcade racer that has a very low bar for entry – anyone can pick up and play this fun title. But mastering Mario Kart 8 – especially if you choose to head online – is no small task, and there’s a surprising amount of skill involved to be truly competitive with the best players! I’ve adored the Mario Kart series since its inception on the SNES, and this version is the definitive Mario Kart experience… at least until they make Mario Kart 9!

Number 2: Fall Guys (PC and PlayStation 4, 2020, coming to Xbox and Nintendo Switch this summer)

Among Us gained a lot of attention not long after Fall Guys was released last summer and stole at least some of the cute game’s attention! The fact that Fall Guys isn’t on mobile probably counts against it as far as finding a broader audience goes, but despite what some have claimed, the game is by no means dead. Season 4 – which promises to bring a new set of futuristic rounds – is being released soon, and for less than £15 (at least on PC) I honestly can’t fault Fall Guys. It’s an adorable, wholly unique experience in which your cute little jelly bean character runs a series of obstacle courses in a video game homage to the likes of Total Wipeout. Each round lasts only a couple of minutes, and it really is way more fun than words can do justice to! I’ve recently got back into playing after taking a break, and there’s plenty of fun still to be had.

Number 3: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC and Xbox, 2002)

You can find Morrowind on PC, and despite being an older title it’s compatible with Windows 10. There has been an active modding scene for almost twenty years at this point, so even if you’ve already played the base game it may still be worth going back for more. In my subjective opinion, Morrowind is the high-water mark of the Elder Scrolls series. It certainly offers players more to do than its predecessors or sequels – more NPCs to interact with, more factions to join, more types of weapons to wield and spells to cast, and so on. Especially if you hit Morrowind with some of the visual/graphics mods that are available, it can feel almost like a new game!

Number 4: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, 2002)

Another older title that you can find on PC, as well as on iOS and Android, Vice City was one of three Grand Theft Auto titles released between 2001 and 2005. Remember when Rockstar was able to put out more than one game per decade?! If you’ve had your fill of Grand Theft Auto V by now – and it’s been out for eight years, so I wouldn’t blame you if you were ready to play something else – maybe going back to one of the older games will be a nostalgic blast. Many fans of the series consider Vice City to be the best entry, and while I don’t think I’d go quite that far, I had a ton of fun with it back on the original Xbox.

Number 5: Banished (PC, 2014)

There are some great city-builders out there, but one of my favourites from the last few years is Banished. The game was built entirely by one person, which never fails to amaze me! It would still be a fantastic title if it had been made by a full studio, but the fact that the game and all its complex systems were programmed by a single developer is an astonishing achievement. Banished isn’t easy, even on lower difficulty settings, and it will take a little time to get into the swing of how to plan your town and manage your resources. But if you’re up for a challenge it’s a wonderful way to lose track of time!

Number 6: Skully (PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, and Xbox One, 2020)

Skully is a game that I’ve been meaning to write a proper review of since I picked it up last year, but it keeps slipping down my writing pile. From the moment I saw the trailer and heard the game’s premise – a 3D platformer in which you play as a disembodied skull – I was in love, and the game did not disappoint! The environments are beautiful and the game is plenty of fun. It manages to feel at points like an old-school 3D platformer of the Nintendo 64 era, and at others like a wholly modern experience. It’s also an indie title, and it’s great to be able to support indie developers wherever we can!

Number 7: Jade Empire (PC and Xbox, 2005)

If the demise of Anthem has got you missing the “golden age” of BioWare’s role-playing games, make sure you didn’t skip Jade Empire. The Xbox exclusive was overlooked by players in the mid-2000s, and while other BioWare games from that decade, like Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age Origins are all held in high esteem, the Chinese-inspired Jade Empire is all but forgotten. When Steam has it on sale you can pick up Jade Empire for less than the price of a coffee, and for that you’ll get what is honestly one of the best and most interesting role-playing games of all time.

Number 8: Star Trek: Starfleet Academy (PC, 1997)

Starfleet Academy is unique among Star Trek games because it features the cast of The Original Series in video clips recorded especially for the game. These aren’t scenes from films or episodes of the show; you literally will not see them anywhere else. Starfleet Academy is a starship simulator, and while its visuals obviously don’t look as good in 2021 when compared to other titles, the overall experience is fantastic. You won’t find another game quite like it – especially because ViacomCBS has all but given up on making Star Trek games since the release of Star Trek Online!

Number 9: Forza Horizon 4 (PC and Xbox One, 2018)

I signed up for Game Pass in order to be able to play racing game Forza Horizon 4 – and it was totally worth it! The Forza Horizon series attempts to find a middle ground between true racing sims and arcade-style titles, and generally manages to do so quite well. Forza Horizon 4 has a map which represents parts of Great Britain, and that’s something unusual! I didn’t see my house, but it’s always nice when a game uses a familiar setting. There are plenty of fun cars to race in, and different kinds of races too, including going off-road.

Number 10: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (Multiplatform, 2013)

Is it just me, or has every subsequent game in the Assassin’s Creed series struggled to hit the highs of Black Flag? Origins and Odyssey were decent, but even in 2021, I think that Black Flag is the definitive title in the franchise! There’s something about its pirate setting and the wonderful crop of NPCs that make Black Flag a truly enjoyable experience from start to finish. For a game that’s approaching its eighth birthday it still looks fantastic, too!

Number 11: The Last Of Us (PlayStation 3, 2013)

Despite its severely disappointing sequel, The Last Of Us is fantastic. If you’re looking for a game with amazing characters and a deep, engaging story, it simply can’t be bettered. I put The Last Of Us on my list of games of the decade as the 2010s drew to a close, and for good reason. Joel and Ellie’s trek across a hauntingly beautiful post-apocalyptic United States was absolutely one of the gaming highlights of the last few years. The characters are so well-crafted that they feel real, and every twist and turn in the intense storyline carries emotional weight. The game is being adapted for television, and I’m interested – cautiously so in the wake of The Last Of Us Part II – to see what will happen when it makes the leap to the small screen.

Number 12: Age of Empires: Definitive Edition (PC, 2018)

Though I know Age of Empires II is the title most folks prefer, I’ve always appreciated what the original Age of Empires did for the real-time strategy genre. If you’ve been enjoying the recent remake of the second game, it could be a great time to give the original a try as well. Age of Empires didn’t invent real-time strategy, but it was one of the first such titles I played after its 1998 release – and I sunk hours and hours into it in the late ’90s! There’s something about building up an army of Bronze Age warriors to smash an opponent’s town that’s just… satisfying!

Number 13: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, 2019)

I played through Jedi: Fallen Order last summer and documented my time with the game here on the website. Suffice to say I had a blast; the linear, story-focused title is exactly what the Star Wars franchise needed after the Battlefront II debacle! Having just seen the dire Rise of Skywalker I was also longing for a Star Wars story that I could actually enjoy for a change, and Jedi: Fallen Order did not let me down! I had a great time swinging my lightsaber across a galaxy far, far away… and I think you will too.

Number 14: No Man’s Sky (PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, 2016)

No Man’s Sky was incredibly controversial at launch. The pre-release hype bubble got wildly out of control, egged on by a marketing push that oversold the game. Remind you of any recent titles? But despite the backlash in 2016, Hello Games has since put in a lot of hard graft, and five years on No Man’s Sky genuinely lives up to its potential. Had it been released in this state I think it would have been hailed as one of the best games of the decade – if not of all time. I understand not wanting to reward a game that was dishonestly sold, and that the “release now, fix later” business model is not one we should support. But there’s no denying that No Man’s Sky is a great game in 2021, and if you haven’t picked it up since its 2016 launch, it could be worth a second look.

Number 15: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 (PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, 2020)

A full remake of the definitive skateboarding game is hard to pass up! In the Dreamcast era, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater launched an entire genre of skating games, and its amazing soundtrack is a nostalgic hit of late ’90s/early ’00s punk rock. The remade version, which you can pick up on Switch and the two new consoles later this year, is great fun, and has managed to do something rare for a remake: genuinely recapture the look and feel of the original title. Obviously the visuals are brought up-to-date, but the feel of the game and the way tricks are performed are fantastic. I was able to slip right back into playing as if I’d never put the Dreamcast controller down!

So that’s it. Fifteen games that I think are worth your time this Spring.

There are plenty of fun titles on the horizon, but some of the ones I was most looking forward to – like Kena: Bridge of Spirits and Hogwarts Legacy – have recently been delayed, prompting me to look at my library and put together this list.

I hope this has inspired you to find something to play over the next few weeks! If not, stay tuned because there will be plenty more gaming-related articles here on the website. Happy gaming!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promo artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Some next-gen ports are receiving a well-earned backlash

Whenever a new console generation kicks off, it’s inevitable that there will be some games that are released on both new and old systems. This is perfectly understandable in many cases, as games which are new and have had a lot of time and effort put into their development want to get the widest audience possible. Many titles in this category go unnoticed, or at most some reviewers will point out that the game may not be fully-optimised for new hardware. But some other titles are the subject of pretty heavy criticism, and I can fully understand why.

When it was announced that Grand Theft Auto V would be ported to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, many fans were upset. This was a game initially developed for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and it’s going to be ported again? Grand Theft Auto V has been a juggernaut this console generation after getting its start in 2013, but after more than seven years fans are itching for a new entry in the series.

Grand Theft Auto V was originally released in 2013 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

In 2014, when Grand Theft Auto V was re-released on current-gen consoles, it was barely a year old. No one at the time begrudged Rockstar the chance to port the title to new hardware because there was an understanding that the game had been a big undertaking. As the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era drew to a close, it made sense to bring some new titles to the new systems.

But that was six years ago, and in that time Rockstar has developed and published precisely one new game – Red Dead Redemption II. There are arguments to be heard that the pace of game development as a whole has slowed, and I don’t want to ignore the reality that developing an open-world game on the scale of Grand Theft Auto V is a colossal undertaking. But that doesn’t excuse what seems to many fans to be the company taking shortcuts.

Red Dead Redemption II is Rockstar’s only game in seven years.

What’s worse is that the time and effort spent on creating a next-gen port could arguably be better spent creating a new title. Even in a studio with the financial resources of Rockstar, porting existing games does take time, resources, and personnel away from other projects. So it’s not just a case of corner-cutting – fans feel that the company is wasting time.

Practically every current-gen title is going to be “forward-compatible” with new hardware anyway. What that means is that any Xbox One game should work on the Xbox Series X, and any PlayStation 4 game should work on PlayStation 5 by default – including titles like Grand Theft Auto V. So there’s no need to spend time and money reworking a seven-year-old game for new hardware; existing versions will work just fine.

Both next-gen consoles will be backwards-compatible with current games by default.

If the upgrades were going to be free, allowing players who own a current-gen copy of the game to experience the tweaks and changes on new hardware, I don’t think anyone would mind. In fact, players have praised companies like CD Projekt Red, whose 2015 title The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is receiving such a free upgrade. But Rockstar – and other companies too – plan to re-release their old games and get gamers to shell out more money for the next-gen version. It feels decidedly anti-consumer.

Even though I’m not a big online multiplayer person, I recognise the appeal that Grand Theft Auto V has as an online experience. But after seven years I feel that online experience has run its course, and most players will be ready for a new challenge. Those who want to stick with what they already have can either continue to play on Xbox One/PlayStation 4 or can even bring their existing copy of the game to the new consoles; there’s no need to buy it all over again.

Grand Theft Auto V is getting a next-gen re-release in 2021… eight years and two console generations later.

Another company that has been roundly criticised for its approach to next-gen is 505 Games, publisher of Control. This is a game I’ve been looking forward to playing, as it has great reviews, but it’s another example of next-gen upgrades being denied to existing fans. The only way to play Control will be to buy it again on the new consoles, and to many fans the small upgrade seems like a big expense.

The Last Of Us was similarly criticised at the beginning of the PlayStation 4 era for being re-released in a “remastered” state less than a year on from its PlayStation 3 debut. At the time I was genuinely shocked by the gall of developer Naughty Dog; how can a game less than a year old be remastered already? But The Last Of Us sold very well on PlayStation 4, cementing this business model in the minds of executives as one that works and will rake in cash for comparatively little effort.

The Last Of Us was re-released on PlayStation 4 mere months after its PlayStation 3 premiere.

At the end of the day, that’s what this is all about. Money. Re-releasing a game with a few minor upgrades and hardware-specific tweaks is relatively inexpensive and offers companies huge financial rewards. It should be no surprise to learn that a big company wants to make more money, and I get that we live in a society where profit and growth matter. It’s just that it feels so anti-consumer, and even big companies need to be aware of their reputations. It’s easy to dismiss criticism and backlash as coming from just a whiny minority of hardcore fans, but companies like Electronic Arts have found – to their great cost – just what can happen when they push players too far.

It’s only in the last console generation that the idea of cross-generation releases has been such a big deal anyway. In the days of the SNES and the Nintendo 64 the idea of a game from one system being ported wholesale to new hardware just didn’t exist. There were ports, but they tended to be things like Super Mario All-Stars, which was a compilation of several games instead of a single title, and offered players good value as a result.

There weren’t many ports in the SNES era, and those that did exist were bundles like Super Mario All-Stars.

But if you’d told me in 2005, when the Xbox 360 was launched, that the original Halo game was just going to be straight-up ported to the new system and that players would be expected to “just buy it again” I’d have been absolutely gobsmacked. What a nonsense idea that would have been even as recently as 2005! We’ve come to accept some of these things in the fifteen years since, but even by today’s standards, some of the proposals for next-gen re-releases are drawing well-earned backlash.

Though it wasn’t possible to predict the impact of the coronavirus pandemic even a few short months ago, the changing situation in the world should be something companies take note of. There’s a good chance that many folks are going to have less disposable income at least in the short-term, and being asked to re-purchase a seven-year-old game on a new console is definitely not something that should be considered under current circumstances. Even were it not for the pandemic, I think this practice would still be inappropriate and anti-consumer. But given where things currently sit, it’s even worse.

This is the kind of practice that can start big companies on a slippery slope to reputational damage and more widespread criticism, and I would advise them to tread carefully. Rockstar – or any other company engaged in a similar practice – could garner a lot of goodwill today by announcing that the next-gen version of whatever game they’re working on will be free to anyone who currently owns it. Or, on the flip side, they could continue to draw criticism and ire for their greed and lack of care.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Does The Last of Us Part II deserve to be scored 3/10?

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part II.

The Last of Us was one of my favourite games of the 2010s. I’m not a fan of horror in general, but its fungus-apocalypse setting was something unique in a zombie genre that was overrun by samey titles. Most importantly, The Last of Us was an engrossing story set in a world populated by characters who felt real. The story was what made The Last of Us worth playing; its third-person cover-based shooting/stealth gameplay was nothing new or innovative, and although its graphics were good even on the PlayStation 3, very few titles are interesting for visuals alone.

The story is where The Last of Us Part II fell down. There is currently a huge disconnect – as there often is nowadays – between the game’s audience and professional critics. Critic reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, giving the game 8/10, 9/10, or even 10/10 perfect scores. While it’s harder to aggregate non-critic viewpoints, Metacritic currently has the game at around a 3/10 – which is in line with reviews I’ve read on blogs and seen from non-professionals.

We could talk all day about how critic reviews are often unrepresentative of “normal” people’s experiences in entertainment – there are countless examples across film, games, and television to back that up. I also don’t want to accuse anyone of writing paid reviews; the practice does exist even in professional criticism just as it does in amateur criticism – an issue I’ve tackled previously. But in the case of The Last of Us Part II, there is simply no evidence that any individual publication accepted money for positive remarks so I will not be touching that with a barge pole.

Ellie, as seen in an early trailer for The Last of Us Part II.

The way I see it, critics and the game’s wider audience are looking at The Last of Us Part II from different angles: critics are looking at every aspect of the game, where fans are focusing on the story. The technical aspects of the game are fine. Its third-person cover-based stealth/action gameplay is an improvement on its predecessor, which it really ought to be coming seven years and a whole generation later. The game’s visuals have received much praise, and there can be no denying that environments and character models are graphically impressive – again, though, this is something we should be expecting in 2020. “Good graphics” or “nice scenery” can hardly be called features pioneered by or unique to The Last of Us Part II.

There’s an interesting comparison that comes to mind: The Rise of Skywalker. I reviewed this film a few weeks ago, and there are some similarities that are worth taking note of. The Rise of Skywalker – much like The Last of Us Part II – is visually impressive. Its special effects, CGI, costumes, etc. were all fantastic. And in both cases, no one can really fault the quality of acting performances, nor of much of the behind-the-scenes work. The editing in The Rise of Skywalker was certainly a problem, but beyond that, both projects are technically sound – but with stories that their audiences felt were crap.

At the end of the day, most people don’t pick up a game or watch a blockbuster film for the technical expertise of those behind it. If a studio is pumping huge sums of money into a project, those things are expected to be present. The Last of Us Part II should be a game that plays well, looks good, and has no major bugs or glitches. That’s the bare minimum for a game in 2020 to be considered adequate. Audiences come to The Last of Us Part II or a film like The Rise of Skywalker purely to be entertained and enthralled by a story, and if the story is deemed to be a failure, then no amount of technical perfection can salvage the project.

In The Rise of Skywalker’s case, the poor editing and pacing meant that even technical “perfection” wasn’t present, but even if The Last of Us Part II can be said to have hit every standard for being a great game from a gameplay point of view, a poor story can still make it a thoroughly unenjoyable experience. Anecdotally, I’ve heard from players who literally put the controller down and stopped playing, turned off by the game’s narrative decisions. If a game’s story is so poor the game itself is unfinishable, it’s definitely a bad game.

The Rise of Skywalker was a visually impressive film let down by a truly crap story.

I don’t like to say “I told you so”, but as soon as it was announced that The Last of Us was going to receive a sequel I felt it wasn’t a good idea. The first game was so good and the story so wonderfully engaging that almost anything that came next would struggle to live up to the expectations fans would have. And narratively speaking, Joel and Ellie’s road trip across a hauntingly beautiful post-apocalyptic United States was a complete story. The two characters even reached their “happily ever after” moment at the end of the game; any sequel using the same characters would have to get around that somehow. This isn’t a problem unique to The Last of Us, and it’s something that many sequels struggle with.

I would have argued, if I had been in the room, that if there was a need to make a second game at all it should have left Joel and Ellie behind and looked at some other aspect of the interesting fungus apocalypse setting. Perhaps a prequel focusing on the immediate aftermath as civilisation is in the throes of collapse – that premise worked well for Fear the Walking Dead. Joel and Ellie could have cameos, but from my point of view I regarded their story as complete.

There’s an expectation in 2020 that every successful project shouldn’t just be a standalone work – it needs to be expanded into a franchise. Partly this is a corporate decision, as companies see already-successful brands as easy money when compared to the risk of investing in a wholly new setting. And partly there is an artistic or creative element – there were those at studio Naughty Dog who felt there was a second story worth telling.

In a way, storytelling is subjective. Different people enjoy different kinds of stories, and what one person considers a clever narrative or an interesting plot twist may be considered an appalling betrayal by someone else. I often point to Luke Skywalker’s character in the film The Last Jedi when discussing this. Many fans felt that Luke considering an attack on young Ben Solo, and the subsequent depression he fell into after his Jedi temple was destroyed was out of character and the worst part of the film. I personally felt it worked well and showed, among other things, how anyone can find themselves battling depression.

However, there are fundamental narrative structures which have existed, in some form, for practically as long as there have been stories. Messing with these too much can lead to the whole narrative unravelling, and in my opinion, The Last of Us Part II suffers from this exact problem.

A promotional screenshot for The Last of Us Part II.

The first narrative point that The Last of Us Part II misunderstands and thus gets wrong is that stories need heroes and villains. Joel, the protagonist of the first game, is an antihero, not just for the violent life he led but for the decision he makes to save Ellie instead of potentially allowing the Fireflies to explore a cure based on her natural immunity to the fungal disease that triggered the collapse of civilisation. But even antiheroes are heroes – Joel may be deeply flawed, but as the character we played as and followed for the entire first game, it’s his story we relate to and sympathise with, not some new character.

When Joel was killed in The Last of Us Part II, in some ways it felt like an inevitability. He’d led a violent life since the apocalypse and had made many enemies, so his chances of living to a ripe old age were definitely lower than most people’s! But instead of the game turning into purely a tale of revenge, with Ellie setting out to bring Joel’s murderers to justice, The Last of Us Part II forces players to take on the role of Joel’s killer, and to experience much of the game from her perspective.

This narrative decision undermines the basic structure of fiction – that there needs to be a clear protagonist and antagonist. The Last of Us Part II ends up with a convoluted and terribly confused story as a result of failing to follow this most basic of storytelling rules. As the audience, we’ve been invested in Joel and his story. We’re on his side, despite everything he’s done. Joel was our hero – and yet we’re asked to take on the role of his murderer. This character is our villain, or at least should be. Of course it’s true in the real world that every story and every fight has two sides, and in many cases, both participants are equally in the wrong. But this is fiction – we have a protagonist we root for and an antagonist we don’t. If this had been Abby’s story from the beginning, killing Joel would feel fantastically satisfying. But it wasn’t her story.

The Last of Us Part II at key points looks like it’s going to be a story about bringing Joel’s murderer to justice; this is Ellie’s quest in the sections of the game where she’s the playable character. Yet when that storyline should have reached its climax and Joel’s death should have been avenged, Ellie lets Abby flee. This moment, for many players who made it as far as the end, completely ruined whatever remained of the story.

A story that aims to be about justice – which, in a post-apocalyptic world, has been reduced to the old adage of “an eye for an eye” – needs to conclude with justice being done, somehow, in order to feel satisfying and conclusive. Even if Ellie had been killed at the end of her quest, if Abby had died it would have at least felt like a concluded story. The Last of Us Part II set itself up as this kind of narrative, so when it fails in the final act to deliver on that narrative, everything else in the story up to that point feels like a waste of time. And when the story was weak and so fundamentally flawed to begin with, that’s something many fans found to be unforgivable.

Ellie was the focus of The Last of Us Part II’s marketing campaign, not the new character of Abby.

As we’ve recently noted with Game of Thrones, sometimes trying to be clever and subversive leads to a story falling apart. There is a reason why stories have always had clear protagonists and antagonists; heroes and villains. There is also a reason why a story about bringing a murderer to justice needs to conclude with that justice being dispensed. The Last of Us Part II pulled at these fundamentals of storytelling, thinking itself clever and innovative. Instead, the story came apart at the seams. Nothing could compensate for that in a game that was all about story – not visual effects, not acting, not gameplay.

Does The Last of Us Part II deserve to be scored 3/10? That was the question I asked at the beginning of this piece. And the answer will depend on what you think is important in a game like this: is it the narrative? Or is it good enough for a game to look good and play well?

There is no denying that The Last of Us Part II is technically good. A lot of skill went into every aspect of its creation. But for me personally, I come to a game like this for its storyline. If the story fails, the game fails; they are inextricably tied together. So yes, 3/10 seems like a fair score for a title like that. It accounts for the fact that the gameplay is technically sound, preventing it from being awarded 0/10, while acknowledging that the game’s raison d’être – its story – is a complete failure.

The Last of Us Part II is available now for PlayStation 4 only. The game is the copyright of Naughty Dog and Sony. All images courtesy of The Last of Us Part II press kit on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Last Of Us Part II seems to have had major plot points leaked…

Spoiler Warning: Not only will we go over some of the alleged leaks from The Last Of Us Part II, but there will be spoilers for the first game’s ending too.

Once upon a time I worked in the video games field. I mostly did website content and marketing for a big company (that shall remain nameless) but I got to know a number of people in the industry – at the company I worked for, at other companies in the city, and even in games journalism.

The leaked cut-scenes for The Last Of Us Part II seem to have come from Naughty Dog’s QA department – or perhaps an outsourced QA tester. QA, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, stands for “quality assurance”, and these are basically product testers, people who play through a game to find bugs and glitches so that the developers don’t have to. In my own experience I did some work with the QA team, but it was primarily proofreading and copyediting for in-game text – both tasks that could be given to a QA department depending on the structure of a company.

The company I worked for was, on the surface, ferocious about information security. Non-disclosure agreements were signed, and one clause in my contract was that I couldn’t undertake similar work for a “rival” company for at least 12 months after leaving the company I worked for – all under the threat of being sued or even arrested. But in practice, it wouldn’t have been hard to leak information. In my role, for example, I would take screenshots or use screenshots and videos taken by others on a regular basis to form part of the company’s marketing material. These images and videos would be unencrypted, with no identifiable information contained within the file. I was often working with games that hadn’t even been announced, yet it would have been incredibly easy to copy them onto a floppy disk (sorry, am I showing my age?) or USB drive, or email them to myself or someone else. Considering how many people worked in the office I was in, it’s a wonder leaks like this don’t happen more often, even in normal times.

And these are not normal times. With “non-essential” jobs all but shut down, practically every large games company around the world has shuttered its offices and asked members of staff to work from home. This can include QA testers. If it was easy to record and copy information, including images and videos, while working in a busy office, doing so from home would be a piece of cake – and I would speculate that that is precisely what happened.

A nefarious leaker has spoilt the plot of The Last Of Us Part II!
Photo Credit: Unsplash

The motivation for anyone to leak significant information about an entertainment product escapes me somewhat, I must admit. Some people have guessed that it was someone “disgruntled” within the company who was using the leaks to make a point. But my guess is that most of these people do it for attention. Seeing articles (like this one, ironically) and knowing they alone caused all the fuss is surely at least part of what motivates leakers.

The Last Of Us was released in 2013, and ended somewhat ambiguously. It was one of my favourite games of the last generation, and one of the things I liked about it is that it was a self-contained story. Of course the world the game created had scope to tell many other stories, and in a way I’m not surprised to see another entry in the series, but as a one-off game it felt like lightning in a bottle – something not easily recaptured. I was sceptical of the idea of a sequel from the beginning, just as I would be if a sequel were announced for a film like Sam Mendes’ 1917. Why? Because it was a single story. It doesn’t need further explanation, yet in the current era of sequels and franchises, almost every successful entertainment product comes under pressure to follow suit and churn out something else.

Regardless, The Last Of Us Part II has been made, and is, by all accounts, practically complete. The pandemic has delayed its release, as it has for many other titles, unfortunately, but work on the game is largely done.

The question of “what comes after an ending?” is one that sequels struggle with all the time. Look at the direct-to-video Disney sequels like The Little Mermaid II or Pocahontas II for how a sequel can be difficult to handle. The fundamental issue is that a story like The Last Of Us is complete. The ending may have been ambiguous, and it was certainly an emotional gut-punch, but it was an ending. It was even a semi-happy one, at least from Joel’s point of view. The point isn’t that nothing was ever going to happen to these characters afterwards, because if we got lost in that world and it felt real then of course we would want them to go on and live their lives. Instead, the point is that we didn’t need to see it, because our interaction with Joel and Ellie was purely their road trip across America in the first game. That was their story; that was the only part we needed to see. While you could absolutely argue that there’s scope to take another look at The Last Of Us’ fungus-apocalypse setting, if it were up to me I’d have left Joel and Ellie out of it – or included little more than a cameo appearance from them.

An atmospheric promo image for The Last Of Us.

Now we’re getting into spoiler territory, so I’m giving you one last chance to jump ship.

Not only does Ellie seem to find out that Joel lied to her about the operation and what happened to the Fireflies, but Joel himself is killed. To repeat what I said a moment ago, I’m not sure I wanted to see this next chapter. I was quite content to leave Joel and Ellie in the hills approaching their new home, to conclude their journey as they become as close as family; as Ellie finds the caregiver she never had and Joel finds someone to care about after losing his daughter. Those character moments defined The Last Of Us for me, and over the course of a game I’ve replayed several times, the coming together of the two central characters is what made it a fantastic story.

Killing off one of them – or both, if you believe some of the less-reputable rumours out there – is just not what I’d have chosen. And I know, reading spoilers out of context can be a bad thing, because a story is about more than just one single plot point. But if you’re a regular reader you’ll know that I’ve just been through something similar with The Rise of Skywalker – the latest Star Wars film. Because I can’t go to the cinema I’d read a synopsis of the plot long before I saw the film, and I was thoroughly unimpressed with what I’d read. On the day I was finally able to sit down and watch it I still thought that there was a glimmer of hope – but it was not to be, and The Rise of Skywalker was an utterly crap film. In short, my gut feelings about story points tend to be right more often than not. And when it comes to what I’ve seen and read about The Last Of Us Part II, I’m expecting a let-down.

I’m strongly of the opinion that some stories are one-offs. They don’t need sequels or to be spun out into bigger franchises; they accomplished what they needed to in a single story. Other games have fallen victim to this – the Mass Effect trilogy was a single, complete story, yet a desire on the part of EA and Bioware to revisit its world led to the disappointment that was Mass Effect: Andromeda. The first Mass Effect warranted a sequel – the Reapers were still out there, even though their vanguard had been defeated. But Mass Effect 3 was a final and definitive end, even if you got the “extra-good” ending. Mass Effect: Andromeda didn’t need to be made, because sometimes complete stories are best left alone.

Promo image for The Last Of Us Part II.

While I’m hopeful that any game I’m somewhat anticipating will be good, the big spoilers and leaks that I’ve seen for The Last Of Us Part II serve only to reinforce my opinion that there was no need to make a sequel, or at least not one that brought back the same characters. And while it is absolutely true – as I’ve argued myself in the past – that the sequel doesn’t “ruin” or in any way change the original game, which will still exist and can be revisited to my heart’s content, I still feel disappointed in what I’ve read.

A game like The Last Of Us was purely a story – one for which the term “cinematic” was practically invented. The gameplay was secondary to the story, and in that sense it’s a title that I would be just as happy to watch as I was to play. Those kind of games are rare, but they’re fantastic when their developers get it right. That’s why The Last Of Us was one of my picks for the top ten games of the last decade – you can find the full list by clicking or tapping here. While I have no doubt that Naughty Dog will make a success of the gameplay of The Last Of Us Part II, and that the game will be polished and free of the kind of glitches and bugs that plagued titles like Mass Effect: Andromeda, if the story isn’t up to scratch none of that will matter. For gamers who just want any old action-shooter, maybe it’ll be fine. But for someone interested in the story it won’t be a success. It will simply be another example of why tacking on a sequel to an already-complete story can be an impossible task.

The Last Of Us and The Last Of Us Part II are the copyright of Naughty Dog and/or Sony Interactive Entertainment. Promotional images courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.