Rumors that a Last of Us PS5 remake is in the works at Naughty Dog have been met with a mixed reception, and it's not hard to see why. The idea of one of Sony's most revered first-party studios being put to work on a remake of a game that came out just eight years ago gives the image of PlayStation playing it safe and self-satisfied at the beginning of a new-generation – a perception worryingly familiar for those of us who remember the early years of the PS3's life cycle.
Admittedly, there is some business sense in a Last of Us remake, if indeed the reports are true. With The Last of Us TV show coming up, sales data suggesting the majority of PS5 purchasers have never owned a PlayStation console before, and a potential PC port of The Last of Us Part 2 looking more likely than ever, Sony is about to introduce a vast new audience to one of its biggest first-party franchises. What better way to acclimate and onboard these players than with a remake catching them up on the story so far?
But what about for those who have already played The Last of Us? Is there really any value in replaying a remade version of a story we first enjoyed less than a decade ago? Even speaking as someone who has played The Last of Us several times over the last eight years, I have my doubts, but – despite it all – there are reasons to believe that a remake could be a worthwhile venture for Naughty Dog at this critical stage of the next generation. I'm not saying I'd be delighted if the studio came out and confirmed the remake's existence, but here's what it could do to help alleviate some of my trepidations about such a prospect.
Warning: The following covers story spoilers for The Last of Us Part 2.
Remake, remix, or recontextualise?
You can't evaluate the potential worth of a Last of Us remake without first considering the narrative implications of its successor. Far from a straightforward continuation of the series' plot, The Last of Us Part 2 told a story that was deeply intertwined with the events of the first game, showing the ripple effects of Joel and Ellie's journey on characters such as Abby, Owen, and – by extension – Lev and Yara.
While Part 2 did a pretty good job of revealing the nature of those ripple effects through flashbacks, it also had to awkwardly explain how Abby conveniently never came into direct contact with Joel or Ellie during their time in Salt Lake City. A remake could address those narrative tensions, integrating Abby's story more seamlessly into the events of the first game by shining a greater light on her perspective, fleshing out her interactions with characters such as Marlene and Jerry.
This kind of focus would also help us better understand and empathise with Abby's motivations for killing Joel, an act which made it difficult for many to connect with her in Part 2 in the way that Naughty Dog might have hoped. Getting to spend more time with Abby and her father would help us understand the closeness and importance of that relationship to the character, and why Joel's brutal, thoughtless murder of Jerry fuelled his daughter's quest for a bloody revenge.
Alternatively, Naughty Dog could go one step further than using The Last of Us remake to simply enrich our understanding of the events of its sequel, and alter the core of the story itself. This is something that several developers have used the opportunity of the remake genre to achieve in recent years, from Capcom shifting its story structure in Resident Evil 2 to Square Enix radically reworking that infamous Final Fantasy 7 ending.
These bold shake ups have been pretty successful for the most part, too, welcomed by fans who enjoyed their subversion of pre-established expectations. For a game that's still pretty fresh in the memory, the need for subversion in The Last of Us remake is arguably even greater, even if that comes with the risks of changing a story that many adore exactly as preserved by the original.
Thankfully, there's plenty of areas in Joel and Ellie's story that are ripe for remixing. What if Tess took on a more villainous role, as she did in Naughty Dog's original storyboards? What if Joel's wife, Sarah's mother, became an active character in the story? What if the Fireflies discovered a way to humanely isolate Ellie's immunity before Joel slaughtered his way through the hospital? Exploring these kinds of alternate timelines could make for an interesting experiment, even if Naughty Dog would be limited by the need to ensure the game still remained consistent with the events of Part 2.
Old dog, new tricks
Despite its relatively young age, The Last of Us also features dated design elements that could benefit hugely from everything Naughty Dog has learned in the years since. Its first few chapters, in particular, suffer from the kind of transparent tutorializing that Part 2 is much better at sneaking more holistically into its environmental design, while I'm sure many would happily trade the game's overused ladder and pallet sequences for its sequel's more engaging physics-based puzzles.
This is to say nothing of the visual improvements that Naughty Dog could bring to a remake, its cutting edge animation tech allowing every cutscene and emotional beat to hit that much harder on PS5. Letting the remake look and play as beautifully as its sequel would also make for a more consistent two-part package, where both games can be enjoyed from start to finish as a modern, unified experience.
To be clear, I'm not advocating for this remake outright, but trying to imagine how Naughty Dog could make it a compelling attraction to all. I'd much rather see the studio tackle a new IP entirely, but I'm also not yet willing to discount its ability to breathe new life into familiar subject matter. The Last of Us itself is a story that sounds pretty cliched on paper, after all. In a similar fashion, this remake might seem unnecessary, and perhaps even a little insulting to the legacy of the game it's following on from. But let's not forget that we were saying the exact same thing about Part 2 ahead of its release, and look how wrong we all were about that.
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