Looks like PlayStation’s very strange 2021 keeps on trucking along. After a trio of odd moves in recent months, last week brought us news that a PlayStation 5 remake of 2013’s The Last of the Us is currently in the works internally at Sony. This came from a Bloomberg report that chronicled the game’s rocky road into development, along with news of a rejected Days Gone sequel pitch and a new installment in the Uncharted series.
It seemed like the immediate response to this news was backlash and confusion that Naughty Dog and the secret San Diego studio were working on a remake of the original The Last of Us. And rightfully so — on the surface, it seems absurd to remake a game from 2013 that already saw a 2014 PlayStation 4 remaster and still looks and plays solidly on PS5. And having resources put towards this instead of brand new games or remastering / preserving older games that are tougher to play on modern hardware feels like the wrong move at this point in time. But there are a few major factors in why this makes perfect sense for Sony, even if it might be the boring move to make.
First off, more so than maybe any other game in history, The Last of Us and its sequel are two halves of a single story. They are so complementary, reflective, and grow in meaning and power based on the action of the other. Watching Ellie grow from a hopeful child, to a surrogate daughter, to a hardened murderer after she’s lost the most important thing in her life is ultimately a single character arc. In that way, The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part II are the closest thing we’ve seen in games to the first two Godfather films, right down to the titling itself.
Sony and Naughty Dog have an opportunity here to create a seamless back-to-back experience out of the two halves by bringing them together under one game engine with the same visual fidelity and gameplay mechanics. This is an especially valuable proposition because, ultimately, The Last of Us is their step into a world beyond video games. And to understand that, you need only look at the other TLOU project currently in the works — the HBO series.
All parties involved are gearing up for HBO’s The Last of Us to be huge. Like, “win Emmys and became a mainstream phenomenon” huge. Just look at the pedigree of talent being gathered both in front of the camera as well as behind it — from Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey as Joel and Ellie, to Emmy winner Craig Mazin writing and executive producing alongside Neil Druckmann, to Cannes darling Kantemir Balagov directing the pilot episode. This sits alongside news that the show is set to begin filming in Canada this summer, with the shoot lasting roughly a full year. Jason Kenney, Alberta’s premier, even went as far as stating that, “[It] will be the largest ever, I believe, film or television production in Canadian history.”
Monoculture television events make viewers hungry for more outside of the series itself. Disney capitalized on this, as it always does, with a wealth of merchandising set around The Mandalorian, including various skins in Fortnite. Game of Thrones saw sales of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books skyrocket, and the same happened recently with The Queen’s Gambit and Bridgerton after their massive Netflix success. So it makes perfect sense for Sony to want to capitalize on what it’s betting to be a television phenomenon by pointing people to a “The Last of Us Complete Edition” for PlayStation 5, and hopefully consoles will be easier to find and purchase by the time the show hits, presumably in late 2022.
Remaking The Last of Us for PS5 also provides a project with a strong foundation that allows the teams working on it to get their next-gen sea legs. We saw the same thing when the game was remastered for PS4 early on in its life cycle, as well as just last year when Insomniac Games brought Marvel’s Spider-Man over to PS5. The big question mark on this project is whether it would include the much-beloved Factions multiplayer of the original or if this new version would coincide with the long-delayed update to Factions that was initially set to release alongside The Last of Us Part II.
It’s tough to be mad at the idea of this remake. Both games are absolute masterpieces in my mind, and I would gladly welcome a chance to play through an updated version of the entire story down the road. That said, this move just seems to be pushing Sony further in a more risk-averse direction of focusing on proven genres and properties, which we’re seeing with new games in the Horizon, Spider-Man, God of War, and Ratchet franchises, as well as unannounced but undoubtedly in development follow-ups to Ghost of Tsushima and Uncharted.
The more that Sony’s first-party studios release massive AAA cinematic action-adventure games that sell millions of copies and gather dozens of awards, the more it seems like that’s the only thing that those studios do. It’s a far cry from the weird Sony of the PlayStation 3 era, which would help see projects like Journey, The Unfinished Swan, Puppeteer, Rain, and Tokyo Jungle to fruition.
In light of this week’s news, a video from E3 2014 began recirculating on social media. During Sony’s E3 press conference, the then-new president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America Shawn Layden took the stage and gave an impassioned speech centered around Vib-Ribbon, a cult-favorite PlayStation 2 rhythm game released in Japan and Europe that never actually made it to America. “A personal favorite of mine that really embodies the PlayStation spirit,” Layden said. “It wasn’t a multi-million seller, but that’s not the point. Vib-Ribbon was unafraid to go against the tide. It was courageous in its ambition, and it brought a completely new experience to gamers. It’s an incredible time to be part of the PlayStation family… after all, guys, it’s all about the games, isn’t it?”
That clip, along with the remarkable story of how Layden then successfully went on a quest to get the game released in the U.S., provided such a stark contrast to what we’ve seen from Sony in the past few months. This includes the closure of the PS3, PSP, and Vita digital storefronts, the dissolution of Japan Studio, and this week’s new reports that PlayStation passed on funding Hideo Kojima’s next game, which opened the doors for Xbox to step in and help.
While there’s no official confirmation of this, it all feels very much in line with what we’ve seen from both parties over the past year or two. While Xbox is constantly in the news with minor updates, consumer-friendly initiatives, and massive studio acquisitions, PlayStation’s been relatively quiet. When it has something to talk about, it’ll talk about it. But at the end of the day, Shawn Layden’s closing sentiments still ring true. “It’s all about the games, isn’t it?” Only now, those games are very different than the ones Layden was referring to back in 2014. Or in the case of The Last of Us, perhaps no different at all.