Most people would agree that The Last of Us features writing, characterization, and cinematic elements on par with any quality movie or television show. The youtube user Grant Voegtle has created a project here that showcases these elements perhaps even better than the game itself does: a “cinematic playthrough” of The Last of US which splices together both game cutscenes with HUD-less gameplay to create a seamless viewing experience so that, in Grant’s words, “non-gamers, or people who are otherwise unable to play the game for any number of reasons, can enjoy watching the game play out as much as players enjoyed playing through it.”
As someone who has played The Last of Us all the way through, I thought the most interesting parts of the cinematic playthrough were the editing tricks and liberties the creator could use in order to better fit the game into a different medium. (Spoilers ahead!) In particular, during the climatic scene at the end of Episode 6, as Ellie fights in the burning building and Joel makes his way to rescue her, the creator quickly shifts between Ellie’s and Joel’s perspective, giving the confrontation an entirely different feel as the viewer is taken from character to character in a way the game is unable to pull off without. In other situations, the creator is able to introduce a new area by splicing shots of the environments together, taking away the focus (temporarily) from the characters on-screen, and giving players and viewers alike new perspectives on the game world that the characters inhabit.
This project also raises a few questions – if The Last of Us could be so easily turned into a viewing experience, did it really need to be a video game? Indeed, I think most criticisms of the game stem not as much from its narrative as its gameplay experience. Could this story have been as effectively told in a different medium? I’m curious as to how the impact and experience of the narrative would differ from those who have only played The Last of Us versus those who have only seen this cinematic version. How much does gameplay contribute to narrative, if at all? I would argue, for example, that playing as Joel and helping him, as the player, to commit his extreme acts of violence colors one’s opinion of Joel in a way that simply viewing them would not.
On a final note, the upcoming The Last of Us movie will be a fascinating test case for video game-based movie or television shows. I think most people would acknowledge that making movies out of paper-thin narrative gaming experiences like Doom or Prince of Persia were endeavors that were bound to fail, whilst making a movie out of an already well-written and engaging narrative experience like The Last of Us need not necessarily fall into the same traps. It will curious to see if The Last of Us’s narrative experience is lessened in its transition to the big screen.