Mid-Week Musings 7/30/14
Ben: Hello, gaming world! After a brief hiatus, the Musings are back! The gaming scene has been pretty quiet since E3 2014 mounted its white steed and rode off into the sunset, but that doesn't mean we don't have things we need to discuss (well, The Last of Us things). The summer is flying by, and even though Battlefield Hardline has bowed out of 2014 in favor of a 2015 launch date, this Fall, and October in particular, are still jam-packed with more games than I (and pretty much everyone else) know what to do with. But that's a problem for the future — we're here in the now!
What are you playing during this summer's calm before the storm? While you think about your answer, let's get on with this week's Musings!
The Last of Us Remastered has arrived
Almost inarguably the best game of the PS3 generation, on PlayStation platforms or otherwise, Naughty Dog's post-pandemic masterpiece, The Last of Us Remastered, arrived on the PS4 in all of its upgraded glory on Tuesday, July 29th. If you're new to the PlayStation ecosystem, or you just never got around to it on your PS3 (if you're in this camp, your shame knows no bounds and you've ruined your family name....no wait, I'm kidding! Don't stop reading! Come back! Hello?), you owe it to yourself to play this game on the PS4. And not just "play" the game, but invest yourself in the title and play it to its completion. Honestly, once you start playing you'll be unable to stop, anyways; held captive against your will if you...uh...will.
The Last of Us was a watershed moment for the video game industry. As Empire Online so eloquently stated, this was "gaming's Citizen Kane moment — a masterpiece that will be looked back upon favourably for decades." Sure, there had been games with great characters and engrossing stories before The Last of Us, but Naughty Dog's modern classic possessed a sophistication and gravitas that was uniquely its own. There had been games with terrific gameplay and memorable soundtracks, and there were some that even managed to inspire emotion. But no game ever did it like The Last of Us. EVER. No other game, before, or since, has melded gameplay, story, performance, music and emotion into the perfect package of digital interactive entertainment the way Naughty Dog's epic has managed to.
It's not often you can definitively say something is "the best at what it does," but it's easy to call The Last of Us "the best at what it does," and it does A LOT. It has the best story with the best characters. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson gave the two best video game performances I have ever seen. This is the kind of stuff Hollywood actors win human and globe shaped statues for. Their performances inspired emotion and created a bond between player and game character that had never been experienced before. Gustavo Santaolalla composed a soundtrack that made the game that much better; its minimalist sound and emotive strings fit the world like a tailored harmony. And all of this was wrapped around a game that was genuinely fun to play. The Last of Us is FUN TO PLAY! The gameplay lived up to its end of the deal, and when all is said and done, that's what makes this a journey worth taking.
And how about that ending?! Wow!
Ultimately, The Last of Us Remastered is a celebration; a jubilee remembering an especially significant contribution to this hobby we, as gamers, obsess and fawn over. It's a way to recognize a game that set a new industry standard, and what we all may one day look back upon as one of the most important video games ever created. This game was the culmination of everything Naughty Dog had been working towards over the last...however many years. They had a vision, one comprised of the perfect marriage of story and interactive gameplay, that began back with Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. That vision was realized with The Last of Us. The bar has been forever raised, Industry. I, for one, can't wait to see where we go from here.
If you haven't experienced The Last of Us for yourself and you own a PS4, do not pass up the opportunity to play this once-in-a-generation game. If you've already played it, buy it again. It looks pretty wicked in 60 fps.
Celebrating The Last of Us
One Night Live
Did you miss the special The Last of Us: One Night Live performance hosted by Geoff Keighley and Neil Druckmann at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, Monday night? It was a spectacular show that involved a live reading of various scenes plucked from throughout the game, and really reinforced the immense talent behind the cast of The Last of Us. It was especially great to see the physical aspect of the acting and performance; I could see the game being recapitulated right before my eyes. The show was filled with terrific moments, laughs, chilling live selections from composer Gustavo Santaolalla and his band (seriously, how awesome was it to watch the band perform "The Last of Us Theme" live?!), and a surprise "Musical" addition. If you missed it for whatever reason, it's a highly recommended watch, and you can see it below!
***************WARNING! THIS VIDEO CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE GAME. DO NOT WATCH IF YOU HAVE NOT PLAYED THE GAME YET!!!******************************
When Joel Met Ellie
This is a great conversation between Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson on their time together with The Last of Us. You can feel the special bond and the chemistry the two of them have developed while working on the game together for so many years. Its one of the reasons Joel and Ellie's relationship is so believable and poignant in the game itself.
****ONCE AGAIN, STEER CLEAR OF THIS CONVO IF YOU HAVEN'T PLAYED THE GAME!!****
The Infamous Alternate Ending
Just watch it.
********YEP, YOU GUESSED IT. HEAVY SPOILERS HERE, TOO!********
Watching the One Night Live show and reminiscing on the game, I'm struck by how vividly I remember each scene. Seeing Troy Baker and company act everything out on stage, it went off exactly as I remember seeing it in the game. Even Troy's breaths and sighs were note-for-note compared to Joel in-game. It's just another testament to the skill and ability of everyone involved in the creation of The Last of Us.
I'm anxious to play through the game again! I need to give Survivor difficulty (or *gasp* Grounded mode) a shot!
Oh, and Ellie is my favorite game character. EVER. EVER EVER EVER.
The Lost End Credits Scene
Monday night, as a special treat for those lucky enough to be in attendance at The Last of Us: One Night Live, Neil Druckmann unveiled, for the first time, a special post-credits scene he had written for the game that was not included in the final version. According to a thread on NeoGAF, and performed live by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson themselves, the scene was said to pick up some four years or so after the conclusion of the game. Set in Tommy's Dam, the scene begins with Ellie sitting in a room listening to music on a CD player or iPod of some sort when Joel enters. Apparently he is involved in a relationship with a woman named Esther, and Tommy is attempting to facilitate their marriage.
Ellie is said to be seemingly distant, possibly as a result of the circumstances surrounding the end of the game. This is unclear, though, and I think Joel's new lady could also be a plausible explanation for Ellie's detached nature here. I could see her either disapproving of her in terms of whether she's right or not for Joel, or also lamenting the fact that they don't get to spend as much time together anymore. It's also interesting to think about whether Ellie realizes what happened at the end of the game or not. She's a smart girl, so if I were a betting man, I'd wager she knows not everything about their encounter with the Fireflies adds up.
As they continue talking, Joel tells Ellie he has a gift for her. He pulls out a guitar and begins to sing a song. GAF member Spine_Ripper notes in his first-hand account of the event, that Troy Baker played the guitar and sang in Joel's voice on the live stage, and that it was, "F***ing amazing." It wasn't stated what the contents of the song entailed.
After the song, Joel tells Ellie a joke that he'd previously told Esther, which is a nice nod to the game proper and Ellie's penchant for telling jokes of her own. "What's the bad thing about eating a clock?" Joel says. "It's time-consuming."
This joke could be interpreted a couple of different ways, I think. First, it could be a subtle reference to the relationship that Joel and Ellie share. It was a long time before Joel and Ellie formed the bond that they eventually did in the game. It took time for them to fully trust each other, in so much that, they could place the fate of their lives in each other's hands. It's supposedly been four years since the conclusion of the game during this scene, and while we don't explicitly know that Ellie realizes what happened during their time with the Fireflies, she gets the feeling that everything was not as Joel said it was. Perhaps this is a reference to the passage of time in regards to them trusting each other once again.
This joke could also be interpreted more globally. It was noted that, at The Last of Us: One Night Live, Neil Druckmann mentioned that this scene was intended to be "a goodbye to Joel and Ellie." The image of the eating of the clock could more literally symbolize that time was running out on their story; their journey was complete, and Naughty Dog had told the tale they intended to tell.
Or, it could just be a funny joke, and I spent two paragraphs over-analyzing it. There's that, too.
After the joke, they share a laugh and sort of cut through the palpable tension in the room. Joel leaves Ellie with the guitar and exits the room. Ellie then picks up the guitar, strumming a single note as the screen (stage) goes black.
Druckmann apparently told the audience that this scene will "never ever be released," and he asked that no one film it. And while this sounds like a brilliant scene, I'm glad it's being handled this way. The Last of Us had the perfect ending, and even though this "deleted scene" was more than likely intended to be a post-credits affair, it still would have had an effect on lessening the impact of the final scene
As it stands now, this scene will remain lost in the gaming ether; an urban legend that few have heard about and even fewer have seen. It's destined to be a footnote in The Last of Us history, and the subject of a future trivia question, I'm sure, and that's the way it should be.
There's also a part of me that prefers this scene stay hidden for purely selfish reasons; the door to sequelville is left a little more ajar. As noted above, Neil Druckmann intended this scene as a "good-bye to Joel and Ellie," and if this intended "good-bye" was never inserted into the game, maybe we haven't seen the end of Joel and Ellie's story? It's simple video game arithmetic: "good-bye" scene minus "good-bye" scene equals potential sequel. Trust me, the math works out.
While The Last of Us was quite literally the perfect game in terms of its story and execution, and many fear a sequel would tarnish the ending of the original, I have to believe that if Naughty Dog were to make a sequel, they'd only do it if they had the right story. And who's to say a sequel would even star Joel and Ellie? Their journey is only one of the many stories that this world has to offer.
But then again, remember that concept art by Polish artist Marek Okon that was leaked earlier this year featuring an older looking Ellie playing the guitar? (The image is above for your viewing pleasure) He worked on several pieces of promotional art for the original game, and posted the above art piece on his Facebook page with the words, "Let me tease you something... It's coming... ;]." While he quickly downplayed the piece as mere fan art, I don't think its coincidence that an older Ellie is playing the guitar in this picture; this clearly has ties to Druckmann's lost end scene.
With over 7 million units of The Last of Us sold and counting, and a healthy bump in that number coming as a result of The Last of Us Remastered being released on the PlayStation 4, it's a sure bet the fine folks at Naughty Dog have at least discussed the idea of a sequel for their white-hot franchise. And as much as I love the first game, and the succinct ending of it all, I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't be the first one in line to buy my copy of the game that continues Joel and Ellie's story.
After all, Ellie is my favorite character EVER EVER EVER.
Speaking of The Last of Us...
In related The Last of Us news, it was revealed over the weekend at Comic-Con that Bruce Campbell and Maisie Williams were at least in talks, if not already officially inked to a deal, to star in the Sam Raimi produced/Neil Druckmann written film adaptation of the revered game. If Ellen Page is unable to play Ellie, then I think Maisie is an awesome choice. Her feisty Arya on HBO's Game of Thrones is one of the standout characters in the series, and I think she would absolutely kill it as the tough-as-nails Ellie. Now, "Bruce Campbell?" Well, that's another story.
While its unclear if Campbell is being considered heavily for the part of Joel or someone else entirely, I think the inferred message at this point is that he is being looked to as the film's gruff lead. While Bruce Campbell is awesome, I don't know that I see him as Joel. He's a funny guy, of course, with his legendary Ash from the Evil Dead franchise earning him legions of fans around the world, but he's generally only starred in B-movie roles, and the part of Joel is a huge, blockbuster gig. Troy Baker absolutely killed it as Joel in the game, and whoever steps into the silver screen role is "treading on some mighty thin ice." Troy Baker left some enormous, clown-sized shoes to be filled by his cinema predecessor. Bruce has never had a role quite like this, and while I'm not saying that he can't pull it off, there is no prior precedent that's been set to make me think he can, either.
My colleague and fellow Short Pauser, Brent, often cites Josh Brolin as a good choice for Joel, and I think that's an awesome suggestion. I don't think there's any question that he has the acting chops to pull off Joel, and his often gruff demeanor is a nice fit for the role I think. I also think Denzel Washington would be an awesome fit for Joel. He's already done the post-apocalyptic thing in the underrated Book of Eli, and his turn in the awesome Man on Fire saw him befriend and form a special relationship with a younger girl — which, when you combine these two roles, basically sounds exactly like Joel. There's some more of that video game math for you. Plus, he's DENZEL WASHINGTON!
I think the larger issue here is that I don't know that this movie should even exist, or at least be in the process of being made. Let's be honest, there's no way this movie could be as good or better than the game. The Last of Us is a legitimate contender for the best game ever made, and it's the crowning achievement of video game media up to this point. It's a magical, INTERACTIVE experience that's unlike anything else in terms of its ability to blend story, character, and game. It's a 20 hour epic that the movie studio will attempt to squeeze into 2 hours, and it's impossible for something not to be lost in translation. It's the same complaint book readers share when their favorite novel is turned into a big screen property; it's missing content and it's just not as good as the source material.
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson ARE Joel and Ellie. It's going to be hard for anyone else to convince me otherwise.
What do you guys think? Who do you want to see play Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us movie? Should this movie even be made? Sound off in the comments below!
Benjamin Boyce is senior writer/co-founder of Short Pause. You can follow him on Twitter.