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How The Last of Us became 'the greatest story' ever told in video games

Arachnid

Member
I liked it, but best story ever? Strong disagree

TLOU best story ever? Nah. TLOU and even TLOU2 have quite good stories imo, but isn’t it basically a glorified zombie apocalypse story? I still think Silent Hill 2 has arguably the best story in video games ever. I feel Neir Automata has a great story as well. I like the Yakuza and Judgment game’s stories also and even feel they are severely underrated.
Agreed on SH2 being the best story in gaming. It tackled such brutal themes with real world relevance and knocked it out of the park. Legit ahead of it's time. God, what a gut punch.
 
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Yoboman

Member
TLOU did have the best story in gaming because it introduced a shift to focus on the characters to drive the plot and did it well.

There are a lot of great stories in gaming but too often the character development isn't well done if it's done at all and the story is more about the events and moments. For example Horizon had really great lore and world building but the story isn't interesting because the characters arent.
 

BennyBlanco

aka IMurRIVAL69
I can't wait to play this game for the first time in March and be disappointed just like I did with all those "prestige" titles ported to PC since HZD.

Not even the best videogame story released in other media this week (nier automata)

TLOU is the best of Sonys cinematic games to me. Also the only ND game I ever finished. It aint the best story ever told in a videogame tho.
 

-Zelda-

Banned
Video Games Japan GIF


Side Boob....Nice!



No wait!!!!



 

YukiOnna

Member
It's a simple story executed well and I like it a lot, but it doesn't stand out and do utilize video games to do something different. I don't think it comes close to a lot of other titles, particularly Japanese ones, which don't try to hold back.

Why is the media so weird around TV adaptations of certain titles?
 
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The Alien

Banned
Polygon. I knew it was gonna be Polygon.

Greatest story in vidoe gaming? Lol. No. Rediculous hyperbole in this article and headline. Insufferable hacks for anything that fits their agenda.

(...and I loved TLOU1)
 

DForce

NaughtyDog Defense Force
This article made a lot of people mad on Twitter. lol

They didn't know it was talking about Craig Mazin's opinion.
 

Heimdall_Xtreme

Jim Ryan Fanclub's #1 Member
It's a good game, but not a panacea, nor Mount Olympus, nor the wonder of the world.

For better story only Zelda Ocarina of time or Final Fantasy 6.
 

gothmog

Gold Member
TLOU works because it is close to real world feeling, has an interesting angle on the apocalypse, and has some really good human elements that always made the games worth playing. Other games might have better stories but would probably be really hard to tell or would not have mass appeal.
 
Hyperbole headline.

Had quite a few weaknesses to be called greatest.

For one, non convincing character development for Joel. I had no idea what he was gonna do at the end. Was half surprised by it.

And this is main character. They could have explored Joel's psyche a bit to make it more convincing. Characters are explored at very surface level.
 

Lasha

Member
TLOU is the best of Sonys cinematic games to me. Also the only ND game I ever finished. It aint the best story ever told in a videogame tho.

you took the words out of my mouth . I'm excited for the show though since TLOU felt like a decent film hamstrung by an ok video game. I feel like pacing and other flaws will be ironed out by the natural flow of a TV show.
 

Vick

Member
Anyone who things TLOU series has the best story in a video game probably hasnt played 90% of story driven video games.

There are so many games with better, more orignal stories, it's not even funny.
What I am even supposed to respond to this?

Last I checked said game got a live action, super faithful iteration which is currently at 99% critic score and 96% from audience.. after hearing for years (from people who, again, never played the game) that story was only praised because of videogame standards and it would make for a B-Movie tier product at best in the "real world".
I'd love to see what would happen with your candidates..

You don't like it, fine, that's just a drop in the ocean of praises and cultural significance the game had.

Plus:

1 - This is about The Last of Us, the single game came out in 2013 directed by Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann.
Not about "TLOU series", which I couldn't give a shit about.

2 - Said TV series is also a huge downgrade in directing, art direction, and cinematography from the game, and imo even performances, along with the complete lack of the special sauce which made the experience so memorable and unique, which is obviously the interactive nature of its storytelling.
 

TheGrat1

Member
Yeah, no. With the caveat that I have not payed Part II yet (it is sitting on the rack):

The plot and characters were extremely formulaic and predictable. It was serviceable and executed well but all it did was hold the game together, it did nothing to move me. Hands down the best part was when you play as Ellie as it was unexpected an refreshing, but that was only for 1 and a half levels.
TLOU is not even the best story in PlayStation studios. God of War is better.
 
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Lex Tenebris

Neo Member
It's really good, but in a world where the walking dead exist, it lost almost all the originality.
Personally I find mgs3 one of the best, storywise.
 

begotten

Member
I think when it comes to stories and characters more grounded in realism, it probably is the best.

Personally that's why I find other genres to be more interesting and creative. That stuff has a cap and TLOU hits it better than anything else.

But there's more room for imagination and good story-telling in something like a BioShock or a Mass Effect just because of their setting and genre.
 

Markio128

Member
I’m trying to recall if any game’s story has stayed with me like TLOU has. Possibly SH2, but it was more the twist in that game, rather than the overall story that stayed with me. Bioshock was also good.

I think the reason TLOU stands out is because it had a great story at the forefront, and several really memorable stories pieced together in letters/notes. This is why I’m so excited to see what they do with these side stories in the series.
 

FBeeEye

Banned
It's a good game, but stop the hyperbole. As far as stories go, it's one of the oldest and most over-used in entertainment. It's been done a million times.
 

wvnative

Member
FFVII is the best story in a video game, difficult to make into a serie though unless you take a route like arcane.

There was almost a live action FF7 netflix show, Square-Enix rejected it so as not to take attention away from 7 Remake, but liked it enough to turn it into a FF14 series instead, but while not officially cancelled, looks to be dead in the water.
 
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The Last of Us is a good story with very good characters told high with extremely high levels of craft, loved the experience but I don't think it'd even be in my top 30 video game stories. It lacks the originality of something like Grim Fandango, Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, or Silent Hill 2 that really floored me. But if you really took to the bond between Ellie and Joel and highly value polish over experimentation, I could see someone rating it super high.

To me, there were a lot of emotional zombie apocalypse style stories going around at the time and I felt The Walking Dead did better.
 

chinoXL

Member
TLOU works because it is close to real world feeling, has an interesting angle on the apocalypse, and has some really good human elements that always made the games worth playing. Other games might have better stories but would probably be really hard to tell or would not have mass appeal.
this is exactly why TLOU franchise is one of my favorites. its how real it feels that gets me attached to the characters and story and makes perfect sense to translate to a show
 

gothmog

Gold Member
It's a good game, but stop the hyperbole. As far as stories go, it's one of the oldest and most over-used in entertainment. It's been done a million times.
Yeah, I remember all those mushroom apocalypse shows from the 60s. Isn't that how Burt Reynolds got famous?
 

Danjin44

The nicest person on this forum
for me it’s not even close but I would say it’s type of story has mass appeal that even none gamer can enjoy.

games like Nier Replicant or Silent Hill 2 not gonna appeal to your average joe.
 

fart town usa

Gold Member
Negative.

Give TLOU all the praise you want, most of it is valid.

Greatest story ever though, not even close. It's not even original, came out pretty late in the whole walking dead/post-apocalyptic human drama type narrative.
 

Dr. Claus

Vincit qui se vincit
A good article, from Polygon?

You can tell 90% of people responding in this Thread never played the game.
It definitely did something to me no game in 20 years, nor movie at the time actually, managed to do. I never cared so much for fictional characters before nor after, surely in large part due to its interactive nature (i.e. Ellie jumping on the back of an enemy to save my ass during an encounter, at the perfect time in their growing relationship) combined with its expertise in basically every field.
Is it "the best story ever told in gaming"? I don't know, but I certainly would never be mad at such statement on this game because it really was a lightning in a bottle.

Still, couldn't give a single shit about the TV series, nor the future of the game series for that matter.

No, most people here played it and simply disagree. I know that is mind boggling for you, Vick, but opinions do exist and they don't always match up with yours.
 

Bo_Hazem

Banned
Found this good long read and in anticipation for episode 1 of the show dropping tonight figured I'd share.


As Naughty Dog’s lauded franchise makes the leap to HBO, a look back at how the stars aligned in the first place.

By Cameron Kunzelman Jan 13, 2023, 10:03am EST

The Last of Us launched in 2013 on PS3 as a prestige narrative experience. The game was developed by Naughty Dog, a studio that had been crucial in setting the standard for story-centric games that emulated a traditional Hollywood format. Its Unchartedgames mimicked the spectacle of adventure films by way of Nathan Drake, an Indiana Jones type with the luck of John McClane. But The Last of Us saw the studio pivot from blockbuster action into a genre that dominated the early 2000s — the dystopia — and in the process brought the quality of prestige TV drama to video games. The game was so perfectly timed to the moment, its reach has become inescapable ever since.

The Last of Us and its various iterations have held dominance over the game industry for nearly a decade, and now it’s poised to do the same in the world that inspired it. The release of HBO’s The Last of Us series is imminent, and early reviews are making claims to it being one of the best video game adaptations so far. Craig Mazin, one of the key creatives on the project, stated recently to Empire in no uncertain terms that The Last of Us is “the greatest story that has ever been told in video games.” Broadly, his opinion echoes many of the major reviews during the game’s 2013 release: IGN gave it a perfect 10 and labeled it a masterpiece; GameSpot called it a “singular adventure”; and Game Informer ended its review with a staccato “you won’t forget it.”

For Mazin, that opinion seems to be based in a certain relationship to characters and their existence in a zombie-infested wasteland. He calls the game’s story “grounded” and noted that “it really made you feel” before stating that he’s played games since 1977 and never experienced anything like it. This is a familiar kind of argument for those of us who have tracked the relationship between traditional film culture and game culture over the years. In 2004, Steven Spielberg claimed that a sign of games’ medium maturity will be “when someone confesses that they cried at Level 17.” Controversially, and to the ire of many game players, Roger Ebert doubled down many times about the relationship of games to true emotional experience, writing in 2010 that “no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.”

It’s clear that we’ve lived long enough to cry at Level 17 and many people, including someone with a substantial development deal with a major network, have decided that the greatest video game story ever told could make a great television show. But what, exactly, makes The Last of Us stand out for so many, including Mazin?

The Last of Us, the game, introduces players to Joel, the survivor of a fungal plague that has decimated the world and created thin enclaves of humanity that try to defend themselves against the zombified dead who are infected, and reanimated, by a Cordyceps strain that turns them into attack-ready monsters. The game opens with the death of Joel’s daughter, then depicts him many years later as he is unwillingly tasked with taking care of Ellie, a young girl who is immune to infection. They travel across the United States together in search of the Fireflies, an organization that claims to be working on a cure for the plague. Along the way, they encounter other survivors, murderers, and a huge number of infected that they have to stealth, chop, and shoot their way through. The arc of the game brings Joel, who has made his way in life simply as a survivor, back to an emotionally full human, and sets up Ellie to mature from a girl into a young adult. Eventually, they form a father-daughter relationship, which turns in the final hours of the game thanks to a strikingly ambivalent but endlessly debatable conclusion.

When The Last of Us originally launched in 2013, the relationship between its story and how its emotional arc was communicated through gameplay was a significant element in many major reviews. Polygon’s own review points out that the game’s stealth sections and wobbly gunplay generate a tension that sets itself apart from other third-person action games, noting that the rhythm of avoiding enemies or clumsily fighting them lent a context to the relationship between protagonists Joel and Ellie. Game Informer made similar claims, extending it to scarcity of resources in the world, asking players to scrounge for the supplies to make critical gameplay items that would allow them to face the challenges that, once overcome, delivered the next major story beat. As game co-director and show co-creator Neil Druckmann once said himself, “a lot of the storytelling happens on the joystick.”

While action games with heavy story elements have tended to follow the gameplay-to-story-segment-to-gameplay rhythm since the 1990s, with franchises like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto generating discourse around whether or not you skip the cutscenes, the blockbuster games of the early 2000s that came before The Last of Us laid track that Naughty Dog could follow to determine best and worst practices. The Halo, Gears of War, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and Assassin’s Creed franchises had all largely made their names with innovative gameplay and directly delivered, easily segmented storytelling. Along with Naughty Dog’s own Uncharted games, an entire media industry was condensing around spectacular, expensive, heavily promoted action games that claimed to deliver both serious, mature stories and compelling gameplay.

But there are many factors as to why The Last of Us ascended to level of masterpiece for so many. One is Naughty Dog’s willingness to lean into cinematic language. Each narrative piece in The Last of Us leveraged the hardware of the PS3 to render strongly animated human beings having realistic reactions to the world around them. The sweeping cameras or the evocative cuts to elements in the world that pepper most other blockbuster games were abandoned for small spaces and close-ups. In narrative theory, we call this focalization, a fancy word for sticking close to the thoughts and feelings of the characters we’re seeing the world through and with. The Last of Us is an intensely focalized game. The narrative techniques centered on this too, delivering purposefully complicated characters whose actions were angled not only at the challenges in front of them but a broader set of emotional concerns. This is maybe not surprising, given that The Last of Us’ developers credit fiction guru Robert McKee’s highly programmatic textbook Story with some of the basic structural assumptions made about player investment in story and action.

The game’s drama also benefits from performances centered in tightly directed motion-capture sequences. Watching some of the more poignant scenes with the graphics stripped away, as seen in the official Last of Us making-of documentary Grounded, demonstrates how much the physical and voice acting performances of the actors drive the emotions that are depicted in the game. It’s clear that Naughty Dog knew what they had, given that one of the earliest promotional pieces for the game was an evocative vocal performance from Troy Baker, the video game actor who plays Joel, talking wistfully about the world gone away. It pulls a person in purely on performance in a gesture that’s more familiar to theatrical trailers. In video games, a promotional website, then and now, is more likely to have a weird 3D render of a gun than a gestural voice-over. In 2013, these were notable, and stuck out against other narrative-centric games that remained more traditionally science fiction, like Gears of War, or more tied to the tactical-badass genre, like Call of Duty.

ZciyUS8.jpg


These tones didn’t emerge out of nowhere. Much like the adventure films appropriated for the Uncharted franchise, The Last of Us intensified, and more deeply mined, a series of massively popular artistic references from other media. The video of Baker speaking over stock footage was not the only thing posted on the early official website for the game — there was also a 14-second clip lifted from a section of BBC’s massively popular Planet Earth nature documentary that demonstrated the effects of the Cordyceps fungus on ants, an idea that provided the baseline concept for The Last of Us’ infected enemies. In that way, the core concept of the game was ripped from the headlines in the way that science fiction texts have always done, giving the game’s concepts a sense of familiarity for many players and a plausible explanatory concept.

The other references are maybe more obvious, even if they are slightly more broad. Zombie media had built-in popularity across the early 2000s, with early standouts in film being 2002’s 28 Days Later and 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake. The popular 2003 book The Zombie Survival Guide, written in a matter-of-fact tone about the “real” things someone should do about zombies should the problem arise, provided some conceptual backbone for a disparate array of multimedia work. By 2010, an entire zombie phenomenon had slowly crept its way into American media culture, even infecting genres far beyond its horror roots — just look at the virality of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the Bill Murray murder simulator Zombieland. 2010’s The Walking Dead show on AMC, which ran until 2022, took the zombie concept seriously and heaped on a hefty helping of melodrama. Leaning into some of the aspects that made Cormac McCarthy’s The Road a popular, Oprah-approved bestseller half a decade earlier, The Walking Dead defined a template of charged violence, acceptable zombie gore, and parental relationships that continues to be deployed in a relatively unaltered form today. These resonances are so strongly felt that Kirk Hamilton’s review for Kotaku summarized these last two paragraphs succinctly by stating that The Last of Us is “built on the skeleton of so many post-apocalyptic stories before it” and that it “embraces the tropes of zombie fiction” to the hilt.

An additional context that has to be noted here is the notion of “prestige TV,” sometimes talked about as the golden age of TV, which generally just means the increased budgets and aspirations of television during the early 2000s and carrying into today. Shows like The Sopranos, Deadwood, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad aimed at telling different kinds of stories than TV shows had in the past, made possible both by budgetary expansion and the increased expansion of cable and what kind of language and violence was acceptable for TV. These shows tended to focus on glowering men who waffled in and out of antihero status, and who were often terrible to the people around them. They were also filmed in styles that were underexplored on television, becoming the mascots for “serious” TV work and generally consuming the entire TV drama space, and they often deployed a kind of stoic whiteness up against a broader, racialized public they were in contest with (a thematic that The Last of Us also unfortunately inherited).

This is all to say: The Last of Us didn’t come out of nowhere. It is not some kind of unique object that sprung fully formed from the head of a team of geniuses. Instead, it rode a wave of culture and influences that allowed its innovations and key executions to be received and embraced by a broader culture primed to enjoy its gameplay and to understand its thematic moves.

Another way of thinking about this is through another massive narrative success in games, which has had a substantial impact on the design of games and their narratives for a full decade: 2012’s The Walking Dead, developed by Telltale. Receiving a substantial number of accolades, and a robust critical and player reception, it shares a number of themes about family and maturity with The Last of Us, and it asks similar questions of the player about the ethical use of violence and how one might act at the end of the world. Its resonance with the zombie genre, while also pulling on the out-of-favor adventure game genre, meant that it had a narrative and mechanical novelty that drew many players in.

The Walking Dead was a critical game in a broader wave of what was termed the “dadification” of games. This move, which has seen some late entries like 2022’s God of War Ragnarök, put dads and their relationships to children at the center of game narratives. Less a coherent genre than a thematic movement in games developed and released in the 2010s, dadification remains a shorthand for paternal feelings being the driving motivator of characters who we are meant to identify with, and that has perhaps never been more strongly committed to than in The Last of Us. The game famously opens with the death of Joel’s daughter, and the remainder of the game is about the developing surrogate daughter relationship that he has with his ward and cargo Ellie (a reading mentioned often by the developers themselves in the official The Last of Us podcast.) As game developer and critic Mattie Brice noted shortly after release, this killing of Joel’s daughter in the prologue of the game in order to explain him as a character operates as “a dad’s version of fridging a girlfriend at the beginning of a game,” referring to a common narrative technique of aligning us with men by harming the women in their lives.

A final piece of the puzzle in explaining the phenomenon of The Last of Us, and its continued legacy as a substantial achievement in game narrative, has to do with money made and spent. Naughty Dog is a subsidiary of Sony, and the games that Naughty Dog makes are part of a small core set of developers like Sony Santa Monica and Guerrilla Games, who make products that act as a kind of front-of-house for demonstrating the serious chops of Sony as a curator of mature stories and prestige titles. The Last of Us is one of the keystone franchises that represents those artistic sensibilities of Sony. Only two years later, then-president of Sony Shawn Layden was pitching the “power of narrative” as a crucial lens through which to see player and audience investment in video game products.

Even after release, The Last of Us never stopped commanding attention thanks to the maintenance of the franchise by Sony and Naughty Dog. The original game launched in the summer of 2013, the short (but critical) DLC Left Behind followed early in 2014, and later that same year The Last of Us Remastered appeared for PS4. Although it was six years until the official sequel was released, the game remained a part of the PlayStation family and was consistently teased and promoted from 2016’s sequel tease onward. The remake of the original game that released last year, followed by the television show this year, shows a substantial financial and promotional push from the broader corporate apparatus even as damning reports of crunch culture focused on the developer.

While Sony and Naughty Dog have done their part to sustain conversation about this series for the past decade, a substantial part of that maintenance has been done by fans who are interested in discussion the ideas behind the game. “How do you interpret the end of The Last of Us?” is a perennial topic for fans and game critics alike, and debating interpretations of the game makes up a substantial amount of the words written about it.

After the release of The Last of Us Part 2, the tenor of these conversations changed, especially as fans became more invested in the development of the game in the wake of Bruce Straley, the co-director of The Last of Us, leaving Naughty Dog after the release of Uncharted 4. Fans began to openly debate who on the creative team was most responsible for the development of The Last of Us’ final direction, creating elaborate explanations of how the treatment of co-director Neil Druckmann as an auteur did a disservice to the broader efforts of the team. This was present in Naughty Dog’s official promotion as well, given that Straley is first mentioned in the official podcast 40 minutes into the first episode as an aside to explain something a combat designer is discussing, and after Troy Baker calls Druckmann the greatest director he has ever worked with. Druckmann’s position as the face of the product created a situation where he was a direct target of harassment for those with a political grievance against the project, a situation only made more complicated by the sequel’s structural borrowing from real-world geopolitics. The investment in Druckmann as the creative force behind the project, and his movement into a key creative for the television show, suggests that these conversations will follow the IP.

A cynical take on The Last of Us’ sustained popularity over the past 10 years, and its status as a great game narrative, is that it hit the market with just the right genre tropes and the right amount of capital expenditure to hammer itself into the public mind. That success was cannily followed up on by a company who could understand the value of a prestige IP with an auteur standing behind it, and how we have a very expensive TV show that will push the IP even further into public consciousness.

That’s a hard view, and I take a softer approach: With The Last of Us, Naughty Dogapproached prestige video game development in a way where the process of capturing performances, writing the plot beats and dialogue, and designing its world were all subordinated under very traditional cinematic forms. This decision made the game stand out, and more importantly, made it stand out legibly as a story of hard truths and rough roads. It is no mistake that Craig Mazin, who (paired with John August on their Screenwriting 101 Scriptnotes podcast) is well on his way to having the wide-ranging prestige of a guru like Robert McKee, highlights The Last of Us as the greatest video game story. It is packaged, visually and conceptually, in the televisual frameworks that he is deeply familiar with and which he has his own hand in promoting as serious works of art.

The Last of Us porting from important game to prestige TV drama is a maneuver that allows more people to engage with, and maybe seek out, the original game. At the same time, it can be seen as a way of developing the IP beyond the bounds of console games, especially as mobile games continue their global dominance of the games industry and redefine the position of prestige narrative titles that you play on a big machine that sits near a television. While The Last of Us was born as a digital game, it could have a more expansive life, and afterlife, being the thing that it originally mimicked.


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and there we go would ya look at that

UAFT4ky.jpg



Michael Jackson Popcorn GIF by Naughty Dog

didnt read GIF


Just threw a reaction and that fucking 99% critic rating is insane! Maybe because it's "inclusive"? Also can I watch the whole thing day one or should we wait for the whole thing to wrap up within a month or so? Not familiar with other subscriptions outside Netflix.
 
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NinjaBoiX

Gold Member
If you said best facial motion capture, then maybe. If you said best voice acting I'd still say no.
I’m curious to know which games you think have better performance capture (including voice acting) than TLOU?

It’s leaps and bounds ahead of almost everything else IMO, except maybe some of Ninja Theory’s work.

Rockstar come close, but it’s often too scenery chewing and OTT.
 
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