The Last Of Us Creators Think They Know Where Previous Video Game Adaptations Went Wrong

Although recent video game adaptations mark an upwards trend for the genre, HBO's "The Last of Us" appears to be the most promising entry yet. Hailing from "Chernobyl" showrunner Craig Mazin and the creator of the original game, Neil Druckmann, the upcoming adaptation has the makings of a great television series. Pedro Pascal seems like a natural fit for Joel, and Bella Ramsey is already stealing scenes as the foul-mouthed Ellie. But what sets "The Last of Us" apart from its video game adaptation relatives is the focus on story and characters as a means to pay homage to the original experience.

Instead of trying to recreate a 1:1 representation of the beloved video game, HBO's "The Last of Us" looks to remain faithful to the source material while exploring new avenues. The world and the characters seem stripped straight out of the game, but the connective tissue around them appears to be grounded in a story that appeals to the medium. And that philosophy is directly representative of what the series creators believe went wrong with previous video game adaptations. According to Mazin and Druckmann, relying on elements specific to the gaming experience will only make for a lackluster and unfulfilling one elsewhere.

What went wrong

In an interview with The New Yorker, Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann revealed they are well aware of the dire state of the video game adaptation genre. While some "kids" films like "Detective Pikachu" or "Sonic The Hedge Hedgehog" are seeing relative success, others like "Assassin's Creed" have failed to enrapture audiences. To Mazin, "Assassin's Creed" was an uphill battle, since "the joy of it is the gameplay. The story is impenetrable." Druckmann added to Mazin's sentiment: "The other thing that people get wrong is that they think people want to see the gameplay onscreen."

I mean, they're not wrong. "Assassin's Creed" is not the only culprit, either. Most recently, the Steven Spielberg-produced "Halo" series is also guilty of trying to appeal to the unique action of their video game counterparts. (The finale battle takes place from a first-person perspective, learning nothing from 2005's "Doom".) Choosing to adapt "The Last of Us" by not relying on gameplay mechanics to recapture the essence of the video game is a worthwhile effort that learns from its predecessors. Plus, Druckmann's original "The Last of Us" admittedly lends itself to the television format.

Characters, not gameplay

"The Last of Us" is a violent, action-packed video game that puts the characters' development at the center of its country-spanning narrative. It's a visceral experience that made us fall in love with Joel, Ellie, and all the people they encounter on the way. The gameplay is immersive and relentless, but the story is what makes "The Last of Us" a pillar of the gaming scene. It would be impossible to replicate the intimate experience of playing as Joel or Ellie, but retrofitting the character-driven narrative for a nine-episode season should be natural as long as the heart of the story is realized.

Even "Uncharted" director Ruben Fleischer noted that closely recreating a video game for the big screen is a futile effort. Our thoughts about "Uncharted" aside, Fleischer hit the nail on the head. A video game adaptation should work as a film first, or in this case, a well-rounded television series. Any given story is inherently connected to the medium it pertains to, and transferring one from a video game to live-action is no different. A faithful adaptation is what every fan wants, but how a filmmaker goes about it remains important to the final product, regardless of any superficial authenticity.

"The Last of Us" is set to premiere on January 15 on HBO and HBO Max.