For decades now, it’s been apparent that translating video games into riveting movies and series is no easy feat. While there are a handful of success stories (notably animated series Arcane, and the box office-smashing Sonic movies), there are countless clunkers out there that have struggled to make the most of the source material. If there’s no single reason why it proves so hard, there is a prevailing theory: while games are designed to be fun to play, they don’t always have the same level of narrative nuance required of a movie or a hit TV series.
Until now. If anything looks set to break the curse and deliver a screen adaptation that’s as gripping to watch as it is to play, it’s The Last Of Us – HBO’s take on Naughty Dog’s ultra-acclaimed apocalyptical survival drama. Not only bringing in game writer/director Neil Druckmann, but teaming him with Chernobyl showrunner Craig Mazin, the stage is set for something special. “It’s an open-and-shut case: this is the greatest story that has ever been told in video games,” Mazin tells Empire in the new Greatest Actors issue.
That story is one of marauding coral-zombies, an America laid to waste, and a story of surrogate fathers and daughters – as smuggler Joel (here played by The Mandalorian himself, Pedro Pascal) and mouthy teenager Ellie (Game Of Thrones’ Bella Ramsey) traverse the treacherous remains of the USA. Those characters should be key to the series’ success. “They didn’t shoot anything out of their eyeballs,” says Mazin on what made the game work. “They were just people. And that, in and of itself, is remarkably rare in games. The fact that they kept it so grounded, and really made you feel – I had never experienced anything like it, and I’ve been playing video games since 1977.”
With the right showrunners in place, stellar casting, and the might of HBO behind it all, the result looks set to be a series that remains faithful to the games, but with a bit of wiggle room for exploration and evolution. “Games themselves are often brilliant to play, and not at all brilliant to watch when dramatised,” argues Mazin. “Neil and I always knew to ask, ‘Why are we only doing what’s in the game? What can we do to expand?’” The greatest story ever told in video games might just become one of the greatest stories ever told on TV.
Read Empire’s full The Last Of Us story in the February 2023 issue – on sale Thursday 22 December, and available to pre-order online here. The Last Of Us comes to Sky Atlantic and NOW from 16 January.