A Video Game Adaptation That Actually Works: The First Reviews Are In For HBO’s ‘The Last Of Us’

Let’s be blunt: video game adaptations almost never work. A major part of that problem is you’re trying to take a story from an active medium (games) to a passive medium (shows/movies), and a whole lot can get lost in translation. Fortunately, The Last of Us seems to have overcome that major hurdle.

The first reviews for the HBO series starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are rolling in, and the critics are blown away. Again, video game adaptations do not have a stellar track record, so it’s a welcome surprise that The Last of Us manages to deliver across the board. Not only are the lead actors being praised for their performances, but the show’s visual effects are also garnering rave reactions thanks to the current landscape of over-CGI messes.

That said, there are a few quibbles about adapting the game’s award-winning story, but for the most part, The Last of Us appears to be another hit for HBO. You can see what the critics are saying below:

Daniel D’Addario, Variety:

What works about “The Last of Us” works well enough that one sees the near future in which the show winds up among television’s best. The raw material, including a poignant and thoughtful curiosity about what it might be like to live through catastrophe, is there.

Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone:

In many ways, the show is a triumph of typecasting. Once again, Pedro Pascal is playing an action hero of few words who has to lead a cute young charge through hostile territory. He’s joined by fellow Game of Thrones alum Bella Ramsey, and if her Ellie is far warmer and funnier than underaged House Stark ally Lyanna Mormont, Ramsey is nonetheless again playing a girl who has had to grow up far too soon, and participate in far too much violence, due to the circumstances of the broken world around her. But even though the two of them are playing the kinds of roles they’ve handled before, they do it spectacularly well; both are compulsively watchable and almost instantly endearing.

Judy Berman, Time:

Now that so much of what we see on the big and small screens has a vaguely unreal aspect imparted by the overuse of computerized effects, it’s a particular pleasure to see a video-game adaptation that’s genuinely cinematic, immersing us in the majesty of snow-covered mountains at one moment and the grimy details of an abandoned shopping mall the next. The Last of Us is so skillfully, meticulously, and lovingly constructed—to call it TV’s best video-game adaptation would be to damn it with faint praise.

Stephen Kelly, BBC:

For fans of the game, it is an adaptation of the utmost skill and reverence, yet one still capable of surprise; for people who have never picked up a controller, it is an encapsulation of the game’s heart and soul – its full-blooded characters, its neat plotting, its mature themes of love and loss. It is, to finish Ellie’s joke, “outstanding in its field”.

Simon Cardy, IGN:

A brilliant retelling of one of video games’ most beloved stories that rebottles the lightning of what made it so special to many in the first place, letting it strike again to stunning effect. Thanks to a pair of phenomenal lead performances and a beautifully executed vision of what it is to find hope and love in a world hellbent on denying it, The Last of Us thrills from the first episode to the last.

Charles Pulliam-Moore, The Verge:

Because the show moves and can’t really afford to give you more time to spend with the cast of figures that come in and out of Joel and Ellie’s lives, it also ends up feeling like a much more condensed version of The Last of Us‘ plot, even though that’s not the case. It’s almost impressive just how much (and then some) of the first game HBO’s show manages to fit into this first season without feeling overfull.

Brian Lowry, CNN:

As is so often the case in these kind of stories (see “The Walking Dead” at its early best), the real threat isn’t the zombies, which aren’t particularly distinctive, but rather what people will do when the structure of society breaks down. From that perspective the storytelling here is absolutely fearless and unflinching, creating horrifying scenarios and moments that can be alternately touching and utterly tragic.

John Nugent, Empire:

The live-action The Last Of Us is a superb example of how to make an adaptation work, how to retain the elements of what worked while having the confidence to explore bold new avenues, to expand the universe, to make a thing that stands on its own two feet.

The Last of Us premieres January 15 at on HBO.