The Last Of Us will undoubtedly go down as one of the defining games of this generation. It would be hard for it not to, what with the near-perfect scores and the fact that it has reportedly already shifted 1.17 million copies worldwide at the time of bashing words through the keyboard, which makes it the biggest new IP launch since LA Noire.
Outside of the numbers though, The Last Of Us is also an excruciatingly brilliant game to play. David Houghton provides plenty of pertinent points for this in his article “Why The Last Of Us Is The First Truly Mature Action Game” and for me, everything about the game was a step above anything I have recently played. The combat unbearably tense to the point where it was not uncommon for surrounding houses to hear me emit loud and unnatural sounds, as well as the moments of quiet where you scour the haunting relics of a peaceful life that mascaraed as environments and the slow investment in the tender relationship between Joel and Ellie added up to a game that reminded me why I love the medium in the first place.
In the immortal words of Ron Burgandy – it’s kind of a big deal.
So, by this point, you’re either beginning to hate me for the title or wonder when I will start to spew bile about the game. There will be no bile here dear reader, just the simple and time honoured notion that I harbour. That The Last Of Us deserves to stand on it’s own legs from here till the end of time without being sullied by a sequel.
The Ben Tyrer Patented Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t played or finished the game, stop reading here.
I’ll be jumping into various major plot points like a madman, so you have been warned.
So anyway, at this moment in time, the idea of a Last Of Us sequel is something that troubles me somewhat. As David Houghton points out in his brilliant article, the ending of Naughty Dog’s latest is “ambiguous and enigmatic until the credits roll.”
I concur and found the ending of The Last Of Us to be something of a searing rarity in videogames; one which put’s the characters before the action and did so in an emotionally complex way that denied any simple clean-cut resolutions. Even Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series – one that I vehemently love by the way – had always seemed to struggle with conclusions, where it would culminate in an odd and stilted boss battle or Drake would get the Hollywood ending that he perhaps didn’t deserve.
If you haven’t seen it and want to ruin it for yourself – I suggest that it might not be the best idea you’ve ever had – here’s said ending.
So when we get the sort of game that handles it’s story so impressively, this sort of muted resolution is crying out for exploration in future sequels, right? In my eyes, absolutely not. Of course, there is the old argument of diminishing returns, where we get to the point where the only emotion we have for a series is apathy. That would be tragic to happen with The Last Of Us, but when you prepare a sequel to any game, there is always the risk of retroactively cheapening the original.
Bigger = Better? Not here it doesn’t
This leads onto another problem with videogame sequels. Bigger = better is the usual equation that is applied to most games and it makes sense in games that focus on spectacle, where the next bang has to be more awe-inspiring than the last… I leave you to put your own example there.
But The Last Of Us operates on the extract opposite on the spectrum to most games. It’s rare to have more than a handful of bullets at any time – each of the game’s tensest moments resting on the fact that you’re well aware of how significantly the odds are stacked against you.
It’s also telling outside of the violent encounters with the Infected and Bandits that one of the defining moments of the game is looking out on a city that has been overrun with vegetation and basking in Ellie’s reaction to giraffes wandering through. It’s a moment of peace and well-earned reflection that separates The Last Of Us from it’s blockbuster cousins. Naughty Dog were willing to bet you cared more about Joel and Ellie than you did about racing to get to the next encounter They were spectacularly right. Any attempt at sequel has to circumvent the desire of more of the same while also not tearing down the delicate tension of the gameplay or simply playing on our affection for the characters.
Disclaimer that I’m probably really wrong
This is not to say I have no faith in Naughty Dog. In fact, if any development team could make it work, I would say categorically it would be them. And I would be a great big liar if I pretended that a part of me isn’t dying to return to Naughty Dog’s world. There are some intriguing gaps left in the story – specifically where we return to Ellie and Joel in winter after the sudden death of Sam and Henry – that future DLC could explore and even as I explain why I’m uneasy at the thought of a sequel, my mind is racing with the ideas of what Naughty Dog could do.
And if a sequel were to be announced, I would undoubtedly be converted in minutes. I would almost definitely have a pre-order and clamber aboard the hype train writing another blog post about the five things I can’t wait to see from The Last Of Us 2. But until I have to face that inevitability, the fact remains that The Last Of Us is a daring game that will hopefully shake up action games for a while. It would be a shame for its legacy to be spoiled by following the example of those it has so clinically deviated from.
Note: Due to my excitement at writing this, I forgot to give the idea a quick Google to make sure I wasn’t stepping on anyone else’s proverbial toes. When I did on the evening it was published, I came across a piece written by Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton that was published before I had written mine. Here’s a link to that one. His is a much more thorough exploration and well-rounded discussion about the finality of The Last Of Us.