In case you’re one of the three people in the world to have not heard the news yet: a new trailer for Naughty Dog’s sequel to their 2013 hit The Last of Us just dropped earlier this week. Sorry if that seems a bit facetious; it’s only because The Last of Us has literally transcended the obsessions of us regular video game fanatics that I assume everyone has heard of it. Even my wife, who still thinks Sega makes consoles, could point out Ellie and Joel in a crowded room.
The first game combined some incredibly evocative cinematic moments with stellar gameplay to create a new fictional universe that will no doubt spawn plenty of sequels (and probably a pretty poor movie) over the coming years.
The new trailer, unveiled by Sony at Paris Games Week, showed an extended story sequence that many are saying trumps any other they’ve previously seen from a game – certainly with regards to gore and tension. So ghastly was the subject matter that a plethora of outlets are criticising Naughty Dog and Sony for using “extreme violence to sell video games” and for making them sick to their stomachs.
I’m not here to argue the finer points of such marketing methods; I’ll leave that to Sony’s PR wing. What I am here to do is tell you why it’s time you joined me on The Last of Us hype train.
(Be warned: this article will be littered with SPOILERS FOR BOTH GAMES.)
1. The First Game Was About Love; This One is About Hate
As I sit here on a packed train heading out of London on an otherwise dull autumnal afternoon, I’m just going to quickly rattle off moments from The Last of Us that I remember with particular clarity:
1. Joel getting rugby tackled over a second-floor balcony and impaled through the stomach by a rusty pipe
2. Ellie getting hunted and captured by a cannibalistic madman who is implied to be a hebephile
3. Ellie almost getting her brain removed on the orders of one of her oldest friends
4. Henry having to put down his 13 year old brother after he turned
5. EVERY SCENE involving Clickers and Bloaters
I think the point I’m trying to make here is The Last of Us was a scary, tense and emotionally driven game, well deserving of its survival-horror tag. And despite that, despite the fact that at the VERY START of the game you witness a man hold his young daughter in his arms as she dies from a gunshot wound, game director Neil Druckmann revealed that the first game was in fact about love and the second will be about hate. Yes, you read that right: for Druckmann the above events fall under the ‘love’ category of the human experience.
Okay, I am now being massively facetious. I get it, love is central to the story of almost every main character in The Last of Us. There’s Joel’s love for his deceased daughter, the love that makes it hard for him to initially warm to Ellie out of fear that he’ll lose her too. There’s the love Joel has for Tess; we never find out if it’s platonic or something more due to her heart-breaking sacrifice. Pay special attention to Ellie’s optional dialogue (or just play the excellent DLC) and she will reveal the love that she had for her closest friend (and probable romantic partner) who died from a Clicker bite. Henry’s brotherly love is so great that he, out of unimaginable grief, takes his own life after he’s forced to kill zombified Sam. Love that isn’t reciprocated is also hinted at, with the consummate survivor Bill and his ex-partner Frank. Love is what makes the survivors of this hellish post-apocalyptic world human.
That’s all great. That’s what makes the game what it is. That’s why I know so many fathers that started crying when they watched the opening scene. The Last of Us did love brilliantly, so why not move on to hate?
In the first trailer from December 2016, a visually older and more battle-hardened Ellie seems almost possessed by hate. This is exciting; we know she will be more of a main character in the new game (being playable for only one season in the first). I want to see her driven by these negative emotions. For the purposes of gameplay, I want to control an Ellie that, now fully grown, can battle humans and the infected with raw strength and tenacity. For the purposes of story, I want to see an Ellie that has no qualms about doing what needs to be done, an Ellie that is risking her humanity as she descends into violence and hatred.
Her words in the first trailer – “[I’ll] kill every last one of them” – are indicative of someone consumed by revenge. Joel’s passive presence in said trailer has led to some to suggest that he has been murdered, but by whom? The Fireflies – the first game’s morally ambiguous freedom fighters – would be prime suspects for such a murder. Joel massacred them in Utah and shot their leader when he learnt they were going to kill Ellie to find a cure for the Cordyceps disease. Furthermore, by the end of The Last of Us, Ellie doesn’t know any of this; Joel lied to her. Learning she had been misled for half a decade coupled with Joel’s potential murder would surely push Ellie over the edge – think Arya Stark meets Ellen Ripley. That’s a game I want to play. Bring on the hate, Druckmann.
(I just hope she’s learned how to bloody swim.)
2. There May Be a Terrifying Cult
The second trailer of the game is intriguing in that all characters are new to us. We’re introduced to some new faces, (one of which the online community believes could be Ellie’s mum) who throw around some curious words outside of the normal lexicon, such as “apostate” and “sin”. For those of you unfamiliar with the former, an apostate is a term given to someone that has turned their back on a religion or faith. Historically, apostates were treated harshly by some of the world’s major religions and viewed as traitors or cowards. Such language and the violence that follows the use of these words in the trailer suggests we may be introduced to a new group of humans outside of the military/survivors/hunters that we’re thus far familiar with. We might start to see cultists.
Such a concept is well-grounded within fiction; there have been a few incidents of humans choosing to worship and revere the same monstrous creatures that seek to destroy them. For example, there are countless cults in the Cthulhu mythos, Stargate Atlantis explored the concept with Wraith worshipers, and in A Song of Ice and Fire it’s hinted that Craster and his daughter-wives worship the Others, sacrificing their newly born sons to win their favour.
The idea that a group of survivors in The Last of Us created a quasi-religion in the decades following the end of the world would be fascinating to explore. It seems well within human nature to try and create some sort of belief system to make sense of such madness. Can you imagine a group of ruthless survivors that view the Cordyceps disease as some sort of divine judgement? That sees the various stages of infected as deities to be worshiped? That actively hunts other survivors to turn them into infected? It’s such an unnerving concept; it would make David and his cannibal crew positively delightful in comparison.
This is all conjecture, of course. For all we know, the Fireflies are the ones using such terminology; viewing those that turn their backs on their ideology to be apostates. Thus far, however, the group has only shown militaristic and governmental aspirations. I for one think it’s indicating something else, and that it will make the storyline remarkably compelling.
3. It’s On PS4
(As opposed to the PS3 – don’t kill me, Xbox fans!)
All of this abstract chat aside, the fact this game is being made for the PS4 is reason enough to get excited. The first came out on the PS3 towards the end of its life with a remastered edition released on the PS4 shortly after. Therefore, Part II being made from scratch for the PS4 opens up new possibilities. We could see more weapons, enhanced combat and a new type of infected all together. With the PS4’s power, I’d love to see the infected evolve past the Bloater stage into something larger, faster and with improved ranged attacks – something akin to a combined Spitter and Tank from the Left 4 Dead franchise perhaps.
Aside from this speculation, not much is being said about the gameplay at the moment. Druckmann did say at the PSX Panel that “Ellie plays differently than Joel… Some things are evolution, some things are reinvention, but there will be a gameplay reveal down the road.” With a year or longer left until the game is released, there’s plenty of time for more information regarding mechanics to be released.
All in all, the Last of Us Part II has the potential to become a classic and real gem of a game. Naughty Dog’s track record at delivering games with actual emotional impact is well known and with the likes of Druckmann at the helm, I can’t see this being a disappointment.