The Last of Us was probably the biggest surprise at last weekend's Spike TV Video Game Awards. It wasn't the announcement of the game that was a surprise—vague teasers had started showing up in the weeks leading up to the VGAs—it was the fact that it was being developed by Naughty Dog.
So what does this mean? Well, some are already speculating that we're not going to see Uncharted 4 this generation after all, which seems to throw a wrench into my whole Uncharted 4 theory. However, Naughty Dog has explained that they had been split into two teams; one was working on finishing Uncharted 3, while the other was secretly putting together The Last of Us. In fact, the Last of Us has already been in development for two years. That they managed to keep the whole thing under wraps for so long without anyone figuring out what they were up to is a feat in itself. Either way, I wouldn't necessarily discard the whole Uncharted 4 thing quite yet.
Personally, though, upon seeing the Naughty Dog logo at the beginning of the trailer, I was instantly reassured that this was going to be the type of game I would want to play. Not only has the studio been delivering top-notch games for over fifteen years (Crash Bandicoot, anyone?), but their most recent franchise, Uncharted, has been such a story-based affair. In fact, I can't think of a studio I'd rather have behind a project like The Last of Us. A post-apocalyptic/zombie-type game with a deep story is something I've been thirsting for since I first played Resident Evil back in the 90s. And I'm not the only one. I think the amount of excitement stirred up by Dead Island's controversial trailer proves that gamers are ready for this type of game.
Of course, The Last of Us isn't a zombie game, technically speaking. But its creatures—humans infected with some variation of the Cordyceps unilateralis fungus (as pointed out by our very own Sean Engemann in his first impressions article)—are similar to zombies in several ways. However, since they aren't actual zombies, Naughty Dog has more room to play around with the lore here. We can be pretty sure these things won't be the slow shambling brain eaters we're used to. Judging from the trailer, they seem closer to the sprinting type found in 28 Days Later.
Now, if there's still any doubt about story being king here, the developers have reassured us that this is indeed the case. Game director Bruce Straley told Eurogamer, "It's story-driven, [but] the whole triangle is story, gameplay, and art." Just the phrase "story-driven" is enough to get me excited, but note that Straley was careful to not suggest that the gameplay will be deemphasized. I think the Uncharted series has already proven Naughty Dog's ability to tell a story through gameplay. (In fact, I explained this with a bit more detail in a fairly recent column.)
Some major inspirations for the project are the film version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road and the comic book version of The Walking Dead. Both are fine examples of the sort of atmosphere I've always wanted to see in a video game. Sure, we've had our Fallouts and our Dead Islands and our Left 4 Deads, but even these games threw things like character development into the backseat while the spectacle of shooting or hacking apart zombies and mutants remained as the focus. (I have argued that Left 4 Dead has a deeper story than it's given credit for, but the story is definitely not the main focus.) The Road, in particular, was a deeply disturbing story that centered itself around the relationship between a father and his son on their journey through an urban wasteland. That is the very thing I want to see in a video game. The Last of Us seems to be borrowing from this idea, with the son replaced by a 14-year-old girl and the father being more of a father figure than a literal dad.
Now, as cynical as many of us have become over the prospect of a new zombie or post-apocalyptic game franchise—the concepts have been nearly beaten to death by now—the idea of being a survivor in such scenarios is certainly an intriguing one. In fact, it was this aspect of Resident 1 and 2 that drew me, personally, into that franchise in the beginning, not the zombie slaying or the puzzle solving. There's just something fascinating about having to stretch limited supplies—a very small amount of ammo, for example—for as long as you can. It's the idea of being a scavenger, a hoarder, one who must put some serious consideration into whether or not to use a particular bullet or eat a particular piece of food.
My prediction: I know I'm taking a gamble here since we know so little about this game at this point, but The Last of Us could very well be the game I've been waiting for ever since Resident Evil 2. At least I can say with confidence that with Naughty Dog at the helm, I doubt The Last of Us will disappoint.
CCC Editor/Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*