In the lead-up to Paris Games Week Sony were promising big things, something not many expected due to their own event, the PlayStation Experience, being just around the corner. While we were treated to even more footage of games we already know and love, few of us expected The Last of Us: Part II to make an appearance. And what a polarising appearance it was.
I’m sure many, myself included, initially thought we were seeing ‘Days Gone’ – another of Sony’s 1st party titles. But as the trailer settled in, it was obvious the fidelity was way beyond anything we’d seen from Bend Studios’ open-world adventure. It wasn’t, however, until the familiar screech of the infected bursting into shot, followed by the end titles, that we could be sure this was a Naughty Dog production.
The five minute trailer caused a stir on social media due to its adult themes of extreme violence, with many claiming it was a step too far for a public event. While I agree this was a very brutal showing, the nature of which reinforces Neil Druckmann’s vision of a sequel centering on hate, there’s a deeper meaning to the lack of context.
Make no mistake, this trailer was out to shock from the outset. Hooded figures dragging a seemingly helpless woman by torchlight created a distressing scene inline with a full-blown horror film. An attempted hanging, gutting, and two savage deaths later and we were all left wondering who the hell any of these new character were. It was real halloween stuff.
As a standalone trailer this may have seemed all too gratuitous and misleading, but then Naughty Dog know their meta-game. The level of analysis thrown at the first trailer, together with hints from other source material, meant another trailer featuring Joel and Ellie would not only be playing it safe, it would risk overdeveloping their characters early on. If the first trailer showed us The Last of Us in it’s downtime, this very much reached the other end of the spectrum. This was as gritty as it gets.
Whether you loved it or loathed it, the conversation was there. It was a fresh sample, ready to go under the microscope. Theories spreading like wildfire. Was the woman Ellie’s mum? Do the roadsigns confirm Seattle as the setting? Is the entire game a prequel? This ongoing debate is the real core of what Naughty Dog was trying to promote.
We’ve seen a million deaths in videogames, it’s been part of the narrative since the very beginning. Naughty Dog are using it in the right way. They’re using it for emotional reaction, to set the scene, and I think this is when videogames are at their very best.
Jack Ryan, in his debut as PlayStation Executive, said it best: “a game made by adults to be played by adults.”