The Last Of Us: Has Naughty Dog Made A Mistake?
Will it differ enough from the films it resembles?
©2012 Nicholas Capozzoli
I mean, I’m a well-documented fan of post-apocalyptic fare, doubly so if it’s of the zombie variety. I’m also enamored with Naughty Dog‘s work, particularly in the Uncharted series.
The Last Of Us seems to be cut from the same high-quality cloth, too. So why is it that I don’t find myself instantly smitten with this game the way that I have with their previous works?
Seen that before?
Uncharted‘s influence is noteworthy, from the engine, to the environment, to the animations and acting.
Add to that the well-documented similarity that the female protagonist, Ellie, has to actress Ellen Page, and Joel’s “everyman” looks, and that feeling of familiarity gets all the more palpable.
And that’s all before we touch upon the inclusion of zombies, a fad that just might now have begun its inevitable wane. Cordyceps fungus non-withstanding, these look to be roughly the same zombies that we’ve been shooting for the past four-odd years.
It’s probably no wonder then, that some people are a bit guarded in their enthusiasm.
Or did Naughty Dog paint themselves into an unenviable corner, left trying to pitch us something that we’ve already seen before?
It’s NOT a Zombie Game! Apparently.
Taking in the VGA trailer, the game’s concept art, and the brief summary afforded us at this early state, you are given the impression that The Last Of Us is going for a more personal, character-driven angle on the zombie apocalypse.
Indeed, Naughty Dog seems loathe to even refer to it as a zombie game (which might be telling too, in its own way).
Problem is, we’ve been seeing a lot of that angle lately, but perhaps not so much in gaming, where zombies seem to offer too much as arcade-style shooting targets to really inspire contemplation or real emotion. In the world of film, it’s been well-trod ground lately, from 28 Days Later, to I Am Legend, to The Walking Dead.
What can The Last Of Us offer that they didn’t?
Some degree of immersion, no doubt, as is par for the medium. But if The Last Of Us aspires to film in the way that the Uncharted series so closely apes Indiana Jones, then the difference between the two forms will be dampened some.
Uncharted, in fact, seems to be filling a void in the explorer-adventure genre in film, which hasn’t exactly had a glut of releases lately. I’d attribute some of its success to how it has sated the otherwise unfulfilled appetite of fans of Indy. It’s probably helped them wash out that bitter Crystal Skull aftertaste, too.
It’s Old Hat…
Most of us have seen the stories before, heard the same questions asked, picked at the same themes.
What to do when a loved one gets infected? How do people cope with the isolation, or feelings of hopelessness? How does one maintain a semblance of humanity, when everyone else is either a shambling corpse, or has resorted to barbarism?
It’s old hat.
As stellar as the Uncharted series is, inspiring deeper thought has never been one of its aspirations. It remains to be seen if Naughty Dog have the interest or wherewithal to craft that kind of game.
Can they do it?
And there’s still a strong chance that I’ll enjoy myself even if the game seems a little too familiar.
The strong set pieces and animations that Naughty Dog are known for seem to have a little more mileage with me than with most, and they’ll be present here, no doubt.
Yet that level of realism, that similarity to film, might only serve to remind us of all those zombie movies and shows that we’ve seen. I can’t help but worry that the game will resemble that other media just closely enough to invite comparison, then subsequently fail to meet that standard.
Rightfully or not, Uncharted 3 received some criticism for its film-like qualities. Eurogamer, most controversially, cited the game for the strictness of its controlled experience, a quality that one often finds in games that skew so close to film.
I can assure you that if The Last Of Us takes the same approach, you should expect the critical reception to hit a fair bit harder on those very same points.
If the game couples an unpleasant sense of familiarity with a heavily controlled experience, be assured that more critics will perceive the latter as a fault, rather than simply as a design decision.
It behooves me to note that none of these things will likely make The Last Of Us a bad game. Far from it, in fact, as developers almost never seem to achieve less than “good” or “great” when they throw their best shots.
I think that The Last Of Us needs something else, something more, to meet its triple-A expectations: a truly fresh gameplay mechanic, an heretofore un-experienced character archetype, or a mind-blowing plot twist.
Anything short of that, and gamers will collectively shrug their shoulders, a la the Resistance series. [Ed.: Resistance 3 had so much potential after the sky-high expectations of the second title, but just fell through, unforunately.]
Even with said elements, the game might fail to inspire. I’m certainly looking forward to the first gameplay trailer, to see just what it is we’ll be dealing with here.
Here’s to hoping I’ll be surprised.
You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickCapozzoli
Click HERE to read more about The Last Of Us- 2012: The Year of the Apocalypse Games: 8 games to ‘survive’ this year
©2012 Nicholas Capozzoli
- 2012: The Year of Apocalypse Games (oxcgn.com)