The Last Of Us: Has Naughty Dog Made A Mistake?

The Last Of Us: Has Naughty Dog Made A Mistake?

Will it differ enough from the films it resembles?

by: Edge_11SS

©2012 Nicholas Capozzoli

I’m not quite sure what I think about Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us, and that’s odd.

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?

The obvious answer is that the game looks awfully familiar.

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.

And yet Naughty Dog’s champion pedigree still makes one wonder. Is there still interest to be mined from these familiar elements?

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…

The Last Of Us probably won’t enjoy the same benefit.

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.

I have to think that we’ve gotten just about all the stories that we can for now out of the zombie apocalypse, and much as I love Naughty Dog, I’m not so sure they’re equipped to raise any new ones.

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?

Of course, I’d love to be proved wrong.

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.

If The Last Of Us seems like it is trying be like I Am Legend, how can it do a better job at that than I Am Legend?

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.

Zero Tolerance

Tolerance for the perceived flaws wears thin in critics’ minds as each subsequent iteration fails to address them.

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.

Yet, in an era where anything less than a “9” elicits words of dismissal, “good” just won’t cut it.

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

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6 thoughts on “The Last Of Us: Has Naughty Dog Made A Mistake?”

    1. There is something about the game: there is a trailer that Naughty Dog put together to show the direction of their next title. If some don’t like that direction or are worried about it, they are entitled to say so before all of it is set in stone (yes developers read reactions- then they ignore them or make changes as is their right).

      Look at the opinions expressed on early information or trailers for games such as Devil May Cry (which is copping a pounding despite some great gameplay videos being released), or Brothers In Arms: Furious Four.

      When 3DS was announced people criticised the lack of a second analogue stick. Nintendo didn’t change, and copped more criticism after launch for that. What if they had listened and learned (as Sony did with the PSVita?)

      Ultimately Naughty Dog will make a great game. And the author isn’t denying that. He is simply pointing out some areas he’s not excited by. People can agree or disagree with that; and fair-minded discussion is welcome.


  1. The only mistake Naughty Dog made was to go with the dying brand of Sony PlayStation.If they had been multiplatform they could have made so much more money with their franchises.
    Plus I agree somewhat with the article. It all looks very much been there, done that, like Uncharted 3. But it looks great and that’s what brainwashes their customers anyway. The Sony overhype and underdliver train.


    1. We’ve been copping a fair share of ‘aggressive’ commentary on this topic (not published due to language) referring to our origins as an Xbox site, claiming that we are either 1) still an ‘undercover’ Xbox site undermining all other platforms, or 2) the reason we changed and became officially multiplatform in 2011 was because we saw that the 360 ‘sucked’.

      Neither of those are true, of course, though people see plenty of ‘evidence’ like the fact we are using avatars still etc. that we are anti-Sony. The truth is that we simply enjoyed gaming on all platforms and being an Xbox site limited our discussions (we used to get all sorts of insults for writing about non-360 subjects too).

      So when someone says that the Sony brand in dying and that Sony over-hypes and underdelivers, we of course disagree. Broad statements like that just don’t hold up.

      Yes I agree that games like Infamous 2 and Resistance 3 would have sold more copies if they had been multiplatform. Naughty Dog games…the same. But the reason for that is that they are quality games first.

      I don’t think too many can disagree that Sony has a fantastic stable of exclusive core game developers and games. It’s their biggest ‘point of difference’ and it is good sense for them to do this. I first bought my PS3 when the original Uncharted was released, and have never regretted it.

      I can’t imaging gaming without either the 360 or the PS3. I even still have a Wii, though I don’t use it much anymore. If I didn’t have a 360 and PS3, I’d miss out on too much. I have no loyalty to either console, but enjoy gaming.

      It is great there are passionate supporters of each console, but to imply that one or the other has ‘failed’ is simply not true. They both have and are providing awesome game experiences.


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