The latest Nathan Drake adventure just hit the PlayStation 4, and according to the media furore on the subject, Uncharted 4 is one of the greatest video games ever. This will come as little surprise to those who have sampled Naughty Dog’s previous work, as the software house is rapidly becoming one of, if not the most, revered developers in the world.
After the stratospheric critical success of The Last of Us, Neil Druckmann and the team at Naughty Dog were under massive pressure with Uncharted 4, with expectation almost off the chart for this action-adventure pulp fiction sequel. This was particularly heightened by the fact that Uncharted 4 will be the last title in what has been a vastly successful series for the Sony-owned software house.
But Time Magazine has already asserted that Uncharted 4 is the best game in the series, while the critical response to this epic title has been unreservedly gushing. This is nothing new for Naughty Dog, as the reception for The Last of Us possibly outweighed even the reaction to Uncharted 4. But can Naughty Dog now top Uncharted 4 when it releases the seemingly inevitable sequel to The Last of Us?
The Last of Us 2 will unquestionably be one of the most anticipated video games in history, and not merely because of the size and scale of the project. It is extremely unlikely that the sequel to The Last of Us will achieve the sort of numbers that Rockstar takes for granted with the GTA series. But the original game had arguably a greater cultural impact than the most recently GTA 5 title.
Naughty Dog hype
It is difficult now to remember the hype that preceded the release of the original The Last of Us game after teasers at the E3 trade show, but it seemed almost inconceivable at that time that Naughty Dog could deliver a final product that would meet the desires of salivating gamers. Yet not only did they do this, they far exceeded even the loftiest expectations, delivering a game that simply means so much to so many people.
The Last of Us works beautifully on so many levels, with a level of emotion, storytelling and character development that was hitherto unachieved in any previous video game, according to many esteemed critics. Coupled with the extremely tense gameplay, best exemplified by the Grounded difficulty, gripping acting from a stellar cast, and phenomenal attention to detail from probably the most skilled team of games developers anywhere on the planet, and The Last of Us was an incredible video game title, fully deserving the perfect ten rating that Edge magazine reserves for the absolute pinnacle of gaming.
It is almost impossible to do The Last of Us justice in a short article, considering the philosophical nature of the game. But for Naughty Dog to produce a sequel that has the same impact as the original game, and which is more enjoyable and epic than the recent Uncharted 4 release, will certainly be challenging even for such an accomplished and experienced development team.
Naughty Dog must first answer the question of whether The Last of Us 2 will involve the two protagonists from the first game; Joel and Ellie. In the personal opinion of your humble author, considering that the The Last of Us ended with a rather dramatic incident which would profoundly impact on both protagonists of the original game, then it would seem that there is still plenty of yardage in the Joel and Ellie character arcs.
Of course, writing a convincing and engaging story, while also combining this with absorbing gameplay elements is extremely difficult. And this will be far more challenging with The Last of Us 2, which surely cannot take the form of the standard road movie which the first game effectively represented. While The Last of Us richly deserves its exalted reputation, one thing it was not was original. In this sense, Uncharted has always provided a broader palette of possibility for Naughty Dog, as Nathan Drake could seemingly find himself any situation; almost any location and activity seems justifiable for the Harrison Ford-alike.
With the original The Last of Us, the sheer impact of the game was predicated on being sucked into a world that we were encountering for the first time, even if the themes of the game were archetypal. While there are many potential tales to be told in The Last of Us universe, there is certainly not the same gameplay scope in The Last of Us 2 as is naturally the case in Uncharted 4.
More questions than answers
It will also be hugely challenging for Naughty Dog to deliver the same magnitude of emotional resonance with The Last of Us 2 as was achieved in the original, while also retaining the grounded and semi-plausible narrative structure of the game universe. Are the clickers, runners and bloaters of the first game to be supplemented with new enemies? If so, how is this to be explained? Can Naughty Dog conceive of a narrative that can convincingly explain why Joel and Ellie would leave the safe compound they are residing in at the end of the first game? And can this be done without contradicting the first game (Terminator series, I’m looking in your direction…)? Can The Last of Us 2 find engaging new themes to explore in what is now a familiar universe?