– Tom Heath
It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I consider Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us to be a masterpiece of interactive storytelling. It was one of the first video games I ever publicly reviewed. Whenever I am asked what I think the best game of the past decade is, The Last of Us is one of the first games I consider.
But a potential sequel to the game has been offhandedly mentioned, so of course now we have to speculate as to what a future game might be. Or at least, I’m going to riff about what I would like it to be because I have some very mixed feelings about a sequel to this game.
*From here on out there will be spoilers for The Last of Us. Sorry, that’s just the way it has to be*
The offhanded comment came a few days ago from a little known actor named Nolan North, who was giving a Q&A about Naughty Dog’s next title Uncharted 4, in which he reprises his role as lead character Nathan Drake. During that session, he was asked if he had any more projects coming up with Naughty Dog, to which he replied “For now, I know [Naughty Dog] are working on The Last of Us 2, but my character in The Last of Us kind of met an untimely demise.”
That’s it, that’s all he said. No one from Naughty Dog has confirmed anything, even actor Troy Baker (who played the player character Joel in The Last of Us) has said he knows nothing of a sequel. So we can North’s comment with a grain of salt for now. But if what he said is true, it’s made me wonder what might work in a sequel?
Have it be nothing to do with Joel and Ellie
If a sequel is in fact in development, its story being nothing to do with Joel and Ellie is my strongest desire. Not that I hated the characters, far from it, but their story is over. Joel lied to Ellie’s face about her immunity to the Cordyceps infection being found in other kids, that he didn’t murder possibly the last brain surgeon alive and effectively doomed the human race to this apocalypse just so he wouldn’t have to lose a second daughter. It was cold, heartbreaking, and the subtle look in Ellie’s eyes that maybe she knew he was lying but was perhaps also willing to accept it in order to pursue some kind of hope left me not knowing what to feel once the credits started rolling.
Going beyond that point would remove its finality, and to me, that is where it got its strength. Granted, Naughty Dog has proven me wrong before when it comes to more Last of Us content. We got a DLC prequel chapter about Ellie last year that, despite my reservations with prequels, proved to be just as enthralling as the original game and complimented the original narrative in creative ways.
But I would like to see The Last of Us 2 look at completely new people, maybe even in a completely new location. Move away from the two-person road trip and maybe focus on a group, The Walking Dead style. The group could be on the move or holding up somewhere, just trying to survive. There’s plenty of room for tension and action in those kinds of scenarios, and with The Last of Us blending a nice bit of fast zombie escape action and knuckle-biting stealth sections, going on supply runs or trying to rescue a captured friend from a rival group would make great situations to play.
And speaking of the action…
Don’t feel obligated to invent new enemies, advance the AI instead
So many zombie games these days feel they need to invent new zombie types to be interesting, case-in-point: the Bloaters in the original game. While the normal infected and the Clickers had their nuances to them in terms of how best to approach them, the Bloater just seemed to be the equivalent of a boss fight and were essentially bullet sponges. A room full of Clickers could be tackled by either shooting up the place or using tricks to sneak around them, but a majority of the Bloater sections would involve repeatedly shooting them while running in circles. They were by no means awful, but I would rather Naughty Dog come up with ways to make the normal zombies more interesting to deal with rather than come up with the Bloater 2.0.
For example, use the new console hardware to expand out the size of the levels so that any loud noises made don’t just affect enemies in the near vicinity. Make a gun shot draw the attention of infected/Clickers/other humans within several blocks, meaning that a loud approach would clear a room faster but you’d have less time to search for items as more enemies would be on the way. Infected would arrive faster, but humans might take a bit longer as they’d use caution when approaching a source of gunfire. There were many instances in the first game where I thought my actions would have drawn much more attention then they did, and if they had I would have seriously altered my play style.
I mean, a “silent takedown” is never truly silent, especially with another enemy three metres away.
Most importantly: keep the character focus
The Last of Us‘ gameplay wasn’t revolutionary, but was rather a very standard third-person action affair. But it felt so amazing to play through because of the context provided for any given situation. Our caring for the characters made the banter during quiet moments just as captivating as the intense action scenes. The opening sequence had pretty much no innovative gameplay, or that much gameplay at all compared to the rest of the game, but the well written dialogue and focus on performance capture from the actors made it one of the most memorable moments in recent gaming memory.
Bottom line, great storytelling can make old game mechanics feel fresh, and that is something I want Naughty Dog to keep in mind should Nolan North’s offhanded and unconfirmed comment be true.
Tom still chokes up whenever he remembers the first time Joel calls Ellie “baby girl”. Feel free to poke fun at him on Twitter: @tomdheath, and for more of our features, news and reviews, be sure to follow LoadScreen: @load_screen.