For nearly half a year, The Last of Us has been racking up solid sales numbers and critical acclaim – a trend that continues as the title dominated The Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’ DICE awards. Still, even though Naughty Dog once again raised the bar for interactive game/story experiences, there’s still plenty of room for refinement and evolution in the budding series. We’ll get our first glimpse at how the studio might iterate on the formula when the Ellie prequel DLC “Left Behind” hits on February 14th – with a heavy emphasis on stealth and trap gameplay (as opposed to third-person shooting).
Players are, no doubt, excited for another opportunity to step into the post-Cordyceps fungi apocalypse but that doesn’t mean that the add-on will keep Sony console gamers sated for too long – with many eagerly awaiting Naughty Dog’s announcement of The Last of Us 2. Yet, according to a recent interview, the studio might wait awhile before revisiting The Last of Us series and, instead, produce an all new game IP.
Speaking with Eurogamer, The Last of Us creative director Neil Druckmann asserted that, while gamers might be expecting them to churn out Last of Us sequels in Uncharted series off-years, they’ve yet to make an official decision on what’s next for the studio – and that an entirely unheard of IP could actually be their next project (after a short break):
“We just wrapped up Left Behind, and Bruce Straley, the game director, and I have been doing this for over four years now. So it’s just time for a break, and to recharge the batteries [...] We have started brainstorming some stuff. To be honest, some of them are sequel ideas, and some of them are brand new IP – we’ve spent the last few weeks brainstorming new IP. So we have to get some good steps and see… It’s kind of like how we approached Left Behind. Can we tell people a story that’s really worth telling, and that’s not repeating itself? And if we can’t, where can we get inspired – what is something that’s really going to challenge us, and push storytelling in this medium forward?”
Fans might be disappointed to hear the studio isn’t already in gear to power-through the next Last of Us adventure but it’s refreshing that, in keeping with Naughty Dog’s approach to games, story is (once again) coming first. While the Uncharted series set a new standard for character and narrative in gaming, much of the actual gameplay reverts to action-shooter murder sprees – which, over the course of three console titles (and one handheld installment) have started to show signs of repetition.
This isn’t to say that the Uncharted games aren’t enjoyable to play (they are) but, sometimes, there’s a disconnect between the quality of the larger experience and the moment-to-moment setups. In the case of Uncharted, it’s passable disconnect – given the series’ roots in campy Indiana Jones-style adventuring; however, it’d be a shame if developers simply copied and pasted their more subtle and emotional Last of Us format for the sake of semi-annual releases.
As annual Call of Duty releases have shown (with studios pushing out an installment every other year), there’s a price to pay in quality when developers aren’t inspired – and are merely going through the motions. If putting a Last of Us sequel on hold means that Naughty Dog can pursue their passions, it’s very likely that most fans of the series will gladly enjoy a fresh IP while they wait for the studio to deliver an inspired sequel story. Of course, what these new IPs could be are anyone’s guess right now – given that Naughty Dog is notably secretive about even the earliest of their ideas.
As for whether or not we’ll see The Last of Us (bundled with “Left Behind”) on the PS4, Druckmann indicated that, with half the studio working on Uncharted 4 and the other half winding down from The Last of Us (and preparing for the next project), gamers shouldn’t hold their breath:
“We have such limited resources, and it’s a question of where you put the resources. It’s something where we can have a feel of where the demand is, and where our time is best spent. It’s something that we’ll figure out as we move forward.”
Rumors have circulated for months that the game could come to PS4 but, considering it sold extremely well on PS3, it’s unclear whether or not the necessary demand is really there – given that porting the game isn’t as simple as copying and pasting onto a PS4 disc. Would PS3 players really repurchase the game for their PS4 and, if not, how many new next-gen owners will have missed The Last of Us on PS3?
The Last of Us is available now and “Left Behind” is expected early in 2014.
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