Sony’s fan-focused PlayStation Experience (PSX) event is in full swing in Anaheim, California this weekend, and the console-maker/publisher didn’t disappoint with its annual keynote that kickstarted the festivities. In a conference that featured Uncharted story DLC, Marvel v. Capcom Infinite, a slew of classic remakes/masters and smaller titles perfect for the passionate crowd, The Last of Us Part II was the megaton announcement that pushed supporters into rabid fervor. As a sequel to one of the best games ever made, the game was the most impressive reveal in Sony’s entire arsenal, but it begs the question: was the game announced too early?
In the excitement of the moment, the answer is undoubtedly “absolutely not”. The premiere trailer was entirely composed of in-engine footage, featured an excellent flow that gradually revealed Ellie and Joel, and perfectly incited our collective craving to return to the apocalyptic world. The acoustic guitar, reclaimed scenery and the implied savage violence tied the trailer together into one of the best that I have seen in years.
But a quality trailer, as we should know by now, means little in the grand scheme of things, and the news out of PSX has been simultaneously informative and vague. While we have learned about things like Ellie being the main playable character, composer Gustavo Santaolalla’s return and that the game “is a story about hate,” the fact that we didn’t receive a tentative date, or even a window, is telling about where the game is in development. With Uncharted 4 having released in early May, this is an awfully quick turnaround for a new announcement from Naughty Dog. For some perspective, Uncharted 4 was first teased at the 2013 game awards in November and then formally unveiled at E3 2014 with a 2015 release window. The Last of Us Part II looks to have a longer space between reveal and release than that, and with the history of overexposure damaging games, was the PSX unveiling the best course of action?
You may be screaming, “but Uncharted 4 was unveiled the same year The Last of Us released!” Or, “the turnaround between Uncharted 3 and The Last of Us was only a year and a half!” Well, in both cases you are right, but there is an important asterisk to consider. During the development of these titles, Naughty Dog was split into 2 separate teams, allowing The Last of Us directors Neil Druckman and Bruce Straley to move directly to the title from Uncharted 2, and opening the other team to continue their work on Uncharted 3, followed by 4. These circumstances allowed the developer to create more games in a smaller time frame. So, beginning with Uncharted 2 in 2009, Naughty Dog released games in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2016. Quite the impressive feat.
This was before something went wrong. After the complications that arose during the development of Uncharted 4, including Amy Hennig leaving, Druckman and Straley being moved to the project from, assumedly, the early stages of The Last of Us Part II, and various story rewrites, it was assumed that development had gone all-in on the game, with only a small team continuing work on another title. Druckman has only recently shifted his full focus to The Last of Us Part II, along with the rest of the Uncharted team, while before they would have been knee-deep in development for 3 years at this point. Therefore, it is safe to assume that The Last of Us Part II was adversely affected by the troubled development of Nathan Drake’s swan song.
Fitting with our expected cycle of Naughty Dog releases, we can assume that the team’s anticipated window for The Last of Us Part II is Fall 2018. So why unveil it now? Surely there are upcoming first-party games unknown to us that are further in development than the game appears to be. I personally expected the “one more thing” moment to be Sucker Punch’s new game, as Infamous Second Son was released in early 2014. Sony’s conference, following in the footsteps of their spectacular E3 show, was also strong enough that it didn’t specifically need The Last of Us Part II for it to be considered a success. And after this generation has shown us overexposed games like Watch Dogs, No Man’s Sky and Mighty Number 9 see expectations blow up in their faces, there are plenty of warnings against this strategy. In fact, the general consensus among critics is that short marketing cycles that supported games like Fallout 4 are better than long-winded campaigns simply because games can then be released while excitement is high and expectations are managed. So again I ask: did Sony show their ace too early?
While industry evidence suggests otherwise, I believe that Naughty Dog can afford to unveil a game potentially 3 years before release and have it be the right move. In fact, Naughty Dog is one of the few developers that can afford to unveil their games whenever they choose, the others being Nintendo with Zelda, Rockstar and Kojima, who is ironically talking about Death Stranding when 2019 is a logical assumption for a release date. This is because Naughty Dog has earned our trust after years of nothing but exceptional quality. Beginning with Uncharted 2, every game the developer has touched has been pure gold. Even with a rocky development cycle, Uncharted 4 challenged for Game of the Year at Thursday’s Game Awards, proving that no matter the odds, Naughty Dog will deliver no less than industry-leading quality.
So does it matter that The Last of Us Part II could very well release in 2019? Not at all. Similar to Marvel’s film franchise, we can trust that Naughty Dog knows exactly what it is doing when making this announcement. In addition, we know that no matter how monumental the expectations are for the game, it will most likely be worthy of shouldering the weight. Not unlike That Game Company’s follow-up to Journey, following up a game like The Last of Us was never going to be easy. The fact they they are attempting a sequel to a game that ended on such a definitive note with an even more mature story and the same characters is reason enough to trust their direction. Make no mistake, this sequel is a huge risk. Most, including myself, would have been happy with a sequel set in the same world but featuring different characters. However, I couldn’t be more thrilled about the prospect of taking another adventure with Ellie and Joel.
So in the end, I do not think that revealing The Last of Us Part II at this year’s PSX was a mistake. If anyone can work the marketing cycle for one of the most anticipated sequels of the generation and fully deliver on its promise, it’s Naughty Dog. This announcement allows them to avoid leaks and speculation and get ahead of their message, but it is also highly likely that the team will go dark for the foreseeable future. Everything we have heard so far paints the game as a darker continuation of the beloved tale of a broken world full of broken people. And while following up the classic original will be Naughty Dog’s toughest task yet, I couldn’t be more excited about the direction that they will take these incredible characters.
Brett Williams is an Associate Writer for MONG who could only play The Last of Us for 2 hours at a time because he hates spookies. And while that might make him a baby, he could still beat the majority of you in an arm wrestling match. You can follow his nonexistent ramblings on twitter.